It’s 10:30 a.m. in Seattle at Sub Pop Records HQ and Mark Arm—the mercurial, spit-slinging singer for proto-grunge legends and original “Loser” poster boys Mudhoney—is about to hit the work iron as, arguably, the most famous record label warehouse manager ever. But first the usually pissy frontman is in celebration mode. Sub Pop, Mudhoney’s longtime label (and Arm’s employer) is marking its 25th year in the biz, and his band’s massive world tour is set to launch.
Mudhoney are still very much alive. The notion they’re not (or won’t be soon) is being bandied about by Mudhoney diehards who think the mere title of their new album, Vanishing Point—the band’s first album in five years and ninth overall—portends their end; no more grunge carnage and beer-guzzling hijinks. Arm offers reassurance to fans shitting bricks. “We were just thinking of a title that would go good with the artwork,” he says over the phone from Seattle, both amused and surprised by the supposed uproar. “I doubt they are panicking. They are probably going ‘It’s about fucking time.’ “
It has been twenty-fucking-five years since Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters, and original bassist Matt Lukin recorded the defining classic “Touch Me, I’m Sick.” With it Mudhoney helped pave the way for Sub Pop and Nirvana’s global domination. But while the label gears up for its silver jubilee this summer, the members of Mudhoney barely celebrated their own milestone. “We didn’t really do anything,” says Turner, phoning from Portland. “I think we sent each other text messages [reading] ‘Happy Birthday.'”
Not exactly the blitzed post-Stooges debauchery the band was notorious for during its formative years. A wasteoid existence of incessant touring and a breathless stream of records, from 1988’s apeshit landmark Superfuzz BigMuff to ’98’s major-label dud Tomorrow Hit Today, has morphed in recent years, as Mudhoney grew older and wiser—now they’re dudes with day jobs, wives, and kids. Arm famously mans the Sub Pop warehouse, Turner is a record dealer, Peters is a stay-at-home dad, and bassist Guy Maddison works as a stat nurse at a local hospital.
But according to Turner, balancing family and rock-band life is not entirely to blame for the five-year gap between albums. Instead, he pins the blame on himself and Arm. “It’s equally the fact I moved down [to Portland],” he says. “But I also know Mark had a bit of a dry spell coming up with lyrics that satisfied him. He doesn’t want to repeat himself. The running joke after the first couple of years was ‘OK, Mark. No more talking about dogs or being sick.'”
Arm, with his acid-tongued wit, is no stranger to raising a stink. From My Brother the Cow (1995) came the alleged Courtney Love bashfest “Into Yer Shtik.” (Arm’s barking out “Why don’t you blow your brains out too?” was taken as a stab at Love in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide.) And now a couple of Vanishing Point‘s punkazoid smear jobs are causing a bit of a ruckus. On the garage-y “I Don’t Remember You,” Arm doesn’t have the time to deal with some pompous scumbag trying to be his bud (“I don’t care if you think I’m a prick/It’s clear to me you’re the same piece of shit”), and on the hardcore barnburner “Chardonnay” he rails against sellout posers (“You’ve always been the critics’ darling . . . Get the fuck out of my backstage!”). Arm sees the hubbub over his supposedly pointed, obscene wordage as comical. “You can take them at face value,” he says of the lyrics. “There aren’t a lot of various hidden meanings in them.”
Arm’s words are the only thing drumming up controversy in Mudhoney’s universe. Their lowest point, according to Turner, was Warner Brothers dropping them after Tomorrow Hit Today bombed and Lukin called it quits. But even amid that tumult a silver lining emerged. “The year off after getting dropped was actually good because it took the pressure off,” Turner recalls. “We didn’t want to say we were breaking up. Instead, we were like, ‘Let’s ignore it.'”
Arm, Turner, and Peters soon regrouped with buddy Maddison in tow, returned to Sub Pop, and have since been on a tear in their second reincarnation with Since We’ve Become Translucent (2001), Under a Billion Suns, The Lucky Ones, and now Vanishing Point, and Turner is already amped to make another record. “I do not regret not breaking up,” a jovial Arm says. “I’m glad we stayed [together]. It just feels like everything has been a continuous thing. There hasn’t been a time when we had to reconcile our differences and get to know each other again. You hear ‘Oh, the reason this band broke up was because a couple of them couldn’t stand each other and now they’re back together because they’re making money.’ We’re really glad we never went through anything like that.”
Mudhoney perform Saturday, May 11, with Pissed Jeans at Music Hall of Williamsburg and Sunday, May 12, with Endless Boogie at Bowery Ballroom. Both shows $20/$25.