Mark Arm of Mudhoney: '˜We felt a kind of kinship with the underground music scene in the US but also Australia and the UK'
Fans of Pearl Jam may remember Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament starting their musical careers with Mark Arm and Steve Turner in pioneering grunge outfit Green River, from whose ashes came Mudhoney, standard bearers for a Seattle music scene helping rewrite the rules of rock, consigning many old guard to the wilderness in a blizzard of spandex, hairspray and Bolivian marching powder.
Thirty years later, Mudhoney remain intact, touring the UK this November promoting a new record and performing on November 30 at Leeds Beckett University. Chatting with loquacious frontman Mr Arm, we first touch on his Green River days with my disclosure that a first introduction to Queen Bitch came from their cover appearing on 1988’s Rehab Doll, released on Sub-Pop almost a year after the band split due to the label’s financial difficulties. Arm recalls: “That stuff’s actually getting a proper re-issue in January,” adding, “A lot of Rehab Doll had that terrible ’80s production and [producer] Jack Endino found the original tapes and remixed it without; it sounds really good. It’s kind of a weird revisionist thing. For the Sub-Pop 20th we did a Green River reunion and were listening to that record in particular, it was like ‘Oh man! The production sounds so bad, we should go back in time and do it again’.”
Still boasting 75 per cent of their original line-up, only bassist Matt Lukin, once co-founder of The Melvins and ex-flatmate of Kurt Cobain, has fallen by Mudhoney’s wayside. “Pretty crazy, huh? Up until that point the longest any band had existed was for about three years,” enthuses Arm. Lukin’s ever-present replacement Guy Maddison, recruited from Bloodloss, another outfit featuring Arm, joined a rhythm section completed by drummer Dan Peters. In a moment to rival Pete Best but also encapsulating the close-knit nature of the nascent Seattle scene, Peters also briefly deputised for Nirvana following Chad Channing’s departure, making a single live appearance, credited on the non-album single Sliver, before making way for a certain Mr Grohl... oh what might have been.
Hearteningly, Mudhoney still love making new music together despite not garnering the mainstream chart-topping success enjoyed by fellow Seattleites Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. “When we started we were definitely part of this local community of musicians, several of whom became huge, but many more did not. We felt a kind of kinship with the underground music scene in the US but also Australia and the UK. In the 80s, the UK was kind of pop-oriented but stuff beneath the surface like Spacemen 3 and Folk Devils we were super into. Things got ridiculous in Seattle in ’89-’90 but only on a music press level, then once Nirvana and Pearl Jam hit it was like pop culture writ large; ‘Time’ magazine and stuff like that. We signed to a major label for a few years, Sub-Pop was really struggling financially, and we didn’t know they had a stake in the Nirvana record that was re-released on a major label. I think if we’d known that, and they’d be able to honour their debts sooner, we might not have made the decision to leave.”
Maintaining an unfailing cult following, returning to their spiritual home Sub-Pop, the quartet remain inspirational to many, recently releasing ‘Digital Garbage’, their 10th studio album. Unsurprisingly the trademark fast, filthy, furious Mudhoney sound, replete with Arm’s cartoon vocal delivery, still prevails, the subject matter like so many of their peers, centring on the current dysfunctional state of their homeland. Arm elaborates: “It’s gotten openly more racist, this weird thing where people felt a certain way but didn’t feel free to express their despicable thoughts. Now the cat’s out of the bag and there’s just terribleness everywhere.”
Digital Garbage comes from the lyrics in Kill Yourself Live, Arm’s acerbic take on the impact of modern technology and social media. Arm concurs: “I think the roots of the song started when Philando Castille was shot by a police officer and his girlfriend filmed it and posted it right after he got shot, which was pretty courageous of her to do; things would be a lot less crazy if there wasn’t this easy access to all this high powered weaponry.”
Today Arm mixes Mudhoney with his day job at Sub-Pop records, explaining: “It’s easier for me to get away from my job because it understands what I do. Some of the rest of us have stricter places they work so we don’t get to go as often as maybe we’d like; but then I don’t know if I’d want to be on the road all the time, I like being at home.”
Finally, Arm is only too willing to impart pearls of wisdom to those starting out making music today: “Play with your friends. Don’t take it seriously. Take the music you play seriously but not the biz. When we started we didn’t know anything about the industry at all. In Green River we didn’t know what was going on, we just tried to figure out how to make records. Do what you love, don’t try to second guess what people want to hear but play what you want. If you start a band with your friends instead of looking round for musicians with the right look or whatever, you’re going to have a lot more fun.”
Mudhoney play at Leeds Beckett University Students Union on November 30. www.mudhoneysite.com