The Melvins' first major-label album, 1993's Houdini, came out at a time when corporate record labels were seemingly courting every band even tangentially associated with the Northwest grunge scene. The Melvins, though, were not tangential to grunge so much as foundational, laying much of the sound's groundwork with their combination of sludge, metal, and punk rock. Formed 10 years prior in Montesano, Washington, the band—then consisting of founder Buzz Osborne, drummer Dale Crover, and bassist Lorax—relocated to San Francisco to record Houdini (the band now lives in L.A. and performs with members of former Seattle duo Big Business). To celebrate the band's 25th anniversary, their current tour features the Melvins performing Houdini live in its entirety with Crover on drums and Trevor Dunn on bass, as well as material from the band's first year together featuring founding members Mike Dillard on drums and Matt Lukin on bass. Osborne spoke to The Stranger by phone from his home in Los Angeles.
You performed Houdini in its entirety for the first time in 2005 at All Tomorrow's Parties and then recorded it for Houdini Live: A Live History of Gluttony and Lust after that. How was it performing these songs again?
It was great. I think [the live recording] is better than the [original] record, personally. We had never played [album-closing 10-minute experimental noise track] "Spread Eagle Beagle" live. But when the ATP people wanted us to do that record for their Don't Look Back series, that meant we had to figure out all the songs on the record that we never intended to play live—and there were a number of them on that record. But there are songs on almost all of our records that we never intend to play live. I think playing live and recording are very separate animals. When you listen to recorded music, it's a much more intimate setting. You're probably in your car or at home, or listening on a set of headphones...
For me it was usually when I was smoking pot in my bedroom.
Well, you're probably not the only one.
Is Houdini a personal favorite of yours?
No. But I'm a really bad person to ask about that stuff, because I'm hearing it warts and all. I'm hearing it with different ears than you. I would never want to rain on your experience with it by saying you are wrong for liking it. I would never do that. I put out records that I like. But of all the records that we've done, that wouldn't even be in the top five. That's not to say it's bad. It's just we put out a lot of records.
Kurt Cobain is credited as a coproducer on the album. How did he get involved with the production?
The head of A&R at Atlantic, a guy who also ran Kurt Cobain's management company, suggested producers, and we were like, "No, no, no." And then he goes, "What about Cobain?" And I go, "Well, that's kind of an interesting idea I haven't thought of. Yeah, maybe." Unfortunately, Cobain was in no shape to produce anything. So we got into the recording sessions, and I went to the A&R guy at Atlantic and said, "Look, I'm not recording with him anymore. I'm firing him, essentially." Kurt did what he did as much as he possibly could as far as I'm concerned, and that was the end of that.
Were there hard feelings there?
I have a lot of hard feelings with a whole lot of stuff that went on around that whole camp. None of it is good. There is not a lot of good vibes or good scenarios in that situation. There is no happy ending.
Is there a stigma you have with the record?
No, nothing ruined it for me, not in the least. The experience in and of itself was clouded by a lot of rock star–ish issues. I mean managers, booking agents, road-crew pricks, and on and on and on. And horrible wives! Especially in the Courtney Love department. If you look at what's going on with her now, it's almost like, "Well, there is a God, because she has nothing." Not that she had anything to begin with, but you get around her for very long and it's a bad vibe. Anybody who wants to look at that through rose-colored glasses is just off their fucking rocker. If you want to apologize for that cunt, you can go ahead, because I'm not. I think she's a horrible human being. It sounds like the way things are going for her, I really couldn't wish on her anything worse than what she's doing to herself. It worked out. There is no happy ending to that story. The fact of the matter is Kurt Cobain is dead, you know? That is it. That will cloud everything. There is no good side to it.
This year you're celebrating the band's 25th anniversary. Aside from playing Houdini in its entirety, you're doing some other stuff with the original lineup?
We're all doing stuff from 1983.
A quarter-century is a good long while to be playing music.
It's a good long while to be doing anything.