The Treasure of the Sierra Madre features Humphrey Bogart as an out of luck prospector south of the border. John Huston’s 1948 film depicts the negative effects success can have on a group of friends. It is the favorite movie of Roger “King Buzzo” Osbourne, frontman for The Melvins, a band that has successfully mined Rock and Roll Mountain for more than 30 years.
RIFF caught up with The Melvins while they watched the MLB home run derby prior to their show at The Great American Music Hall. The band includes drummer Dale Crover and current bassist Steven McDonald (formerly of Redd Kross). It’s touring in support of 26th studio album, A Walk with Love and Death, an album that shares a name with another Huston film. King Buzzo said the band already has another done that is way different from the current one.
We talked with Buzzo, McDonald and Crover about touring and the band’s career arc, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the genius of Miles Davis.
King Buzzo: So, we love Miles Davis, and Steven (McDonald) is starting to learn about him.
RIFF: That’s a new thing for you, Steve?
Steven McDonald: Miles? Yeah, they’re turning me onto Miles. [To King Buzzo:] What’s the first album you played for me?
King Buzzo: On the Corner. That was our walk-on music, [played before The Melvins took the stage], wherever it dropped on the record. We would play that to get pumped up.
RIFF: What’s different about touring now as opposed to 30 years ago?
Dale Crover: We don’t have to sleep in somebody’s kennel. We actually have hot and cold water in the places that we stay.
King Buzzo: We’re not sleeping in an abandoned slaughterhouse.
Crover: And [there’s] an audience.
King Buzzo: Someone gives a shit now.
RIFF: With so much material to choose from, how do you guys figure out what you’re gonna play on a given night? Does your set ever change?
King Buzzo: No, it does not. We figure out the set before we begin. We might make a few little changes here and there but by and large to me some songs go better together than others.
RIFF: Tell me a little about your vocal influences, Buzz.
King Buzzo: I’m not really thinking about anybody. All I want to do is sing with a cartoony voice. … We grew up with cartoons. I like animation; short attention span. I’m not a big fan of bands that sing from the beginning of the song to the end, ‘cause it makes the vocals not as special. I like the vocals, when they’re happening, to be a surprise.
RIFF: But there’s an element of cartoon that’s exaggerated, overblown, and that fits with your vision of rock and roll? Does that come from Beefheart?
King Buzzo: That’s a big part of it, yeah. Not so much when we started. It was more like Flipper, Black Flag, Art Damage-type stuff. I mean, we’re really more of a performance art band live than we are a rock band.
RIFF: We’ve heard about your rock influences, where does the experimental noise come from?
King Buzzo: Throbbing Gristle, mostly. Maybe a little of SPK, Flipper.
Crover: Butthole Surfers. All the obvious ones for sure.
RIFF: Anything less obvious? Like Nurse with Wound?
King Buzzo: I never really like Nurse with Wound. They’re all right, but it’s just really pretentious. Throbbing Gristle is a little pretentious too, but it spoke to me more. A really good record for people who don’t know Throbbing Gristle is A Taste of Throbbing Gristle, a compilation they put out. If you don’t like that, you don’t like them. Steven plays in Redd Kross and they’re much more like a rock band.
McDonald: Although, on the noise tip, we covered Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in 1981, for what that’s worth.
King Buzzo: But you know what I mean, you’re more rock-oriented.
Crover: But then, they’re not afraid of noise either.
McDonald: But that’s what we have in common, too.
King Buzzo: That’s what attracted me to you guys in the first place, that whole [experimental] thing. A combination of, like, Kiss, Butthole Surfers, Bowie, Blue Cheer, The Dolls.
McDonald: We tried to be like—
King Buzzo: —The Partridge Family—
McDonald: Like, not self-conscious, but not embarrassing rock band. Unapologetically not embarrassing.
King Buzzo: But you were heavily ironic without it being weird.
McDonald: So ironic, I didn’t even know.
RIFF: What does Kevin bring to the current lineup?
King Buzzo: He’s a good player. I like his sensibilities. What I mean is that a band like Poison; they don’t get it.
RIFF: What don’t they get?
King Buzzo: They’re just stupid. That’s the best way to put it.
McDonald: I tell the story of when Redd Kross played with Poison once. People said, “You guys are into the Dolls? You gotta check out this new band in town, Poison. You’ll love ‘em.” So we played with them and when I watched them, I was mortified to think that anybody what put us in the same category with them.
King Buzzo: Exactly.
McDonald: It’s hard to understand how someone else might perceive you.
RIFF: What’s different about making records now?
King Buzzo: Everything changes. But I’m not afraid of it; that’s for sure. I was never really concerned about what people thought of our records. I just wanted to make records that I liked. And I’m still doing that, so that hasn’t changed.
RIFF: When you look at the trajectory of your music, do you see a trend or way that it has developed? Has it evolved for you?
King Buzzo: Yeah, I’d like to think. It’s tough to not retread some of the same territory. I mean, someone like Neil Young or Bob Dylan sound[s] like them no matter what they do. It’s difficult to get out of that.
RIFF: Your music has become more sophisticated.
King Buzzo: I’d like to think so. Well, the Ozma record, we got pretty crazy with it pretty quickly.
RIFF: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of your favorites and has been an influence on your music. The movie has some pretty interesting themes about success and money can do to people. Do you think that’s an accurate portrayal of what success and money can do to people? Is that one of the things that appeals to you about the movie?
King Buzzo: Not a happy ending. What appeals to me about that movie is the storyline, and how it’s directed, and how it’s acted. … It’s not the weirdest, craziest story I’ve ever seen or anything, but the way they put the movie together, I thought it was really cool. I just think it’s really good. There’s not a single scene in that movie that doesn’t need to be there.
RIFF: So it’s not that it’s an anti-capitalist screed or anything?
King Buzzo: I didn’t get that out of it.
RIFF: But it does seem to be a really negative depiction of the effects of success, and since you’ve been close to success if you’ve seen any of that in real life.
King Buzzo: Well, I can take a quote from the movie where he says, “It might be good to not put things strictly on a money basis.” If that’s how we’re looking at things, then who among us is successful? … John Huston was a genius, when you take that he made that movie and then you look at everything else he made; everything from Wiseblood to Annie to Reflections in a Golden Eye and A Walk with Love and Death, our new album. He made a movie called that too.
RIFF: A Walk with Love and Death was created as a soundtrack to a film. Tell me a little about the soundtrack aspect; is there an accompanying film in the pipeline?
King Buzzo: It’s getting made now. We’re working with a guy named Jesse Neiman from Atlanta, so, we’ll see what happens. We’re big fans of (Alejandro Jodorowsky’s) Holy Mountain, and David Lynch and Forbidden Planet.
RIFF: Those are good ones, yeah.
King Buzzo: They’re weird.
RIFF: Why does “weird” speak to you? Obviously it doesn’t speak to everybody or it wouldn’t be weird.
King Buzzo: I’m a weird guy. We all like … John Waters, lots of things we can laugh at. We all have good senses of humor. If you look at a movie list [of] a fundamental Christian, it’ll be different. It won’t be as weird.
RIFF: Does “weird” critique the world in a way that’s more satisfying to you?
King Buzzo: I have no idea what the world wants. I only know is what I like. And generally, my tastes tend to be weirder than what the general public likes. And then, once in a while, my tastes add right along with what the general public likes. I don’t know why. I have no idea, but I’m not trying to be perverse. I’m not just doing it to be weird.
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