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Members include Mark Arm (born 1962), lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Matt Lukin, bass; Dan Peters, drums; and Steve Turner, lead guitar and vocals. Addresses: Record company--Warner Bros./Reprise Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694.
Mudhoney set the stage for the emergence of grunge rock in the late 1980s. While other bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden may have become better known faster, Mudhoney was getting the music out there before anyone. As Elizabeth Wurtzel put it in Musician, "When Kurt Cobain [of Nirvana] was still living in Olympia [WA], and still finding graffiti on his bathroom wall informing him that he smelled like Teen Spirit deodorant, Mudhoney was gigging around and laying down the tracks that would comprise the band's dazy, zoned-out, distortion-pedaled sound--which eventually became the Seattle scene's trademark."
It all began in the mid-1980s with Green River, Seattle's seminal grunge unit. Around 1988 Mark Arm--Mudhoney's rhythm guitarist and lead singer--quit Green River and hooked up with singer-guitarist Steve Turner. Turner had quit Green River a year earlier to attend college and study anthropology; Arm had already received his degree in English. (Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard--both of whom went on to play with Mother Love Bone and later to form Pearl Jam--were also Green River alumni.) Meanwhile, Arm and Turner joined with bass player Matt Lukin, who had just been kicked out of the Melvins, and drummer Dan Peters, who had drummed for many a band, including Nirvana. The band took the name "Mudhoney" from a Russ Meyer film. "We never meant to make an album," Turner told Wurtzel.
Not only did they make an album, they helped form an entirely new genre of music. Daniel Fidler described it in Spin: "The band's powerful combination of '60s garage rock and '70s-'80s punk ... has all but paved the way for Seattle bands to grow their hair out, take off their shirts, soak up the Zeppelin, and make moves toward the majors." Rolling Stone contributor Jason Fine declared, "Mixing '70s metal riffing and a no-frills punk sensibility, the Mudhoney sound echoes their name: It's dense, sloppy, distorted and full of disaffection." But the group's members have also been called goofballs and wiseasses. When asked why the bands who followed in their stead have had so much mass appeal, Arm suggested to Fidler, "They're good-looking.... But as soon as people see the plastic surgery we're getting, then things will change."
Issues like looks do matter in the music industry, but the lack of major mainstream popularity for Mudhoney involved many factors. For one thing, according to Mudhoney, true grunge is not what really got so big. Detour Magazine's Jon Regardie suggested that "Mudhoney's oceans of feedback and distorted wah-wah mess have never produced the palatable pop hooks that canonized Nirvana." Bandmember Turner noted in Musician: "I don't think [Nirvana's kind of success] is going to happen to us.... We don't play their kind of songs." He commented further in CMJ, "We knew we weren't a pop band. From the moment Nirvana hit, it made sense. We always thought they'd be huge, because it was their natural inclination. We're a grunge band; we're the only one left." Turner suggested that the bands that have become more popular did so because their music, no matter how alternative, still contained classic pop hooks and melodies. "In the end," a Musician contributor wrote, "grunge was just a catchy way to market punk rock. But without Arm's assorted bands ... there would have been little to market."
Until Nirvana's debut album broke all previous sales records, Mudhoney's 1991 effort, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, was the small, independent Sub Pop label's bestselling title. Sub Pop Records co-mogul Bruce Pavitt told Spin that "Mudhoney really set the stage for Nirvana. If Superfuzz Bigmuff [Mudhoney's first EP] hadn't been on the U.K. charts for a year and [the band] hadn't been a big sensation, who knows what would have happened to Nirvana?"
"Touch Me, I'm Sick," Mudhoney's first single, sold out its first three pressings. Superfuzz Bigmuff and their first LP, 1989's Mudhoney, won the band national acclaim in the independent rock world and got the group cited in an '89 Rockpool as the most preferred band by college radio programmers nationwide. Turner likes to describe their sound as "life-affirming, but a big f---- you to society," he told Wurtzel. Rolling Stone's Trent Hill had this to say: "The group's brilliant early records ... mine a peculiar tension between sexual longing and a disgust with the possibility that that longing might be realized.... On those indie records, Mark Arm ... always sounds as though he's surprised and a little upset to find that he has somehow gained the cultural authority to deliver songs about the glories of sex, drugs and slutty women from the point of view of a newly slutty man."
With the release of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, the band grew hungry for a major label deal. "We keep thinking we'll get free meals from all these record companies trying to impress us," Turner told Spin. Arm continued, "We're really paying our dues. But everyone out there is stealing our moves. These young punks are just plugging themselves into the grunge computer and getting rich off it with lots of money in their pockets. And they're not sharing." Still, they wanted to make it clear that they didn't begrudge the guys in the big three--Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden--any of their success. They're friends with those bands and are happy to ride in on their coattails.
When Nirvana put grunge through the roof, the major labels scrambled to sign like bands. Naturally they came sniffing after Mudhoney. The band didn't mind--they were sick of the money troubles their independent label Sub Pop was having. They nearly signed with Epic Records but insist that they chose not to because they weren't getting any free boxed sets--Warner Bros./Reprise Records gave the band all the Jimi Hendrix reissues they wanted.
