What if I told you that you would inspire and help create an entire genre of music, but never make it big? That you would be influential to grunge greats but have very little commercial success. Such is the case for one of Seattle’s first grunge bands, Mudhoney. Formed in 1988 by lead guitarist Steve Turner and former Green River lead singer/rhythm guitarist Mark Arm, the band has released their tenth album in 2018, Digital Garbage.
Early on, Mudhoney saw minor success while touring with Sonic Youth in 1989, as well as appearing on the 1992 movie soundtrack Singles. Kurt Cobain listed the band’s first EP Superfuzz Bigmuff as being one of his favorite albums, and the band later opened for Pearl Jam during their 2011 20th anniversary tour.
Making an appearance on May 24th at the Green Bay Distiller, I caught up with singer/guitarist Mark Arm about the band newest release Digital Garbage along with the origins of Mudhoney. “Our birth date we consider to be January 1st, 1988. Steve Turner (lead guitar) and I were in a band called Mr. Epp’s, which was just an excuse to get drunk and make fools of ourselves [laughter]. We started a band called Green River with bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard, who later went on to Pearl Jam. When Green River broke up, we contacted one of the coolest drummers we knew, Dan Peters from Bundle of Hiss and Tad; and then got ahold of Guy Maddison after bassist Matt Lukin (Melvins) left.
Digital Garbage has that young, college, alt/punk aggressive feel to it. The band doesn’t hold back when speaking out on political and social issues. A wide variety of current topics are heard throughout Digital Garbage, on songs such as “Please Mr. Gunman”, Hey Neanderfuck”, and “Next Mass Extinction.” Mark explains how the long-time alternative rock band went about writing songs for the album. “I do all the lyrics, but that’s because I have to sing them. Everyone brings in parts, and we all work out the arrangements. I think I would have much rather written a song that had nothing to do with the reality of the world in 2018. It wasn’t my preferred thing to do. It’s just a matter of the times we are living in. I would have loved to have written a whole different record, but I can’t ignore what’s going on around us.”
“Nerve Attack” leads off the album with an old school bass and drum groove, agrees Mark. “Guy (Maddison) is a huge Stranglers fan. Guy normally plays with his fingers like he has for the past 25 years, but he brought out the plectrum and played the bass with a pic, just to get that attack on the bass. Dan (Peters/drums) had been playing something similar to a Captain Beefheart song, and he really wanted use it. So, when Guy brought in the bass riff, it worked really well together. We added just a little Wilko Johnson or Andy Gill-esque type guitar on top of it. It’s just an amalgamation of some of our biggest influences.”
Returning to the renowned record label, Sub-Pop (Nirvana & Soundgarden), Mark notes how the band captured the essence of their early punk influences through their creative process. “It seems to be like everything just fell into place. The cool thing about working with my friends in this band, is that I can bring in something with an idea of what it should sound like; like a riff. Then everyone plays on it, and it turns into something that is always better then what I thought it would sound like. The whole band takes part in writing the music, we work as a collective. Old punk-rock was definitely an influence. We cut our teeth on going to hardcore shows in the 80’s and even Guy who is from Australia went to punk shows, but in Perth [laughter]. A couple of the guys in the band mention that some of the lyrics on this record owe a fair amount to Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), in terms of the approach, and I would agree with that.”
Mudhoney last released a full-length album in 2013, with Vanishing Point. Five years later, Digital Garbage provides the band a casual platform to release records at their discretion explains Mark. “We all have jobs and family and the band isn’t our main source of income, which is really freeing. We can write music that we want to without any thoughts of if the record is going to sell or not. We do it just to please ourselves [laughter]. But it’s definitely been too long. We are a little spread out these days.
Throughout Digital Garbage, songs like “Paranoid Core”, “Kill Yourself Live” and “21st Century Pharisees” are reminders of the early Seattle sound, similar to those of the U-Men or the Fatrz. “Oh Yeah” closes out the release with a short little catchy number. “Yeah, it’s super short song”, laughs Mark, “with just one verse and one chorus, nothing repeats, it just ends. That song was sorta like a dessert, a palate cleanser. Most of the album is dark and pretty political; with dark humor, but also depressing at the same time. We just wrote a song about how we like to skateboard, surf, and ride bikes [laughter].”
The need to express their concerns over political and social issues isn’t lost in the band’s tight punk-rock song structures and overall collegiate rebellious feel. Digital Garbage doesn’t mirror the bands earlier soundtrack type sound they had in the late 80’s or grunge 90’s. Instead, it’s a ‘grown-up’ album which stays true to the bands early punk roots. With their simple 24 track recording, the album maintains the bands stripped-down feel. That same, simple feel is something that every early 90’s punk or alternative fan should check out on May 24th at the Green Bay Distiller, as Mark closes out, “I’m stoked we get to play Green Bay, we haven’t played there in a long time and it should be super fun.”
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CD: Digital Garbage Record Label: Sub Pop Records
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