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Mudhoney - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 26 / 9 / 2002

Mudhoney - Interview


One of the founders of the grunge movement, Seattle's Mudhoney have just released their eighth album 'Since We've Become Translucent'. Mark Rowland talks to singer Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner about the new record and their fifteen year history

In the rock n roll craze that has hit Britain recently, the sounds of certain bands can be heard in a lot in the music of many new bands. As well as obvious influences like The Stooges, there is one more recent band that can be heard in sveral of these new groups. That band is Mudhoney. Back in the early nineties, while a lot of Seattle bands became more commercially viable, Mudhoney held on strongly to their independence, and when they did finally sign to a major, they never compromised their sound. Mudhoney formed back in 1987, from the ashes of Green River, who, along with the Melvins, are known as two of the very first grunge bands, matching fuzzy punk with metal dynamics and the odd metal riff. Mudhoney added the raunchy fuzz rock sound of the Stooges in with this to create their own sound, which has remained theirs for the last 15 years. While there were often similarities in sound between many of the other grunge bands, Mudhoney never really sounded like anyone else. They were catapulted to 'hip underground band' status with their early single 'Touch Me I'm Sick', and have never really lost that status, and have never become as mainstream as their peers. This doesn't matter, however, as they write great tunes. Their latest album, 'Since We've Become Translucent', is one of the best albums of their career and maintains the classic Mudhoney style, but also expands on it by adding a horn section and organ parts to some tracks. The group until this latest album has consisted of singer/guitarist Mark Arm ; guitarist Steve Turner ; drummer Dan Peters and bassist Matt Lukin, but Lukin has now amicably left the group and been replaced by Guy Maddison. I'm a huge fan of Mudhoney's, so you can imagine, how excited and nervous I was at the prospect of actually meeting them face to face. Mark Arm and Steve Turner are sitting on a sofa in a living room, as I sit down in a chair positioned slightly to the side of them. The telly in the room is on MTV2, but the sound is off. Arm and Turner just can't seem to stop laughing throughout the interview, living up to Mudhoney's reputation as being jokers (just check out some of their album titles). In fact there were so many bouts of laughter that I couldn't really put all of them in. Perhaps you'll be able to work out where they're supposed to go. PB : This is your eighth album and your 15th year as a band, did you think you would last this long when you first started? ST : No. (laughs) We didn't consider ourselves more than a quick project when we started. I was planning to go back to school, Mark had just broken up Green River- By being difficult (laughs)- and Dan was in two other bands when he agreed to play with us, and at the time Matt lived down in Aberdeen, three hours away, so it kind of seemed like we were just gonna record a few songs and put them out as singles, and that was about all as far as our plans went, so since then we've kinda been on borrowed time. MA : Time keeps tickin' but we keep resetting the clock. ST : We keep hitting the snooze button PB : Are you surprised that you've outlived so many of the other Seattle grunge bands? MA : I'm not surprised that we outlived Lane Staley (Alice in Chains frontman who overdoes earlier this year). ST : I think it would surprise me no matter what scene we came from for any rock band to have been together this long, in a certain way. For me to have been in a band this long, it surprises me, yes. PB : Has the music scene changed at all over the years? ST : The overall music scene? Not really. There's lots of shitty pop music, and a handful of good bands in the underground. The faces change, but the story stays the same. MA : Right, exactly. ST : Shitty music popular, good music not popular. MA : Like every once in a rare while a good band actually breaks through, but I don't think that's happened in a long time. ST : Yeah, at least, not in a huge way, not in America like the way Nirvana broke through, MA : That's kinda it I think. Anyone else? ST : Not anyone that I thought was good. MA : I liked Right Said Fred alright. ST : Hmm. I preferred their earlier, more difficult period, myself MA : That stuff's just so completely meaningless, and funny, ST : What's so meaningless about being too sexy for your shirt, What can't you understand about that! MA : What I mean is, they didn't seem to take themselves too seriously, and not like say, anyone in like those boybands, and girl singers, or whatever.Boybands and girl singers, that's the way it works isn't it? (Laughs) PB : When Matt Lukin quit the band, was there a point where you considered calling it a day? ST : When he left, we didn't want to consider anything, we just took a break,me and Mark went off and did Monkey Wrench and, we just kind of let it rest for a while, then we got back together, the three of us, and decided that yeah, we would keep going. MA : We essentially got together and said okay, you know, I need a bit more space, I'm gonna start seeing other people, but we're not breaking up, okay. ST : We'll just see other people. MA : Yeah, so we did, and Steve and I saw some other people together. ST : It's nothing personal. It's not you it's me! MA : Yeah, it's not you it's me, so we saw some other people with Monkey Wrench, and