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Melvins

Trace back the history of bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden and you'll inevitably run into the Melvins. Bridging heavy metal and punk, Melvins have crafted a sound that has remained influential for more than three decades. In this episode we speak with vocalist and guitarist Buzz Osborne and bass player Steven McDonald about their extensive and colorful history in the music biz.

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Transcript

Speaker 1:
Welcome to an Ernie Ball Podcast. It starts now.

Evan Ball:
Hello. I'm Evan Ball. Welcome to Striking a Chord, an Ernie Ball Podcast. Today we have the Melvins on the show. I'll be speaking with Buzz Osborne, singer/guitar player, and also bass player Steven McDonald. Melvins hold a very important place in music history. If you trace back the history of Nirvana and Soundgarden and what became grunge rock, you'll inevitably run into the Melvins. From day one, they've blazed their own trail, and continue to do so today.

Evan Ball:
I caught up with them before their show in Los Osos, California where we talked about their history, their future, their guitar strings. We even get an intra-band debate about music streaming revenue. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Buzz Osborne and Steven McDonald.

Buzz Osborne:
La la la la la la.

Steven McDonald:
I'll just lead in.

Evan Ball:
That looks pretty good.

Steven McDonald:
La la la la.

Buzz Osborne:
Pretty good.

Evan Ball:
Do you get particular about people saying Melvins versus The Melvins?

Buzz Osborne:
I don't care. Yeah, do what you want. All roads lead to Rome in that department.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, we'll throw a fit. We'll kick you guys right out of here if you use the wrong one, but we're not going to tell you what that is, so you've got a 50/50 chance.

Evan Ball:
All right, here we go. Buzz Osborne.

Buzz Osborne:
Yes.

Evan Ball:
And Steven McDonald, welcome to the podcast.

Buzz Osborne:
Glad to be here. Thank you.

Steven McDonald:
Thank you.

Evan Ball:
All right. You've had a long career, still going strong.

Steven McDonald:
Going.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, yeah. It's going.

Evan Ball:
Is there an event or era that stands out when you look back as a high point?

Buzz Osborne:
No. I'm not really a good old days type of guy at all. We're still a contemporary band that's making new music, lots of new records and stuff like that, and I kind of feel like that's sort of how we've always viewed it.

Steven McDonald:
Could you imagine if your answer was like, "I pretty much peaked around '94. It's kind of been downhill since then."

Buzz Osborne:
Downhill since then, yeah.

Steven McDonald:
"... but you know, we have a pretty good attitude about it even though we're on a steady decline."

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, but there might be some magical moment-

Steven McDonald:
I mean, there's nostalgia.

Evan Ball:
No honorable mentions though? Just sort of any magical moments that stand out?

Buzz Osborne:
Nothing. Not that I can think of. I've been down this road before. Lots of interviews since the whole grunge thing and that whole explosion, and stuff like Nirvana and all those things, but I don't have a lot of happy memories about all that as a result of how it all ended up. It's hard for me to look back on that and go, "Yeah, it was great."

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Let's try this then.

Buzz Osborne:
That's a tough one.

Evan Ball:
Conversely, you guys have had, I don't know, how many gigs. Is there any gig that stands out as your worst gig?

Buzz Osborne:
We've had really bad shows opening for bands when we were on tour in the 90s, opening for bands that were arena rock bands. We went out as an unknown and had bad experiences with other people's audiences. We had one where we were opening for Nine Inch Nails in Dallas, Texas at ... I can't remember. What was the name of that place? The ...

Steven McDonald:
The Bronco Bowl.

Buzz Osborne:
The Bronco Bowl.

Steven McDonald:
I was in there. I had my own bad gigs in the Bronco Bowl.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah. They literally tore the floor up to throw at us.

Evan Ball:
Wow, that's dedication.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Buzz Osborne:
That was crazy. That was the craziest show I've ever done.

Evan Ball:
Wow.

Buzz Osborne:
It was ... we did a lot of that kind of thing. Mostly it was okay, but a lot of times you'd get done selling your band like that, and we kind of just got tired of that. It was just not really what we wanted to do anymore. Not because of the audiences, but because we did a lot of that, and move on from there.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
That's it. We would still do it now, but it would have to be under the right circumstances.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. No injuries though on stage?

Buzz Osborne:
One time in a club in Rhode Island, we were opening for Nirvana. I got hit in the forehead with a quarter and it almost knocked me out. It hit me just right in some certain spot, and I was just out on my feet on stage.

Evan Ball:
That's funny. This is going to be the second podcast episode in a row with a quarter story.

Buzz Osborne:
Really?

Evan Ball:
A singer getting hit with a quarter, yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
Well, the show that we went where we played with Nine Inch Nails in Dallas, before we even played, we were walking on stage and somebody threw a whiskey bottle and it hit the drum set and just exploded everywhere. Before we'd even played a note.

