- Now you see them: Mudhoney's performance in Cleveland could be their last.
If Mark Arm's sounding like a kid again, that's because, in a way, he is.
"I've recently taken up skateboarding again, because of that damn Dogtown [and Z-Boys] movie," the Mudhoney singer-guitarist says with a weary laugh.
"I was watching that, and my head was just popping," he says of the skateboarding documentary, which rekindled memories of his own Seattle skate-rat days. "My whole fuckin' junior high and high school years flashed before my eyes."
These days, the 40-year-old Arm has been dusting off more than his skateboard. After a four-year break between albums, Mudhoney has returned with a new lineup, a new record (the superb Since We've Become Translucent), and a kinda-new label.
Actually, the label is Sub Pop, the Seattle über-indie where Mudhoney practically invented the Seattle sound in the late '80s. But being a precursor to any big thing seldom pays the bills. The band's albums -- all raunchy skronk, as if the Yardbirds were being plucked by Iggy Pop -- never sold much more than 100,000 copies, and a deal with Reprise Records fell flat. (Mudhoney was bounced from the label after three albums, none of which even recouped costs.)
Not surprisingly, the band's last 14 years together haven't exactly been easy living, which is why longtime bassist Matt Lukin returned to work as a carpenter in 2000 (he was replaced by New Zealander Guy Maddison). Lukin had been considered by many to be the group's spark plug, and his departure further clouded an already muddy picture for the band. As Arm and fellow Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner continued to play together in their side project, Monkeywrench, drummer Dan Peters, a close friend of Lukin's, remained shaken up by the bassist's absence.
"Dan's initial reaction was pretty much that he couldn't imagine playing without Matt," Arm says. "I can fully understand that, but I knew I would be doing something, one way or another. Steve and I did the Monkeywrench record [2000's Electric Children], and I don't think it took Dan too long to get antsy. Maybe for a split second, but not too long."
Arm says that Lukin is happier pounding nails, and the re-formed Mudhoney sounds happier, too. Since We've Become Translucent is a clamorous, horn-infused freakout that is the group's most unbounded offering -- and perhaps its best. It begins with the mesmeric, stoned "Baby Can You See the Light," a dense eight-minute endurance test, and ends with the similarly distended "Sonic Infusion." In between is a smattering of scraggy-haired garage rock, equal parts Alice Cooper and amyl nitrate. No longer facing the pressure of major-label expectations, the band sounds as though it's reveling in its newfound freedom.
"I think the worst record that we did was probably when the most attention was on us, and that was Piece of Cake , so maybe just being completely under the radar allowed us to not even worry about what other people might think of the record," Arm says.
"Also, we're all huge music fans, and we're all really conscious of people who we like and who have at some point maybe lost the plot a little bit in the musical output, so that's something that we're very conscious of trying to avoid."
The band, as Arm's words suggest, knows its music history. Both he and Turner are avowed record-collector geeks, and Arm's first childhood memories revolve around rock and roll.
"I remember being a little kid, like when I was four or five, and for some reason singing, 'She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah.' I don't think that I'd ever even actually heard that song, but it was just like the idea of this thing out there, that was kind of forbidden, that was really attractive. I also remember really liking Creedence. In the fourth grade, a friend of mine had two albums: He had Cosmo's Factory, and he had the Beatles album where it's like the four of them standing in the doorway of a church [1970's Hey Jude (The Beatles Again)]. But we just listened to that Creedence record over and over and over again. The Beatles just didn't quite rock as hard."
Arm's early love of rock and roll didn't sit well with Mother, a German émigré with a background in opera.
"It wasn't like 'Don't listen to rock and roll -- that's sinful music,'" Arm recalls. "It was 'Don't listen to rock and roll -- it's crap. You should only listen to classical.' She's from Germany, so she has a very strong idea of what is right and what is wrong, no matter how arbitrary it might be. She grew up as a Hitler youth, so that kind of shit was instilled in her, you know. 'There's a correct way to fold the laundry and a wrong way to fold the laundry,' and it goes completely across the board, from boiling potatoes to music."
Arm, with his laid-back, deliberate drawl and constant hearty chuckles, couldn't be more the opposite -- especially nowadays, as Mudhoney enters a new era of stability and creative liberty. Since We've Become Translucent, he says, came with remarkable ease. The only hard part about being in Mudhoney these days is finding time to hit the road.
"It is difficult for us to tour. Dan's a stay-home dad taking care of his daughter. In late September, right after we get back from the weekend in Cleveland, Guy starts his final quarter of nursing school. He's been working at the cardiac unit in Harbor View, which is the major trauma hospital in Seattle.
"Being in a band, for us, and playing music is really easy. Finding the time to do it and getting everyone together -- that's the hard part. And it should be easy. We're not trying to crack some scientific code or anything like that. We're just playing rock and roll, for Christ's sake."