Bumbershoot Guide

Touch Me, I'm Sub Pop's Warehouse Manager

Mudhoney's Mark Arm Hurt His Left One Fulfilling Record Store Orders

Touch Me, I'm Sub Pop's Warehouse Manager

Shawn Brackbill

MUDHONEY Order a Mudhoney record from Sub Pop, and odds are Mark Arm shipped it to you himself.

Seeing Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm pulling records from shelves in Sub Pop's warehouse is akin to finding Iggy Pop at the Jiffy Lube. Really? Arm—one of the catalysts of gr*ng*—has to work a day job? He can't live off the royalties from "Touch Me I'm Sick"? What kind of world is this?

On record and onstage, Arm sounds like one of the most dissatisfied, cantankerous characters ever to expectorate onto a microphone. But gliding around this warehouse and leaning against this table before a Flatron computer (wait, dude doesn't even have his own chair?!), processing orders from music retailers worldwide, he exudes a calm, comfortable acceptance of his role in the universe. Dressed in a forest-green T-shirt emblazoned with no band logos or any design whatsoever and wearing black jeans and sneakers, Sub Pop's warehouse manager looks at least 15 years younger than his actual 50. He has all of his hair, which still hangs lankly, longly, and blondly from his noggin.

If you get near Arm, you'll notice he has the most intense eyes; you feel like if you touched his brow, the radiation from his disdain could incinerate you. But he also possesses one of the broadest smiles I've ever seen and frequently laughs like a champ.

Arm is a guitar-thrashing, larynx-shredding icon of Seattle music, so people probably have grandiose ideas about what his life is like. Maybe this article is a demystification.

"You're going to blow it for all of these people..." Arm warns, printing out another invoice from another record shop on a recent Monday morning.

Arm started working at Sub Pop seven years ago. Before that, he worked at Fantagraphics, where he fulfilled mail orders. "Mostly picking comic porn and sending it out to people overnight," Arm says. "You think Fantagraphics is all cool underground comics stuff, but at the time I was working there, most of the stuff that was selling was really shitty, gross comic porn."

Ensconced at Sub Pop now, Mudhoney's wildest member typically arrives at headquarters about 9:30 a.m. and leaves around 5:30 p.m. "First thing I do is check e-mail," Arm says, chuckling. "If there are orders, like these [points to invoices on his desk], I pick 'em and fulfill 'em and send 'em out."

To achieve this, Arm wheels a large yellow plastic bin on a gurney and then pulls LPs and CDs from the many shelves in Sub Pop's vast warehouse. Today, orders are pouring in for the new King Tuff LP, Postal Service's Give Up (still!), Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues, Nirvana's Bleach (still!), Band of Horses' Cease to Begin (huh?), and Mudhoney's 1988 debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff (the most popular Mudhoney release, along with the "Touch Me I'm Sick" 7-inch).

After Arm removes his haul from the bin, he scatters packing peanuts in a box before placing the merchandise in a box with the care of a mother putting her offspring in a crib. He then tosses more packing peanuts over the merch like a chef sprinkling spices into a pot. His technique is impeccable. Finally, he grabs a tape gun and seals the box with a few noisy flourishes and then applies the UPS address sticker. Another Sub Pop package is ready to ship to another satisfied customer.

"I mostly send stuff to international distributors and to record stores that have direct accounts with us," Arm says. "Cassidy [Gonzales] over here does mail order. He also fills in for me when I'm gone. He actually knows more about how the warehouse runs than I do because he knows all these different jobs, whereas I only know one."

So how's business? We hear so many stories about the music industry being on its deathbed.

"It's good," Arm says. "It took a big hit in 2008. There were stores that looked like they might not survive, like Amoeba's stores in San Francisco and LA. They were huge accounts, and they would always get enormous amounts of stuff. And all of a sudden, they were barely ordering anything. Then they changed their terms on how they paid for things. But they're back up to their previous standards at this point, so that's encouraging.

"What's weird is there are stores like CD Alley that now mostly order vinyl. That's been a major shift over the last several years."

