In the ’40s, folk singer Woody Guthrie adorned his battered acoustic guitar with the slogan that reflected both his philosophical position and his belief in the power of music as a political weapon: “This Machine Kills Fascists”. Buzz Osborne (AKA King Buzzo), lead singer of legendary scuzz-punk band Melvins, murmurs in appreciation when I locate the title of his new acoustic solo album,This Machine Kills Artists, in the context of Guthrie’s famous rhetorical assertion.
Osborne demurs, however, when asked to explain the meaning of his own skewed manipulation of the slogan. “I’d prefer to leave the intended meaning of the quotation open to interpretation,” Osborne says. “I think that’s important.” And while Osborne has made the odd observation on politics in the past – including decrying both conservatism and classical liberalism – Osborne doesn’t see the inclusion of songs such as ‘Instrument Of God’, ‘How I Became Offensive’ and ‘Rough Democracy’ as reflecting a political aspect.
“I try not to be associated with something as trivial as politics,” Osborne says. “I tend to leave politics out of my music because I don’t want someone to be offended by something that’s got nothing to do with my music. I don’t make political statements with my music – I think the fact that I’m doing what I’m doing speaks for itself.”
In that subjective context, Osborne explains his decision to write and release an acoustic record as simply a continuation of the artistic journey he commenced over 30 years ago.
“There’s not a lot of stones unturned in my world,” he says. “I did an EP last year and then I realised I could do a full-length album. My tendency is to start things rolling, and then keep them rolling. Playing acoustic guitar live was always something that I had in the back of my mind. I’ve written a lot of our songs on acoustic guitar but on paper it didn’t sound like it would work – but it does.”
Osborne concedes that the acoustic format lends itself to a different style of songwriting, but says the songs on This Machine Kills Artists are more about the type of guitar he used than anything about the acoustic genre as a whole.
“I believe every guitar has its own songs in it,” Osborne says. “I will write a different song on acoustic guitar to an electric guitar. If you write a song on a cheap junk guitar, it’ll be different to a song written on a Les Paul – that’s just how it works. I don’t know why.”
Not long before he died, Memphis musician Jay Reatard took to playing acoustic guitar in his live set – partly, Reatard claimed, to confront those members of the punk rock community who saw acoustic guitar as anathema to punk. Osborne, however, isn’t making such a provocative statement.
“I’ve never seen it that way. Bob Dylan was pretty punk rock back in the day – he wasn’t writing greasy pop tunes. He had a pretty dim view of the world, and I don’t think that’s changed. I’m not doing it to piss anyone off – I like what I’m doing. And I apologise for none of it.”
King Buzzo’s initial acoustic EP included covers of a couple of Melvins tracks; his live set includes both tracks from the new record and a sampling of Melvins songs transposed to the acoustic format. But even with his revisiting of his past, Osborne is looking to move on and observe the public’s reaction to his latest artistic foray.
“My favourite director is John Huston. He used to finish his movies, watch them in the editing suite and never watch them again,” Osborne says. “And I love that – by the time I put a record out I’m ready to move on. It’s already old news to me. It’s in the hands of the public now – I’m done. I can’t censor any of it now. Let the process begin.”