Grunge pioneers Mudhoney disdains professionalism

Niffer Calderwood
Mudhoney debuted at the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room on Saturday, Oct. 17.
Photo by Niffer Calderwood

The still and serene Sierra will get a dose of Seattle grunge when Mudhoney oozed into the Crystal Bay Casino on Oct. 17.

The band is playing a two-week tour, with one night at the North Shore casino. The brief road outing is Mudhoney’s only scheduled slate of appearances for some time, as the group is currently focused on writing material for its next album.

“Right now all we have is a two weeks sort of vaguely West Coast tour,” guitarist Steve Turner said. “It’s not totally West Coast, we’re making it into Nevada and Arizona.”

Mudhoney is Turner, Mark Arm (guitar), Dan Peters (drums) and Guy Maddison (bass), who took over after original bassist Matt Lukin left the band in 2000.

The group was formed in the Seattle music scene of the mid- and late 1980s, where Arm and Turner had played together in the group Green River.

“Me and Mark had been in bands for years already by the time Mudhoney came around,” Turner said. “We didn’t pay any dues, it was really easy. Green River broke up, I moved back to Seattle from Bellingham, Washington, where I was going to college. We asked Dan Peters if he wanted to drum. He said ‘yes’ even though he was in three other bands at the time. The Melvins had broken up recently, and we thought Matt Lukin might want to join up and play some music too, and he said ‘yes.’ We told some people we were a band, then put out a single or two and we said ‘cool,’ and then we hit the road. It was really easy.”

After Lukin left the band, Mudhoney invited Maddison to join, having become friends with the Australian bassist while his former band, Lubricated Goat, played in the Seattle area from time to time.

“There was a great influx of Australian weirdos that moved to Seattle in the early ‘90s, and he was one of them,” Turner said.

“We all kind of came from the same scene even though Guy was in Australia at the time,” the guitarist said. “We were all ex-hardcore kids, or we were all hardcore kids and then started branching out from there in the early to mid-80s. I became obsessed with fuzz boxes early on, that was both from the early ’60s garage stuff as well as the later heavier psych stuff, and the crazier, really shitty punk rock.

“Stuff that just had the worst guitar sounds put to record, that’s what we gravitated to, still do. I still hear crazy shit from the distant past, I just go ‘Oh my god, that’s just atrocious; that’s awesome.’”

“The top five or six Seattle bands that people talk about when they talk about grunge, they all came out of the post-hardcore, post-punk scene there. It was pretty small, pretty close knit. The Soundgarden guys, Screaming Trees, granted they weren’t actually in Seattle but they came there enough to make it seem like they were; Melvins, Nirvana, you know, we were all kind of in the same tiny world.”

Mudhoney spent a brief period signed with Warner Brothers before joining Sub Pop Records and becoming one of the labels featured acts.

“There was a moment in history where bands like us were on major rock labels,” Turner said. “That time has long gone. We don’t have any horror stories about it or anything, but we wouldn’t do it again, and no one would ask us again. It was great for a little while. They didn’t fuck us up at all really; a lot of friends have horror stories of being on the majors and stuff, but we got out relatively unscathed.”

Despite coming up on 30 years as a band, Mudhoney’s outlook on music hasn’t been much affected by the extensive technological changes in the industry.

“The basics of rock ‘n’ roll haven’t really changed much,” Turner said. “You’ve got three to six guys in a room blasting out some loud noise on guitars, bass and drums. That’s the general thing that hasn’t changed much. I guess the mechanics with which it’s distributed have changed a lot. That doesn’t really enter into Mudhoney’s world much, because it just doesn’t really matter to us. We’ve been on the same record label for most of the time we’ve been together, Sub Pop.

“I love the fact that the Internet has completely changed how music gets around, you know? I love that it’s basically back to vinyl for the most part. No one likes CDs, they were kind of shitty. People always share music free, always have. When I was a kid it was, you know, ‘home taping is killing music’ and it didn’t.

“When I see the accounting from some of the online things that get sent to me showing me that I’m not ever going to get paid for music again, it’s like, ‘Well, oh well.’ We’re a live band, we go out and play; I guess that’s where rock ‘n’ roll is really supposed to happen.”

The group actually did take an early stab at Internet promotion, which didn’t exactly take off running.

“Somewhere in the late ’90s we actually bought the domain to Mudhoney dot something or other,” Turner said with a chuckle. “Somebody put up, I don’t know who did, some friend who knew how to do the thing, put up ‘Mudhoney, Coming Soon.’ And I swear it was like that for four years until the website lapsed. Nothing ever happened.”

Nowadays, fans and friends handle most of their web content, which can be a valuable source of information for a decidedly laid-back band.

“There’s a few really good Mudhoney related sites out there that, that’s where I get my information,” Turner said. “Like, ‘Where am I going next?’ I go to the Mudhoney Facebook page to figure out my schedule.”

The laid-back mentality extends to the group’s performances as well, the guitarist said.

“It’s the four of us trying to make it through our songs. Usually they’re a lot faster than on the record,” Turner laughed. “We might look confused occasionally during the set as we lose our way. There’s not a lot of professionalism at a Mudhoney show, still.”

This goofy, relaxed mentality is a core part of the band’s success, stemming from the members basic approach to music, according to Turner.

“The things we’ve always said through the years; don’t ever expect to get anything out of being in a band,” he said. “Play music with your friends; if your friends don’t know how to play instruments, make ‘em learn. On the purely technical side, just share songwriting credit equally with everybody; keep the ego a little bit in check like that, that helps a lot.

“If you use the Ramones as an example, their first four albums are generally regarded to be their best work right? They shared songwriting credit; after that they started individually notating who wrote what and who gets the bigger piece of the pie, and they all went to hell.”

Onstage and in studio, Mudhoney has stayed true to its core identity throughout its existence.

“Our musical interests change quite a bit through the years. We all get turned on by different music; we’re all pretty music-obsessive collectors, but generally when we put it into the blender it’s going to be kind of fucked up noisy, grungy, some kind of punk rock influenced stuff,” Turner said. “Not a whole lot of pop music in there.”

While the band is usually heavy on the touring end, Mudhoney is putting its energy into songwriting at the moment, working on the follow-up to 2013’s “Vanishing Point.”

“We’re writing songs, sometimes it takes awhile,” Turner said. “It takes longer as we get older to be satisfied with songs, I think, which isn’t necessarily a good thing in my mind, but I don’t think you can really get away from it.”

With the recent focus on writing, it’s fair to say Mudhoney is quite happy to be back on the road for a brief run, including a rare stop in the Lake Tahoe area.

“I’m pretty excited about it actually; at this stage in our lives two of us will have our road bikes with us, so I know there’s going to be some exciting bike rides happening,” Turner said. “I’m going to have my skateboard with me. I haven’t started the process of finding the skate parks to hit, but I’m assuming and hoping there’s one out there.”

 

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