The Washington-based, genre-defining band, Melvins, wants you to listen up. Whether that means paying close attention to the soul-shaking sounds of groups like Led Zeppelin or The Jimi Hendrix Experience, or divine individual artists like Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin, Melvins’ frontman, Buzz Osborne (aka King Buzzo), wants you to hear what’s in the music: the depth of the songs, the intricacy of the artistic choices, the magic, even the proximity to God. In a way, that’s why he and Melvins’ co-founder, drummer Dale Crover, went through much of the band’s back catalog and decided ultimately to transpose 36 songs to to four acoustic albums, the collection of which, Five Legged Dog, is slated for release on Friday (October 15).
Videos by American Songwriter
While at first, Osborne and Crover had no set intention in releasing the four-album collection, the band’s ambition soon grew. The members took on the challenge, especially when recording the vocals with the acoustic guitars. In so doing, Osborne says, perhaps their listeners will now hear the seminal band’s music differently, maybe even more impactfully.
“We really concentrated heavily on the vocals,” Osborne says, “because we knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of loud guitars to cover for anything. So, we worked terribly hard on the vocals, probably harder than on anything else on the records. We knew we needed to do that.”
Osborne’s band gets a lot of attention for its influence on grunge music and, specifically, the bands from Seattle, like Nirvana. But those conversations can be all too surface for Osborne’s liking. Those talks detract or dismiss the excellent musicianship from his band and its signature dark, looming, even cavernous sounds.
“I almost never hear anyone talk about our vocals,” Osborne says, “which is weird to me. It doesn’t come up that much.”
Then again, Osborne says, people often miss the important aspects of good songs. He says he never understands how someone could say they don’t dig groundbreaking bands like Zeppelin, Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, or The Stooges. Indeed, to hear Franklin or Turner is to witness the holy, he says. Coupled with that, Osborne feels frustration at newer generations of music listeners forgetting the past or glossing over it. But for Osborne, history is important. It’s not something to forget; instead, it’s something to build on.
“Take a song like Led Zeppelin’s ‘In My Time of Dying,’” Osborne says. “Our music has a similar vibe but we modernized it and weirded it up. I like all the same stuff I did when I was 13, plus a whole lot of other stuff.”
Melvins, which formed in Montesano, Washington in 1983, is a historic band. So, to go through the group’s discography was a big undertaking. As Osborne and Crover began, they said to themselves that one album wasn’t enough; it seemed even like a cheesy idea. Two wasn’t enough either. Three—well, if you do three, why not four? In a way, it was a “crazy” experience, Osborne says. But one that “worked.” In fact, it’s a testament to the band’s songwriting that the songs sound so good and even explosive on the new collection.
“Well,” Osborne says, “I wrote a lot of the songs like that. A lot of the songs were written on an acoustic guitar or they’re written on an electric guitar played acoustically—you know, like while I’m sitting around the house. So, you kind of know the songs are going to be good. You already know the riffs are good.”
The new collection of 36 songs (which coincidentally is the same number of holes in two rounds of golf, Osborne’s preferred sport) showcases what the band does well: writing, arranging, and performing music. Especially music that howls. Standouts on the big collection include the rambunctious, rhythmic “Billy Fish,” and multi-voiced, “Pitfalls In Serving Warrants,” both of which rattle and strike in sound waves.“Our stuff is much more sophisticated than people would imagine,” Osborne says.
For a band that’s put out around three-dozen albums, the newest is assuredly one of its most staggering. Volume is the key word, meaning both sound and the number of tracks. In that way, Five Legged Dog is almost a testament to Osborne and his band’s pure love of music. Why else revisit all these songs if not for a chance to breathe in them a new life?
“No art form moves me more than music does,” Osborne says. “Nothing ever has. If I want a jolt in the morning, I put on ‘Search and Destroy’ by the Stooges. That’ll ramp you right out of bed. Music is an old primal feeling that runs through every society since the dawn of time.”