Mudhoney Was the Nirvana That Should Have Been
July of 1990. Mudhoney's set had just concluded and I had to piss so bad I ran to the bathroom at the now-defunct Tucson venue Mud Bugs and took the first urinal I saw. Luckily for me, I chose the middle urinal because the next two people into the bathroom were Mark Arm and Steve Turner, Mudhoney's lead singer/rhythm guitar player and lead guitar player, respectively, who stood on either side of me, presumably with their dicks in hand.
We were just three sweaty dudes recycling some beer, but for me, it was awesome. At that moment, having driven down from Phoenix with an ex-girlfriend and a (now dearly departed) friend for the sole purpose of seeing Mudhoney's first Arizona show, I couldn't have asked for more. But there I was, 20 years old, in a bar I shouldn't have even been in, basking in the afterglow of a killer show and finding sweet relief between two of my heroes. When I look back know, I'm pretty sure at that moment I didn't think it could get any better.
Then Arm said, "Should we play some more?"
I didn't know if he was talking to me or to Turner, but I answered anyway. "Hell yes!" was my response, which got a good laugh from both of them, and I quickly realized Arm was not talking to me. I zipped, flushed, and backed away but took my time at the sink to see if they were going to play or not. Long story short, they decided to play some more and even thanked me for helping them make up their minds.
This is how true lifelong fans are made, I think. One at a time, in a dirty bathroom, on the mean streets of Tucson.
Mudhoney, though, which also featured original members Matt Lukin on bass and Dan Peters on drums at the time of their 1990 Mud Bugs show, had me from the proverbial moment of hello. Turner's fuzzed-out blend of heavy blues riffage and punk rock-style guitar leads, punctuated by Arm's brash yet laid-back I-don't-give-a-fuck vocals, and the solid bottom end of Lukin and Peters was a blast of fresh Washington air when I picked up Mudhoney's self-titled debut in 1989. Like the band's Seattle-area contemporaries, especially Nirvana, the Melvins (a band Lukin played in from 1982 to 1988), and Soundgarden, Mudhoney was ready to explode as the "grunge" era began to take off, spreading layer after layer of flannel well past the Arizona desert.
Though my belief that Mudhoney should have been the biggest of all the Seattle bands never came to fruition, the group has never disappointed me (or probably anyone else) in concert or on its numerous recordings. In those early days, when the original lineup was still together (Lukin left the band in 1999 officially, although he did do a short tour in late 2000/early 2001), Mudhoney's command of stages large and small was off the charts, with beer flying and Arm regularly playing rhythm guitar while being held up by the fans in front. In short, Mudhoney ruled then, and they still rule now.
From the beginning, the band enjoyed a strong pedigree, based on the collective experience of the four original members, who all had been part of successful Seattle-area bands before starting Mudhoney. Before forming Mudhoney in 1988, the fellows I shared the Mud Bugs' urinal with, Arm and Turner, had been bandmates off and (mostly on) since the early '80s, including in Green River, which also featured Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam. Aside from Lukin's spending six years in the Melvins, Peters also was in Bundle of Hiss, which gained local acclaim and also featured a future member of Tad.
"We all sort of came out of the hardcore scene," stated Turner during an early summer phone call. Turner, who turned 50 in March, still has youthful enthusiasm in his voice, especially when talking about music. "The Homestead [Records, which released some of the Green River material, as well as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.] stuff, SST [Records, home of the Meat Puppets, Black Flag, and Minutemen], and Touch and Go stuff [Big Black, Butthole Surfers, Calexico] was a huge influence on me. I always identified more with that stuff. Then people started calling it 'grunge,' which I guess fit — well, at least as much as anything else," says Turner. Outside of a burgeoning "grunge" scene in South America, Turner says he isn't sure the term is still viable. "We decided to fully embrace it . . . own it . . . in 1995 or so, right after Kurt [Cobain of Nirvana] died, but it was probably too late," Turner said.
Within three months of forming, Mudhoney recorded its first single, "Touch Me I'm Sick," with famed Seattle knob twiddler Jack Endino. Sub Pop released the seven-inch in August 1988, and it became Mudhoney's most recognized song and the subject of a nice homage in the 1992 film Singles, where it was renamed "Touch Me I'm Dick." "Touch Me I'm Sick" was followed closely by the excellent EP Superfuzz Bigmuff, also released in 1988 on Sub Pop, and the band has been fairly consistent in releasing records and singles every few years or so since then, either on the aforementioned Sub Pop or Reprise Records, which was the band's home from 1992 to 1999.
Given the close association Mudhoney shared with its Seattle brethren Nirvana over the years, including drummer Peters' short stint with Nirvana before Dave Grohl joined (Peters played drums on Nirvana's "Sliver"), Turner did not seem shocked at all when I asked him about the idea of his band being "survivors" of the famous Seattle music scene.
"I guess we could be seen that way, but we really just keep doing what we do," he said, chuckling. "I don't know about surviving. We're still practicing in Mark's basement, like we have since 1992, and writing new songs. So not a lot has changed too much." Turner also intimated that new Mudhoney songs would be in the set when the band takes the stage October 22 at Crescent Ballroom.
After so many years of writing together, it's both refreshing and amazing that Turner, Arm, Peters, and now Guy Maddison (in place of Lukin on bass) still just get together in Arm's Seattle home and rock it out to come up with new songs. "We have tons of riffs. The big challenge is coming up with lyrics. I don't envy Mark at all," Turner says, laughing. When you consider Mudhoney has released nine full-length albums and a handful of singles, it is no wonder Arm might have trouble finding new and interesting things to sing about. Regardless of the potential lyrical content, the prospect of new Mudhoney material is especially exciting to fans everywhere.
Recently, Arm took part in a Seattle supergroup of sorts, doing a tribute to the Stooges on top of Seattle's Pike Place Market with former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, and ex-Screaming Trees drummer Barret Martin under the moniker Raw Power (the title of the Stooges' 1973 album). This type of activity is not new, though, to the members of Mudhoney. Arm played in Bloodloss with Maddison in the mid-1990s and both Arm and Turner were part of the amazing garage band The Monkeywrench (with Tim Kerr of Big Boys and Poison 13).
So far, 2015 has seen the band touring again and working on songs for what will (hopefully) be their seventh record for seminal Seattle-based label Sub Pop. Earlier in the year, Mudhoney embarked on a six-week European tour, taking them from festival to festival and playing the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Iceland in June.
"Six weeks . . . is pretty long for us anymore," Turner says from his home in Portland. "We all have things going on outside of the band. We're all married and three of us have kids, so it's hard to be out on the road for too long. Since Guy joined the band in 2002, the most we've done is two or three weeks here and there."
Turner adds: "We've gotten smarter, though. We gave ourselves some days off in Europe this time so we actually got to see some of the cool things and places."
The band's current 12-day run through Oregon, California, and Arizona will wrap up their touring for 2015, but Turner is excited about what the future holds for the band. When asked if he ever envisioned there being a book (Keith Cameron's Mudhoney: The Sound and Fury from Seattle) and a documentary (2012's I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney) about the group, Turner could only chuckle and say, "Um, no. I didn't see that coming. We just thought of ourselves as a punk rock band."
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