Big Day Out: Mudhoney ready to get rowdy

By Chris Schulz

Their riffs are ragged and they're raw but whatever you do, do not refer to Mudhoney as a 'grunge' band. They talk to Chris Schulz.

Seattle's Mudhoney are a little surprised that they are still around.
Seattle's Mudhoney are a little surprised that they are still around.

Lump them in with other Seattle acts. Brand them Sub Pop loyalists if you must. Heck, you can even repeat the tired refrain that they were Kurt Cobain's favourite band.

But whatever you do, don't use the word "grunge" to describe Mudhoney.

"I don't embrace it [and] I don't really understand it," Mudhoney's affable frontman Mark Arm tells TimeOut during a break from his day job in Sub Pop's warehouse.

"Before 'grunge' became a noun that was used to describe that thing, it was more an adjective, like 'That was a grungy guitar sound' and that I can understand."

Despite Arm's attitude and the quartet's lack of mainstream success, it's easy to see why Mudhoney are often mentioned in the same breath as the "g" word: their rugged and raw riffs, those chugging guitar rhythms, the quiet/loud dynamics, and Arm's brand of self-effacing humour (check out early hit Touch Me I'm Sick) puts them firmly alongside bands such as Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

They'll also be playing on the same bill as fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam at tomorrow's Big Day Out - their first New Zealand show in more than 20 years.

Arm is critical of "copycat" bands that he says tried to jump on the grunge gravy train back in the 1990s.

"To me, the grunge thing wasn't really a movement. Punk rock was a movement, where stuff was happening simultaneously all around the world around the same time. [Grunge] just all kind of happened in one city for the most part, and then there were copycat bands in other places, who were like, 'Oh that's the new sound'.

"Punk rock bands were clearly dissatisfied with how things were going. With grunge, it was like less of a dissatisfaction with the popularity of something, than an attempt to join in on the popularity of something that was building up."

There's been a healthy reappraisal of Mudhoney's status in the history books recently, with the movie I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney released in 2012, and their official biography Mudhoney: The Sound and the Fury From Seattle published late last year.

Arm says he didn't enjoy the process of looking back over the band's history, or seeing himself up on the big screen. That's because he's still surprised that Mudhoney exists.

"I don't care to figure out where we fit into anything. I'm just glad we get to do what we do. When we started, our goal was to put out a single, and we achieved that. [Guitarist] Steve [Turner] and I had been in a series of bands together, like four different bands, and we just viewed this as the next band.

"It was like, 'It would be great if we released a single so in the future we could go, look, this existed'."

And despite the overwhelming praise from critics for last year's excellent ninth album Vanishing Point, Arm is wary of getting too excited.

"We've been around long enough to see the kind of stuff we do be super in fashion, be before the fashion, be right in the fashion, and be totally after the fashion. Who knows where the rest of the world is in that pendulum swing?"

Who: Mudhoney
Where: Big Day Out, January 17, Tamaki stage, 5.15pm
Also: Sideshow tonight at the King's Arms
Essential listening: Superfuzz Bigmuff EP (1988), Mudhoney (1989), Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991), Vanishing Point (2013).

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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