Mudhoney - Biography
By Brad Austin
To call Mudhoney the most important grunge band ever is a bold move. Of course they were influential, but not nearly as influential as Nirvana. Sure, they're still making records, but so are Pearl Jam. And yes, they brought hints of psychedelia into the “Seattle Sound,” but so did Soundgarden. So, how could they possibly be considered the most important grunge band, a title that several publications have bestowed upon them? The most obvious answer is that they got there first (in fact, singer/guitarist Mark Arm is credited with coining the term “grunge” as far back as 1981). Along with the Melvins, they started this marriage of hard rock and punk that mainstream America flocked to so adamantly in the late 80's and early 90's. Are they better than Nirvana? No, not really. But, they were more important, the way that Sam Cooke was more important than Otis Redding, the way that every blues guitarist was more important than Led Zeppelin, or the way that The Godfather is more important than The Godfather Part II. Without the former, there's a pretty good chance we would never see the latter.
Mudhoney's earliest incarnation began as what the entire genre of grunge, according to many jaded observers, ended as: a joke. It was 1980 in a suburb of Seattle called Bellevue that Mark Arm (then still going by his given name, Mark McLaughlin) formed Mr. Epp and the Calculations. Neither he nor any member of the band knew how to play music. The group started by making fliers for shows that would not take place, and rehearsed very little as they had no material. By 1981, they did play their first real show, opening up for Student Nurse. At a radio performance, they were introduced as “the worst band in the world.” But still, people were interested in them, and Mr. Epp and the Calculations released a 7” EP in 1982. Former Ducky Boys guitarist Steve Turner was added into the band in 1983, a move the group hoped would make them sound more legitimate. Turner and Arm became close friends and started a side project called the Limp Richerds, another joke band, but one that they took more seriously than Mr. Epp. After releasing the Live as all Get Out cassette, Mr. Epp disbanded in 1984, which gave Arm and Turner more time to focus on the Limp Richerds. However, that band would also come to its end by the end of that same year.
Arm and Turner formed a new project with Alex Vincent, who, along with Turner, had played in the band Spluii Numa. They also joined up with Jeff Ament, who had just come from Montana to the Northwest. Arm decided to concentrate on vocals, and so Turner invited fellow Ducky Boys guitarist Stone Gossard to play with them. The new band named themselves Green River, not after an album by Creedence Clearwater Revival, but after a serial killer who was at large during their inception. Green River and the Melvins were the two bands that really gave way to grunge, though at that point, it was only referred to as “the Seattle sound.” The band released their first EP in 1985 called Come on Down.
Turner, who felt that Green River was on the fast track to being a heavy metal act, left the band to return to college. The band hired Bruce Fairweather - who had played with Ament in Deranged Diction - to replace him.
Green River went on tour in America, a venture that proved to be a complete mess. Because their record's release had been delayed, they found themselves playing songs that their audiences had never heard. They made a second EP called Dry as a Bone for Sub Pop, then a new label that was struggling to find its feet. Their debut full-length, Rehab Doll, came out in 1988, but by that time, the band was not getting along and they split up. Ament and Gossard formed Mother Love Bone while Fairweather joined Love Battery and Vincent went to law school. Arm and Turner had started a new band once Turner left Green River, called the Thrown Ups. Their singer was graphics artist Ed Fotheringham. The Thrown Ups served as an excuse for the friends to goof off, but Turner wanted to start a more serious band. He and Arm worked on new songs with Bundle of Hiss drummer Dan Peters and ex-Melvin Matt Lukin. They named themselves Mudhoney, which was the name of a Russ Meyer movie that they hadn't ever watched. Turner didn't envision the band lasting more than six months, an estimation that was off by about 20 years and counting.
In 1988, Mudhoney released their first single on Sub Pop, “Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More” b/w “Touch Me I'm Sick.” That October, they put out their Superfuzz Bigmuff EP (Sub Pop). This release is often viewed as the first album to push the Seattle Sound close to the mainstream. Mudhoney were popular in Europe and toured Germany in 1989. Sonic Youth, who were fans of the band, invited them to join them for a British tour months later. Thanks to the power of these live performances, Superfuzz Bigmuff made its way onto the British charts and ended up staying there for almost a year. The band soon returned to the UK for a headlining tour to even more success. In 1989, they released their self-titled full-length on Sub Pop, and continued to find success on college radio. By this time, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Tad were following in Mudhoney's footsteps.
Sub Pop's finances were dwindling, and the label was being forsaken left and right by artists in favor of major deals. Mudhoney held strong with Sub Pop for a while longer, issuing their second album, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, in 1991, a lot later than they would have liked. After that, they made the decision to take the major bait, and signed with Reprise/Warner Bros. Piece of Cake was released in 1992 on their new label, and it was a pleasant surprise that Mudhoney held onto their signature sloppiness on their major debut. The album did not sell all that well, unfortunately, and peaked on the charts at 189. It seemed that Mudhoney didn't have the accessibility of a Nirvana or a Pearl Jam (a band that was now home to Gossard and Ament). They released two more albums on Reprise/Warner. The first to come was 1995's My Brother the Cow. In retrospect, this LP is seen as Mudhoney's finest hour. At the time, however, grunge was experiencing a rough backlash. Kurt Cobain's suicide and the appearance of more and more copycat bands made grunge a difficult thing to stomach. In 1998, they released Tomorrow Hit Today (Reprise/Warner Bros), another strong outing that just wasn't mustering the sales expected by a major label. After touring in support of the album, Mudhoney were dropped from Reprise/Warner.
A second blow came when Lukin left the band due to an unwillingness to tour any further. Fans assumed that Mudhoney would disband, and a career-spanning retrospective, March to Fuzz (2000, Sub Pop), only strengthened that theory. In 2001, however, the group started playing a few live shows around the Northwest with Steve Dukich on bass, formerly of Steel Wool. Once the band really decided to give it a go and make a new album, they hired Guy Maddison, who'd played with Arm in a side project called Bloodloss, as their official new bassist. Arm and Turner also started a side project called Monkeywrench, and toured under that name. Mudhoney then re-signed with a much more financially sturdy Sub Pop, and truly returned to form with Since We've Become Translucent in the summer of 2002.
In the spring of 2006, they released an angrier album with political overtones called Under a Billion Suns (Sub Pop). The album still proved a fun listen, but the band was clearly embracing its maturity. In 2008, they returned to their roots with album number 8, The Lucky Ones (Sub Pop). Later that year, Sub Pop reissued the EP that started it all for Mudhoney, and perhaps for the entire grunge genre, Superfuzz Bigmuff.