A Fiendish Conversation with Mudhoney's Mark Arm
The Seattle rock mainstay celebrates its 25th anniversary and preps its new album Vanishing Point.
Who could've guessed that that the most reliable band to come out of Seattle's grunge period would be… Mudhoney? Not even front man Mark Arm saw that coming. When Seattle became an alt-rock boomtown in the early '90s, Mudhoney stayed comfortably under the radar. There were no platinum records, no revolving door of band members, no reunion tours. Just a lot of concerts and albums filled with gleefully aggressive guitar rock and punk energy. Twenty-five years later, original bandmates Arm, Steve Turner, and Dan Peters soldier on—with Guy Maddison, who joined as bassist in 2001—and are set to release their ninth studio album of disheveled rock fury, Vanishing Point, on April 2. This weekend, the band takes the stage with '60s garage rock pioneers the Sonics for a sold-out show at Showbox at the Market.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Arm about Mudhoney’s new record, the Sonics' sound, and MySpace (sort of).
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sub Pop and you guys are the stalwarts…
It’s also the 25th anniversary of our band. We actually mark our birthday before Sub Pop does.
When do you officially mark your birthday?
The first practice with all four original members was on New Year's Day, 1988. None of us have a real good recollection of it. I’m sure we were pretty fucked. (Laughs) But that was the first day. Dan [Peters] and Steve [Turner] and I had been kind of playing a little bit in December and maybe even as early as November of ’87, but that was the first time that we played with Matt [Lukin]. He was coming into town for some New Year’s Eve shenanigans and we got together the next day.
So were you kind of just screwing around at that point? I mean, I’m sure you didn’t think you’d still be in the same band 25 years later.
(Laughs) No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It wasn’t totally messing around; we had some ideas for songs by the time that Matt had shown up, so it wasn’t like the four of us getting together and jamming. But no, no. Our main goal was to put out a single, and that was all that we could see into the future at that point. If you would have told me then that we would still be around, I would’ve just thought that you were nuts. But this is something that has sort of crept up slowly over time—the new normal.
This might be a clichéd question, but what’s been the key to making it last so long?
A couple things in our case: One thing is we’ve just split up publishing equally and credit songs to the band. No one’s fighting for a piece of the action, fighting over pennies or anything like that. Another thing is we give a shit about what we do but we just don’t give a shit. If that makes any sense. We’re not aiming for the brass ring; we never were. It just sort of seemed like a ridiculous idea to us at the time. The fact that some of our friends actually managed to grab it is really, really weird. Like, “Wow. This is something new and different.” Because the scene that we came up in—the '80s underground music scene—the idea of selling 100,000 records… that was insane.
What does the new album, Vanishing Point, have in store?
There aren’t any extreme radical departures. We’re still playing our own brand of dance music. There are things that I think are kind of new to this record, but it still sort of feels in the realm of Mudhoney. There are a couple songs that are stylistically somewhat different than anything we’ve released before. At least it feels that way to me. I dunno, someone else might just go, “Oh, that sounds like the same old shit from Mudhoney.”
For those who might be unfamiliar, can you talk about the importance of the Sonics?
Trying to convince somebody else of the importance of something else… I don’t know if it always translates. I don’t know if you can make someone get it.
I can tell you when I first heard them was around 1980. I was getting into hardcore punk and I read this review in Trouser Press magazine about this band that sounded intriguing, but they were from the '60s. And the records had just gotten reissued on Etiquette, kind of a poor reissuing job because the covers were so contrasty and blown out, but I put it on and I was hooked. I immediately saw the connection from what they were doing and what I was into. And this was early- to mid-'60s. It kind of made me feel that there was a historical thread that ran through to the music that I was into even though hardcore sort of seemed like something that was brand new at the time. But it was just derived from punk rock, which had its roots in the more stripped down and aggressive aspects of rock and roll. The guitar sound on the Sonics’ records is really gnarly, the drumming is ferocious and relentless, and Gerry Roslie has one of the best screams in rock. His singing was definitely a huge influence on mine.
How do you feel Seattle influenced your sound?
Early on, the biggest influence Seattle had in terms of getting into music and playing the music that I liked was that it was so off the beaten path. No one gave a shit about Seattle. Bands could do stuff for years in obscurity and actually find their own footing. But that’s definitely not the way Seattle is now. I don’t think there’s anyplace in the world like that now. With MySpace all over the place! Right?!? MySpace?
If you weren’t a musician what other line of work might you have pursued?
When I was a kid, my plan was to be a writer. Kind of fucked that up.
The Sonics and Mudhoney
Feb 2, Showbox at the Market, sold out
Mudhoney (Vanishing Point Release Show)
Mar 30, Neumos, $15
Easy Street Records In-Store Concert with Mudhoney
Apr 1 at 8, Easy Street West Seattle, free
Note: The song contains profanity.