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Green River and the Birth of Seattle Grunge: The Oral History

This short-lived punk-meets-metal band spawned Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Temple of the Dog. With their catalog newly reissued, the members look back on a pivotal underground moment

Green River

Green River's members, who went on to form Mudhoney and Pearl Jam, reflect on the history of grunge and Seattle rock in an oral history.

Charles Peterson

When Green River hit their groove, they played a vicious mix of snarling punk and gigantic hard-rock riffs. It was a heavy, menacing sound, and in the mid-Eighties, nobody really knew what to call it. “I think we just considered ourselves rock & roll guys who grew up on punk rock,” drummer Alex Shumway says now. “We realized that there was some music that we liked before we became hardcore kids that we were afraid we listened to, but then we admitted we liked it. And we started making music like that.”

When Sub Pop marketed the band’s 1987 EP, Dry as a Bone, the label called it “grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation” and within a few years the term caught on to describe the punkish underground rock that defined the early-Nineties Seattle scene.

Although Green River lasted a little less than three years, they were among the key Seattle bands that would become synonymous with grunge. Some of their earliest recordings appeared on the Deep Six compilation, alongside songs by Melvins and Soundgarden. And after they broke up, their members went on to play with Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Mother Love Bone and Love Battery, among others.

Now, following recent re-releases of their 1984 demos and 1985’s Come On Down EP (which predated the Deep Six comp), the band is reissuing their two Sub Pop releases with bonus tracks. The 1987 EP Dry as a Bone now includes their “green single” and a recording session that was thought to be forever inaccessible because it was recorded to a Betamax video cassette, among other tracks, and their sole full-length, 1988’s Rehab Doll, includes demos of the album that they cut with engineer Jack Endino before the album. Endino also removed all of the Eighties flourishes, like the overproduced snare drum and cloaks of reverb, from that release.

“We’ve been talking about reissuing these records since 10 years ago,” vocalist Mark Arm says. “Everyone kind of cringed, particularly, about the production of Rehab Doll. Like, ‘It’d be great if we could just get our hands on the original tapes.’ It just took a while to find them.”

To mark the occasion, all of Green River’s members spoke with Rolling Stone to reflect on their history. “When I listen to the music now, I hear enthusiasm and the energy we had,” bassist Jeff Ament says. “It pushed us through. We were playing at the very edge of our abilities and the energy feels great.”

 

“Come on down to the river …”

The band formed in 1984. Their lineup consisted of vocalist Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner, who had played together in Mr. Epp and the Calculations, and Limp Richerds; Montana transplant and former Deranged Diction bassist Jeff Ament; and former Spluii Numa drummer Alex Shumway. Former March of Crimes guitarist Stone Gossard joined shortly thereafter. Bruce Fairweather, their friend and Ament’s Deranged Diction bandmate, was an early supporter. They named themselves Green River after Turner saw a shirt for nearby Green River College’s track team, but it reminded Arm of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Green River” and the Northwest’s Green River Killer, who later confessed to murdering 71 people between 1982 and 1998.

Steve Turner (Green River guitarist): I was only in Mr. Epp with Mark for the last six months of the band or so, and I think some of the other guys were not into the slightly more “rock” direction Mr. Epp was going. People who didn’t like us would yell “art-spaz” at us. Mark was already in Limp Richerds at that point, and I joined up with him for a few months in early ’84 but we never even played any shows. Then Mark and I decided we’d just do another band.

Jeff Ament (Green River bassist): I met Mark DJ’ing at the Metropolis, which was like the punk-rock commune in the town. I was probably mixing up SS Decontrol, Flipper and Black Flag and then I was throwing in Aerosmith and Kiss. If I remember right, I played “Sick as a Dog” off Aerosmith’s Rocks and he said, “That’s their best record, but the best song is ‘Nobody’s Fault.'” That was the beginning of our friendship.

Turner: I got a job at Raison D’être, a French bakery and coffee shop that Jeff worked at, to butter him up and see if he’d be willing to do a band with us. Jeff wasn’t a huge fan of Mr. Epp, so I had to convince him that we wanted to do a more … “serious” isn’t the right word, but maybe a more musical band.

Alex Shumway (Green River drummer): My old band was a hardcore band that wanted to be like GBH; we had no imagination whatsoever. It just seemed that everybody’s band was beginning to get tired of what was going on in terms of music around here, and everything just stopped.

Turner: I got to work slowly on Jeff to convince him that it might be an all-right thing if we hooked up in a band. Alex Shumway was our total buddy and he drummed, so he was the drummer. He was into hardcore, so we were immediately friends. We started practicing and trying to figure out what we were doing. It took lots of different shapes through the first year or so. Stone joining was a big deal.

