Mudhoney: Touch Me I’m Old as Fuck

Mark Arm and Steve Turner reflect on Mudhoney’s first 25 years: vixens, Gary Busey, and Pagliacci.

The members of Mudhoney may not have bought each other silver Tiffany pendants to celebrate their quarter-century together, but at least they got their fans something: Vanishing Point, their ninth long-player and first in five years. Despite hitting middle age, lead singer Mark Arm and guitartist Steve Turner still have plenty to rail (loudly) about: musicians who get in their face in the supermarket (“I Don’t Remember You”), while still conserving enough energy to sing the praises of stuff they dig, like GG Allin and dingy basements (“I Like It Small”). Here’s hoping the dudes have another 25 years in them, because septuagenarians need outlets for their rage too.

SW: The key to surviving for 25 years as a band is . . .

Arm: Not giving a shit.

After Mudhoney, my next-favorite Russ Meyer film is . . .

Arm: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is actually my favorite. Mudhoney is probably somewhere around four. But it made a better band name. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was a little bit cumbersome. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!the first part of that was already taken. Supervixens wasn’t taken, which is maybe my third favorite, but Vixen was taken. Mudhoney just had a great ring to it.

The weirdest gig I ever played was probably . . .

Turner: There were a couple good ones in Paris early on. We played with this skinhead band. They were French skinheads. The only thing I remember about them was how polite they were and the fact that onstage with them they had a little side table with several wine glasses and a bottle of wine that they were drinking out of. It was positively civilized.

That whole night was fucked up. They put us up in a hotel that was a squat with no working bathrooms. We were actually peeing out the windows. And then the next time we came back to Paris, we played in a circus tent. As we were soundchecking, there were people literally rehearsing on the trapeze, and an elephant was walking by the front of the stage.

The Mudhoney item that I own that would most likely fetch the largest sum on eBay is . . .

Arm: The test pressing of “Touch Me I’m Sick.”

Turner: Hmm. I actually sold a lot of those things on eBay already [laughs].

Did you find it odd that a guy called Mark Yarm wrote a book about grunge?

Arm: Yeah—really weird. The first thing he did was [interview me] for Blender or something for Sub Pop 20, and I was like, “What? Who am I talking to? You’re shitting me, right?” When word was getting out around town that this guy was writing this book, I think some people thought it was me.

My experience on a major label was like . . .

Turner: It was all business. Well, that’s not totally true because the guy who signed us, David Katznelson, is a great friend to us still. But I don’t have any horror stories about it or anything. They left us alone to do what we did, and then when that stopped, we left.

Arm: We had complete freedom to record how we wanted up until our last record. After we were dropped, a couple years later, I was trying to figure out the publishing stuff and realized that none of our songs were registered from the early years of Sub Pop. All this shit had slid through the cracks, and I contacted Warner/Chappell, the publishing company there that we had signed a publishing deal with, and they were like, “Oh, we let you go. You own all your stuff.” And it was like, “Really?” I’m sure they just figured it was probably not worth the administration cost of having to track down these nickels and dimes, which worked to our advantage. The only weirdness was right at the end, when there was a new president of A&R that came in and had to flex his muscles and clean house.

Because of Mudhoney I am . . .

Turner: Still a musician. Because I don’t think I would have been otherwise.

True or false: I have visited the Mudhoney hair salon in NYC.

Arm: False. I’ve seen it from across the street, though.

It’s surprising that no publication ever thought it would be clever to take you guys there for an interview and haircuts or something, though I’m not sure Mudhoney and haircuts really go together.

Turner: People used to get mad at us when we got haircuts!

If you’re ordering pizza, which place do you call?

Turner: I’m totally old-school Seattle: Pagliacci. I still crave Pagliacci when I come back [from Portland].

The most important thing I’ve learned in my years as Sub Pop’s warehouse manager is . . .

Arm: It really helps if the direct-sales people get their invoices to me early.

Do you know the Sub Pop catalog number of your latest album?

Arm: Yeah, it’s 1020.

What about Postal Service’s Give Up?

Arm: 595. I know catalog numbers! Like when my alarm goes off at 7:30, it’s Pissed Jeans’ Hope for Men. If I hit the snooze button and it’s 7:33, it’s Handsome Furs. 9:05? Low. Shit, I’m running late!

To me, the coolest pop-culture moment involving Mudhoney was . . .

Arm: It would have to be Black Sheep. We played in it and got to meet Chris Farley. It was a really weird, surreal experience. We had to mime and lip-synch the song, and there were all these people there as extras. As soon as we started, we’d forgotten these were, like, paid extras in L.A., and their job was to act like they liked what we’re doing. We ran through it, like, three times and we were like, “This is awesome! They really like us! And there’s a lot of girls here!”

Turner: I remember waiting around for a long time during the day and talking too much with Gary Busey, who’s a little bit off his nut. He was playing a nuts Vietnam vet dressed in camouflage, so he was already in character, and he seemed so crazy. Him coming up and chit-chatting with us was both great and frightening.

How long does it take before you can look back on an album and judge it against the rest of your catalog?

Turner: I’ve never been a guy who could say “This is our best record yet!” I'm never that stoked on any of them. Coming up in the music world and listening to interviews with every fucking English band saying such asinine things like “We’re the best band since the Beatles”—they all seemed to say that in the ’90s, all these blowhards. At the end of the day, I think we succeed about 70 percent of the time for what we’re aiming for, which I think is pretty good. We feel lucky that we can still do this and that we can dictate how we do this. And it still pays enough to at least pay for the child care to make it happen!

This has been the longest gap between Mudhoney albums. How come?

Arm: I guess it took a little while to get our shit together, and I was sent reeling by the death of [Sub Pop executive] Andy Kotowicz. I couldn’t even think of moving forward with writing stuff. I was very heavily bummed for a good year. It’s still just awful, and I still miss the hell out of him. The end of 2010 and going into most of 2011 was mostly a wash. E

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