The history of the Melvins plays out like a lot of bands from the '90s. Always considered a little bit better than whoever was riding the plaid-covered wave to the top of the charts during the grunge days of yore, the band traveled nonstop, relying on live shows in order to gain the buzz that proved elusive on mainstream-rock radio.
If you saw Montage of Heck, you know that frontman Buzz Osborne introduced Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic to Dave Grohl. So it's no surprise that Nirvana would champion the Melvins to get signed to their first and only major-label record contract by Atlantic Records. But the three-year relationship with the label became a mutually not-so beneficial one for both parties. While Melvins' debut album, 1993's Houdini, contains arguably the group's two best known songs — "Honey Bucket" and "Hooch" — the record label promoted the band less and less with each subsequent album. By the time Stag dropped in 1996, no one was surprised to see Melvins released back into the wilds of the indie-label world.
One gets the feeling that frontman Buzz Osborne catches a glimpse of a ghost from the past when asked about today's teens seeming disinterested in searching for underground artists, or how the critical thinkers of music have enthusiastically embraced pop music this decade. He audibly bristles at the notion and asks, "How is that a change? Are we supposed to act like pop wasn't embraced before now? I don't know that I agree that there was ever a time that critics and consumers didn't search for and embrace the most bland music possible. I don't know if that has ever changed. If you go back over the Top 40 charts for the last 50 to 60 years, you're not going to find that the music has really changed that much, honestly."
Osborne understands now, after more than three decades of performing, that the only thing he can truly rely on in the music business is that which he stamps his name on. Melvins have always been surrounded by a preconceived notion that the band has remained together for lo' these 30-plus years, which isn't necessarily the case. While the singer, along with drummer Dale Crover, have called the group home since 1984, the third — and sometimes fourth, in years when the trio expands to a four piece — has offered a revolving door for stoner-rock musicians who hope to make it a full-time gig. Osborne says that the firings are never premeditated, and he always holds out hope that the last hiring will indeed be the last hiring. But there's always something that foils those plans.
"You try to be as fair as you can, and let people have breathing room as much as possible," Osborne explains. "I believe in musical freedom, as far as letting them do their thing is concerned. But generally, the problems we have ever had with members have had nothing to do with music. It usually has everything to do with their personal lives and that sort of thing."
He continues, "The performances were never what I had a problem with. It's always the other times, the free times, and the extracurricular activities that come with that free time."
At the end of the day, the performance is what all of these years of exhausting world tours are all about. Osborne doesn't fall into the old musician trap of thinking kids have it easier these days. Instead, he believes that a young band with tons of followers on social media can be tricked into thinking they're ready to fill cavernous venues from coast-to-coast.
"I don't think you can just hit the road and make it work," Osborne says. "If anything, it can be counterproductive for a young band that isn't ready for that life yet. Unless you can go out and actually have it work, hitting the road and losing a lot of money playing to empty rooms is not a good idea."
He continues, "I am a big believer in technology and utilizing all of those new things that come from it, no question. I think the thing that works for us is just rehearsing and being good; I don't think that has changed. If we were starting out today, I would have an easier time this time around, just because I would know more now than I did back then. All musicians should just be as peculiar as possible. That's the best advice I can give."