We spoke with Buzz Osborne about the Manson murders, why no member of his band is replaceable, the one film he’s watched hundreds of times and his advice to any young person who wants to start a band.
If you want to make music, you should be as peculiar as possible. In every way. Be totally peculiar. Weird. That works. If you want to sound like somebody else, it’s not going to work.
It’s funny how some artists are extremely precious with their work – they’re worried about a very specific series of songs or records that culminates in some grand way. But you seem much more invested in moving forward and trying new things. If archaeologists dig up all your music in a thousand years, what conclusion would you want them to about who you are?
I don’t care at all. I’m not interested in legacy. I’m interested in what I’m doing now. But that’s not really up to me, people make those decisions themselves. People tend to look back at history in a weird way. I mean, it’s important to work as hard as you can on things, but I don’t spend a lot of time listening to old records. I don’t have a strong connection with it. Sometimes I’ll go back and revisit things if we’re going to play an older song in our live set, but I move on. We’re not a huge band on the arena-rock level of anything. I don’t know how seriously we’ll be taken by people even ten years after we’re done. I have no idea. I’m into the near-future and the near-past. That’s about it.
Please give a few points of advice to any young musician who’d like to make a record, tour, and join the whole rat race. What pitfalls should they avoid? What should they do, or not do, to be happy in the music world?
You should be as peculiar as possible. In every way. Be totally peculiar. Weird. That works. If you want to sound like somebody else, it’s not going to work. For very long, anyway. The weirder the better. You can’t be too weird. It’s not possible. Nobody told that to Alice Cooper. The weirder the better. Alice Cooper had great songs and he was really weird. Look at all the good bands. They’re always weird. The Stones are totally weird. The Beatles were completely weird. There’s nothing normal about any of those bands.
What about Throbbing Gristle or Judas Priest or any of those bands? They’re total weirdos. And they don’t look like anybody else and they don’t sound like anybody else. They’re freaks, anomalies. Like us. We have no brother bands. Who do we sound like? Nobody. I don’t fit into any category. Not the way I look, not the way I act, not the songs I write, none. It works. If we tried to sound like some other band, it wouldn’t work.
You have a better chance doing something that’s completely weird than you will by doing something that sounds like somebody else. Much better. But people don’t believe that. I don’t know why. “Oh, we’re going to be a metal band just like this.” Okay, well, good luck! They want to join some club or be part of something. I never wanted to do that. Never. That’s the key to me, personally. To never be a part of something that has a lot of “brother bands.”
We could play with some hardcore metal band or we could play with Dinosaur Jr. No problem. No sweat. Wouldn’t even be a wild stretch. We could play with Napalm Death, which we have, or any other number of bands and it would completely make sense. You don’t want to join anybody’s club. It’s like the stock market. If you hear about a stock, it’s too late to buy it.
I’m really of the idea that I want to do a lot of work, over a long period of time, as opposed to short-term goals.
What separates a believable band from an unbelievable band, in your eyes? Do you believe a great melody, lyric or attitude is the most important key to a great song?
Songs for sure. Lyrics and vocals. But not even lyrics, just the vocal delivery. With people like the Stones, you can’t even tell what Mick Jagger’s saying. But it doesn’t really matter. All three are important. I think that you answered your own question. It can be one element that makes a song better than the average song, but you need all three.
And then there’s performers who can take dogshit and turn it into gold. There’s no denying certain talents. They’re going to be good no matter what.
I’m interested in some of the common traps people fall into once they have started to play music and make a name for themselves. I know a lot of groups who hang on tightly to their “core membership.” They want to be in their gang, like the Beatles, but then they pass up opportunities when one member can’t be present. Do you think great music comes from working as a team, or having a strong leader?
