Buzz Osborne has been making records for 37-years. And while for some, that might not be much to sneeze at, for Osborne, who was born in a town of about 900 people and later moved to a town of about 1,800, the fact that he’s recorded music, known the members of Nirvana (and just about every other famous grunge band) and been such an historic influence on Pacific Northwest songwriting (and beyond), is astonishing. Osborne, who is constantly writing and releasing music, will continue his epic career with the release of his latest acoustic LP, Gift of Sacrifice, slated for August 14th.
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“I was about 12 when I first got into listening to music,” Osborne says. “I was in a strange position as a kid. I didn’t have any older siblings, didn’t have any cool friends – I didn’t have any friends at that point, hardly. I lived in a very rural community in rural Washington State with almost nobody there.”
But Osborne did have the radio. By listening to the songs on the airwaves, he learned about bands like Aerosmith, KISS and Ted Nugent. Later, he began reading music magazines and found out about David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, The Stooges and The Clash. Osborne would earn money by doing manual labor – mowing lawns, stacking firewood – and send away for these records and wait the lengthy 6-to-8 weeks for anything to show up.
“By the end of the 70s,” Osborne says, “I was well-versed in all that stuff without knowing any other person in school who was listening to that kind of music.”
Osborne, who lived about 120 miles from Seattle proper, realized that many of his favorite bands were coming through the Emerald City to perform. So, when he was old enough to drive, he hopped in a car and made the trek for the Big City. In Seattle, he began to meet people at shows, like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, and he displayed the music he loved to his new creative cohorts.
“I introduced that stuff to all the guys in Nirvana,” he says, adding, “The music showed me this gigantic world out there that all the people I was born around weren’t aware of.”
In the early 80s, Osborne formed his infamous group, Melvins, which would go on to help shape the grunge movement of the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s. Osborne, with his giant mushroom cloud of hair, gunky vocals and distorted guitars would help inspire the legendary bands that came from the area. But, in some ways, his band never quite got the credit that it should have. For one, Osborne says, he wasn’t close with the founders of the Sub Pop label that helped put grunge on the map. Nevertheless, he made a name for himself (and then some) and as the grunge bands began to rise, so too did Osborne’s.
“Mudhoney in that time, around ’88, were much bigger than we were,” he says. “They had a huge influence on the Seattle scene. All those writers for the English music magazines just loved those guys and gave them a massive push.”
Through the music, Osborne made lifelong bonds that continue to this today. This month, Mudhoney and Melvins released a joint EP, White Lazy Boy, which the bands released on physical copies and quickly sold out. The energetic, distorted four-song album features Black Flag and Neil Young covers, as well as an original song from each band. Rotating every other track, Mudhoney’s Arm sings with ravaged, strained vocal aesthetics while Osborne sings with a looming doom.
“Mark [Arm] has a special place in my heart,” Osborne says. “We’ve been friends the better part of 40 years. And I think Mudhoney’s influence on the Seattle music scene has been severely underestimated and overlooked. Without them, it’s not the same thing in Seattle.”
In August, Osborne’s second acoustic album will drop. While the first was just he and his guitar, Osborne recruited his friend and bass player, Trevor Dunn, to accompany him on the 9-track Gift of Sacrifice. While Osborne is known for his big, sludgy Melvins songs, the nuanced, acoustic record smells just as sweet. The new record was influenced in part by artists like Tom Waits and Miles Davis. But all the while Osborne’s fingerprints on the tracks are never smudged or unclear.
“You can tell I wrote these songs,” Osborne says. “A lot of Melvins songs were written on acoustic guitars.”
But for someone who has been making music for nearly four decades, Osborne doesn’t tire of the process. Art, he says, is a necessary job and it’s one he dedicates as much of his time and energy to as is humanly possible. There are many in the world that struggle day-in and day-out to make a living, Osborne says. He makes music for those people. He wants them to feel free through the portal of song, as if jumping in racecar and flying down a highway at 170 miles per hour.
“I’ve never been in an Indy racecar,” Osborne says, “but that’s what music does for me. No painting, no movie has ever moved me as much as my favorite music. Ever. It’s like a jumper cable to your soul.”