The wall of noise that codified the Seattle "sound" with its epic single, "Touch Me, I'm Sick," has returned to the label that spawned it in the late-Eighties. Mudhoney have recorded a new album over the past four months at various studios around Seattle, with bassist-in-arms Guy Maddison. The album will drop in late-August on Sub Pop Records, which released a greatest hits and outtakes album from the band in 2000. Following a four-year hiatus, during which time Creed and Limp Bizkit commandeered rock radio, Mudhoney lost their bass player to his own introspection and disappeared from the roster of major label Reprise during the industry consolidation of the late-Nineties.
Guitarist/singer Mark Arm has been on cloud nine during the writing and recording of the new songs, a far cry from how he felt when former bassist Matt Lukin left the band a couple of years ago. "We just really didn't know what to do about that," he says. "Instead of doing anything, we did nothing."
The remaining members, drummer Dan Peters and guitarist Steve Turner, had no desire to throw in the towel, and so they spent months teaching all of the Mudhoney songs to friend and former Steel Wool player Steve Dukich. The band was headed down to tour Brazil a few months later when Dukich decided that was as far as he wanted to go with Mudhoney. So, they started all over again with Maddison, a former collaborator from Arm's Bloodloss project and played a few short weekend tours around the U.S.
"Teaching bass parts was fine, but Dan started to hit the wall: 'God we're going over the same old songs, and we're not moving forward.'" mimics Arm, with a slight smile. "We're guys. We don't really communicate on a deep level -- except through the music."
And that's where the band found its legs again. Instead of recording an album's worth of material all at once, Mudhoney chose to work with their favorite Seattle engineers -- Martin Feveyear, Scott Colburn and Johnny Sangster -- at the studios they each run. Grunge superstar Jack Endino recorded a song, "Inside Job," with the band last year that is also expected to appear in remixed form. "In the mid-Nineties we were doing a bunch of soundtrack songs. We'd write one song and go into the studio and mix it and record it that way. Steve had been saying for a while that he'd want to go do a whole album that way," says Arm. "It was sort of on that principle that it would be a lot easier to keep focused on those songs at that time.
"Each studio and engineer has its own sound. I think it makes things more interesting. It's not like we're all over the map stylistically. It's still us. It's still rock & roll. It's not like we're going to take a stab at reggae, and do a little techno number, and see which one radio picks up."
The music on the new album does, however, branch out, while remaining resolutely loud. On "Where the Flavor Is," Mudhoney brought in a horn section for the first time. The album also features the band's two longest songs, both tracking in at over seven minutes, "Sonic Infusion" and "Can You Dig the Light," a psychedelic sound trip that doesn't have any vocals until the last two minutes of the song.
And while many of the songs were written in the aftermath of the September terrorist attacks, Arm says there is little reaction in his music. "I tried to keep things personal, but also looking outward. One of the working titles of the record was "Sentimental Wartime Ballads," which in the end sounded too jokey to me, especially considering the events. We didn't want to be the Dead Milkmen."
Arm expects to keep up a small tour schedule as the band preps for the attention the new Sub Pop release will bring. Maybe all eyes will be back on Seattle. After all, hard rock is back, right?
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