Mudhoney's Mark Arm: "We Were Just Flailing"

May 23, 2008 2:13 PM ET

Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm sometimes falls off the radar, but recently he's been a flurry of activity. This week saw the release of not only his band's excellent new album The Lucky Ones but also a twentieth anniversary reissue of the group's classic debut Superfuzz Bigmuff. To top it off, Arm is preparing for the one night only reunion performance of Green River, who were arguably the first grunge band and also counted Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, Bruce Fairweather of Mother Love Bone and Love Battery, drummer Alex Vincent and Mudhoney cohort Steve Turner as members. Arm called in to give Rock Daily his take on his new album, his old album and all his bands.

So how did The Lucky Ones start coming together?
A couple of years ago I did this tour with the remaining members of MC5, where I was the frontman. The rest of Mudhoney came out to see the show when we played Seattle, and they really liked it. I remember after that tour [drummer] Dan [Peters] was like, "Maybe we should write some songs where you don't play guitar." So of course the next record was Under a Billion Suns, which not only has my guitar but also horns, so I wasn't quite ready to let it go at that point. When we started working on new songs, usually we're playing off each other and I'll try to find a guitar part that fits what everybody else is doing. But I thought maybe Dan had a point, so I worked on the vocal stuff first and then worry about guitar parts.

Did you find that difficult?
At practices, it doesn't sound totally stupid if you're coming up with parts on a guitar while someone else is playing, but if you're coming up with vocal parts while someone else is playing, it's a whole different ball game. Building melody is really kind of embarrassing. But no one laughed. So for the first time since when I was in Green River, I wasn't thinking about where the riff ends and the new one starts, which allowed for the vocals to have some freedom and not be as constrained. It was cool, kind of a new approach — or an old approach made new.

How did the upcoming Green River reunion come up?
Over a year ago, [Sub Pop founder and chairman] Jonathan [Poneman] said he was thinking about doing a twentieth anniversary thing, and would it be possible for Green River to play? Everyone agreed to it rather quickly, but then nothing happened for almost a year. We did get two practices in last month, and it was really cool because it was the first time all of us had been in a room together in a long, long time. Steve was in town for the first practice, so I think we're actually going to have three guitar players. It's gonna be like the Green River version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, just guys trading solos while I stand there going "Huh?"

Did you learn anything about the Green River songs during rehearsals?
There's one thing that we noticed, and it's that a lot of those songs are busier than they need to be. Everyone was just like, "Holy crap! Why did we do that?" But by the second rehearsal everybody had a pretty good feeling about things.

In twenty years, Sub Pop has gone from only putting out noisy bands to focusing more on stuff like Postal Service and the Shins. What do you make of that?
I think their evolution is natural and necessary if they wanted to stay a viable company. Originally, it was basically a local label, and that would have run its course eventually anyway. If all they were going to do was put out records by heavy bands, it would have gone the way of Man's Ruin or something like that. It seems like a pretty well-rounded label at this point.

Was it weird going back to Superfuzz Bigmuff?
I wasn't there for the mastering, but I put together a guide cd and did some pre-mastering and mixed some of the live stuff. All Tomorrow's Parties did a series called "Don't Look Back" where bands played entire albums, so we had already looked at it with a microscope. It still sounds the same, though. We were just flailing and trying to keep up with each other. In some ways we still are.

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