Encore Interview: Melvins Talk Odd Tunings, Setlists, + More

As Melvins are in the midst of their massive 10-week 2019 Fall Tour, we were reflecting on our interview ahead of their tour kickoff when members Steven McDonald (of Red Kross who is opening on the tour) and Buzz Osbourne came to Setlist.Fm to talk on the ins and outs of being musicians who rely on odd tunings, loyalty, setlists, buying vinyl, hating rock "professionals," and Jimi Hendrix.
But first, ICYMI, here's out newest Tour Update with the two:
Now, we'd like to invite you to read more insights from the interview then muse on their musings before heading out to a show on their Escape from L.A. Tour, probably at a venue they've been loyal to on each and every tour!
On the value of buying records at shows
SM: You can’t download what buzz creates.
BO: I’m not against it
SM: I think its awesome I think its amazing that he’s making something for people to value recorded music again, they can hold it in their hands, its very unique, very few can have it.
BO: I think there are a certain amount of people out there that want something physical that’s cool, its not gonna be millions but it will be enough to make a small run of these things work. I mean if nobody cared then we wouldn’t do it but there’s enough people out there that we can make a few of those and we’re not afraid of doing the work ourselves and having that come out. I think in a lot of ways collecting vinyl and collecting music stuff is kinda, for a lot of people, because this stuff is not cheap, but its like an entry level into buying art. Not everybody can buy a $5000 painting but almost everybody can buy a $50 art piece that’s a record that’s worried over.
On Steven's first Melvins memory:
SM: Well I think I saw you guys jam with Yoko Ono in the early 90s at the Roxy, and she was doing her band IMA with her son Sean and that was really good. And then Buzz moved to LA around that time [Buzz clarifies that he was there already]. Okay so he’s already in LA so we kinda became quick friends
BO: ’93 or so. That [jamming w Yoko] was really weird though because we did a rehearsal with them before, she didn’t come to the rehearsal and so we rehearsed, the night before, the songs we were gonna play with them and she was gonna come but then she didn’t show up and Sean was like “okay well she’s not gonna be here so I’ll just do her parts” [Stephen starts laughing] He sings exactly all of the dolphin-sounding screams, exactly the same, I couldn’t believe it.
On unwinding during long tours
SM: I bring a skateboard with me but you know buzz is good at creating a good environment where everybody is really friendly and everyone gets along well so its just really a nice social environment. Its easy to wind down actually.
On hating rock professionals
BO: I view the whole tour as a big giant thing, it's almost like what we are involved in is performance art more than anything else. I don’t like rock and roll professional people. I don’t like them, I don’t like how they view what’s going on.
SM: That’s a very broad description, what do you mean by professional rock n roll people, give us an example
BO: I don’t want to hire the people that would work for an arena rock band.
SM: So the crew on an arena rock band tour?
BO: I don’t like the road managers
SM: Have you had experiences with these people?
BO: I have had bad experiences with them and mostly it's because they’re about everything except music. The music is like a pain in their ass and I’m only here for that, that’s it. And when I feel like its getting marginalized because it is somehow being a pain in their ass, then I think why are we here? This is the sole purpose of us being on the road. It's not to make your mortgage, it's for us to do this thing and if we don’t do this right why are these people gonna pay to come see us, we have to focus on that, that’s the important thing., that’s it.
So I view our time on stage as massively important. Each band plays for about an hour on this tour, the entire hour is important, you want to think it out the way you would a Broadway musical, the whole thing, top to bottom, is thought out. There’s a reason why everything is right where it is.
We’re not a f*cking jukebox, I hate that shit. 'We change the setlist every night.' Well that’s why 2/3rds of the time your band f*cking sucks onstage! Because you pick the wrong setlist, it's wrong. The pacing’s wrong. 'Well it must get boring playing the same set every night.' Well it must get boring to the audience if you pick the wrong setlist every night. I’ve seen it happen, I’m not going to do it. I value what we’re doing too much to go into an unprepared situation.
I like to work with people who want to be there. Who feel like im on the same page as them. If I have a sound guy and I go 'you know what I really like is a cross between ZZ top and Throbbing Gristle,' they’re not gonna misinterpret what I’m saying, they’ll get it.
On tour loyalty
BO: I’m a creature of habit when it comes to that, if there’s people that I like I want it to stay that way, I want to work with them, I want to continue working with them from the booking agents to the clubs. There were clubs out there that we were playing in on this tour that we have been playing, this same club with these same promoter people for better part of 30 years. You treat me right, I’ll go back. I really appreciate the time and effort that that kind of stuff takes. And if you’re good people, I’m on your side every single step of the way.
SM: I really love Buzz’s sentiment, though, about continuing to go back to the same venues and the same promoters, in this industry you don’t get a lot of people that have that mentality, everyone is trying to grow and look for the next plateau and who should we be working with next and he’s (Buzz) like 'if its not broken, don’t mess with it.' There’s not a lot of that in this business. There’s not a lot of loyalty I don’t think.
On creating a setlist
BO: Yeah we made a setlist that’s new for this tour. We usually do that. Last time we went out, we had two bass players, Jeff Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers, which is another weird thing. I never would have guessed that we would be playing with him, but with both of those guys together that was really cool. So we have an entirely new thing. There might be a few of the same songs, not too many.
I mean the thing is the Melvins have so many records that even if there isn’t a brand new record, there’s plenty of ways to freshen up the setlist and make people super excited about what’s going on.
BO: Usually when we do the setlist, we go 'okay what works together, what would be good after this song.' We have a lot of odd tunings, so we’ll try to put the songs in the same tunings in the same spots, in the same section in the set so we don’t have to go back and forth and back and forth.
On Jimi Hendrix tuning
BO: I remember I saw him playing and I had heard this recording before and Joe actually, the bass player from Fugazi told me he did the same thing. We heard this recording and he’s doing all this crazy stuff and then I see the video and all it is was him having trouble with his gear. [both start laughing]
SM: You think he’s reinventing guitar playing.
BO: He makes it work
On having McDonald in the band
SM: They’ve made me listen to the album over and over, they said 'Play it exactly like that, play it just like that!'
BO: What we’ll do is I’ll show him the song and tell him to play it like this or play it better [in unison] Don’t even listen to the record! It’ll ruin it, it’ll ruin what you’re doing. I’d rather have him own what he’s doing. Don’t try to imitate what is going on on the record
SM: It’s funny because it makes me think of the super fan who knows every single note on the record who’s like "Ohhh the new guy! Uggh!'

Find Escape From L.A. Tour Dates over on the Melvins website.
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Last updated: 28 May 2020, 07:13 Etc/UTC