The Melvins' first time in New Orleans might have saved the group's life. The band, which married sludge and punk in the fertile northwest before "alt-rock" vomited into the '90s, suffered through one of its worst tours in 1986. "They weren't interested in our long-haired shit at all," says singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne. "We lived in Seattle and they didn't like us there either. ... We had a horrible tour. It was horrendous. Bad news everywhere we went, bunch of assholes, all skinheads, people who didn't give a shit. Everything in Texas sucked."
But New Orleans, where Melvins has made frequent stops in its nearly 30-year career (including Osborne's intimate solo acoustic performance earlier this year), helped avert a complete tour disaster.
"They were just normal punk rock people. They seemed like they had a bit more of an open mind. We had a great show there, and that was the only one, and we continued to always have a good time in New Orleans," he says. "Then we get on the East Coast, Philadelphia or something, and went home. We had had it. We were playing with some horrible band, this generic-sounding hardcore band. We were like, 'F— this.'"
The band's return to New Orleans at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience follows the release of Hold It In, which features guitarist Paul Leary and bassist Jeff Pinkus of longtime noisemakers Butt- hole Surfers. The album includes Os-borne's signature grizzly guitar-stabs, chugging alongside Leary's offbeat space-rock.
"I don't think we can do anything other than a Melvins album," Osborne says. "It was great to do this with them and have it work out this way. I've always been a Butthole Surfers fan. I think I first saw them in '83. I always thought they were one of the good guys, doing lots of weird shit, and I was all over it. It's like a dream come true."
Pinkus, who says his driver's license still says he lives in New Orleans, is happy to share writing credits with Osborne. "He likes to get submissive every now and then," Pinkus says, laughing. "I put in earplugs so I don't have to listen to these guys. They can play whatever I'm playing. I think it's worked out this way. I'm usually a control freak, but not today. I'm an out-of-control freak."
While Melvins is mostly Osborne's effort (with drummer Dale Crover), he doesn't mind handing over the reins. "I'm not really precious with the whole thing," he says. "Before we do anything, Jeff yells at us for 20 minutes about what we're doing wrong. Then he mellows out, once his meds kick in, then it's all good."
Before he found punk rock (Sex Pistols, The Stooges, MC5 and early '80s hardcore bands), Osborne grew up listening to KISS, Ted Nugent and David Bowie. "I never really looked back from that," he says. "I didn't grow out of that. When you're 14 years old listening to Diamond Dogs, it's kind of a head spinner."
Melvins' sprawling back catalog includes more than two dozen albums, including 1993's influential Houdini and several live albums, compilations and one-off collaborations with artists from dark ambient composer Lustmord to Jello Biafra.
Osborne often is credited with introducing Dave Grohl to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. Osborne caught some flak during his recent solo tour for an anecdote about trying to meet with Grohl, which hasn't happened (not for lack of Osborne's trying) following Grohl's post-Nirvana success. Melvins performs the same weekend as Grohl's multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning Foo Fighters.
"Not the same night though," Osborne says. "I won't have to worry about Dave Grohl."
Osborne isn't counting on Grohl to watch the Melvins' set.
"F— no. They never have. Why would they now? They're busy doing whatever millionaires do."