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An Interview with Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney

9 January 2014

There are a lot of famous bands that launched their career from beneath the shadow of Seattle’s Space Needle. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden won the early 90s grunge sweepstakes, early on The Sonics created the recipe for gritty garage rock, ex-pat Jimi Hendrix found fame in a different but equally rainy part of the world, and of course Nirvana changed countless things across the musical universe. But if you asked me what band I most associate with the Emerald City, it’s gotta be Mudhoney. They basically gave Sub Pop life breath until Nirvana’s success mainlined them straight into the nation’s collective consciousness. And whereas their contemporaries took on glam and metal stylings, Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Dan Peters and Matt Lukin discovered and perfected the hybrid of punk rock aggression and Stoogian rockness, a recipe that they are still using to great effect. Arm and Turner graciously spent over a half hour talking about the past and the present before they played a raucous show at The Paradise

First off I want to say congrats on reaching the silver anniversary. So what’s next one? Are you going for gold? Platinum?

Steve Turner: Is gold 50?

Yeah.

Mark Arm: And platinum?

I think that’s 75.

MA Yes, platinum.

ST We are high achievers.

MA We are going for 100 years (laughing).

ST By then the technology will be there.

MA They’ll have our brains in a jar.

Right next to Walt Disney. Let’s talk about Vanishing Point. The song “Chardonnay”; is that your answer to Sideways?

MA (laughs)

ST I think that illustrates our collective age. (laughing) We have that hardcore riff and I thought what would be a funny thing to bitch about?

Well, you can tell from the promo photo that you guys are red wine fans, not white.

ST Uh no, I actually can’t drink red wine. It makes me want to vomit.

MA I actually like red wine. Our rider says 2 bottles of red, and 2 bottles of white. Half the time it seems like you get some shitty Chardonnay. More than half.

ST So it was maybe to make the promoters notice a little bit, “Don’t do this to us.”

Have you ever put something silly on the rider that’s actually been fulfilled?

MA No, not really.

ST I think the funniest rider we ever had was near the beginning but once we had the oomph to request things, it was like way too much beer, like eight cases of beer.

*Guided By Voices* level of beer?

ST Like 8 cases of beer and a jar of peanuts (laughing). I thought that was really funny.

MA But that was working on the assumption that a bunch of people would show up back stage and drink it, and they did.

ST I think it came out of touring with The Supersuckers. We had so many people backstage and so much beer got drunk.

So what is Seattle like now versus when the whole thing blew up in the late 80’s. Are there still bands coming out there to try and make their name and do what they can, or has it calmed down a bit?

ST Do bands that move there?

MA I think they do. That guy from Band of Horses moved out from South Carolina and joined that band Carrisa’s Wierd.

ST The Decemberists moved from Montana to Portland. I think there is always a trek west, from nowheresville.

Or Brooklyn. Only 2 directions.

ST Fire Balls of Freedom moved slowly from South Dakota, Fargo, then they made it to Missoula the Spokane. I don’t think they ever lived in Seattle, I think they live in Portland instead, but they kept slowly moving west. I guess why wouldn’t young guys and girls move to better places?

Absolutely.

ST I would have.

I was reading a recent interview and it said that you have a 3 hour one way trek to get together for practice? So do you live in Ted Kaczinsky’s cabin now?

ST I live in Portland OR.

Oh you live in Portland?

ST I am trying to make it big there.

So you like it there?

ST I do, yeah.Love it

So what’s better, Bridgeport or Deschutes?

ST I don’t drink beer really. I really don’t think I have had either of those to be honest. Wait, wait, I am going to go with The Hub Brewing Company just because they are a great restaurant with great pizzas and they have a great bicycle team, they are really down on the bicycles.

Do you ride?

ST I ride a little bit. They also had a benefit fundraiser for the next skate park in Portland so one for The Hub.

Nice. (To Mark) So you are still in Seattle?

MA The rest of us are still in Seattle, yes. He has the farthest commute to practice, and I’ve got the shortest, we practice in my house.

ST But he complains bitterly about going downstairs.

MH It’s like “Oh God! I have to go downstairs again!”

But you have clean up duty.

MH I guess it would be nice if I did that. If I cleaned up after all you guys. (laughs)

Let’s talk about the new record. The last song “Douchebags on Parade”; was that targeted to anyone in particular? Or just general?

MA No, just scattershot kinda.

Do you have a good strategy for avoiding douchebags in real life situations?