Evan Ball:
Welcome.

Buzz Osborne:
It's like, yeah, this is going to be fun. So somehow got a whiskey bottle in there to throw.

Evan Ball:
Again, dedication.

Buzz Osborne:
Good old days.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So I've heard you talk about your upbringing, a small town in Washington.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
I could see it being difficult to put a band together in a small town. Were there just enough like-minded people to make a band? Because obviously you did it.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, barely. I had my own ideas and visions about what I wanted to do, but not a lot of takers. The guys I started with were guys I went to high school with, and they-

Evan Ball:
Was it Montesano?

Buzz Osborne:
Montesano. I played with the drummer until about '84, and then we got Dale, and played with the bass player for about another year or two maybe, and then we moved on from that.

Evan Ball:
So given that it's a fairly small town, was it difficult to find gigs and get a following? Did you have to ... were you sort of sucked towards Seattle to be more in a big city?

Buzz Osborne:
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Nobody where we lived cared at all about what we were doing. Not at all. It was strange, it was a long ways. When I was a kid, it was 100-plus miles to Seattle. It might as well have been a million miles really, and nobody was driving me. My parents weren't in a position to do that sort of thing for me.

Evan Ball:
Right. You're on your own.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah. And then when we realized that a lot of the bands I was into were playing there, and then they were also playing some shows in Olympia, which was a little closer, which is actually where we played our first shows. But Steven started playing way before that, when he was 11 years old.

Steven McDonald:
Yay.

Evan Ball:
I know. I was going to ask him about ... I was going to give him some time to free up his hands. He's changing his bass strings right now.

Buzz Osborne:
Guess what kind of strings he's using?

Evan Ball:
What kind are they?

Steven McDonald:
Rotosounds. Kidding.

Evan Ball:
Rotosounds. Those are Ernie Ball Regular Slinky.

Steven McDonald:
They are. I love them.

Buzz Osborne:
Bass strings.

Evan Ball:
Bass strings, yes.

Steven McDonald:
But I wanted to add to the Montesano thing though, I've never been to Montesano, but I hear a lot about it from these guys.

Buzz Osborne:
We don't talk about it all the time.

Steven McDonald:
And not in the fondest terms. I always think that they should go back to Montesano, or Aberdeen the neighboring town that Dale's from, and get the key to the town.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, yeah, local boys do good.

Steven McDonald:
Come on, we could probably ... there'd be a-

Buzz Osborne:
Homecoming.

Steven McDonald:
Their equivalent to a ticker tape parade.

Evan Ball:
At least run for mayor.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
At least play a gig, right? There's got to be-

Evan Ball:
Have you not been back there?

Buzz Osborne:
I've been through it, but I haven't-

Steven McDonald:
To spit on the ground.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah. I don't have any real reason to go back. I took my wife back to the area, and she's from LA. I took her back there, and she's like, "This whole area's worse than even the way you described it."

Evan Ball:
Really?

Steven McDonald:
And he did not put it through any rose-tinted lens.

Buzz Osborne:
No.

Evan Ball:
I've heard him be fairly hard on the city in previous interviews.

Buzz Osborne:
I have no reason to be nice to them.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
At all.

Steven McDonald:
Unless the Chamber of Commerce reached out to you and invited you to town-

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, said all the right things.

Steven McDonald:
... and wanted to celebrate.

Buzz Osborne:
I would politely say no.

Steven McDonald:
Really?

Buzz Osborne:
Yes.

Steven McDonald:
What if they were like, "We would like to give you the key to the city for the day."

Buzz Osborne:
I don't like the city.

Evan Ball:
I'll pass.

Buzz Osborne:
I'll pass.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, but you've never been the toast of Montesano before-

Buzz Osborne:
I certainly was not the toast.

Steven McDonald:
... or any town. If you're the toast of the town-

Buzz Osborne:
A toast of Montesano would be a feather in anyone's cap.

Steven McDonald:
Well, I guess I'm just trying to put-

Buzz Osborne:
A good spin on it?

Steven McDonald:
No, no. I'm actually speaking now directly to anybody that might be on the City Council in that area.

Buzz Osborne:
Those people can-

Evan Ball:
Someone's got to stand up for them, right?

Steven McDonald:
Right.

Buzz Osborne:
Those people can kiss my ass.

Steven McDonald:
They should reach out. There is a public email address on Melvins.net or something, and they should put together an offer. I think they should celebrate their hometown-

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, yeah.

Steven McDonald:
... their favorite sons of their region.

Buzz Osborne:
Do we have to watch our language on this?

Evan Ball:
No.

Buzz Osborne:
Okay. I've got an offer for them. How about if they blow me?

Evan Ball:
All right. Montesano, if you're listening, cook up an offer if you're brave enough.

Steven McDonald:
So make an offer.

