Is the world ready for a grunge revival? At first blush, that might appear to be a ridiculous question. For Gen Xers, it seems it wasn't even that long ago that Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were the toast of MTV and modern rock radio. Then there are bands like Pearl Jam and Mudhoney — grunge stalwarts who never went away in the first place.
In reality, it has been more than two decades since The Pixies and The Melvins laid the groundwork for what would become the grunge explosion of the early '90s. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's landmark album, Nevermind, arguably the most important and groundbreaking rock album to come along since Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Today's college kids were still in diapers by the time grunge had run its course, so the time would seem to be right for a retro-grunge boom.
Then there's the current climate. Rock radio is dominated by bands long on image and short on substance. Teased hair and eyeliner proliferate. (Stop me if this sounds familiar.) Hell, there's even been a thrash metal resurgence in response to the musical malaise, but let's face it: Thrash metal's appeal is limited by its anger and aggression. People still want hooks and melody; they just want them delivered with a little more sincerity.
Enter Gomi, a Phoenix two-piece whose sound is unmistakably rooted in classic '90s grunge and alternative rock. Gomi's sound may be retro, but when it comes to the possible grunge revival, the band is ahead of the curve. The band's latest EP, Tsunami, perfectly captures the loud-soft-loud dynamic that made Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins household names.
"It's pretty much been going on," says Gomi singer/guitarist Mark Duhon when asked about a grunge revival. "The past year or so, we've been seeing a lot of these bands getting back together and touring. I think the Toadies started it off a couple years ago. Soundgarden, The Pixies, all those bands from the '90s, Helmet . . . We're influenced by the '90s music, definitely."
Despite his youthful appearance, Duhon, 34, is old enough to remember grunge.
"At the time, I was listening to punk rock stuff, like Suicidal [Tendencies]," he says. "What I consider punk rock was actually thrash, like D.R.I., Agnostic Front. To me that was punk rock, but it wasn't. But when I started writing music, that's when Nirvana and all those bands were coming out, so that's definitely an influence... I wasn't pinned down. I wasn't a metalhead. I wasn't a punk rock kid. I was a skater, so I just listened to whatever was rock. My uncle influenced me a lot with the stuff he listened to — '70s rock. My parents were stoners — you know, Black Sabbath. I grew up on all that stuff, so I have that side of me. My guitar tone, for example, is all '70s fuzz or stoner rock. It's alternative music for the songwriting, but my sound and tone is definitely desert rock or stoner rock."
An Ohio native, Duhon cut his teeth playing in Akron punk bands the Atomic Hellcats and The Shirkers before moving to Phoenix in the late '90s. He met drummer Sean Ham through MySpace, and the pair recorded a series of demos in hopes of attracting a bass player. They eventually settled on Slade Nooney, and Gomi was officially formed in 2007. Nooney played with the band for several months before his amicable departure to pursue a career as a masseur, and Duhon and Ham decided to soldier on as a two-piece. Duhon plays bass on the band's recordings and utilizes effects pedals to replicate bass tones on his guitar for the band's live shows.
Despite the fact that Gomi really doesn't sound like any other band in the Valley, Duhon says it hasn't prevented the band from landing gigs. If anything, he says, their unique sound has been beneficial.
"The way I look at it is we're kinda in the middle of everything," Duhon says. "For example, take three touring bands that we've played with. We played with Prize Country, who is like Quicksand-meets-Fugazi. We played with Marcy Playground, who is that alternative-y sound, [and] Local H, which is grunge/alternative. It's three different genres of that alternative style of music. We play with Via Vengeance. We play on doom shows, we play on alternative shows."
The diverse audiences have all been receptive, according to Duhon.
"We haven't had one bad reaction to any show we've been on," he says. "I don't know if that's because people, when they see a two-piece, they expect less, and then we start playing, they're like, 'Whoa.' We do put out a lot of sound for a two-piece band. The music, I think it's good. It's just straightforward music. When people see us, they like us. We put out a lot of energy. We put on a good show."
It remains to be seen whether grunge can make a full-blown comeback. Response to the recent news that Soundgarden had reunited was tepid at best. Alice in Chains' first studio album in 14 years (last year's Black Gives Way to Blue) has been certified gold — not bad by today's standards, but still a far cry from their multi-platinum efforts in the '90s. Pearl Jam has released four albums in the 2000s, but they haven't had a platinum album since 1998's Yield. Flip through the FM dial on any given day and you're much more likely to hear "Even Flow" or "Jeremy" than something off of Backspacer.
As with any revival, the neo-grunge resurgence will most likely be led by new bands paying homage to a classic sound while injecting that sound with a modern perspective. Gomi would seem as qualified as any band to lead that charge, but if Duhon says the band's grunge era already may be behind it.
"The next album, the music is more indie rock-based. It's more like post-punk indie rock. It's poppy in the vocals, but the music, it's very dynamic — lots of quiet-loud. We have to do that to keep people interested. It can't just be straightforward all the time, so there's a lot of flow to it, but it's definitely leaning toward the stoner rock sound — jammy stuff, a lot of riff-oriented stuff — because the album after this next one is gonna be full-blown stoner rock, with just sludged-out balls. Whenever we jam in practice, it boils down to all stoner rock stuff, so we're like, 'Screw it, we're just gonna put out a stoner rock album.'"