Profile: Buzz Osborne (2019)

When Buzz Osborne visits Pittsburgh Saturday, Oct. 5 for punk-metal veterans Melvins’ concert at Rex Theater in South Side, he won’t hit the haunts most tourists frequent.

There will be no baseball game at PNC Park, no visit to the fountain at The Point. No photos from the Mt. Washington overlook. No sammich at Primanti’s. After soundcheck around 4 p.m. that afternoon, in fact, he’d prefer to stay at the club and eat take-out for dinner. It helps him focus on the task at hand.

“It’s really all about the work,” says Osborne in a phone interview from the road, shortly after arriving in Kansas City. “I’ve often said, ‘Why are we here?’ I’m here to do my job and unless I take this as seriously as I would any other job, it’s not right. We’re presenting music and we’re expecting people to pay for this. It’s a job. I have to take it seriously.”

That dedication to the craft has paid off for one of underground rock’s most accomplished and storied guitarists, a man whose best work frequently toes the line between Black Sabbath and Captain Beefheart.

And Osborne, better known to fans as King Buzzo, keeps busy. Melvins seem to start a new tour before even unpacking from the last one. And the band has hit Pittsburgh hard in recent years. Osborne and company played at the former Altar Bar in Strip District in 2016 with Helms Alee, and at Rex Theater at least twice – in 2017 with fellow Ipecac Recordings artists Spotlights and in 2018 with All Souls.

None of those even come close to a local debut; that happened when Melvins first played Pittsburgh back around 1990, in the band’s heady, pre-Atlantic days, Osborne says.

“It was a lot more hilly than I expected and it looked like the set for ‘Deer Hunter,’” which, of course, it was. “Pittsburgh was good enough for the Andy Warhol Museum – it’s good enough for us.”

Some bands skip Pittsburgh in favor of going from Cleveland right to Philadelphia. Not Melvins. It’s playing Pittsburgh and Cleveland. And Philadelphia. And Columbus. The trio, which features Osborne, drummer Dale Crover, and bassist Steven McDonald, does nothing if not hit the stage with a preacher’s fervor for the pulpit.

“Pittsburgh’s on the way to everything else,” Osborne says. “I’m not afraid of anywhere. I’m happy we can do a show where people are out at all. If there’s someone in Pittsburgh who wants to see us, I’ll play.”

For those keeping count, yes, Melvins is rotating live staple “It’s Shoved” into the fall tour rotation, Osborne confirmed. But he also guards the secrets behind the setlists carefully, while stressing there’s a method to it all.

“You think of [the setlist] more as you would a Broadway musical – when you go to see ‘West Side Story,’ they don’t mix up the set,” Osborne said. “We work out the sets before we leave. We play a different set every night and it shows. I’ve really thought about this set and this set order for reason. Every bit of that 60 minutes matters.”

Melvins isn’t touring to support a new full-length LP, though it recently released split-singles with both Redd Kross and Flipper.

“At this point in the game, touring and selling one record in any traditional form is absurd,” Osborne said. “We’re out here to sell all of our records.”

To that end, he said, fans can expect an eclectic set with material from throughout the band’s 20+ studio albums, half-dozen EPs, and scores – upon scores! – of one-off singles.

“I want to transform myself, be somewhere else, when I’m up on stage,” Osborne said. “I want to give people something they don’t always get when I’m up on that stage.”

“It’s a tough road to hoe. But that’s the plan.” – Justin Vellucci, Pittsburgh Current, Oct. 1, 2019


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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