Mudhoney's first record for Reprise was Piece of Cake. Hill wrote in Rolling Stone that he felt "most of the record skitters between competent reworkings of the band's signature Stooges-meet-Blue Cheer sound and formulaic rock & role-playing that nobody, least of all Mudhoney, believes in anymore. As the band itself says on "Acetone": "Oh, lord, what have we become? / We're not fooling anyone." Hill didn't think the album was completely without merit, however. "When Arm and company hit it," he continued, "as on 'Living Wreck,' 'Make It Now,' and the single "Suck You Dry," they go a long way toward making their new-found blues-metal vocabulary their own." Musician thought that Cake "sounds a lot like all the other Mudhoney albums, except that it's tighter and stronger, with more crunch and speed.... It's become increasingly clear that these guys couldn't sell out if they wanted to--Piece of Cake harks back to early Mudhoney, when the band's sound was crazier, crankier and far more instinctual."
Just before recording Cake, Mudhoney contributed a song to writer-director Cameron Crowe's 1992 movie Singles. In an article for Rolling Stone, Tom Sinclair wrote, "[Mudhoney] offers a sardonic look at Seattle's sudden notoriety and the major-label race to snag the next big rock act with 'Overblown': 'Everybody loves us / Everybody loves our town / That's why I'm thinking lately / To be leavin' now.... It's so overbloowwwnn,' sings Mark Arm in his trademark bratty whine, before concluding, with venomous sarcasm, 'Long live rock & roll!'"
Singles and a few other mainstream films, along with the music, helped to spread grunge culture everywhere. Suddenly the garb of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was all the rage. Fashion runways saw models decked out in unkempt hair, cut-off army pants, and flannel flannel flannel. And, as often happens with media hype and fashion overkill, grunge was suddenly a dirty word. In fact, it died. The capper came with Cobain's devastating suicide in 1994.
Grunge music didn't actually disappear, especially when the movement was just blossoming; they just stopped calling it by that name. The Seattle sound had become so mainstream it wasn't necessary to distinguish it from other forms of alternative rock and roll. Commenting on the release of Mudhoney's 1995 album My Brother the Cow, Rolling Stone contributor Grant Alden put it this way: "The first great grunge band from Seattle have composed the last great grunge record. That this has been accomplished so long after the fashion for flannel has expired is a delicious irony Mudhoney seem uniquely equipped to savor." Alden went on to say, "Mudhoney got by for years on a riff and a phrase, delivered with piercing intensity but tossed off as if the quality of their work were irrelevant.... [This time,] for the first time, the band entered the studio with more songs than were absolutely required. The result is stunning.... Grunge is dead. Long live grunge."
People magazine contributor Andrew Abrahams predicted the band's 1995 album might signal a crossover to the pop charts. "Mudhoney has injected My Brother the Cow with enough of the right elements-- memorable choruses and tight grooves--to make it as commercially viable as the music of their friends and Seattle compatriots Pearl Jam.... By the time '1995' brings the record to a screeching, dissonant halt, the listener feels exhausted but satisfied. Leave the brooding anthems to Pearl Jam. Mudhoney delivers pure grunge-- messy music that casts a powerful spell."
Pure grunge--perhaps that's the ticket. Many listeners and industry observers believe that Mudhoney invented it and are the only ones still doing it. Fame took the members of the Seattle music scene by surprise. Some have complained bitterly, some have taken long hiatuses; Cobain took his own life. But fame, Arm told Rolling Stone in 1995, "is not really a concern. I don't think we're in any danger of it happening to us." Mudhoney could well be much better off not rising to the top too quickly. Whether they like it or not, though, some critics feel they may get there eventually.
by Joanna Rubiner
Band formed in 1988 in Seattle, WA; released first single, "Touch Me, I'm Sick," on Sub Pop Records, 1988; released first EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, 1988, and first full-length album, Mudhoney, 1989; signed with Reprise Records, 1992, and released major label debut, Piece of Cake.
- Selective Works
- Superfuzz Bigmuff (EP), Sub Pop, 1988.
- Mudhoney, Sub Pop, 1989.
- Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, Sub Pop, 1991.
- (Contributors) Soundtrack: Singles (appear on "Overblown"), Epic Soundtrax, 1992.
- Piece of Cake (includes "Acetone," "Living Wreck," "Make It Now," and "Suck You Dry"), Reprise, 1992.
- (Contributors) Freedom of Choice: Yesterday's New Wave Hits as Performed by Today's Stars, Caroline, 1993.
- Five Dollar Bob's Mock Cooter Stew (EP), Reprise, 1993.
- My Brother the Cow (includes "1995"), Reprise, 1995.
- Anti-Matter, November/December 1992.
- CD Review, April 1995.
- CMJ, April 1995.
- Detour Magazine, March 1995.
- Entertainment Weekly, August 21, 1992; October 23, 1992; November 19, 1993.
- Guitar Player, February 1992; January 1993; January 1994.
- Hits, April 17, 1995.
- Melody Maker, February 11, 1989; March 11, 1989; March 24, 1989; April 8, 1989; May 20, 1989; June 10, 1989; August 19, 1989; October 28, 1989; December 2, 1989; December 9, 1989.
- Musician, January 1993; June 1995.
- New Times, March 9, 1995.
- New York Times, October 31, 1992; April 20, 1994.
- People, October 26, 1992; May 8, 1995.
- Playboy, November 1992.
- Request, April 1995.
- RIP, July 1995.
- Rolling Stone, August 20, 1992; January 7, 1993; January 21, 1993; January 26, 1995; April 6, 1995; June 1, 1995.
- Spin, July 1991; February 1993.
- Stereo Review, December 1992; May 1994.
- Strobe, April 1995.
- Village Voice, November 8, 1988.
- Additional information for this profile was provided by Warner Bros./Reprise Records publicity materials, 1995.
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