Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview: Mark Arm (Mudhoney, Green River)

Mudhoney (left to right: Steve Turner, Guy Maddison, Mark Arm, Dan Peters) Photo credit: Shawn Brackbill
by Francesca McCaffery

are probably one of the most defining and significant bands of the early Seattle underground music scene in the early nineties, which of course became horrifically termed “grunge” forever after. With wailing lead singer and guitarist Mark Arm, drummer Dan Peters, guitarist Steve Turner, bassist Matt Lutkin (present bassist, Guy Maddison), Mudhoney’s roaring, nostalgia-free punk sound both inspired and paved the way for Soundgarden and Nirvana’s astonishing commercial success. Mudhoney continue to play their wonderfully searing and sonic punk rock today. Singer Mark Arm recently spoke with us about the band’s early success, his favorite bands as a kid, Mudhoney’s upcoming album, and that damn callous in his throat.

Francesca McCaffery: I wanted to start out and ask about your very, very beginnings-how you actually got to be a real, authentic rock star without selling out for a second. We’re particularly interested in your beginnings with one of your first bands: Green River. (Half of the band, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament went on to form Pearl Jam.)

Mark Arm: I really at this point don’t remember all the facts, necessarily. It’s so long ago! I kind of remember…but when things happen so long ago, it’s kind of hard to remember what was real, after telling the story so many times. I’m not sure how far away from the truth they are, if that makes any sense? But when we got together for the Sub Pop 20th anniversary in 2008, you know, I had to go back and listen to Green River records. And it really just became apparent to me, the way the music was, the way it was produced… it was kind of, much lighter than the shit that I was bringing to it.

I remember that Jeff [Ament] was very into at that time Zodiac Mindwarp… and it just sort of seemed like I was throwing a dark cloud over their party. And listening to Mother Love Bone later, which was the next band they were in directly thereafter, it make sense that they would want to work with Landrew [Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood]. The musical tensions kind of worked really well for a little while [in Green River] like for Dry As A Bone, then it just kind of pulled too far apart from the center for it to hold.

FM: What were you listening to when you were really young, when you started that band?

MA: Ahhhhh… Drunks With Guns, Happy Flowers, Feedtime, the Scientists, the Birthday Party, the Stooges--lots of Stooges! [laughs.] Blue Cheer, the Wipers, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth… mostly American and Australian underground of the time, with the occasional British thing thrown in here and there, like Crazyhead or the Folk Devils, Spacemen 3

FM: Where you surprised by the scene that sprung up in Seattle in the early nineties?

MA: [BURSTS out laughing.] Oh, yeah. Yeah! Who wouldn’t be surprised by that, it was ridiculous! You know, it’s like a band like Butthole Surfers, along with Sonic Youth--in the mid-eighties--maybe sold a hundred thousand records. Which was an unfathomable amount to me. I never thought that I would be in a band, or know people in bands, who sold more than that. Like, if a band sold thirty thousand records, it was huge to me. It still is. For Nirvana to have come out, and then go multi-platinum, and Pearl Jam, and then Soundgarden and Alice and Chains and everybody, doing that, it was just crazy to me.

FM: Can you tell us a little bit of your creative process? A day in your life?

MA: Well, a day in my life is that I go to work. I work at Sub Pop, so I don’t have the luxury of complete creative freedom. But for me, the creative process, you kind of have to work for it a little bit…you know? Sometimes, things will just hit when you’re driving, or walking down the street. But for the most part, I actually need to make an effort to go down to the basement, and listen to the many, many riffs that we’ve recorded. And I just need to put words to ‘em. But I just haven’t had the time to go do that. Kind of crazy, huh, how real life just kind of catches up with you?

FM: I heard that you were an English major?

MA: Yes, that’s true! That was my initial thought, to be a writer, to start by going into journalism. But I had a professor who told me that that if you want to be a real writer, the worst thing you can do is write as a journalist. That you could get a job in a gas station, and write at night, that would be better.

FM: Are you guys working on an album now?

MA: Oh, for sure! But there just isn’t the same rush as when you’re younger. We’re a lot more patient now. We have about six completed songs. Dan keeps pushing for us to come up with a large stockpile of songs. And I think that’s what we’re gonna do.

FM: You still have a great following, and fans that they are awaiting your next album…

MA: I don’t know how many there are! I wouldn’t say we still have a huge following, but we’ve been lucky that we get to, with everyone’s work schedule, we take off a few weeks a year, and a few weekend shows, we get to go to crazy parts of the world. We get to go to places we’ve still never been to….we’re very lucky.

FM: How’s your voice nowadays?

MA: Aw, you tell me? How my doin’?

FM: Your singing voice!

MA: Oh, it’s fine. As long as we keep practicing on a fairly regularly basis. The problem is that Steve lives in Portland; we only get to practice one every week or two. So, it’s hard to keep my voice in shape. I’ll tell you a little secret. Sometimes, when I’m driving to work, and I’m not driving with anybody, I’ll pop in a CD, and sing along with it at full volume. You know…. gotta kinda keep that callous in my throat working!


Thank you very much Mark!


  1. very cool interview Francesca, indeed !!!