I think it’s a team. In our situation, we’ve had a lot of different players, but none of them can be replaced easily. None of them. I’ve had people say we have a “revolving-door lineup of bass players.” That’s not fair to those guys. They’re all really good. They’re all amazing players. To say that I could just get anybody to do what Steven MacDonald does or what Kevin Rutmanis can do, that’s not fair to their abilities to me. I can’t go out and find a guy like Steven MacDonald again. I can’t go find another Kevin Rutmanis or another Trevor Dunn or another Jared [Warren] or Coady [Willis]. No. That’s not going to happen. They’re all very special talents. And what I can feel I can do is go out and find those special talents. I can search them out and have that happen.
I mean, you have to be diplomatic to some degree. Sometimes people have their certain personal foibles that happen, but you put up with it and sometimes you adjust your schedule for the greater good. And that’s okay. You can’t be completely blinded by whatever’s in front of you and miss the rest.
I’m really of the idea that I want to do a lot of work, over a long period of time, as opposed to short-term goals. So you have to know that this is special and these guys are good. That’s worth keeping.
Yep, that’s our first time. We wanted to do something big, but I had no interest in a double album where it was just the same kinds of songs. I thought that a double album where they’re adamantly opposed to each other would be a great place to start. We recorded them all at the same time… we didn’t do one record and then the other, we did them together. It’s cohesive to us. There’s these reviews where people are like “Oh, they’re not together at all!” And I’m like “In your mind!” Because you’re too narrow-minded to understand something that’s abstract.
That’s not my fault. I did my job. I gave you something that was completely interesting and cool, and you don’t get it. That’s not my fault. I can’t do anything about that. I can’t lead you and teach you what’s good about anything. That’s your journey for you to figure out. And if you can’t figure it out, there’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do is make it as interesting as I can, and know it’s good, and figure that I know it’s good and that it’s not just me being perverse. Then, I figure other people will like it. Not everybody in the world, but my target isn’t everybody in the world. If you try to appeal to everybody, you’ll appeal to no one.
My job is to do things that I think are huge, big-deal stuff. That’s my job. And I do my job. What I do is create music and play live. I do that as much as is humanly possible for me. Which is a lot, compared to everyone else. They’re just records. They’re not massively important in the grand scheme of the world. And to do one every year, or more than one every year, to me, is not a big deal. I just do it. I let other people work that out, while I continue to work. That’s important to me.
I think people often fall into this trap of thinking there’s a utopia they can create if they just could mold society in the way that they want. That’s absurd. It’s dangerous as well.
I understand that you made half of the record a soundtrack to a short film. I know you’re a big film and documentary buff – tell me about a couple of films that are dear to you.
I can tell you about two off the top of my head. There’s one called The Woodmans (2010) that I really like. It’s a documentary about a female photographer who didn’t get anywhere. Finally, she’d had it, she had some mental problems, and killed herself. Then, her stuff was deemed genius after that. Total tragic story. That’s a really good one. I think her photography’s amazing. Way ahead of her time. I think it looked like Joel Peter Witkin before anyone knew who he was.
I really love the movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962). That’s a really good one. Everybody should be familiar with that, and if not, they should immediately check it out. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve seen it in the theatre at least fifty times, and at home in full or in part hundreds of times. It’s all based on a book called Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I went to see T.E. Lawrence’s house that he lived in before he died of a motorcycle accident. That was pretty cool. Those are two big ones for me.
It didn’t help me. I don’t think being miserable is necessarily therapeutic. I think life is suffering, to some degree. That’s what religion tells you, that’s what they’re talking about. It’s not always going to be perfect, ever. If you’re trying to obtain that sort of thing, I think you’re going to be miserable no matter what. It’s going to slip through your fingers. So you’d better enjoy life while you’re on your way.
But that wasn’t a happy time for me. I don’t equate it to anything other than misery. And once I got away from that situation and realized that the world is a much bigger place, it was a relief! It enabled me to continue in my life in a way that made me much happier. That doesn’t mean that everything’s always perfect, but then, why would it be? Nothing’s perfect.
I think people oftentimes fall into this trap of thinking there’s a utopia they can create if they just could mold society in the way that they want. That’s absurd. It’s dangerous as well.
