Mudhoney: Grunge Grows Up (Mark Arm Interview)

Although considered by many as the Godfathers of grunge, Mudhoney was never as angst-ridden as Nirvana, never serious as Pearl Jam and never quite as metal-influenced as Alice In Chains or Soundgarden. Oh sure, they wore the flannel but their sound was closer to LA’s Jane’s Addiction than anything going on in Seattle. While the band was Sub Pop’s first real success story, they never took home the big paycheck like their contemporaries. However, the Mudhoney sound has been an influential piece in contemporary rock. Seventeen years since their debut, the mud boys have returned.

Mudhoney’s origins can be traced back to the suburbs of Seattle when Mark McLaughlin – who later took on the name Mark Arm- and some high school chums formed the band Mr. Epp and the Calculations in 1980. “We began as an imaginary band formed by a couple of kids at Bellevue Christian High. One of the guys, Darren Morey, later in Steel Pole Bathtub, actually knew how to play an instrument, drums. The rest of us played nothing,” remembers Arm. “We used to hang out in Darren’s bedroom and record things into a shitty old cassette recorder. His drums were the only “real” instruments we had at the time. We used whatever we could find around the house that would make a sound, the blender, the TV, the vacuum, the cat.”

Instead of taking proper lessons, the band taught themselves how to play. Arm purchased a no-name guitar and a Peavy amp from a pawn shop while Darren’s little brother agreed to join them on bass, “ It took me at least six months to realize that there was such a thing as tuning and a bar chord,” laughs Arm.

As the band became more comfortable with their instruments, they began composing music, “We knew next to nothing about music, much less other people’s music. We did a few covers. Our first cover was a mangled Sonics song “The Witch.” We took a stab at “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but we could never figure out anything beyond the verse part. We messed around with Public Image, Sex Bomb and “Louie Louie,’” stated Arm.

It was during this time when Steve Turner joined the band and a musical partnership was formed. The duo would go on to form several bands including Green River with future Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. “I put the guitar down and picked up the mic for Green River. I didn’t write any of the music, except two or three songs very early on.” With a mix of proto metal, classic rock, glam wrapped up with a punk attitude unbeknownst to themselves, the band was creating a sound that would later be dubbed Grunge. “I didn’t set out to make a different kind of music, I set out to have fun. This was all about entertaining myself and my friends in a town where there wasn’t a whole lot to do,” said Arm, “My friends and I just wanted to play music that we liked that we weren’t hearing outside of our little group.”

In 1988 the band, now named Mudhoney, signed to Sub Pop and released the EP Superfuzz Bigmuff. The record did little in the states but following a UK tour with Sub Pop alumni’s Sonic Youth, the disc spent a better part of a year on the British charts. Word of Mudhoney’s success in Europe crept across the Atlantic and in 1989 the group released their self titled debut. At the same time, other Seattle bands began making waves but Arm doesn’t like to take credit for their achievements. “We might have had a very slight influence on Nirvana, if any. Both bands had similar influences. Soundgarden was going well before Mudhoney and I can tell by listening that we had no influence on their thing, “ recalls Arm. Pearl Jam was a major label band from the get-go. They didn’t build an underground following”.

After the band’s sophomore releases, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, Mudhoney began seeking a major label deal and in 1992 the signed with Reprise and released the seminal disc, Piece of Cake. While critics hailed Cake as brilliant, record buyers weren’t so kind as many fans thought Seattle bands were selling out with their big contracts, “There were plenty of folks married to the underground. Major labels were considered the enemy by most underground folks at the time. I assume those folks wouldn’t have allowed a Stooges or Clash album in their abode,” said Arm. “I remember getting a letter from a girl who thought the song “Acetone” from Piece of Cake was bullshit, and by extension so were we. There’s not much you can do about that. You can’t go around second-guessing, or caring, how your records are received. It’s always nice, when people dig your stuff, but still there’s nothing you can do about it and we don’t let it effect the way we approach our music.”

Subsequent albums got similar treatment and after the release of 1998’s Tomorrows Hits Today, the band was released by their label, “We were dropped because we weren’t shifting any units. A major-label doesn’t care if your music is eccentric or not as long as it sells” said Arm. The band took four years to regroup during which time Sub Pop released the compilation March To Fuzz. In 2002 Mudhoney resigned to the indie label and released Since We’ve Become Translucent. The disc tuned out to be the group’s most adventurous record to date as they incorporate horns on three tracks.

“Steve, Dan & I were in a Sonics cover band with Craig Flory who is an amazing sax player. We’ve loved the horns in the Saints, the MC5 and the Stones for a long time, but we didn’t know any horn players. When we hooked up with Craig we asked him to arrange some horn parts mainly to see if it would work, and by golly it did,” said Arm. Recorded in just eight days, the disc had an Iggy Pop and the Stooges edgy-jam vibe to it.

Now, four years after returning to Sub Pop, Mudhoney released their seventh studio record on March 7th, Under a Billion Suns. While the disc is reminiscent of translucent musical, it lyrically rails against conspicuous consumption, the empty accomplishments of the 20th century and the current conflict in Iraq leading the listener to sense some anger. “I’m not angry. I’m mostly happy. I’m especially happy when I’m hanging out with the people I love. I do get angry on occasion, but when I think about what’s happening in the world and what the future will bring, I mostly feel overwhelming sadness which leads to disillusionment. And this, in turn, has lead me to some of the lyrics on Under A Billion Suns,” said Arm.

Despite line-up changes, Mudhoney is the last band from the grunge era besides Pearl Jam who has successfully shifted away from that stale ‘Reality Bites’ sound and thrust aside the stereotype. While they have become somewhat experimental and political with age, Mudhoney are proving they can still kick the shit out of you with an impeccable youthful spirit.




Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide