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Mucho Macho - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 15 / 6 / 2003

Mucho Macho - Interview


Steve Turrner is best known as the guitarist with grunge band Mudhoney, but has recently released an acoustic folk album, 'Searching for Melody'. Back for a second interview with Pennyblackmusic, he talks to Mark Rowland about his two musical careers

I don't know about you, but to me Mudhoney are legends. If I had to choose between all of the bands that came out of the late 80's Seattle scene, it would probably be Mudhoney that I'd choose. The fact that they still going is also fantastic, because if they weren't, I probably wouldn't have got the chance to meet both Mark Arm and Steve Turner for an interview last year. That remains my favourite interview that I've done in the two years I've been writing for Pennyblackmusic, purely for the fact that I got to talk to two of the members of MUDHONEY- absolutely brilliant. Now, I'm meeting Steve Turner again, several months on from that last interview. I'm interviewing Steve again because he's just released a solo record, 'Searching for Melody', an acoustic folk album which takes its influences from 60's and 70's singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Fred Neil and Townes van Zandt. It is actually quite surprising from a fan's point of view at least that a member of Mudhoney would record a folk album , but for me it's not an unwelcome one, as Mr. Turner has revealed himself to be a strong songwriter in his own right, and, as it is Mark Arm who does the vocals in Mudhoney, to also have a good singing voice. I meet up with Steve at the 100 club along London's Oxford Street. Steve is town playing a set with other folk acts in celebration of his new album's label, Loose Records' 5th anniversary. My initial thought on going to meet him again is that whether he'll remember me from last time. Steve does remember who I am, which makes me feel a whole lot better- At least the last interview wasn't totally forgettable. After a very brief sound-check at the venue, we relocate to a nearby pub to start the interview. Firstly, though, there's something I have to ask him (if you read the previous Mudhoney interview, this'll make a lot more sense): "So, been to Rochester lately?" "You know, I haven't been there since.Did you interview me on the press only tour, or when we played?" "I think it was the press only tour." "It was on that trip that I went down there, hung out with a couple of my friends, got laid by a coupla prostitutes. It was fun." "Good stuff. Have you been to any of the pubs there ? The King's head's quite good." "No, My friends there don't drink, so I haven't really had a chance to go to any of them." "Oh, that's a shame. They have a quiz night down there every Wednesday, I believe. It's quite good." "Sounds cool !" It's at that this point that I must stress that Steve didn't actually get laid by a couple of prostitiutes. Thought I'd better mention that, as I don't really fancy getting sued any time soon. PB : Your new album 'Searching for Melody' is your first solo record. Is this the first time you've sung on a record? ST : No, I've sung one song on a Mudhoney record, I can't remember which one. Oh, it was 'Paperback Light', and I've sang on one song on a Sad and Lonelys record, maybe two, and I still do that song, 'The Idiot Blues'. I guess I added the 'blues' to the title for this record, but it's still the same song. It's like I've sung at least one song with every band I've been in,like I used to sing a song with my first band Green River years ago which never made it onto a record. I never really had any ambition to sing, so I never bothered. PB : Was there any point when you were worried your singing voice wouldn't be any good when you went to record these songs? ST : How I sound? PB : Yeah. ST : Not really. I think, you know, I kind of like the way I sing, but in the early days, I didn't really want to sing rock n roll, I don't think my voice is really suited to it. I'm so used to Mark's voice too that I just sound completely non-rock n roll compared to him, so I guess it took me a while to realise that I should be singing folk music. PB : Yes, as you've just pointed out, this album is like a pure folk album. ST : I'm sure I must've talked about folk music last time because pretty much most of what I listen to, it's always been folk and stuff. PB : Yeah, but what was it that got you into folk music? Was there any one song or record that really got you into it? ST : Oh, that was the first music I listened to as a kid, Irish folk music like the Clancy brothers, and stuff, because that's the only records my parents had. There was no rock n roll in the house really, when I was a kid. I grew up listening to show tunes, and folk music, with a little bit of blues and classical, because that's all the house had. I didn't really like rock music when I was a kid, like all my friends went through a phase where they were like 12 and they were really into Kiss.It just sounded really retarded. I listened to Kiss and thought "That's just really stupid". I never really liked it, but later I listened to punk rock and Igot it, you know, I mean there's quite a connection between punk rock and folk music anyway. They're both really direct, simple forms of music, so I can see the connection between the two looking