MA Yeah, don’t go out. (laughs)

ST You can’t avoid them really.

MA But there are places you can avoid during certain hours to avoid most of them. Like Belltown on a weekend night, or fucking Capitol Hill on a weekend night. Like getting out of that Neumo’s show?

ST That was weird.

MA The crowd was like it was Capitol Hill.

ST It truly was douchebags on parade.

MA Capitol Hill use to be like the gay, hipster place, and suddenly it’s just like coked out party people.

ST Eurotrash kinda, like crazy outfits and I was like “Who are those people?”

MA People who look at Jersey Shore as role models.

ST And for Seattle it was remarkable when I saw it, I was like “What the fuck is this?”

MA It was really weird.

ST I like hipsters personally. I would take hipsters over anybody as far as like groups of people that people complain about.

They tend to be friendlier and less aggressive.

ST And they like better stuff.

MA And have funnier mustaches.

ST I am down with that.

“I Like it Small” – who came up with the lead riff for that tune?

ST That was me.

Do you guys usually trade ideas back and forth? How does a song usually come together?

ST That one was really fast, it was like the last song we finished, and it felt like I came up with the riff the day before practice, and brought it to practice and the song was being put together that day at practice. That was fast. I couldn’t even remember it after a couple of months of not playing it. I was like what the fuck I did not remember it. It was the last song to have lyrics added to it so it was the freshest one on there.

MA Initially, we kind of thought of it as sort of a Chrome thing, with the scratchy rhythm guitar thing I am doing, but then the vocals came in and it didn’t sound like Chrome anymore, but the original just sort of did

ST There are other songs that sound more like Chrome than that song strangely enough.

How did you come to marry the idea of GG Allin and Long Dong Silver in that song?

ST Did you see Hated In The Nation, the movie?

No.

ST You will know. He literally has the smallest dick I have ever seen on an adult man.

Just a little acorn?

ST Yeah, it’s barely there at all. And then it’s like they don’t even remark upon it in the movie. And I watched the movie and was like “Fuck, that’s his problem! Look at that thing!”

That’s why he is so angry. (everyone laughs) Did you guys ever see GG when he was playing?

MA Fuck no.

MH No.

He grew up in Southern NH but I didn’t have the pleasure of having feces flung at me.

ST I loved his early records, I think they are great.

Well, the real early stuff is not even punk

ST It’s pop, power pop, punk rock, you know. A little light weight sometimes for what the song was about. Like (singing poppily) “girls girls girls girls gimme gimme gimme some head”. Little power pop songs. It’s kind of funny.

MA (cheerily singing) “I’m gonna rape you!”. And you are like, “Ok?”

ST And you can see what happened with him.

MA “People aren’t taking me seriously” I mean those records are coming out like in the middle of hardcore too. I had a fanzine at the time so this was like wimpy stupid shit, you know. You had Minor Threat blowing up, and Black Flag, and this guy thinks he’s tough and he is not at all.

ST So he got tougher and finally people started taking him seriously so his crowd intelligence went way down there, and you have people like “GG Allin is God” and it’s like “Really? That guy?”

They had to move on from Skrewdriver I guess.

MA Exactly, yes. Same kind of people

ST Same thing though. The first Skrewdriver stuff is great, but unfortunately they destroyed their own reputation.

MA Well, it’s a whole different band though, except the singer.

ST Yeah they came back with the express intent of being a white power band because they got noticed.

You mentioned Black Flag. Do you have any thoughts on Black Flag vs Flag? That whole reunion? It’s kind of weird.

MA It’s kind of a bummer that they couldn’t get it together because I would love to see Chuck and Greg play again together. I mean that is the classic line up of Black Flag, obviously, those two guys.

Can we expect a Mr Epp and Bloodloss and Thrown Ups and Bundle of Hiss tour coming soon?

MA No, ha ha.

ST We did the Thrown Ups a couple years ago.

Was it out in Seattle?

MA We did one show in Seattle, and then got flown out to do the Am Rep 20th Anniversary. It was the only time we have ever played outside of Seattle. (laughing)

ST It was fun.

MA Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

ST They are doing a Love + Respect/*Sad and Lonelys* reunion without me, only because I can’t make it. It’s June 22nd and my son has this Iron Maiden concert that night and I was like I really can’t change that so I can’t make it. It was two old bands I was marginally in, like around ‘90. Basically Sad and Lonely is 3/5th of Love and Respect which I was in for like six months but the irony being I think I only played live with them once because I was always on tour with Mudhoney, so it’s kind of fitting that I can’t make it to the show.