Please tell me about your understanding of lying and deception. Should it have a place in our relationships, where we shouldn’t tell someone the full truth, or is it unacceptable by all means?
Not if you use your head in that situation. People often say “Oh, I just wish you were straight with me!” and I always think “I don’t think you really mean that.” The last thing you want is for me to be straight with you. It’s certainly not going to help our relationship. I don’t think you should go through life hurting other peoples’ feelings because you value the truth so much. That’s a mirror sharpened at both ends. You jab it into somebody else, and it jabs back into you. I’d be careful with it if I was so inclined.
Most people probably lie on tax day. Is that wrong, inherently? You can take your chances with the government throwing you in prison, or you can bite the bullet. I don’t think it’s a crime to try and legally keep as much money as you can. But I think it’s a bad idea to go to jail.
Finally, can you tell me about your favorite trial, murder or crime case in American history? Why are you fascinated by it in particular, and why do you think we aren’t terrorized by such things as we were, say, in the eighties and nineties?
Well, I think we’re just waiting for the next one. I think my favorite might be the Charles Manson murders. That was pretty interesting. An interesting time in America, and the world. The ‘60s changed a lot of things, and maybe not all for the better. With all that change, some things are definitely going to be worse. I think he was a con man and a lot of stuff got blamed on him. But I wouldn’t let him out of prison. If it’d been me, I’d be dead if it wasn’t for them getting rid of the death penalty in 1973. They all got the death sentence. And I don’t know if I can argue with that. I don’t think the death penalty is good for anything other than revenge.
To me, that’s good enough in that situation. I am not going to tell the family of the Manson victims why that guy, why they should survive while their family members are dead. I’m not going to do that. John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy’s victims, who’s going to take that job? Explaining why these people should live? Not me. I don’t have the guts for that. Not many people do. And they might say they do, but they don’t really mean that.
I’m pro-choice and pro-death penalty, and there’s certainly no political party that speaks for me under those circumstances. It’s a weird position to be in. But honestly, I think people look at stuff like that – let’s say they show a live execution on TV, or they broadcast the sonogram of an abortion. There’d be people for and against both. If you humanized all of it, it would change peoples’ minds about a lot of stuff.
Unfortunately, I don’t think people think about that stuff enough. I don’t know why. It’s weird to me. Those are complicated and important issues that aren’t just simple, you know? I’m okay with the reality of them, exactly what they are. I’m okay with the complication of it. I can deal with that. But I don’t think most people think about it in those terms at all. “Those people should die.” Okay, well, can you flip the switch? Can you do it? “I’m totally into abortion.” Okay, well, do you want to look at one of those sonograms? Are you okay with it? It’s all kept hidden from us. All of it. I’ve spent a lot of time digesting those thoughts, and even imagining those two scenarios, I’m still pro-choice and pro-death penalty.
I don’t find a lot of people talking along those lines about any of that. Ever. It’s just left wide-open. I don’t know why! It’s almost like it’s not important. Whatever. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about that stuff with people. Almost never. They think they already know what the answer is, and they leave it at that. Well, maybe, but why don’t you think about it a little more? You might change your tune.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: September 20, 2017
Total questions: 9
Word count: 2557
Reading time: Ten minutes
Lawrence of Arabia viewings: Triple digits
Deception: Up to you
Could you flip the switch? Debatable
A Walk with Love & Death, Aberdeen, accident, Alice Cooper, bassist, belief, believable, Buzz Osborne, Charles Manson, club, death penalty, deception, Dinosaur Jr., diplomacy, Francesca Woodman, freak, goals, Judas Priest, Lawrence of Arabia, legacy, long-term, lying, Melvins, Mick Jagger, motorcycle, murder, normal, peculiar, pitfall, precious, rat race, reviews, Sharon Tate, short-term, T.E. Lawrence, taxes, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Woodmans, Throbbing Gristle, tragedy, unbelievable, Washington, weirdo
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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