Article by Ley Shoemark
Ley Shoemark chats with a magnificently modest Mudhoney about their new album, touring Australia, celebrating an anniversary, past shows, the origin of grunge, and everything in between.
Seattle grunge heavies Mudhoney have a busy year ahead with a lot to celebrate in that time. The good news is we can join in such festivities, with the group hitting Australia this April for a sizable 14-date tour, including Canberra.
“Every year is huge for Mudhoney,” says singer and rhythm guitarist Mark Arm. That said, this is a significant anniversary year. Mudhoney turns 35, and to mark the occasion, they have a new album, Plastic Eternity, out on 7 April.
Despite the unenviable plane trip, Mudhoney always froths at the prospect of touring Oz.
“We really love hitting some of the smaller venues in between major cities,” Mark explains. “We look forward to the diversity in our crowds filled with new and long-time fans. We encourage the younger ones to drag their parents along to rock out, and vice versa.”
And they’ll have plenty of exciting new tracks to entertain all ages. The first song released from Plastic Eternity, titled Almost Everything, is a proper psychedelic trip led by some insane work on the bongos. Their latest release, Move Under, has lashing guitar riffs for a sense of that classic Mudhoney vibe with a fresh burst of modern sound.
The boys had around 20 tracks to choose from after recording, allowing them to put together a rather extraordinary album that is much “like a Mudhoney mixtape,” Mark says.
Although there was no solid theme to the album entering the studio, the Plastic Eternity title is a reference to the “non-biodegradable material produced in modern society”. The new album track to be released, Cascades of Crap, asked the question: do we continually need to be producing items that will soon be disregarded?
Mudhoney’s 35 years of touring and making records is matched by the 35 years of Sub Pop Records, the independent label that launched Mudhoney and their first three studio albums. The band has recently re-signed with Sub Pop, reuniting a partnership that first ended back in 1992.
So, 30 years on, what’s changed?
“Sub Pop is a much different company than it used to be,” Mark says. “When we first started, there were no contracts, there was no accounting. Everything was taken on faith.”
When asked what their long-time signing with Reprise Records was like, Mark commented:
”Our experience with Reprise was good until the end,” he says. “Warner Bros was always known as the artist friendly label. They had great bands other than just hit makers. They had Devo, Talking Heads, and the Ramones. They put out Black Sabbath in 1969; who would of thought of that as commercial? Like, it’s a fucking weird record.
“Also stuff like Captain Beefheart, and Neil Young. A lot of the music we loved luckily came out under the Warner Bros label.”
It’s a happy fit for both parties. As well as Mudhoney, Sub Pop gave a platform for many other alternative bands in the late ‘80s such as Soundgarden and Nirvana, unleashing the Seattle sound that would go on to define the ‘90s.
BMA dared to ask the question: did grunge start with Mudhoney being signed to Sub Pop?
After all, it was Mark Arm who first described his music as “grunge” during an interview, with the media then taking the term and running with it.
However, Mudhoney’s take on the events are quite different than expected, putting the whole chain of events into perspective.
“Yes, it was a revolution as far as pop music or popular rock music was concerned,” Mark recalls. “But it doesn’t matter who started it. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Even bands you don’t like may inspire something you do like. There was certainly a scene in Seattle before we were involved, before we were old enough to get into the scene.”
So finally, us ‘90s teenagers and grunge enthusiasts can stop trying to figure out its origins. “It simply does not matter,” Mark affirms. “There were a bunch of local bands that were inspirational, and you hang out with your friends and pick up on what they are doing.
“There was always cool shit happening; it just wasn’t as known,” Mark continues. “Melvins, when I first saw them, were certainly one of the fastest bands; and then they got a new drummer and were playing these molten riffs and we were like fuuuck, that’s cool.
“And, you know, you play together, you pick up on things. They were a huge influence. But so were a lot of other bands, and before us there was a post hippie theatrical glam troop made up of crossdressing bearded men, and some women called Ze Whiz Kidz, who inspired many artists such as The Screamers, a legendary punk band out of LA.
“And then there was Lude. Their music led to Church Metal through one degree of separation.”
Indeed, the Seattle scene was an unstoppable musical movement inspired by a city’s long-time love for music and the arts.
While all this time has passed, a happy fact to ponder is that Mudhoney is still made up of mostly original band members. Comprising Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Dan Peters, bass player Matt Lukin departed the band in 2001.
Mudhoney was then joined by Perth born Guy Maddison, who has been with them since.
Maddison relocated to Seattle to join Sydney band Bloodloss, which Mark Arm later joined on guitar and vocals. Mark fondly reflects on that time.
“I ended up in a band with three left handed Australian musicians. It must be due to the Coriolis effect,” he chuckled.
In his spare time, Maddison works at the Seattle Major Trauma Hospital where, after years of service, he was appointed the Covid Co-Ordinator during the pandemic. A weighty and terrifying scenario.
“This did stunt the progress of the new album and create a slight delay in the recording process,” Mark says. “But the band proceeded when they felt it was safe to do so. We were relieved that after Maddison’s pending duties, he himself did not contract COVID.”
From the past to the present, Mudhoney are now gearing up for another jaunt down under.
Mudhoney have a solid history when it comes to touring Australia and have played countless shows since 1990 when they toured in February/March and then returned in December for Livid Festival in Brisbane. They also played our beloved Big Day Out festival in 1992 alongside one of their heroes Iggy Pop, and again for our last Big Day Out in 2014, joining their good mates Pearl Jam for the last hurrah.
“The only bad thing about touring Australia,” Mark reflects in parting, “is not always having time to check it all out.”
Mudhoney are heading to Kambri at ANU on Sunday, 23 April, and will be joined by special guests Chimers. Tickets are $55.05 via Moshtix.