back- of course I was going to like punk rock. It's loud, speeded up, angry folk music. PB : Obviously preferably you wouldn't really want you're music to be compared to anyone else, but, if you had to be favourably compared to any folk artist, who do you think it would be? ST : I don't know. I mean the grandaddy of all that has to be Bob Dylan, you know. Almost anybody I would like to be compared to have been influenced by Dylan in some way. Bruce Dickinson-I did an interview with him for the BBC-told me I sounded like James Taylor, which is kind of, not quite an insultfor me, but James Taylor was kind of the wimpy guy of folk music. I don't really give a shit anymore. Sure I like some James Taylor now, but there yougo. I think my voice sounds a little like Phil Ochs at times. I would love to be compared to Liam Clancy, one of the Clancy brothers, I think he has one of the best voices in folk music. A lot of the other singers I like have lower voices than me, like Hoyt Axton and Fred Neil have really, reallylow voices, and I don't have that. My favourite American songwriter would be Townes van Zandt, so if I'm going to compared to anybody, being compared to him would be great. PB : Did you have to think a lot differently when it came to writing these songs compared to writing with Mudhoney ? ST : Well, totally, because I don't have any control over the vocal melodywhen I'm writing with Mudhoney, even if I come up with a riff and I do a little vocal melody over the top of it, I know Mark won't do it. We both think pretty differently when it comes to writing music. The way a song goes together in our heads is always quite different. Mark's always lookingfor something a little more out there than I am. He's more of an experimenter I think. He's always looking to push the boundaries a little bit, while I'm quite happy to find a good melody to fit a chorus. But it's such a different beast, you know. With Mudhoney I'm just trying to rock out, write some good riffs, while this is me trying to combine everything together where it all works by me alone, you know, like that's the goal. I want the songs to be able to stand on their own with just one guitar and one voice, so I'm not thinking about any other kind of stuff initially. PB : As lyrics aren't normally your forte when it comes to your other bands, did you find it difficult to come up with the lyrics to these songs? ST : No, lyrics are pretty easy for me, I normally write them really fast.The songs are usually pretty short, so there's not a lot of lyrics to them, and I want them to be really instant. The best lyrics I've written are the ones that I've written all in one go, in like 5 minutes or whatever, and then it might take me like another year to come up with a piece of music that they'd fit to, I have hundreds of song lyrics which I haven't put to music yet. PB : What sort of subject matter do you cover in your songs? ST : Bad thoughts (laughs). People keep asking me that, I think it's just easier to write kind of sad songs, to get it all out that way. Any weird little insecurities and doubts I have I write them down fast, whatever they are and then I look back on them and see if I can relate them to a few more people that I know. If what I consider the key lines can relate to other people's lives then I know that they're good. If it's all about me, then it's not good. PB : I know this is a really obvious question, so in advance sorry, but what do the other members of Mudhoney think of your record? ST : Well Dan Peters (Mudhoney's drummer) played on it, and Dan is more likely out of anyone in Mudhoney to understand this kind of music, because he's into a lot of it as well. The two of us lived together for three years, and that was about ten or twelve years ago, and at that point I was getting really into folk music, and I was always playing the records and turning him onto different people, and then he played with people like Mark Lanegan, , so I think he understands it pretty well, and he likes the way it came out. Mark was just really surprised, I gave him a copy of the demo tape I did and he was like, "What?! You can sing!" (Laughs), because no-one had really heard me sing. I was like "'Yeah, I didn't know that either!", but yeah Mark really likes it too, and Guy (Maddison, Mudhoney's bassist) they've all come to see me play.I play a lot in Seattle, like at little weird open mike things, andstuff, and they all seem to like it. I don't think that they would ever make a record like it, but that's why it's my record, and not theirs, you know. PB : I've just thought of this question, and I'm going back a bit in theconversation, but earlier you said that when you think about writing songsyou mainly try to find a good melody to fit the chords. Is that kind ofwhere the title of your record came from? ST : Searching for melody? Not really, that's actually about someone else. Ihave a friend called Melody, and another one of my friends, one of myskateboard buddies, had a big crush on her, and was asking everybody (adoptsskate dude voice), "Hey man, do know that girl Melody? God yeah, she'sreally cool man, I was talking to her at this party and stuff", so some ofthe lines in that song are direct quotes from him. Ijust thought it was a good funny title. It's nothing to do with music at all. It's just about a girl (laughs). PB : Do you think like that a lot when it comes to titling