Buzz Osborne:
That's my offer. I want a counter-offer.

Steven McDonald:
Wait, so ... yeah. You would take that over cash?

Buzz Osborne:
I'll work for blow me.

Steven McDonald:
Over cash or you want a [inaudible 00:09:06] on top of the cash?

Buzz Osborne:
I'd take both, yeah. I'd take half in cash.

Evan Ball:
What about Seattle, if they gave you the keys to Seattle?

Buzz Osborne:
Seattle's-

Steven McDonald:
We play Seattle.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, Seattle is much nicer to us. Yeah, I liked it up there. I never really wanted to live there, but we have very fond memories of Seattle in the early days, certainly. And Olympia too, both those. Once I got out of where I lived and realized that there was more like-minded people to some degree, that it wasn't just me, that there was a whole new world out there, a big world, that didn't involve any of that kind of thing, small town politics and all those kinds of things. I don't fit in well with there. I've lived in LA for almost 27 years now. I feel really comfortable in that massive environment.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
Lost in the magnitude of the entire space, and it's my favorite place to be in the whole world. I miss it when I'm gone, and it's where I've lived the longest.

Steven McDonald:
You like LA, man?

Buzz Osborne:
I do. I love it.

Steven McDonald:
But aren't you just a cog in the machine then?

Buzz Osborne:
No, I say no to all kinds of stuff.

Steven McDonald:
What's the deal?

Buzz Osborne:
I say no all the time. "Do you want to do that?" "No, not really. I'm good." People are like, "All those plastic Hollywood parties." I go, "You don't have to do any of it. Just don't go." No, I don't have time.

Buzz Osborne:
There was a really good interview with Bob Dylan in the early 60s where they're asking, "Are you going to go to the war protest tonight, the protest?" He goes, "No, I'm going to be busy tonight." I love that. That's the answer. No, I'm going to be busy tonight.

Evan Ball:
It's very straightforward. Okay, before we leave Seattle.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay. So back in the day, I'm wondering, how intertwined were all these bands? On this side of history, it's easy to look back and say, "That's the Seattle scene."

Buzz Osborne:
No.

Evan Ball:
Was it that cohesive of a scene?

Buzz Osborne:
It was very small at the time. We left there around '86, '87. There wasn't much going on at the time.

Evan Ball:
But you kept in contact with a lot of the people there, right?

Buzz Osborne:
Certainly. We were always friends with the Soundgarden guys, and I was always really good friends with people like Mark Arm from Mudhoney, and Steve Turner. Mark Arm, I would say, was the guy there the most that I felt the strongest kinship to musically, and he turned me on to lots of stuff, and I enjoyed his company a great deal. To this day, still do.

Buzz Osborne:
Dale and I are going to do some recording, and Steven, if he wants to join in, he can absolutely. We're going to do some recording with the two Mudhoney guys, Steve and Mark, coming up.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
They're going to come down and do some recording with us, so that'd be great. And we did some recording last year with the drummer Matt Cameron from Soundgarden, and we played the big Chris Cornell tribute, which is another really hard thing. There's no closure on stuff like that. It's one of the saddest things I've ever been involved in. There's a lot of dark energy around that whole thing that I have a hard time brushing off. I have a really hard time with it.

Evan Ball:
How about Alice in Chains? Were they in there, or is that a separate-

Buzz Osborne:
I had no contact with those guys.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Buzz Osborne:
When we were up there, what I knew of Alice in Chains was they were more of like a hair metal band, and had nothing to do with what we were doing. They got into that after I left. I don't know how.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
I would never claim to know any of those guys whatsoever.

Evan Ball:
When bands are in a certain area, they have things in common. They play gigs together naturally, a scene forms naturally, was anyone identifying as grunge there, or is that something that gets imposed later?

Buzz Osborne:
That was after we left.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So did you guys identify in any certain way, any bands that you were playing with?

Buzz Osborne:
Well, I was always really happy with those guys' success. I was happy that that happened for them on a global level, and I was always really happy and satisfied that they would mention us in conjunction with that. So it made me feel like what we were doing wasn't really wrong, that it was really right. It was like a revolution to some degree, and it changed music as we know it on a global level.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
To be a part of that, it's satisfying, but then you kind of go, "Okay, then now what?"

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
So you don't really, I don't, dwell on stuff like that too much. It's just not that healthy.

Evan Ball:
Was there any way to predict the mainstream success of those bands?

Buzz Osborne:
No, I never would have suggested that that would happen. I just felt like what we were doing was adding something, like kind of modernizing music in a way that wasn't happening at the time. I was writing music that I thought was good without worrying about whether anyone else thought it was good, figuring that I had good taste in music, and if I liked it, honestly there'd be other people in the world that would like it.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
I don't know how many, but I just figured, and that really hasn't changed. I figured that that was the way I wanted to do it, and I was going to stick to that, and I've stuck to it since.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
Don't worry about ... I don't know what people want. I have no idea what people want. I've never claimed to know what people want.