Shumway: I went to the Northwest School with Stone and Steve Turner. Stone was really into Iron Maiden and Kiss. Me and Steve were sort of skate punks, but Steve could skate 10 times better than I could. I was a wannabe skate punk.

Turner: Stone was kind of a really sarcastic metal kid but we became friends. He was one year below me, in Alex’s grade — class of ’84. We became friends pretty quick, just because we appreciated each other’s sense of humor. The fact that there’s not much of a difference between the metal he liked and the punk rock I liked. He turned me onto Motörhead and Alice Cooper. Those were two huge, huge, huge things for me.

Stone Gossard (Green River guitarist): Green River was the only real band I was in. I’d played about three rehearsals with March of Crimes, which was a full-on punk band, but I never even played a show with them. Their singer, Jon Evision, who’s a pretty celebrated author and a great guy, was excited about these faux–heavy metal riffs I was writing.

Turner: We recorded some demos without Stone [released as the 1984 Demos], even though I think officially he was in the band when we did them. He just didn’t feel ready to record.

Jack Endino (engineer, Skin Yard guitarist): Steve was the only guitar player on those demos. I remixed them from scratch. Green River sounded like Black Flag then. There’s a version of “10,000 Things” on that early demo that has completely different music. The lyrics are the same, but the music is totally punk rock. The later version sounds more like Aerosmith.

Turner: Mark hates his vocals on the early demos, and I get that. He still had too much of Henry Rollins going on there, but he found his voice pretty quick.

Endino: Green River were a rock & roll band basically. If you go back and listen to the stuff now, it’s like, “This is a fucking rock & roll band.”

Bruce Fairweather (Green River guitarist): I knew Steve and Mark through skateboarding, and I moved out to Seattle with Jeff, so I knew Jeff. I think I saw [Green River’s] first show. They were awesome. They were totally heavy, and it was different from the band I had with Jeff, Deranged Diction, which was minute-and-a-half, West Coast punk-rock songs.

Gossard: I think we succeeded more live than we did recording. I think there were some tracks where we got it right, but I was way too cerebral in terms of recording. I think the art of recording is really not thinking.

Mark Arm (Green River vocalist): I don’t know if this is a thing people do anymore, but when most of us got into punk rock, we just got rid of our old records. Like, “This is fuckin’ Day One. From this point on, all that old shit is bullshit.” And after a while, you’d hear something and go, “That wasn’t really that bad.” And I quickly bought a lot of the records that I used to have before and had sold, like Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard and the first four Aerosmith records. I tried getting back into Kiss, and it just didn’t work for me after hardcore. It didn’t have the energy; it was sort of the same with Ted Nugent. It seemed weak in comparison.

Gossard: It was an exciting time because the barriers of what’s normal for a band were breaking down. There was a real do-it-yourself mentality. You weren’t really a musician; you were more of an artist and you were making stuff up as you went along. That part of punk rock was really attractive to me in terms of just letting noise and almost musical finger-painting be a part of it. It was a celebration of amateurism.

Turner: Stone had started going to hardcore shows. We were all coming out of hardcore. In my mind, it was trying to figure out what to do after hardcore. We were expanding our palates of what we liked to listen to, let alone play. Alice Cooper was a big influence on us. I was really into Sixties garage at that point, too. And a lot of the local bands that were a little bit older than us were more huge influences: the U-Men, Ten Minute Warning; Malfunkshun was starting to get really cool and weird, and the Melvins just kind of popped up and blew our minds.

Shumway: Mark introduced me to the Stooges. I had listened to Iggy Pop, but I’d never really listened to the Stooges.

Fairweather: During the Green River time, we were all listening to the Stooges and the New York Dolls. Pretty much everybody in Seattle was. If you went to a party, somebody would definitely play the Stooges. They were just huge back then in the punk-rock scene here.

Arm: I don’t know why the Stooges were so popular at that time. I was just getting into punk rock and reading about what came before. Raw Power was a record you could find, because it was a cutout for four bucks. You couldn’t find the Elektra records; they were completely out of print. I remember I was going to a small college in a tiny town in Oregon that had a pretty good record shop, and I found the first two Stooges LPs that the owner had brought in on Canadian import; one copy of each. So one week went, and I bought the first record and a couple of weeks later, I bought the second. I was just fuckin’ blown away. I couldn’t find anything else that sounded like the Stooges, especially Fun House. I don’t know anybody in Seattle who had Stooges records for a little while, except maybe Raw Power.