Who put out Love + Respect? Is that on Sub Pop?

MA C/Z maybe?

ST No, it was on Penultimate. There is a single and an LP of that stuff. They are kind of learning both band’s songs and playing out. They’re getting The Fall Outs and Rusty Willoughby’s new thing Llama on it too. It’s a house party somewhere in Seattle. That will be really great. I wish I could make it.

MA At Whiting’s [Whiting Tennis, bass player]?

ST Not at Whiting’s house, but he is setting it up at some house.

I picked up a copy of a Bloodloss single a few weeks ago and noticed Rick Bishop was on it. Do you know Rick? How did that come about?

MA A little bit, yeah, he is a great guy. That was very early when Bloodloss reconstituted in Seattle, and before obviously Guy [Maddison, current Mudhoney bass player] joined the band.

I am a big Sun City Girls fan and friends with Rick but didn’t realize he had that connection with Bloodloss.

MA Yeah, it’s a very brief, fleeting connection

Captured on 7”. When you guys were doing the DVD for I’m Now, was there any footage where you guys were like, oh shit, that really happened. Did you have any emotions or feelings when you went through it?

MA I had emotions and feelings (laughing)

Well that’s good (laughing)

ST I was a bit hesitant to watch it with the early cuts, you know.

Were you happy with how it turned out?

ST Yeah, there wasn’t anything that was really either shocking or embarrassing to me.

MA That all got cut out. (laughing)

ST Well, there were a few things that got cut out but you know.

I did learn that Matt Lukin is pretty funny. I continually laughed during his parts.

MA He is hilarious.

The footage of you playing in Reading was pretty incredible, the surging mass of people.

ST And the mud. Those were definitely some big fucking crowds at Reading.

What was going through your heads at that moment?

MA Well we had already played Reading before that.

Oh you had?

MA Yea maybe 2 years before that, or a year before.

ST 2 years, that was ’92.

MA And we were much lower on the bill but it was still like this is crazy.

ST The first one was definitely like head spinning for me, like deer in the headlights a little bit, getting out on stage. (laughing)

MA And there was also The Cramps and The Bad Seeds walking around. We were like woah! (laughs)

ST We were having a good time.

I remember I saw you guys at ATP in 2010 and you said something like “I never thought I would be in a Scientists and Stooges sandwich.” That must have been pretty surreal too.

ST Yeah, that was great.

MA But by that point we had actually played with the Stooges a couple times, and with the Scientists did 2 shows one at ATP in England and a London show, so by that point it was like here is this sort of weird culmination.

ST But still.

MA Yeah, but still! I never thought I would get to see the Stooges or The Scientists, much less play on a bill with them.

That was pretty incredible, with Sleep to cap it. What a great night.

ST And that wasn’t even our first time seeing the Stooges, but the first time we got to see that line up of the Stooges.

With Williamson back on guitar?

ST Yeah.

Looking back at your tours, can you give a worst tour, or best tour story?

ST I think we generally agree that the best one was, or the one that was most astoundingly cool to us was the Big Day Out Festival in Australia in 93, as far as the line up and being able to see Iggy Pop, Beasts of Bourbon, Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, The Hard-Ons with Jerry A from Poison Idea singing. All sorts of fantastic stuff.

MA The Cosmic Psychos

ST Yeah, the Cosmic Psychos, I don’t think they were on all of them, but some of them. That was a pretty great little gang to be hanging out with.

MA I can tell you the worst tour I was on, it wasn’t a Mudhoney tour, it was a Bloodloss tour. (Laughing)

Yes?

ST I think if Dan was here he would quickly say the little short tour we did in a block in like 95-96 where it was European festivals with White Zombie, Soundgarden, Kyuss

MA Kyuss was like the only bright spot and they showed up for the last 2 shows. But it was like Pennywise and Blind Melon.

ST I even forgot Blind Melon was on it.

MA And this band called Sponge who had an MTV hit?

They were an alt 90’s band at one point.

ST The epitome of mid 90’s commercial alternative music or something. The gigs were horrible, Soundgarden wasn’t speaking to each other at this point, so they were just all just like personally like darkness, like black thought doom over there. Out of all the bands I think the only person I enjoyed talking to was Sean from White Zombie.