Evan Ball:
Sure.

Buzz Osborne:
I don't think I could write music with that in mind. I don't think I could do it. Not that I couldn't do it, but I don't think it would be good. What will people like? I don't know. So far so good. We surpassed our initial expectations with the band within the first two years of the band, which was it'd be great to play a show, it would be great if we could play on a stage. That was it, really, when we started. I didn't have any ideas about making records. That's absurd. That was an absurd concept. Now here we are, made well over 20 albums, and lots and lots of other recordings, and written and recorded more than 500 songs.

Evan Ball:
Do you have a favorite, by the way? An album that you're most proud of?

Buzz Osborne:
I could probably pick out five albums I really like.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Buzz Osborne:
A Walk with Love & Death I really like because that was a fake soundtrack that we wrote, and then a regular album. That was really fun, with Steven. I like the Eggnog EP, I like the Stoner Witch record, I like the Stag record, and I like probably ... I would throw in Hostile Ambient Takeover probably.

Evan Ball:
Cool.

Buzz Osborne:
Just off the top of my head, but there's lots. We've done so many it's hard to pick.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
I like the stuff we did with the Big Business guys a lot. We did three albums with those guys, that was really fun. But I don't know how you decide when you have that records, it's hard to decide.

Evan Ball:
Sure. All right, it looks like Steven just got his last string on there.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, he did.

Steven McDonald:
I changed my strings.

Buzz Osborne:
We were always a big fan of Steven's.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
The Melvins guys in the band, he's in Redd Kross. We were always a huge fan of Redd Kross, long, long, long before we ever had any contact with them.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, so you've been in Melvins for about four years?

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, something like that.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, something like that.

Evan Ball:
When did you guys first cross paths? Were there any early-

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. Well, Buzz moved to LA in the early 90s, and I've lived in LA my whole life.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Steven McDonald:
And then we had mutual friends, so we intersected around then.

Buzz Osborne:
A little bit, not a tremendous amount. Bill Bartell.

Steven McDonald:
A mutual friend.

Buzz Osborne:
Bill Bartell, yeah.

Steven McDonald:
A mutual friend, yeah. So the guy of ... the author of this tshirt is a mutual friend.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
Who is no longer with us, he's passed on.

Buzz Osborne:
That's another sad story.

Steven McDonald:
So Bill Bartell, also known as Pat Fear of White Flag would be the most common denominator.

Evan Ball:
Black Flag comes to mind as maybe a big influence for both of you independently? Here in California, here in Washington?

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And you both have maybe different experiences of coming across that band early on?

Buzz Osborne:
I always liked Blag Flag a great deal, most of their stuff. Steven knew those guys from their very beginnings.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
Much more than me.

Steven McDonald:
That's true, yeah. Blag Flag-

Evan Ball:
Steven what is- yeah, go ahead.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, I don't know. Yeah, Black Flag, great band.

Evan Ball:
You heard it here first.

Buzz Osborne:
I love that ... the good story I like from him is that he played with Black Flag in Redd Kross when he was 11.

Steven McDonald:
That's true.

Evan Ball:
Well, that sounds like a good story.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. Well, our very first gig, we got them a gig. Our first gig was playing in-

Buzz Osborne:
Just reiterate you're 11.

Steven McDonald:
Okay, I'm 11.

Buzz Osborne:
In Redd Kross.

Steven McDonald:
I'm in Redd Kross. We're playing an 8th grade graduation party, which is ... I was just graduating 6th grade, so these were big kids, in Hawthorne, California where I'm from. We asked the girl, the 8th grader that was throwing the party, if we could have our friends play too, and she's like, "Sure." And it was our new friends, these weird older guys from Hermosa Beach, Black Flag, and it was one of their first shows.

Buzz Osborne:
How did you meet those guys initially?

Steven McDonald:
We went to one of their first shows, and then I think that they had their first EP. They had just had it printed up themselves, and-

Buzz Osborne:
Nervous Breakdown?

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, the Nervous Breakdown EP. It had a Lawndale address on the back cover, and Lawndale's the town nextdoor to Hawthorne where I'm from. So we looked them up information, like YellowPages, WhitePages, SST.

Evan Ball:
Really?

Buzz Osborne:
There they were.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, and then they ... my brother called them and said, "Hey, we've got this band, my brother, he's 11, can we open for you?"

Evan Ball:
Just cold called?

Steven McDonald:
And he just laughed. Yeah. That's what you had to do, kids. Assuming that it's mostly kids listening to the podcast. Back in our day, children, you had this thing called a telephone, and we couldn't direct message people. We couldn't text people. You had to find them through the WhitePages, YellowPages, whatever, 411. That's what we would do.

