No matter what you may have heard, Mark Arm is not responsible for grunge. Oh sure, he's worn plenty of flannel, was in the very first band to release an album on the seminal Sub Pop label, rocked alongside Kurt and Eddie and fronted two of Seattle's pioneering bands. But he is not responsible for grunge, terminology or otherwise.
The singer / guitarist is, however, responsible for founding and fronting the posthumously influential Green River, whose Dry as a Bone EP was Sup Pop's first release. When they disbanded in 1988, bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard went on to form Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, while Arm and guitarist Steve Turner formed Mudhoney. The pair, along with one-time Nirvana drummer Dan Peters, have been together ever since.
This year, Mudhoney hit their 20th-anniversary and re-released a deluxe edition of their debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff. They also offered up a new release, The Lucky Ones, and it's no coincidence that their latest album sounds so much like their first.
“When the band formed, we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to do,” Arm tells CityBeat from his home in Seattle. “Our interests may have broadened, but we've never lost the core values, if you will, of the band.”
Much has been made of the fact that The Lucky Ones was recorded in a blistering, four-day session without horns or other embellishments the band has used in the past. Arm dismisses the recording time as unimportant, but he did let the experience serve as a sign.
“It was a little weird,” he reflects. “For the last three records, we've worked around schedules by booking long, Thursday-to-Sunday-type weekends. We'd been in the habit of doing a few of those over a couple of months and thought we were doing the exact same thing on this record. Then we finished all 11 songs in the first recording session. We all stuck our heads up from under the water line and said, ‘Maybe this is a sign from god.'” He quickly adds: “And that's ‘god' with a little g.”
Whether Arm believes that rock deities aren't entitled to capitalization or he just wants to err on the side of caution, he and Mudhoney followed their gut feeling and let the four-day session stand. The 36-minute, stripped-down result, their ninth record, helps bring their 20 years as a band full circle.
Arm downplays the achievement, but he's also aware of his good fortune. Seattle's brief tenure as the epicenter of rock 'n' roll saw many bands succeed, yet few remain intact today. Nirvana, Tad, Screaming Trees and Soundgarden have all succumbed to one pitfall or another. And while he is quick to point out that Pearl Jam, Girl Trouble and The Melvins are all still going strong, Arm can't help but feel blessed. Hence the title of the record.
“It's a direct reference to both the song and the band,” he says. “We're lucky we still get to play shows and that people give a shit. I feel tremendously lucky to be able to do something that I love and still have a life.”
Part of that life stuff means making time for family and day jobs. Whether it's musical side projects (Turner and Peters), nursing (bassist Guy Maddison) or being the warehouse manager at Sub Pop (Arm), every member spends plenty of time outside of the band. Arm even had a recent stint fronting a current version of Detroit rockers MC5. But he recognizes that they owe their longevity to more than a collective respect for both the band and their outside lives.“I think a few things that we did by accident in the early days really helped the band. Initially, we decided to credit songs democratically. That diffused all potential ego problems and turf wars for publishing money. Also, we weren't 18 when we started. We knew what we wanted to do. It wasn't about girls or money. Starting a hardcore band in the middle of the '80s for girls or money is a ridiculous concept.”
Whatever the concept, it stuck. The band, as well as Sub Pop, is now entering its third decade, and for Arm, it's all just business-as-usual. Still, the significance of all that came before doesn't escape him, either.
“We're technically into our 21st year. Our anniversary actually took place on January 1st. That's when we mark it, because that was the first day the four original members all practiced together. But being around over 20 years later is nothing that we would've or could've imagined at the time. It's kind of an astounding thing to think about.”
But that's as nostalgic as he gets. “I mean, we hope people like what we do,” he says, “but we'll never second-guess ourselves for what people want to hear. Us liking what we do is always our main concern.”
Mudhoney plays with Japanese Motors and The Heartaches on Saturday, Nov. 15, at The Casbah. 619.232.HELL. www.myspace.com/mudhoney.