When Mudhoney’s lyrics from “In ‘n’ out of Grace” (together with that sleazy asshole anthem “Touch Me I’m Sick”) first shot out of the speakers in 1990 with thick, sludgy punk metal riffs, rock ‘n’ roll had scored one for the cynically charged. It was the start of the grunge heyday, when music execs furnished their offices with gold records made by men dressed in Goodwill’s finest. Of the big “Seattle five” — Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney — only the last two are still releasing music (now the media’s gold rush is moving to the “next Seattles” of Detroit and New York).
“Hey, wasn’t Seattle the ‘next Athens’?” jokes Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm about all the grunge fuss. He’s sitting in a small Seattle cafe, wearing a shit-eating grin and drinking water. Across from him, guitarist Steve Turner is sipping an enormous double-half-caff-cappa-mocha-latte-chino coffee concoction. “Report that this is a giant beer,” Turner says loudly into the tape recorder. “And that we’re really loaded,” adds Arm.
Arm and Turner’s humor is as dry as their drinking practices this afternoon, proof that after thirteen years the band hasn’t lost the sarcasm. The two finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple, a symptom of spending so much time hammering out what is still one of the best fusions of Stooges psychosis and Sabbath distortion. It’s been a long run for Mudhoney, but the past couple of years have been sparse, to say the least. Although Sub Pop released March to Fuzz last year, an excellent collection of the band’s classics and rarities, it’s been three years since any new material has floated our way. Sure, the group’s been touring the world, grinding up kids in mosh pits from Boston to Brazil, but the shows are still stacked with old songs. When asked what’s been happening at Mudhoney HQ all this time, Arm leans forward with mock suspicion and asks, “What are you trying to say? That we’re coasting on our past hits?”
Turner explains, “Mark and I have been pretty busy with Monkeywrench [side project with Tim Kerr]. After the last Mudhoney record, [bassist] Matt [Lukin] retired from music. We didn’t do much with Mudhoney except record a couple songs with Wayne Kramer on bass, which was cool.”
Monkeywrench and missing bassists weren’t the only things sucking up Turner and Arm’s time. There was, of course, the big Hollywood stint in 1996’s Black Sheep with Chris Farley, in which the band had a cameo. “Steve reintroduced Chris Farley to cocaine,” jokes Arm of the band’s days on the set. “We didn’t know he was on the wagon at that point. We were hanging out in trailers and Steve starts breaking out these lines and Chris just starts sweating.”
Turner breaks in and adds, “It was cool, though. I called his brother and apologized to him years later.”
Since the cinematic blowout, Mudhoney’s settled on bassist Guy Madison (Lubricated Goat, Bloodloss). Drummer Dan Peters has been working on his family (“He got busy creating children. Like we need more of those,” cracks Arm). And the band is finally getting back to the studio to make a new record. When asked for a clue as to what kind of noise is happening behind closed doors, Arm explains, “It’s a whole bunch of riffs. We’ve got this one riff and we’re just gonna divide it up into little tiny parts — it’ll be just like a Discharge album.”
Turner adds, “It’s less grunge, more stoner rock. Also, we’ve noticed that this band Mudvayne is heavily influenced by us, being another mud band, so for now we’re returning the favor and being influenced by them.”
“Yeah, really whatever the kids want. Is ska big?” grins Arm.
They may joke about being the flavor of the minute, but there was a time when Mudhoney was part of hard rock’s royalty. After putting out two albums on Sub Pop, the band got swooped up by Warner Bros./Reprise and put out four records on the major label, an experience Arm fondly describes as “like being really drunk and thinking you were getting away with something and waking up the next morning and feeling very sore.”
“And seeing these little things crawling on you,” Turner cuts in. “It was just a dirty feeling in general.” He says that during Mudhoney’s final release on Reprise, Tomorrow Hit Today, “All they did was fuck with us before and while we were recording it. They didn’t do anything with that record. We have no idea why they put it out.”
Mudhoney plans to put out a new record at the beginning of next year, although the band still has to find a new label. “I’m searching, dating, I don’t want to get attached,” Turner says of the slow hunt. In the meantime, Arm, Turner, and the rest of the band are busy touring, writing new material, and waiting for other bands to break up. “Less competition for us,” jokes Turner. “Lower the bar. We need it to be lower.”
Not skipping a beat, Arm turns and asks, “Did I mention we’re retarded?”