Evan Ball:
So back to this party, did the 8th grader's parents sign off on this party, having Black Flag play in their, what, living room?

Steven McDonald:
Well, yeah. Okay, so her name is Lisa [Stangle 00:19:02]. I always kind of throw that in there as if anybody knows that. Yeah, we played Lisa Stangle's 8th grade graduation party. Yeah, I don't think her mom was around. We just interviewed her recently for a documentary that's being made about Redd Kross.

Evan Ball:
What is she doing now?

Steven McDonald:
She lives in Palmdale, and she came down to Hawthorne for the day. We stood in front of her childhood home.

Buzz Osborne:
Is she on methadone?

Steven McDonald:
She's not on methadone. I met her children, they were nice.

Buzz Osborne:
Are they on methadone?

Steven McDonald:
I didn't get ... the conversation didn't get that in-depth.

Evan Ball:
I'm sure they're not.

Steven McDonald:
I don't know what was up with the parents. My concern ... actually, now that I was talking to her in person, and she was just like ... we were in to this punk rock thing, which was really weird. It was unknown in our town at the time, so it would have been bizarre. I almost felt like ... because she wasn't into that. She had no idea. She thought she was hiring a cover band or something, someone that would come play Foreigner covers. That's what was popular at the time.

Buzz Osborne:
So you played Velvet Underground covers?

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. Well, we did a New York Dolls cover, it's true. Anyways, I was concerned that we had destroyed her reputation, her popularity. Like, "Wow, she's graduating from 8th grade, and we just got our weirdo punk stench all over her." But she said no. She actually had a different story. She thought that everybody loved it. My experience was that the kids hated it, and that they heckled us and booed us the entire time. And when Black Flag played, they just evacuated. They were afraid of these weird older dudes with-

Buzz Osborne:
Rightly so.

Steven McDonald:
They should have been. With Sound City stacks in their living room. So that's what that was.

Evan Ball:
But she said it was a hit? Maybe she's being [crosstalk 00:20:46]?

Steven McDonald:
That's the way she remembers it. Whatever. Good, I'm glad it didn't scar her reputation, so it all worked out.

Evan Ball:
Good.

Buzz Osborne:
That's a good story.

Evan Ball:
So Steven, if you're playing gigs at 11, how much space is there between you starting to learn and actually playing gigs?

Steven McDonald:
Not much. I can't believe we haven't brought this around to Ernie Ball yet.

Buzz Osborne:
12 years.

Steven McDonald:
I believe I was probably playing Ernie Ball strings at this time even.

Evan Ball:
That's wonderful.

Steven McDonald:
And this is, yeah, 1978. I got my first bass, I think it was Christmas.

Buzz Osborne:
You still have it.

Steven McDonald:
Yes, I still have it. I have a Fender Musicmaster. It was either Christmas of '77 or '78, but it was soon after that I was writing songs and we made a record. We were recording by '79, and doing gigs. That gig in the 8th grade graduation party was in June 1979.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Did you play full time since that time, or were you still in school?

Steven McDonald:
I went on my ... I've always been in a band. I've had brief periods of straight gigs. I worked in an office for a while in my 30s or 40s, but pretty much I've always had a band, a serious band, in my life. And Redd Kross took a nine year hiatus, but we're up and ... we've been back at it for 12 years now.

Evan Ball:
Cool. While we're talking about guitar strings, what kind of strings do you play, Buzz?

Buzz Osborne:
I play 52 to 10s.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Skinny Top, Heavy Bottom?

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah. I've played those for a long time. I tend to think that, weirdly, if I change my guitar strings, they feel better the second day. I don't really like new ones as much. Isn't that weird?

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
Well, the Melvins tune ... on this particular set, we have three different tunings during the show.

Buzz Osborne:
Four actually if you start with the first one.

Steven McDonald:
Four, and typically ... most bands would maybe set up their guitars specifically for a specific tuning, but Melvins just-

Buzz Osborne:
Just roll with it.

Steven McDonald:
... one set fits all tunings.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, okay.

Steven McDonald:
And we change the tunings of our guitars during the show. Dale does a mock drum solo.

Evan Ball:
How low do you go?

Steven McDonald:
To A, low A.

Evan Ball:
Oh, really?

Steven McDonald:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
With a 52?

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, down to A.

Steven McDonald:
But it kind of sounds like it.

Evan Ball:
That's cool.

Steven McDonald:
It's cool.

Buzz Osborne:
It's supposed to sound pretty rank.

Steven McDonald:
It's freaky.

Buzz Osborne:
It doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be perfectly in tune. There's enough bands playing in tune. People shouldn't expect us to do that.

Evan Ball:
Sure.

Steven McDonald:
But the set of strings that Buzz plays seems fitting for how radically we're changing the tuning. It's sort of ... it approximates-

Evan Ball:
The word Buzz?