your songs, or do you just take it from the lyrics? ST : A lot of the songs initially were just the first line of the lyrics, andsome of them still are, just the first few words of the song, and then with some of them I went back to and re-titled to a more obvious title, like 'Living through the Mistakes' was called 'Wish I Was Smarter' for a long time, MaybeI should've left it like that, but you know, whatever. (Laughs) PB- You've been playing shows over here with just you on your own with aguitar.Is that how you prefer to play the songs on 'Searching for Melody'? ST : Well, usually I have a second guitar player, Johnny Sangster, the guy that produced the record, and he played with me in Spain before I came here. He he did the first two London shows, then I sent him home, because we had so many days off, and I wasn't getting paid for the London shows, so the money he'd earned from the two weeks in Spain would just end up getting spent so he could hang out with me, and he has a wife and kids, so I told him "You know you can't waste all your money just to hang out with me and play acouple more stupid shows. Just go home. Your wife will kill ME if you gohome broke" so I sent him home, unfortunately, but I like playing the showsby myself because it's scarier. It's like that which can't kill you makes you stronger, so I think I'm getting better every time I play live, because the pressure's on. PB : Yeah, it can be really bad, can't it? When I was at school doing GCSE music they kept making me play in front of people on my own. I was always scared shitless. ST : Yeah it's a whole different thing, but I've been playing in bands for twenty years now, and it's nice to have a challenge. It's scary, and that makes it kind of fresh, because of that. I get ervous and stuff,and that's a good thing. PB : It's the fear of making mistakes. ST : Yeah, but I'm kind of over that, because I've made so many mistakes playing live. It's like "whatever". You know, it's actually easier to correct mistakes when you're on your own. You can start over, change the song, tell a story. Itdoesn't matter. PB : Do you have any plans to tour these songs with the full band that played on the record? ST : I don't think so, I don't have any desire to play with a full band right now. I'd rather keep it stripped down. I don't want to make it easy for me. I want to keep making me write songs that have to be good enough to stand out on their own. It's so easy to get lazy if you're playing with a band, because if you keep the beat going, they can sound alright, but I want to push myself a little bit more right now. And it's also so separate from Mudhoney, it's like there's no mistake about i. I'm playing folk music(Laughs). Get the shock out of the way for the people who care. PB : There seems to be quite a few modern folky acts around at the moment. Can you see yourself fitting in with that group of artists? ST : I don't know where I fit in, I don't know whether it's going to, and I don't really care, to be honest. I'm not making a living from it. It's just something I'm doing, and I'm really into it. I'm keeping it pretty simple and not really worrying about it. I'm really excited that people are turning up to the shows and seem to be really getting into it, but if they don't,I don't really care, it's fun. It's a challenge, and back home there's a group of us that play shows together. There's a little scene and we feel like we're in it together, and that feels really good. There's a little family we've got in Seattle right now, so that's really good, and it's amazing that I'm over here again and doing this right now, but it's so much easier if there's only one or two people coming over here. The expenses are so much lower. I can fly free over here because I've got so many air miles saved up on frequent flyer miles, I know lots of people here so I can stay with them. It's pretty simple. It's like being in the starving artist phase (Laughs). PB : You've now got three different outputs for your music with Mudhoney, the more Stones-y Monkeywrench, and your folk stuff. Is there any other kind of music you want to try your hand at? ST : I think that's enough, three of them right now, because it's so hard to find time to do, with everyone else's schedule being so weird too. If I tried to add something else I'd end up getting really confused. Monkeywrench wants to finish up a record this Fall, Mudhoney wants to start recording again so we've been writing again, I want to start recording again. I've got a whole album of songs written and ready to go, so I'm gonna be busy for the next few months. It's weird because after Mudhoney stopped being our livelihood, it seems that me and Mark started playing more music than ever. I don't know how that's worked out. Maybe we were all burnt out and kind of coasting a little bit, or what, but now that we have to work a little harder at it, we're a little more stubborn and more into it, like everybody's doingmore stuff. I've been trying to work out what that means, Perhaps it's like desperation, last minute desperation, or maybe a re-birth because it's more pure again. I'm not sure. The jury's out on that one (Laughs). PB : Thank you.

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Mucho Macho - Interview

Mucho Macho - Interview

Mucho Macho - Interview

Mucho Macho - Interview

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