Fairweather: Stone was younger than us and into some really bad metal, like King Diamond. Right before I joined Green River, we went to see Metallica on the Ride the Lightning tour, which was eye opening because they were awesome back then. Jeff and Mark were totally stagediving but I was standing in the back with my girlfriend at the time, so I was like, “Yeah, I’m not going in there.”

Gossard: I think Motörhead was probably the bridge band, where you could see a punk show and suddenly there was a band that was somewhat considered hard rock or heavy metal but that the punks could tell there was something going on there that made sense.

Ament: I don’t know if we were thinking much about what style of music we were playing in. Our scene was the hardcore scene, and at the same time, the thing we loved about a lot of the hardcore bands was that they were all dramatically different. All the big bands on SST were really different; think of Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Saccharine Trust and the Minutemen. It was cool if it nudged things a little bit. I think that’s why the band even lasted as long as it did.

Endino: The whole point of grunge was that it was a mix. It was Seventies hard rock with an Eighties punk attitude, and that’s Green River and the early grunge bands in a nutshell. I mean, Soundgarden, come on; they sounded like a Seventies rock band except that it was kind of edgy, with a weird Eighties punk sensibility applied to it. Green River were borrowing from Seventies hard rock but they also had this Stooges kind of chaos overlaid over it. In retrospect, that is the music people started calling grunge.

 

“There’s this town called Heaven …”

Green River played their first gig in Seattle in July 1984. The band soon found themselves a part of a local, organic scene that supported itself because it had to.

Shumway: I don’t think we ever thought about us fitting in anywhere. We just played what we played. It’s like, “Here’s what we’ve got. Like it or not.” People back then would play Vancouver and then Portland and San Francisco, and a lot of times, they would just skip us. DOA would play here, but a lot of other bands would skip over us. So the rest of us were like, “OK, let’s just do what we want to do.”

Turner: Bands skipping Seattle and Portland was kind of cool because those two cities had some of the coolest, most eclectic scenes during that time, too. I think there has to be some correlation.

Gordon Raphael (engineer and producer): Seattle had a phenomenal underground music scene. In the late Seventies, it had an incredible confrontational scene going on with the Telepaths and the Feelings and all these really weird, obscure bands. Everybody who went to the shows knew each other, and they wore cool clothes and were very intellectual. Sometimes, they would show a Jean Cocteau film, and the band would play. It was super arty and subversive and heavily influenced by punk. The bands would play this one club, the Vogue, and one day a week, they had live bands play and 60 or 100 people at most would go see local bands. So Green River was a little unusual compared to what was coming before them, because of this California or stadium hard-rock feeling [to their music]. That was not anything the bands were doing in the downtown area of Seattle. The thing that made them so weird was that they had long hair instead of punk-rock short hair and played stuff that sounded more like hard rock and Black Sabbath than the previous generation that was trying to get away from those Seventies hard-rock sounds. It’s really a prototype of what later became the Seattle sound.

Ament: I always lived downtown, and there were lots of boarded-up buildings. When the sun went down, it got a little sketchy. There was a little bit of funk in the downtown areas. It was beat up.

Arm: I just remember skateboarding and taking buses. It was a very different vibe then. It was still a Boeing town, even though Microsoft was happening in the suburbs. Starbucks existed, but it hadn’t infected the rest of the world yet.

Shumway: I lived with my mom. Mark was living with [photographer] Charles Peterson; they were roommates. Jeff had moved here from Montana, so he and Bruce were living here. Jeff worked at a bistro. I think Stoney was still living at home too.

Arm: The local scene was kind of tough for bands that played original music at the time. It was really hard to get a weekend show, unless you were on a bill with a touring act. Most of the shows happened at the Vogue only on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for a long time. So that really only appealed to people that didn’t give much of a shit about work, like, “I can go to work the next day and be hung-over. It’s not a problem.”

Fairweather: It was a really small, punk-rock community, but it was pretty tight and everybody would go see each other’s bands. Soundgarden was just starting out, so we’d play shows with those guys, Malfunkshun and Melvins, who are still playing.

Arm: There were local undergrounds all around the U.S. Bigger publications like yours or Spin weren’t really paying attention to stuff like that too much. Every once in a while there might be an article on Hüsker Dü or the Replacements; Nick Cave made the cover of Spin. I heard later that it was supposedly the lowest-selling issue they did at that point. But everything in Seattle was word-of-mouth. Some of us would work at a local college radio station as a way to hear a bunch of records without having to buy a whole bunch of stuff. I did shifts there with Kim Thayil, Bruce Fairweather, Charles Peterson and [Sub Pop co-founders] Bruce Pavitt and Jon Poneman.