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
No, but just the idea that you could tune really low and then go back up to E with one set of strings.

Buzz Osborne:
I play with a really high action too.

Steven McDonald:
Rather than a different setup.

Evan Ball:
That sounds like a good endorsement for whatever strings you're playing.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, that's what I'm ... I'm trying to give it to you.

Buzz Osborne:
Thank you.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
And feed this to you somehow.

Buzz Osborne:
If I-

Steven McDonald:
But two shows, the second show is the sweet spot-

Buzz Osborne:
It is.

Steven McDonald:
... I find for bass too because as we're tuning all the time-

Buzz Osborne:
They don't stretch as much.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. It's more ready for you.

Evan Ball:
So you keep these on for next show too?

Steven McDonald:
I do two shows.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
I do two shows per ... I'll do a third show sometimes.

Buzz Osborne:
Some people don't like that, they like the brand new ones.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Buzz Osborne:
And I know we've toured with bands, especially the big bands, the arena rock bands, where their guitar tech will ... the bass tech will change the strings after sound check, and then change the strings halfway through the show.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, come on.

Buzz Osborne:
So you just want your guy changing strings all day.

Evan Ball:
Right.

Steven McDonald:
They're just trying to make things up for him to do.

Buzz Osborne:
And plus, I don't like, during the show, I do not want to change guitars. What most bands would do is they'd have all those tunings on different guitars.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
I don't want to do that because I also feel like the guitar ... I want the guitar with me the whole night so it warms up with me during the whole show.

Evan Ball:
If you guys had a magic wand and could change the music industry, how would you change it?

Buzz Osborne:
I would push a button and kill everybody in it. Boom, instantly.

Evan Ball:
Steven?

Steven McDonald:
Oh, I don't know.

Evan Ball:
Same things?

Steven McDonald:
No, I don't know. It's fine.

Evan Ball:
It's fine?

Steven McDonald:
It's fine.

Evan Ball:
What if it was all powerful? You could-

Steven McDonald:
The wand?

Evan Ball:
Yeah. You could uninvent streaming, you could create more music clubs.

Steven McDonald:
But it's only all powerful within the music industry? I can't aim for world peace or something with this wand?

Evan Ball:
You could change-

Buzz Osborne:
No.

Evan Ball:
No, it has to be music related. Yeah. You could change people's taste buds if you wanted.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, I don't know. I don't want to fix it. I don't know. It is what it is.

Buzz Osborne:
I don't look at it like it's ... everybody complains about, "Now the bands don't get paid because of streaming." Bands never got paid.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
When was this golden era when labels were paying bands? You talk to people like Bo Diddley, he never got a dime, nothing, back when people were buying records. So what's changed? It's not any different, really, for bands. You're probably not going to get anything no matter what you do.

Steven McDonald:
Well, I guess one thing I would change is I think that I'm disappointed that streaming has not turned out to be very much money for artists because I do think that it does seem very viable, and that I could turn out to be a lot of money, but it sounds like the industry, they had better lawyers. They advocated for their side more so than the people creating the music.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, but you have to get people to pay for it.

Steven McDonald:
That's a bummer.

Buzz Osborne:
You have to get people to pay for it.

Steven McDonald:
People do. There are hundreds of millions of people subscribing to streaming services now, from what I understand.

Buzz Osborne:
But they're all listening to-

Steven McDonald:
Paying 10 to 15 bucks a month, so that's billions of dollars. There is actually billions of dollars being generated, but the label people, from what I understand, I don't know. I don't know if that's true or not, but I keep hearing that. Lady Gaga, 40 million streams, $2,000 check. I don't know if that's true or whatever, but someone got a lot more than that $2,000 check for those 40 million streams though. And if it's not her-

Buzz Osborne:
If you look at the total streams though, it's way more than 40 million.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. Well, I'm saying the paid ones-

Buzz Osborne:
So you're talking about something, how many actual streams totally are there?

Steven McDonald:
I'm talking in pure hypotheticals right now. All I'm saying is I know there are billions of dollars being paid by consumers to listen to music. I for one, I have an Apple Music account. I fucking love it. I'm glad to pay ... pardon my French. I'm glad to pay the $15 for my entire family to go listen to anything.

Evan Ball:
Quite a deal.

Steven McDonald:
Anything aside from the really cool, rare stuff, whatever.

Buzz Osborne:
$15 a month, right?

Steven McDonald:
Yep.

Buzz Osborne:
Okay. In the good old days-

Steven McDonald:
Love it.

Buzz Osborne:
In the good old days, that's how much each of those things you're listening to would have cost you.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, it's true.

Buzz Osborne:
So there's not anywhere near as much money.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, but there's so many more people listening and buying. Because I was one of those-

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, but they're all listening to crap. They're all listening to crap.

