What can you say about a band this good? A band that's been around since forever? A band that continues to deliver quality records and play excellent live shows? A band that commands the respect of practically everyone who's ever stood before a mic or picked up an instrument in this town?
In honor of Mudhoney's new record, Since We've Become Translucent, and a big show at the Showbox on August 29, we invited a man who knows the band--and early-'90s Seattle music, for that matter--better than just about anyone on Earth, to write a little something on these members of local music royalty. Everett True responded with this Mudhoney FAQ sheet, which tells you everything you need to know about the band.--Jennifer Maerz
1.1 What is Mudhoney's relationship with Sub Pop?
It's good. The past is long forgotten. According to the definitive--or, at least, the most entertaining--account of grunge, Live Through This [editor's note: Mr. True is the author of said grunge book], the band kept the label alive through the dark days of 1991, when the minimally promoted Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge shipped 50,000 copies through word of mouth alone. This was long before Geffen appeared on the horizon, with the golden pony of Nirvana royalties heralding the dawn. Mudhoney were offered shares in lieu of payment, so one story goes, so they left, refusing such obvious and insanely desperate devices.
Another (more reliable) story suggests that everyone was pals from way back--and hell, if this isn't the place to go into local history then what is?--through Bruce Pavitt's biweekly radio program during the '80s, Sub Pop, and his local column in The Rocket; also, Jonathan Poneman's radio show on KCMU. It's Seattle. Everyone knows everyone. And if people don't then they certainly do when they move to Olympia to go to Evergreen State College, a town where it is geographically impossible not to have sex with your next-door neighbor's cousin twice. Mudhoney's Mark Arm and Steve Turner knew Pavitt from way back when. They'd go record-shopping together, shoot... the breeze. Everything comes around. Believe it.
Certainly, the first release on Sub Pop was from Arm and Turner's pre-Mudhoney band, Green River (Dry as a Bone, 1987)--and please don't make us hold an impromptu history lesson here, remarking upon Seattle's remarkable ability to cannibalize its own musicians until someone somewhere has made another million (we're looking at you, Presidents of the United States of America). When Mudhoney recorded some demos with Jack Endino at Reciprocal, Mr. Pavitt was first on the case (after Amphetamine Reptile, actually) to release 'em....
All of this may go some way toward explaining why Mudhoney's new record, Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take a Joke... sorry, Since We've Become Translucent, is their first non-major-label studio album since their torturously magnificent 1991 outing, and it's on Sub Pop. There's no place like home, Tonto. Toto.
Plus, of course, 2000's very wry double-CD retrospective, March to Fuzz, was on Sub Pop. And very great it is too. Everything you need to know about grunge in one sweet package.
1.2 Is there an amusing story concerning Mudhoney, former President Bill Clinton, and pen-wielding grannies? "Now, who are these Mudhoneys, and are they popular with the MTV?"
That's the remark Clinton was supposed to have made to Eddie Vedder, the day after Kurt Cobain died.
Mudhoney frontman Arm remembers it differently: "That was a quote I attributed to Bill Clinton for an article I wrote for Grand Royal. He probably didn't even know we were in the White House that day. It was an odd afternoon. Kurt's body had been discovered the day before. Pearl Jam had been invited to the White House, and we were like, 'Hey, can we go too?' A Secret Service agent showed us behind the ropes. There were some frat-boy types going, 'Hey, it's Pearl Jam!'--and we were like, 'We're not Pearl Jam.' Later on, some kids actually recognized us and asked for our autographs, and the next thing we knew there were the sounds of purses opening, old ladies with pieces of paper and pens shoving them in our faces--what the fuck! Then I realized the power of the velvet rope. Now if I want to be noticed when I go out, I walk around with a velvet rope around me."
1.3 How deep does the Stooges connection lie?Both Mudhoney and the Stooges have an energy level central to all great rock 'n' roll, be it from Detroit, Seattle, or Tiramisu. Still, anyone who tells you that Mudhoney doesn't owe anything to the Stooges is a dirty stinkin' liar who will burn for all eternity.
1.4 Has Mark Arm gone on record describing the proclivities of his fellow musicians?Let's take a little detour into the personalities of the current members of Mudhoney. The following comments (in quotation marks) are supplied by Arm, the only (male) musician worth listening to in the entire Pacific Northwest, this side of Calvin Johnson.
Steve Turner (guitar, single, degree in anthropology): "Steve is the genius behind the orgies that happen upstairs at Graceland after hours, and he's a shit-hot guitar player."
He's more than that. Turner is the American equivalent of Blur's Graham Coxon. That's not to say he falls about drunk at the front of Billy Childish shows while trying to cop off with members of Huggy Bear, although... who knows? It's more to intimate that through Mudhoney's eight albums, Turner has exhibited a willingness to experiment and challenge and reinvent that goes far beyond the expected boundaries of his music. Plus, he's been known to fall down drunk at the front of Billy Childish shows.
Back to Arm (who is married, and has an English degree, incidentally)....