then we were back together. ST : Sometimes we had a few crazy nights with Dan included, and some other people. MA : That's true. ST : As the new original sonic sound, and then we decided to commit once again. PB : How did you reach the decision that Guy Maddison would be your new bass player? ST : We didn't really have to look that hard. MA : Yeah. He's been a friend for a long time; we've played in a couple of bands with him, at the same time as Mudhoney, in the 1990's. So it was very easy to come up with Guy Maddison as being the guy. PB : What was the appeal of using a horn section on the new album? ST : We hadn't used one before, there was something appealing about that. MA : We thought it would sound good, so we thought we'd give it a try. ST : We kinda just had one song that we thought we were gonna use it on, which was 'Come to Where the Flavour is' and uh, I threw in a couple of extra words into the title of the song there (laughs). MA : The real title is 'Where the Flavour is'. Ignore him. Since we had the same section there when we recorded songs like 'Take It Like a Man', we decided to see whether I worked with that too. ST : And we decided it did, MA : So we kept it. ST : But I think, one of our jointly favourite bands, especially now we have an Australian in the band, is the Saints, a great band form there, and they use lots of horn sections in a similar way too. MA : Yes, especially on the albums 'Eternally Yours',and 'Prehistoric Silence'. There are plenty of Saints records after that, but I would avoid them. If you're looking for a Saint's record, look for the one's with Ed Kuepper, spelt K E U P P E R, He's the guitar player, so if it's got Ed on there, it's a good record. ST : Yeah so, we knew someone who could do it for us, which was Craig Flory. MA : Spelt F L O R Y ST : K R E G G MA : Kregg? (both laugh heartily) PB : Do you think the Stooges-y elements to your sound could win you a few new fans with the current rock trend? MA : You mean the Stooges-y elements that have been there since day one? PB : That's the one's, yeah, ST : That's not a new appeal, but maybe some people that are actually into what's going on right now. Maybe they've been told that we're cool now too. That'd be great. It's about time that we're cool again. MA : Right. We're getting fed up of all our hot and lukewarm years. ST : Come to think of it I don't think we've ever really been that cool. I like to be cool, I like to think that I'm cool. MA : I think you're cool, Steve. ST : I know, but if you're not cool, that means nothing. But now you're cool again, maybe. PB : Do you think the garage rock craze going on at the moment is a fad? MA : Oh, yes, it's a fad, it's definitely a fad, especially in Britain. I mean it's been going on for many years with nobody in the NME or anyone like that giving a shit about it. Did the gories get huge ? NO. there's been a healthy Garage rock scene in the states for decades. Since the sixties (Laughs)... ST : Yeah, so definitely, right now, it's a fad, and it's gonna be over, here, at some point it'll, you know, what's partly the killer is that you know that there's gonna be a bunch of really shitty bands that are gonna be talked about for a while, I mean the White Stripes are great, you know, I don't know what's coming next in it, but the next couple of bands will be a little less great and a little bit less great, until suddenly everyone doesn't care anymore. MA : It's gonna start moving ever closer to pop and mainstream, Sort of like how there was Nirvana, then eventually there was like Bush, and now you've got bands like Creed. ST : It gets worse and worse and worse. MA : Yeah, it just gets worse over time. ST : There'll still be really great Garagey bands way underground, you know. MA : That are completely ignored by the mainstream press. But that's cool, I mean who cares about the Mainstream press? ST : It's great if you can get some great music out of it. MA : Yeah, I mean people like Billy Childish who've been doing this, you know for 25 years is finally getting himself a bit of acknowledgement, and sell more records. PB : I saw him yesterday for free with the Buff Medways. They were brilliant. He's from the same area as me too. He's from Chatham. He's a local boy. We're very proud of him. ST : We're very proud of him, he's been a huge hero for many years. MA : (to Steve Turner) Does Mickey live in Chatham? ST : No, he lives in Rochester, on a boat. I'm going to Rochester this afternoon. That's near Chatham, right? PB : According to one of our tabloid papers, Rochester is one of the worst towns in Britain ST : Rochester? PB : Yeah, along the High St, apparently. ST : Why? What's in Rochester? PB : Prostitutes as young as twelve. MA : AW SWEET! Can I go Steve? ST : I was up there for the Dickens festival, a couple of years ago. That was fun. PB : Yeah, they like dressing up in Rochester ST : Yeah, it's really really funny. MA : They like dressing up twelve year old girls as Dickens characters ST : Or prostitutes right. MA : That's saucy. PB : What was it like working with Wayne Kramer? ST : Really fun. It was just one two day period of our lives, working with Wayne Kramer. MA : We never really thought we would meet him necessarily, much less play with him. ST : He's a nice guy. A very cool guy. Cooler than you'd expect, all around, you know, very smart, well spoken, great musician, etc etc, tells great stories. PB : How did that collaboration come about? ST : He was putting together a compilation album, and he asked us to be on it. MA : He was gonna come up to produce the recordings ST : Yeah, and the he ended up playing the bass. He didn't know that we didn't