Gossard: We had seen bands like Tales of Terror that were touring and traveling. And bands like the U-Men, Malfunkshun and Ten-Minute Warning were playing. They were these bands that were doing these sort of oddball mash-ups of styles and we wanted to be a part of that. Or at least that’s what I wanted; I don’t know what everybody else wanted.

Endino: One crucial thing about Seattle’s music scene is that the bands themselves did not take themselves seriously. You didn’t get the pompous, rock-star thing.

Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth bassist): I remember when we first went to Seattle [in 1985], we thought it was so weird and beautiful. I think it’s called the Emerald City for some reason. We were surprised that people were so receptive to us; we were surprised to find an audience for what we did pretty much anywhere. I remember Bruce Pavitt asking us at one point if he should move to New York, and we were like, “Nah. Don’t move to New York.” We felt like we had kindred spirits in Green River and the scene there.

 

“Don’t even know what I’m lookin’ for …”

Green River rehearsed in Gossard’s parents’ basement, where they wrote what would become their first release, Come On Down, which came out in May 1985.

Ament: At the beginning, it was Steve writing and then it was Stone writing. We would show up, and he’d usually have a riff, and we’d just jam on a riff. And it sort of ends up being like a group, and everybody is sort of interpreting the riff. It was pretty rare that somebody would say, “Hey, I really hate that. I really don’t like the way you’re playing that.” We just let everybody play.

Gossard: Green River was a band for at least a couple of shows before I joined the band. Eventually they moved over to my parents’ house to rehearse. What we were doing was this spontaneous eruption of noise and energy, and if we drank enough beer and the crowd was right, we had these moments where suddenly we were in the middle of a sort of ecstatic punk chaos/celebration, whatever, bacchanal and we just wanted more of it.

Ament: Mark was singing through an old, crappy bass amp that there was probably no top end to it. So we were probably just getting little glimpses of what the vocal melody was. A lot of times, you wouldn’t really know what the song was like until you played a gig or got in the studio and you were like, “Whoa, cool.”

Turner: The other guys were getting turned on to more hard rock. Stone was definitely from that side. There was a definite Iron Maiden infatuation for a while, as well as Venom. These weren’t my favorite things.

Ament: Stone was really into UFO and Iron Maiden. I don’t know if any of us really ever embraced those bands at the time. He was writing a lot of music, so we were taking those riffs that he was bringing in and deconstructing them and turning them into our own thing. I think we were probably giving it a little bit more of a punk thing, but that’s just based on the limitations we had.

Turner: You could hear the Iron Maiden influence on Come On Down. What’s funny is for years I guess that I hated Iron Maiden, but two things changed my mind. I was interviewed on the radio by Bruce Dickinson, and he was such a cool, funny guy. And then, I’ve got two kids and my oldest boy was in the School of Rock and liked hard-rock stuff. He had to do an Iron Maiden show. So I had to go out and buy The Best of Iron Maiden double CD and played it around the house for a few months, and I started to appreciate it more. I was like, “Yeah, this stuff rocks, man.”

Gossard: Come On Down was our first record. When bands start out, and there’s success, it’s like Cinderella where it’s all great and nobody’s too worried about it because it’s fun and you’re riding it and it feels great. Then as more people like you, you start to think more about, “What are we supposed to be? What did they like about that? Maybe I should do this?”

Steve Albini (Big Black vocalist-guitarist): I thought the cassette that Homestead put out [Come On Down] was fantastic. I listened to it a lot. I thought it was great.

Turner: I liked half of Come On Down a lot. I love “Come On Down,” “New God” and “Swallow My Pride.” And “Glad to Be Alive” and “Corner of My Eye” are all right. “Tunnel of Love” was a real bummer for me. It was just so complicated and I don’t think I ever played it right, including in the studio.

Arm: “Tunnel of Love” was the bane of Steve’s existence because it was so long and had so many parts. Sometimes it would go three times and sometimes it would go four, and he would never know how to play the song all the way through.

Gossard: Steve Turner quit because he said, “You guys are playing way too complex for me at this point.”

Ament: I think the biggest break over the course of the band was when Steve Turner got really into super poppy, garage music. He was really into the Milkshakes and he would bring music in and I just didn’t get that at all. I was into distortion and heavy and all that, and he went the other way.