Dan Peters (drums, married, with a kid): "Dan is the cuddly teddy bear who turns into your creepy uncle when he's drunk. Actually, he turns into a cuddly, creepy uncle. He's the most even-keeled person in the band. I've never seen him have any kind of freak-out or anything, and he's one of my favorite drummers."
1.5 Who the hell is Guy Maddison?We thought you'd never ask.
Guy Maddison, 37, is Mudhoney's new bassist, replacing Matt Lukin. He played his first show with the band at Tex Games 2001, and helped them record their new album--everything bar "Inside Job," which Wayne Kramer played on. Maddison has previously played with Bloodloss, a rather fearsome full-on racket that also featured Arm, and Lubricated Goat. He is currently in college, training for another profession....
"He's a rock 'n' roll nurse," explains Arm, "and it turns out they aren't at all what I pictured when I first heard the New York Dolls. He's got this amazing memory, all these insanely arcane facts and bits of history blocked up in there--you ask him anything and he'll know the answer, or something about it. A gift I wish I had.... He's a dark, handsome Australian who plays with his fingers--Matt played plectrum style."
1.6 Do the events of Halloween 1987 hold much significance in late 20th century American pop culture?Sure. Mudhoney formed on Halloween 1987. Guitarist Arm was fed up with the fancy triplets his colleagues insisted on playing in Green River, despite the fact that an entire record label (Sub Pop, duh) had been started for them. The first Mudhoney practice took place on January 1, 1988-- Arm was 29 years old at the time. (In an unusual move for a profession so deluged by vanity, he doesn't lie about his age.)
Superfuzz Bigmuff (Sub Pop, 1988) and Mudhoney (Sub Pop, 1989) followed. These are two incredible albums. We're sure we don't need to tell you how to headbang or crowd-surf or drink kegs of beer or have yourself a damn good time.
These were not necessarily seismic events in themselves, but they started a sequence of other events that within a few short years would lead to the following people becoming very rich indeed: Danny Goldberg (estimated wealth $75m), David Geffen (estimated wealth $110m, possibly more), Courtney Love (estimated wealth $8m), Bruce Pavitt (estimated wealth $4m), Everett True (estimated wealth $0.21m, and that's only if you don't take a loss-leading magazine into account).
The simple act of creation leads to pain, envy, and a realization that life in the main sucks, is unfair, bites the big one, and is probably best left to mosey along under its own devices because if you pay too much attention beyond the tiny stuff, it's going to get you every time....
Arm, on the other hand, works for Fantagraphics Comics.
1.7 Are there any amusing anecdotes involving Mudhoney album titles?Just one: involving the fourth album, My Brother the Cow (Reprise, 1995)--actually a stunning return to form, courtesy of a timely reunion with producer Jack Endino, and a London date that featured Australia's Greatest Living Slapheads, the Cosmic Psychos, but everyone was looking elsewhere, sadly. To fucking Silverchair, and the Stone Temple Plagiarists, if memory serves correctly.... Jesus!
The tale goes thus: A nameless member of Bloodloss was easing the pain of a turbulent romance by "anaesthetizing himself with a heavy amount of bourbon," as Dan Peters explains. "We stopped at a drive-through, and he's in the back of the car, passed out. We asked him if he wanted anything, and he kinda came to, enough to say, 'I will not eat anything of my brother the cow.' And he passed out again."
1.8 Which record is now commonly accepted as the nadir of Mudhoney's career?Piece of Cake (Reprise, 1992) is a bit of a HOO-EY, HOO-EY STINKEROONIE.
Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew (Reprise, 1993) isn't so hot either.
1.9 What are Mudhoney's main musical influenes?In the November 1995 edition of Rockstar magazine, Mudhoney were given a six out of 10 for fame, and an eight out of 10 for guitar loudness. The magazine suggested they'd have made four perfect gas station attendants "without grunge," and that in the future they'd turn into a "low success blues group." The main insight given, however, was in the list of perceived influences (marks from zero to three): "Beatles 0, Led Zeppelin 2, Black Sabbath 0, Jimi Hendrix 1, Stooges 3, Neil Young 2, Velvet Underground 0, Sex Pistols 2, MC5 3, Pink Floyd 1."
"They're wrong, they're totally wrong," asserts Arm when confronted with the figures today. "That doesn't even account for the Fall or Gang of Four or Devo or anything like that.
"I'll re-grade them for you," he states, the Record Collector's Record Collector. "The Beatles is right. Led Zeppelin should be a zero. Black Sabbath is a three. That's obvious. Jimi Hendrix would be a three, but we just can't play that good, so it's a two. The Stooges is right, obviously. So is Neil Young. Velvet Underground, one, Sex Pistols, two, MC5 is correct, and Pink Floyd...? It depends what era you're talking about. I've been doing this a lot lately, figuring out the exact moment when a band turns bad, probably because we've been around so long. Live at Pompeii is so great, but if you listen to Atom Heart Mother, that's pretty fucking bad, so... once they stopped being psychedelic warriors, I guess.