As warehouse manager, Arm must keep Sub Pop and subsidiary label Hardly Art's huge catalog organized. "It's kind of messy, but there is a method to where everything is placed. I keep stock on hand, or try to, so we always have enough. Some things, when they're brand-new and hot, we run out of. It's usually an issue with manufacturing. We've run out of the Beach House record [Bloom] for the second time since it's come out. The jackets are a difficult job—they glow in the dark or something—so it takes a little while for them to get made."

That Arm wears a Sport Aid bandage indicates that Sub Pop is thriving. Pulling records and taping boxes ain't no joke. "I'm going to see a physical therapist tomorrow. It's from repetitive motion—I assume from [warehouse work], since it bugs me more here than it does when I'm playing guitar. It doesn't bug me at all when I'm playing guitar. We have insurance. Sub Pop takes really good care of its employees."

This job consumes a lot of time, and it's been four years since the last Mudhoney album (The Lucky Ones). It takes longer now to create albums because everybody has other responsibilities. Bassist Guy Maddison, for example, is a stat nurse at Harborview, and guitarist Steve Turner lives in Portland, where he deals records, so Mudhoney don't practice much.

"We just got back from Australia," Arm says, "so we're probably not gonna practice till next week. We have a bunch of shit to do, because we have Bumbershoot coming up and then right after that we're going into the studio for three days. We have a couple of new songs that we haven't worked on."

Despite the long gap between releases, Sub Pop hasn't pressured the band to make another album. "But there's pressure from us, because it's been fucking too long," Arm says, laughing. "We've put down tons and tons of riffs over the last two years. The main sticking point is me coming up with lyrics I'm happy with. The other one is getting together to work on our ideas—but that's kind of the easy part once Steve gets into town."

It seems like by now, Arm should be relaxing in a mansion, watching rare krautrock videos on a 72-by-48-inch screen. But here he is, schlepping lesser mortals' records. Maybe I have a misguided idea of Mudhoney's place in the music business. "We're kind of outside of the business at this point. It was weird when we were in a situation where we could live off of music. We came from early '80s American hardcore. The idea that you make money off of this shit was hard to imagine. You were stoked if you made $100 for a show—if you didn't lose all the money you'd just sunk into renting the hall."

Come on, Mark. Do you really have to work a day job? "Oh yeah. I might not have to if we toured more, but that's an impossibility with people's families. At this point, I don't really want to be gone for half a year. I like hanging out with my wife and dogs and going surfing when I can. I'm not a great surfer, so I'm not looking for the killer, insane waves. I'm looking for waves I can ride. I started surfing five or six years ago. Falling while skateboarding hurts too much at my age."

Huh. Mark Arm surfs. But he still doesn't have his own chair. recommended


Comments (21) RSS

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If this had been a real world, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam would be shining Mark Arm's shoes.
Posted by Success does not equal talent on August 29, 2012 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Respect to Mark Arm.
Thank you for keeping the music fresh, dirty and powerful. Even when you signed with Reprise for a few albums, you never sold out.

Other 50 year old legends like Kiedis and Stipe sold their souls to Warner and haven't produced anything worthwhile since the nineties.

Under A Billion Suns and The Lucky Ones still have that Arm/Turner/Peters drive that excited so much in the late eighties. Look forward to hearing whatever comes next and hope to see Mudhoney back in the UK some time soon.

Posted by Theo Theo on August 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM · Report this
interesting...funny, I just bought a import record entitled Bushpig (1990), a band from Australian in the late 80s-early 90s feat. Mark, Steve & Guy.
Posted by Farfitcougar on August 29, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Report this
Beautifully done. Reading this makes me very happy indeed.
Posted by gloomy gus on August 30, 2012 at 10:10 AM · Report this
biffp 5
Great memories of Mudhoney shows. I don't believe him about skateboarding. I've seen him longboarding around Greenlake. He must be a much better surfer than me because I've had all kinds of injuries.
Posted by biffp on August 30, 2012 at 10:13 AM · Report this
mister_fusspot 6
Hell, I remember when Arm was running a copy machine at a UW library in 1985; don't think he had a chair there, either. He did have a sweet Helen Reddy "I Am Woman" t-shirt, though.

