Music News

Flying the Flannel

Though Mudhoney was a catalyst, victim, beneficiary and survivor of the major-label feeding frenzy that swept through the Pacific Northwest in the early '90s, the band is surprisingly unchanged by the experience. After six years on Warner Bros.' Reprise imprint, Mudhoney returned to Sub Pop in 2002 with the brilliantly sprawling Since We've Become Translucent. The raucous retro-futurism of 2006's Under a Billion Suns built on Translucent's horn-festooned aesthetic, with guitarist/vocalist Mark Arm's lyrical sights still trained cynically on all matters personal and political.

With a sound not unlike the rowdy opening salvos of 1988's Superfuzz Bigmuff, the band -- Arm, lead guitarist Steve Turner and drummer Dan Peters (along with bassist Guy Maddison, who joined up at the beginning of this decade, after Matt Lukin retired from the road) -- continues to ply its signature insalubrious stew of the Stooges' grimy come-ons and the Dicks' booger-flicking punk. In a recent conversation, Arm confessed how easy the quartet's twenty-year march to fuzz has been.

Westword: What lessons do you think you learned from your major-label experience?

Mark Arm: It was mostly positive. People say you're going to get screwed on a major label, and that's a given, but you're probably also going to get screwed on an indie. I've never been as screwed as I was in Green River with Homestead. At least with a major, you have a contract. And we had some bargaining power because Nirvana and Soundgarden were taking off, and I guess Warner Bros. thought we might take off, too.

There were only two bad moments: When we released My Brother the Cow, Danny Goldberg became the president of Reprise, and after he heard "Into Yer Shtik," he refused to meet with us. That's the point of that song, so in a way, that's perfect, but he's the boss of our label. The next time around, when we wanted to do Tomorrow Hit Today, Reprise hadn't had any radio hits since Alanis Morissette -- and I'm pointing out people's names because they should be named -- so Reprise had hired this big-shot producer [David Kahne] to run the label, and he didn't think we were hit material. We only got that record through because our A&R guy supported us.

What's changed the most about the Mudhoney experience for you over the years?

I appreciate it a lot more at this point than I did in the early '90s. Things were actually pretty easy for us when we began, because we had been in other bands in town, and there weren't that many bands in the '80s playing original music in Seattle. It was a really small scene. When we started Mudhoney, we had a couple of friends who started Sub Pop. They were really encouraging and gave us money to record on blind faith. For a while there, we took it for granted. Now it's like, "God, I'm so glad we get to do this still!" When I started playing music, it wasn't anything I conceived of still doing. When I was going to college, I thought I was going to be a writer, but I'm much too lazy. I'm not nearly disciplined enough to sit in a cabin in the woods and work on my craft.

But being a lyricist certainly requires some focus and discipline.

Not really. It's pretty easy, actually.

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Eryc Eyl
Contact: Eryc Eyl