Steven McDonald:
I was one of the weirdos that would spend like 100 bucks a month.

Buzz Osborne:
That's what I mean.

Steven McDonald:
But I was a very small piece of the popu ... look, I'm a lifer rock and roller. Give me a break. Most of your average person would wait for the one Eagles record to come out a year and they would buy that, whatever. A lot of people were spending the equivalent of my 150 bucks a year. That was your average weekend listener forever, kind of.

Steven McDonald:
So there's still a lot of money being generated for music listening, it's just we, the artists, ourselves, for whatever reason, we weren't smart enough, or we didn't have the power or whatever, to make sure that we had the lobbyists making sure that the content creators got a good royalty. That's what I've heard, that's what I tend to believe, because I know that there is money being generated. So if I had the wand, perhaps I would ... and I was complaining about this 15 years ago, because I've been listening to streaming services for a long time.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, but the only thing is, if you look at how many people, what they're listening to, it's not going to be anything that would involve us.

Steven McDonald:
Well, I don't know. That's not true.

Buzz Osborne:
And who's going to tally it all up?

Steven McDonald:
It's mind blowing. If I can go on those little iTunes artists, or Spotify artists, there's hundreds of thousands of people that have streamed my music online, or more. It's surprising to me. There's people in Thailand listening to my music. I think that we would benefit, along with the mainstream as well. It just got ... the copyright holders weren't the ones with the really good lawyers, from what I can tell.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, but I don't think there's-

Steven McDonald:
That got the better deals.

Buzz Osborne:
I don't think there's anywhere near as much money as you might think.

Steven McDonald:
Well, all I know is 10 to 15 bucks a month, $150 a year.

Buzz Osborne:
That's it.

Steven McDonald:
Multiply that by however many millions, hundreds of millions of people are paying for subscriptions.

Buzz Osborne:
And then-

Steven McDonald:
And then you get your billion dollar industry numbers.

Buzz Osborne:
Then you have to take it by each stream, and divide it up, dividing it with everybody that got streamed.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
You're still not going to get any money.

Evan Ball:
I think we need to make people be willing to pay $50 a month.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, right. You still won't get paid.

Steven McDonald:
[crosstalk 00:30:03] aren't paying enough. I'm saying that I think the labels are making all the money.

Evan Ball:
You want the pie chopped differently?

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. They're dividing it unfairly.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Steven McDonald:
That's what I think.

Buzz Osborne:
But they always did that.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah. And I'm just saying that that's ... if I did have the wand, that would be my one wish.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Steven McDonald:
To recut that deal.

Buzz Osborne:
I still want my wish to be-

Steven McDonald:
Listen to me.

Buzz Osborne:
I still want my wish to be everybody dead.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
That seems more realistic to me.

Steven McDonald:
See, my first question was could I-

Buzz Osborne:
Much more realistic.

Steven McDonald:
I asked for word peace first.

Buzz Osborne:
How is that going to help?

Steven McDonald:
I don't know.

Evan Ball:
Through music? Oh, man, okay. Where are we going from here? Do you guys have a favorite book or movie of all time?

Buzz Osborne:
My favorite movie is The Treasure of Sierra Madre followed closely by Lawrence of Arabia.

Steven McDonald:
Probably Female Trouble and Love and Death by Woody Allen.

Buzz Osborne:
Favorite book? That's a hard one. There's so many. Wise Blood probably.

Evan Ball:
Who's that by? I haven't ... I don't know.

Buzz Osborne:
Flannery O'Connor.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

Buzz Osborne:
Or ... God, I don't know. Under the Volcano maybe.

Evan Ball:
All right. New album releases. What do you guys have coming up?

Buzz Osborne:
I have a new solo record coming out, solo [inaudible 00:31:14] record I did with Trevor Dunn. It's going to come out in May. I'm going to do a big tour with that. We are always recording stuff. We have lots of stuff that's going to be coming out.

Evan Ball:
You record all your own music?

Buzz Osborne:
We record with a guy named [Toshi Gasay 00:31:24] at our own place, and have for a long time. We'll probably continue with that. Steven records bands on his own. We'll probably do some recording with him more so in the future, I would imagine. We never wait too long between anything. We're working on a new Melvins 1983 record, which is me and the original drummer, and Dale playing bass. That's as close as we can get to the original lineup, or as close as we're willing to get to the original lineup. We did an album with him a few years ago that was really fun to do called Tres Cabrones, which nobody ever got the joke, so I'll just leave it at that.

Buzz Osborne:
Did they? I don't think they did.

Steven McDonald:
I don't know.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah. We thought it was obvious. It's not obvious.

Steven McDonald:
Somebody must have said something.

Buzz Osborne:
Somebody, yeah. So you don't think it's obvious?

Evan Ball:
Wait.

Buzz Osborne:
Tres Cabrones.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, three rockers or whatever.