"I'm self-aware, so that keeps things in check hopefully. I'd hate someone to say we've been bad since Piece of Cake, because I know that isn't so great, but we have been improving since then...."
2.0 Do Mudhoney like talking about their involvement in the film Singles?No.
2.1 Why did Mudhoney leave Reprise?"We didn't make them any money," states Mark bluntly. "We knew the game was up when we did [the sensational] Tomorrow Hit Today (Reprise, 1998). It was like pulling teeth. They had no idea what to do with us."
2.2 Who is Bob Whittaker?He's Mudhoney's formerly retired manager, and now works with R.E.M. Do a search under his name on guardian.co.uk and you're sure to be enlightened: "Bob was up in First Class with Peter Buck during that whole incident," Mark states. "I was periodically logging into The Guardian's website to keep track of events, and it described Mr. Robert Whittaker as having yogurt smeared all over his face and giggling uncontrollably--which I find incredibly hard to imagine."
Arm is being sarcastic.
2.3 Is their new album any good?You think The Stranger would be wasting your time if it weren't?
It blisters. It strips earwax from the ceiling and smears it all over your smalls. It blows up the sweetest wailing sax storm since Mark, Steve, and Dan debuted in the ace Sonics tribute band the New Original Sonic Sound--a band put together for the express purpose of playing in a museum--alongside saxophonist Craig Flory and Tom Price (Gas Huffer). It peels back strobe lights from the walls and deposits them throbbing in your lap. It turns several tricks and manages to simultaneously snarl and sear with unseemly beauty. Some tracks last several minutes, deservedly so. Some tracks don't because, hell... it's sweet, being brutal. Occasionally, it recalls Price's Monkeywrench (yet another band that Turner and Arm moonlight in). Occasionally, it recalls the '60s guitar garage maestros the Sonics themselves... somewhat unsurprisingly as it too features the righteous horns of Flory and pals on the psych freak-out "Baby, Can You Dig the Light?" and swirling maelstrom of "Where the Flavor Is" ("You taste great with or without fruit").
Nine of the songs were recorded in batches of three--at three different studios--in bursts of creativity.
"Inside Job" was recorded after a website called musicblitz.com offered the band $10,000 for one song: "We were like, 'No problem.' It was while the Internet was still really big.
"The new album has 10 songs," Arm states with the deadpan delivery that has sometimes been blamed for Mudhoney's lack of success. Sarcasm isn't usually a trait encouraged in rock stars. Stupidity, yes. Wit, no. "It is a departure, yes and no. Steve and I have been playing together since 1983, and we've generally been playing like a punk rock kind of thing, so in that sense it's more of the same. Sometimes it gets louder. Sometimes it gets quieter, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. There's a little of all that. The most different thing is that our new bass player brings in a whole new feeling down in the bottom end.
"This is our first new album since Tomorrow Hit Today. We haven't done jack for four years. It took us a while to deal with Matt quitting. We weren't sure how to proceed. Steve and I dealt with it by not thinking about it and working on the Monkeywrench record. Dan dealt with it by having sex with his wife until they had a kid."
2.4 So why did Matt Lukin leave?He wasn't too interested in playing with the band any more.
2.5 Is there an amusing story concerning on of the hundreds of festivals Mudhoney played in Europe?What do you reckon?
This tale happened one particularly rainy third day at Reading Festival in England, 1992. Mudhoney were about halfway up the bill, and the crowd was pelting them with mud balls, an occasional hazard when bands are faced with the mewling herd. Arm pleaded with the crowd to stop and threatened to walk off, so of course the barrage only increased. Mudhoney dropped their instruments and started throwing the mud back at the audience, much to everyone's surprise. From there, it quickly developed into a memorable full-on mud fest.
"L7 played before us," Arm recalls, "and people were throwing mud at them and we knew we were gonna get it because of our name. All L7 had to retaliate with was Donita's tampon [Arm is referring to an equally infamous incident where L7's singer threw her tampon at the crowd in retaliation]. We didn't have any such thing, so we just threw back what they threw at us--a little bit of Mother Earth mixed with piss and the occasional bit of rock. I remember at one point saying, 'You guys can't throw. You're used to playing soccer and kicking balls with your feet--in America we have baseball...' and right then one hit me right in the face. That'll learn me. Never taunt an armed audience."
2.6 Have Mudhoney changed over the years?"Mudhoney! They're Motörhead meet Spacemen 3 meet Blue Cheer meet Iggy on a stroll back from an MC5 concert. They're loud, comprehende?" (Melody Maker, 1989, author unknown but it may have been me.)
"Have we changed since then? I don't know. It's part of the fabric of my existence. Those guys wanted us to say we wanted to be rock stars, and we'd be like, 'It's not going to happen....' There's a ceiling to what we do. That's fine. I don't want to play shitty music to become popular. That's not what it's about. I'm happy with the small life that I lead."
I know people who are freaked out you work at Fantagraphics.
"I freak out that I work here sometimes too."
Mudhoney play with Nebula at a benefit for the Showbox's Jonna, Thurs Aug 29 at the Showbox, $12 adv, $15 day of show.