Fact is that between then and now Mark has proven to be one of the greatest artists to ever emerge from the NW. Mudhoney are still incredibly vital; the new song "Chardonnay" is an instant classic. And he's a helluva nice guy. Maximum respect.
Posted by mister_fusspot http://www.fusspot.net on August 30, 2012 at 10:26 AM · Report this
@#1 - Indeed!
Posted by xina on August 30, 2012 at 10:39 AM · Report this
Fnarf 8
Packing peanuts are an abomination unto the Lord.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on August 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM · Report this
frank booth 9
Mark Arm fucking rocks. Mudhoney was my fav grunge band of the era and I have awesome memories of him on stage in a dress with Dickless back when those girls made a go of it. Oh yeah!!!! We still love you out here, dude!
Posted by frank booth http://https://twitter.com/bad__scientist on August 30, 2012 at 1:24 PM · Report this
Sean Jewell 10
Posted by Sean Jewell http://https://twitter.com/cursedjewell on August 30, 2012 at 6:35 PM · Report this
I am glad to hear that someone from the grunge scene has found fulfillment.
Posted by Timm Grimm on August 31, 2012 at 4:56 PM · Report this
I am glad to see that someone from the grunge scene has found fulfillment.
Posted by Timm Grimm on August 31, 2012 at 4:58 PM · Report this
tharp42 13
I love Mark Arm. He's definitely one of my rock heroes. I remember being at a Mudhoney gig in Olympia MANY years ago and I was drunk as hell. I was taking a piss and singing "Hate the Police" at the top of my lungs. Arm sidled up to the urinal next to mine and joined in. Class act.
Posted by tharp42 on September 1, 2012 at 1:44 AM · Report this
The most under-rated guy out of the Seattle music scene of the 80's-90's. People forget that Nirvana opened for Mudhoney in the early days. Mudhoney was THE band to see back in '88-'89 and put grunge on the map.
Posted by N_i_c_e_ASS on September 2, 2012 at 11:26 AM · Report this
So cool to read this. Mark's voice is one in a kazillion - he was absolutely born for Mudhoney. And he looks great in the photo.

Not quite sure why the writer would assume he'd be rich, sitting back sipping mai tais in Hawaii. It's absolutely fitting Mark Arm works for the Subpop warehouse, still plays and is friends with his bandmates, and surfs. Perfect.
Posted by Velvetbabe on September 3, 2012 at 6:53 AM · Report this
gordonraphael 16
I love Mark Arm!!!!
Posted by gordonraphael http://www.gordotronic.com on September 4, 2012 at 11:13 AM · Report this
was it Steve or Mark that owned pinball machines? do they still?

what are Matt Lukin and Danny Peters up to?
Posted by IIII on March 18, 2013 at 4:07 PM · Report this
Great information, I love all the posts, I really enjoyed, I would like more information about this, Because it is very nice, Thanks for sharing. I like the site best.
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Posted by jet longboards on March 28, 2014 at 7:57 PM · Report this
Great information, I love all the posts, I really enjoyed, I would like more information about this, Because it is very nice, Thanks for sharing. I like the site best.
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Posted by jet longboards on March 28, 2014 at 8:01 PM · Report this
This article highlights how unfair the industry is. While the day jobs and the need to tour may provide the hunger and desire required to keep making great records (and Vanishing Point is precisely that), I think it's tragic that these guys can't live off the royalties of a magnificent, 25-year discography. If there's any justice in this world, Hollywood will save the day and include one of their tracks in a major blockbusting production. Perhaps we The People should try and make this happen. This is Mudhoney after all.
Posted by gjamesscl on May 11, 2014 at 7:15 PM · Report this
I understand yet disagree with the comment above. Including their work on a major blockbuster is kind of the antithesis of Mudhoney's ethos. I don't feel bad for Mark Arm. He clearly doesn't (then or now) feel he's above earning his sustenance. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when your art is art. The pot of gold is in the creation of the art itself. If he was motivated solely by money that would contradict and perhaps even negate his artistic fire.
Posted by ManManner on July 30, 2014 at 6:11 AM · Report this

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