MA Well until Kyuss showed up. Then it was like HEY!

ST But really it was a bummer, it felt dirty.

MA I wasn’t a fan of White Zombie, at this point it was their techno stage like Ministry kind of, but at least they fucking put some effort into it, they put on a good show. Soundgarden just went up there and brooded. What are you doing up there if you don’t like it?

ST They were miserable. They were literally not speaking to each other. Which is actually amazing because I took my 13 year old to see Soundgarden a couple months ago in Portland and it was such a different scene. The only people we saw back stage was them and they were all in the same room talking and discussing the set list. It was like, oh I am glad to see this (laughs). It was good to see that there were actually friendships there now that they were together for a good reason I guess.

I caught their Boston show and they sounded great.

ST Yeah, they sounded great and it was a good show and they were happy and hanging out together. I was happy to see that.

MA I was just really kind of wondering what was going on. Obviously I never talked to Kim like ‘why do you guys hate each other?’ (laughing)

You have done a whole bunch of covers from Roxy Music to Fang, how do you pick what you are going to cover? And who brings those ideas to the band?

ST It’s pretty random. There is no real thought to it. The first big batch of punk covers we did was kind of an idea, kind of exciting thing.

MA After the Dicks. The Dicks release was one of the first things we ever learned.

ST That’s because I had a single of them and it was such an amazing single, you know? That was really day one practically. But then we did a bunch like The Damned, Elvis Costello, and a bunch of stuff that we recorded.

MA The Adolescents.

ST Adolescents, Black Flag, Angry Samoans, the Fang song was part of that group too.

MA Yes, Motorhead, “Dehumanized” by Void.

ST That was after we toured Europe a couple times and I must have bought like 200 punk singles on tour over there.

MA They were only like a pound or something.

ST Yes so I was in love with that stuff again so that was all kind of a thing. But since that it’s been random. If somebody goes “Jey! this would be a cool song to do.”

MA I think the Roxy Music song..

ST I hadn’t even heard that song before.

MA It was playing and I was like “I think I got the riff.” Turns out I had it backwards. One chord off, but you know. (laughing) We were like “Hey, we could do this!”

Did Pete Kember ever say anything to you about revising the lyrics to “Revolution”

MA Oh yeah, he was unhappy about that, very unhappy about that.

It was pretty funny though.

MA Yeah. I remember we played the show in London after that had come out with a band The Darkside with bass player, Bassman from Spacemen 3, and Jason Pierce was there and he was like “Why did you do that to Sonic’s song?” And I was like “Fuck, I thought it was funny. I didn’t realize you were taking this junkie revolution shit seriously.”

Did you ever read the interview that Gerard Cosloy did with Kember in Conflict?

MA Long time ago, right?

Holy shit, he took the piss out of him so hard and Kember just kind of played along.

ST Their interviews were pretty hard to read sometimes back then. I think that’s why we changed the lyrics because we read interviews and really love the band but they really shouldn’t do interviews. (laughing) At least that was my thought at the time. It is not killing my love of their music though so. But all English bands at the time kind of seemed like that to me.

MA They had a certain pomposity

ST They were all so arrogant. They would all either say (adopts British accent) “I truly believe we are the most important band since the Sex Pistols or that we are going to be the best band since the Beatles.” Those were the two talking points they all sort of had through the ’90s.

MA I don’t think he actually said that, but a lot of that from the Manic Street Preachers, Blur.

ST Oasis, they all have to say that and then that’s the big headline in NME.

MA And then bands you never heard from again were all saying the same thing.

Are you guys expecting a call from Obama to get back to the White House or is it gonna be one and done for you? Didn’t you go to the White house with Pearl Jam?

MA We did, that was the Clinton years. That was a long time ago. We never met Bill.

What was the story behind that? Why did they get invited?

ST Well, they were on the cover of Time and that was right when Cobain had killed himself the day before so I think he wanted to speak about the youth of America with Pearl Jam because they were a serious band.

MA They quickly scuttled us off in another direction.

“Hey you’re not Eddie”

ST Kind of, yeah. But it was cool. We still got a really great behind the scenes tour of the White House

MA: With a guy named Henry

ST A very talkative secret serviceman.

MA Who said something like “You know I wasn’t always so straight-laced and buttoned down. When I was in college I dyed my hair purple.” (laughs) I was like “Cool, I never did.” I think he said “I used to be really into *Depeche Mode*” or something like that. We’re connecting!

 

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