Buzz Osborne:
Right, but it's a take off of something else.

Evan Ball:
Tres cabrones.

Buzz Osborne:
Nobody gets it, see?

Steven McDonald:
Are you talking about-

Evan Ball:
Three Amigos?

Buzz Osborne:
No.

Steven McDonald:
The ZZ Top record I think, Tres Hombres.

Buzz Osborne:
Right. Tres Hombres.

Evan Ball:
Tres Hombres.

Buzz Osborne:
Which is three men, and this is ... tres cabrones is three dumbasses.

Steven McDonald:
But I like the three amigos reference.

Evan Ball: I tried


Buzz Osborne:
We just thought everybody would assume it, and nobody got it, so oh well.

Evan Ball:
They just need to hear this podcast.

Buzz Osborne:
I guess so, yeah.

Evan Ball:
So Buzz, I think it's safe to say you're kind of a nonconformist?

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Not for the sake of being disagreeable-

Buzz Osborne:
Pretty safe, yes.

Evan Ball:
... but you're not one to follow the pack.

Buzz Osborne:
No, not really.

Evan Ball:
Has that always been part of your personality?

Buzz Osborne:
It's not perversely. I guess I'm a Groucho Marxist, which is I don't want to belong to any club that'll have me as a member. I don't really care that much about it. Acceptance, I'm accepted by enough people, and it's fine with me.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
I like these guys, I like playing with these guys a whole lot. I've been married for 26 years to the same woman, and she's willing to put up with my crap. I think that those women don't grow on trees. I'm very happy about all of it. I can't really imagine much more than that for me. Relatively simple.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, do what I want. Walk around as my own boss. I like it.

Evan Ball:
Steven, any final words?

Steven McDonald:
I like my Ernie Ball strings. I really appreciate Ernie Ball supporting the Melvins.

Buzz Osborne:
That's right.

Steven McDonald:
I've been playing these strings probably longer than any other strings, and I mean that sincerely.

Evan Ball:
That's awesome.

Steven McDonald:
Yeah, so there you go.

Evan Ball:
On that note-

Buzz Osborne:
They're great.

Evan Ball:
... Buzz, Steven, thanks for being on the podcast.

Buzz Osborne:
Thank you. Thanks for the interest.

Steven McDonald:
Thank you.

Buzz Osborne:
We really appreciate it.

Evan Ball:
Thanks for tuning in to Ernie Ball's Striking a Chord, and thanks to the Melvins. The longevity of their band, the total disinterest in popular trends, the number of projects those guys are involved in, it's great to hear from such unique and impressive individuals. Thanks, Buzz and Steven.

Evan Ball:
If you'd like to contact us, email [email protected]

Evan Ball:
Shameless plug, we have a new volume pedal with a tuner in it.

Buzz Osborne:
Oh, that's cool.

Evan Ball:
Very nice.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
If you play with a volume pedal, might as well have a tuner in it.

Buzz Osborne:
Yeah, why not.

Steven McDonald:
I like that. Do a lot of your pedals have ... you have volume pedal with a tuner in it, okay?

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So on the face of it, there's actually a touch screen. It has ... graphically you tune ... yeah, you can see it. So in the heel down position, that's how you'd normally set it up, it goes to a tuner.

Buzz Osborne:
When it's off?

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So when the sound's off-

Buzz Osborne:
[crosstalk 00:34:46] it kicks in?

Evan Ball:
Then it goes to tuner.

Buzz Osborne:
So you have to turn the tuner on?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, there's a mode where you can have it in tuner mode all the time if you'd like.

Steven McDonald:
Oh, really?

Evan Ball:
But otherwise, it'll just have your volume one through ten, so you can actually see it, make sure you're at ten, make sure you're at whatever.

Steven McDonald:
Oh, wow.

Evan Ball:
It's really useful.

Steven McDonald:
That sounds cool.

Buzz Osborne:
You can mute it.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, and there's a lot of average tuners out in the world, and this is ... we didn't want to do that. So it actually is really responsive and ... anyway.

Buzz Osborne:
We like to call our tuning remotely close tuning.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Steven McDonald:
Well, or it's an approximation.

Buzz Osborne:
It's remotely close. As long as it's remotely close, we're good. I mean, it's kind of the world we came out of.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
It's like picking gnat shit out of pepper. At certain points it's like, really, you think you're out of tune? Okay, look where you're playing, like it's going to make any difference.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah.

Buzz Osborne:
Plus, I read this thing a long time ago in this book called The Dark Stuff where this guy is doing an interview with the New York Dolls. He's talking to David Johansen in the 70s, and he goes, "Do you realize how out of tune Johnny Thunders was last night? It was horrible." He goes, "Why would you worry about something like that when there's that much good drama going on?" It's like, right, that's it. You're worrying about the wrong thing.

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