have a bass player. This was after Matt had quit, and he came to Mark's house where we rehearse, and he was watching us rehearse for a while, and the bass was just kind of sitting there, and he was like " Mind if I play bass?" and uh, you know, we said no at first, and said "You just sit there mister Kramer" MA : We won't have another outburst from you." ST : You know, we said "Fuck yeah, you play the bass, please!" and the next day, in the studio he played the bass as well. PB : Are you sick of playing 'Touch me I'm Sick' yet? ST : Not really no. I mean we don't tour very much anymore so we don't really get sick of any of our songs at this point. When we used to tour a lot, We'd get sick of playing any number of songs, so we wouldn't play them for a while, and then they'd work there way back in, and be refreshed. Then we'd kick out some other shitty old song we were sick of. So no, I like that song, it's a rockin little ditty. One of the best songs ever recorded. MA : Bar none. PB : You've had some pretty weird album titles over the years. How do you go about coming up with titles for your albums? MA : Usually, we just chop up a bunch of words, or letters and put em in a hat and throw em out on the floor and see what order they come out in and if it doesn't come down in any order we just squint, until it maybe comes into focus. ST : Or Mark'll say what he wants the title to be and we'll mishear, and repeat it back totally wrong, and that'll be the title. MA : That's happened several times. PB : The title of the new album seems kind of sensible. ST : Comparatively yeah (laughs). It's no 'Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew' MA : Or 'My Brother The Cow'. ST : Uh, yeah, it's much better. MA : The last few titles have actually kinda been more sensible, you know like 'Tomorrow Hit today' and 'Since We've Become Translucent'. 'Superfuzz Bigmuff' was a good title. ST : That made sense, yeah. PB : Do you think that's a sign of aging? ST : (Laughs)Using more sensible titles ? Yeah, we're looking for order in the world. We're tired of chaos. PB : Can you see a point where you'd start to feel tired of doing what you do? MA : Who knows? That may happen, but you know we're not like on any sort of roller coaster ride or forced to keep doing anything, we're going at our own pace. We haven't burned ourselves out on it yet. ST : Yeah, we take a lot of time off at this point. We've all got jobs and families, and things like that, that take our time, so it's no longer a career, so that makes it a whole lot more attractive just right off the bat. You know, it's like a fun thing, we get to do. PB : This is a moody one: The '90s Seattle scene has had more than it's fair share of deaths in the ranks of it's bands. Has that ever affected you enough to affect your band or your touring schedules? ST : When people actually die? I mean it's horrible when people die, of course, but it doesn't really affect the band. I mean someone like Layne Staley dying that's just, you know, a foregone conclusion for the last five years, at least. He was, you know, doomed. He seemed dead set on it, so, you know. While he wasn't actually a friend of mine, it's still a horrible death. It's a sad waste, it's tragic, etceteras. MA : I knew him alright back in the early nineties, but you know, obviously I didn't see him after a while. So, yeah, people die all the time, and I'm not convinced that the grunge scene has any more than any more than anybody in the punk scene, in the hippy scene, or whatever. You know people die all over the place. ST : Accidents, drugs, MA : Yeah, accidents, drugs, base jumping. ST : People die. MA : I mean there's a certain amount of risk when you're doing almost anything. ST : And grunge is one of 'em. MA : I mean, Christ, driving in a tour bus. ST : That's very scary to me. Or a van, with thousands of pounds of equipment. MA : There's a lot of sixties folk singers who are all dead. PB : Nick Drake. He's dead. MA : Yeah, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, Fred Niel, A lot of those guys, you know, like these wimpy folk singers were all into hard drugs. PB : Finally, the Killer question: a death of a band member does wonders for sales. Would you ever consider sacrificing a member of your band to sell more records? (Much hilarity) MA : The thing is with that is that it doesn't always necessarily work. Like there was this band Material Issue, from Chicago, and a year or two after the singer from that band killed himself, and do you know who Material Issue is? ST : They had a hit. MA :Yeah they had a hit, like a MTV hit. ST : And, lets not forget that band from Arizona, the Gin Blossoms? Yeah the Gin Blossoms had a big hit, then they fell on one hit wonder misfortunes, and one of their main guys killed themselves and it sure didn't make you run out and buy a Gin Blossoms record. MA : We're not willing to take that kind of risk, and plus I think in order to make that kind of thing happen, the person that would have to kill themselves or die would be the singer, and I'm fuckin not gonna do that. You could sacrifice Matt or Guy or something, maybe. ST : Yeah, we'll just have to go and get another bass player MA : No, it's not worth it. ST: No, it's too hard to teach bass players the songs. PB : You could fake your own death and move to a nice Island somewhere. MA : Oh what you mean like with Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix? PB : There's probably an Island somewhere where all the dead rock stars are. They're probably having a great time. MA : Oh yeah, definitely, there is. ST : We've been there. PB : Thank you

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