MUDHONEY STILL ROCKSLike a stick in the mud ~ Old grunge is the hardest to remove
Mudhoney takes their name from a film made by Russ Meyer, the Ed Wood of heavy-breasted swinger flicks, with whom the band shares an ample, albeit warped, hippie-rock esthetic. Their song "Beneath the Valley of the Underdog," serves as a dual tip of the hat to both Meyer, who also directed the brilliant "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," and Charles Mingus, who composed the inspirational "Beneath the Underdog." Formed in the mid-80s, Mudhoney are the original grunge-rockers, and are considered to be one of the most influential bands to emerge from the West Coast musical mecca of Seattle.
Along with fellow Washingtonians Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, Mudhoney's signature thrashy yet down-home style rock ’n’ roll helped them to pioneer a then burgeoning musical genre. The earthy power chords emanating from Steve Turner’s guitar were a perfect match for Green River alumnus Mark Arm’s watery vocals. Dan Peters climbed behind the drum kit, and Matt Lurkin (whose name appears in the title of a Pearl Jam song he inspired) provided a solid bass for Mudhoney to grow on. "Touch Me I’m Sick," the band’s debut single, was released in 1988 – a sleeper hit, the tune enthralled listeners with distorted guitar riffs, wah-wah pedal overtures and obnoxious screaming. The band’s first EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, followed soon after and paved the way for mainstream acceptance of their heavy, lo-fi garage sound.
Despite talent and cohesion among its members, Mudhoney has never achieved the chart-topping limelight enjoyed by their peers. As other groups around them squabbled amongst themselves, split up and faded into obscurity, Mudhoney kept on keeping on. Even after Kurt Cobain’s death and the subsequent culling of grunge culture from the collective conscience, Mudhoney continued to perform for their ever-loyal fans. They have produced more than 10 albums in the span of little more than a decade, many of them still stubbornly pressed on vinyl.
"For me, it’s what I love to do," says Arm, discussing this trend-proof approach to music. "I was playing music for years before that whole grunge thing took off, and doing whatever I had to do to be able to do it. I’ve never quit. We didn’t really have any expectations going in. It’s not like me or anyone else in the band has ever had any goals of like ‘We’re gonna make it and if we don’t make it in five years we’re gonna quit.’ You know, to me, this is my life."
Lurkin has recently left the band, and new bassist Guy Maddison has stepped up to the plate. Mudhoney’s most recent album, March to Fuzz, a retrospective best-of double-CD, has fuelled audience nostalgia with one disc of choice cuts and another of little-heard rarities. Arm reveals that another Mudhoney album is in the works, and they are currently in the process of selecting producers on a song-by-song basis, hoping to tailor the sound of each track to their liking.
"It’s still rock and roll. The next album should be available on vinyl and should be on Sub Pop, too. What we’re planning on doing is, as we come up with songs, going to four or five different studios to people that we want to work with and compiling them all onto one record."
In the past, some fans and critics have been frustrated by the band’s long-standing policy of crediting all songs to Mudhoney as a collective on their liner notes. Arm asserts that this is the most accurate reflection of their creative process, and may have been a key factor in preserving the group’s integrity.
"I think it’s kind of obvious what each person does. Dan plays the drums – so he’s written the drum part! Even if someone brought in a whole completed song, it’s still going to get changed when everyone works on it.... A lot of times petty jealousies are created within bands. Credits and royalties disputes can cause bickering and in-fighting. We didn’t do this intentionally, but I think it’s added to the longevity of the band by keeping the egos out of the way. I mean, the fact is that anyone who gets onstage is ego-driven to some degree."
The band recently played with Motörhead in Portland, where Arm was thrilled to meet Lemmy. It's been some time since the band last visited Alberta, so Mudhoney is eager to make a brief jaunt across the border just to visit Calgary for two consecutive shows. While he admits that life-related commitments have limited their ability to tour widely right now, Arm promises that we will see a "potpourri," a veritable "goulash" of old and new material performed at these shows. He readily acknowledges that fans want to hear the classics, and as he puts it: "We’re not afraid to take it down memory lane. The Canadian people have always been good to us."
Mudhoney performs October 26 & 27, 2001
The Night Gallery
by Christine Leonard
Originally published October 2001 in FastForward Magazine.