Turner: I quit in the summer of ’85 before the EP came out and before the tour, because I was dreading it. I didn’t want to go on tour with them. And I was kind of being a dick, too; I was making my unhappiness known. But I had a flash of maturity going, “I should not be in this band. I’m fighting them so hard that it’s kind of bringing it down.” So I figured quitting with enough time for them to work Bruce into the band before the tour was the best option. Bruce was always hanging around. I remember saying, “Get Bruce in the band.” He was the perfect guy for this.

Fairweather: I saw them maybe two or three times before they asked me to join. They opened for the Dead Kennedys; the audience wasn’t really into them at all, but I thought they were pretty great. Pretty soon after that, Steve quit and Jeff came by my place and was just like, “Hey, do you want to play guitar in a band?” I’m like, “Sure.” I wasn’t doing anything.

Shumway: It got a little more rockish when Steve left. Bruce was right along the same lines as where the rest of us were going.

Fairweather: I wrote the main riff of “Searching,” and Stone and I wrote “One More Stitch” when we were staying in a weird farmhouse in Ohio, outside of Columbus. It was in a creepy town I don’t remember the name of; it was on the first tour, which we called the “Imma-tour” or it might have been the “Ama-tour.”

 

“Do you say the right things at the perfect time?”

In 1986, the band recorded two tracks for a compilation of songs by Seattle bands. The other groups included Malfunkshun (which featured future Mother Love Bone vocalist Andy Wood), the Melvins, Skin Yard (featuring Endino), Soundgarden and U-Men. That same year, Green River released the “green single” — “Together We’ll Never,” b/w a cover of the Dead Boys’ “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do” — that they’d cut with local engineer and future Strokes producer Gordon Raphael.

Shumway: The Deep Six compilation was really important to us. It was the first time we went to a “real studio.” It had this mind-blowing feel to it. And it’s like everybody on Deep Six has become famous or there’s a person in the band that has moved on in the industry.

Ament: That scene was so small. We were sort of friendly competitors. I remember the U-Men had a couple of shows that were really super inspirational. And when Matt Cameron joined Soundgarden and Chris [Cornell] was out front, that’s when that whole thing just really turned into something insane. There was such a huge leap at that point. I remember seeing them open for Hüsker Dü and it was like, “These guys are as good as Hüsker Dü.” Melvins shows at the time were such a unique thing too. So much to me of what Nirvana became was … there’s so much Melvins in that. And the Melvins are still making records and Mudhoney are still making records. It’s pretty rad to think that you got to witness the beginning of that stuff.

Endino: Before I worked at Reciprocal Recording, I was doing basement recordings for other people and bands who played with my band, Skin Yard. In late 1985, Green River were recording in another basement studio across town called Ultra Lab on a machine called an Akai MG1212; it recorded 12 tracks of analog audio on Betamax cassettes. They recorded five, six, seven tunes at that session with Gordon Raphael. I don’t think the band liked the takes they got very much, no fault of Gordon’s, but they decided to bring me in to do a mix. That became the “green single.” I did what I could on this primitive little machine.

Shumway: Nobody wanted to touch us back then. I think we may have been a little too different. Sub Pop wasn’t around. I remember sending our stuff to labels saying, “Please, here’s this stuff. What do you think of it?” And they came back, saying, “Hell no. This stuff is not what we’re looking for. Absolutely no way.”

 

“A thousand bloody faces crack my mind …”

The group eventually signed to the nascent Sub Pop label and released an EP they’d recorded with Endino in the summer of ’86, Dry as a Bone, in July 1987. The label described it in a catalogue as “ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation.”

Turner: I honestly think that the Dry as a Bone EP is the best record they did. Bruce was the perfect fit.

Ament: Dry as a Bone feels like the truest of all the records. A lot of that is because we went into Reciprocal [Recording] with Jack Endino.

Endino: They were pretty focused in the studio. I always saw the best of people in the studio. The bands I worked with — Nirvana, Soundgarden, Green River — were very, very serious in the studio and very focused and meticulous. They didn’t take themselves seriously, but they took their music seriously.

Shumway: Whenever we were in the studio, I was just terrified. I was always freaked out. “Don’t fuck it up. Don’t fuck it up. Don’t fuck it up.” That’s the only thing that went through my mind whenever we were in the studio.

Gossard: Dry as a Bone is my favorite Green River record. That’s when it was still the most fun. We were succeeding and we weren’t spending a lot of time thinking about it. There was a period early on where it was less self-conscious. We were probably in the studio for three days.

Fairweather: It’s a little more punk rock than Rehab Doll.

Endino: Jeff was sort of the producer in a way in those days, because he was the one that was most involved in the studio. He had the most opinions, and he took it the most seriously. But everybody did their part.

Arm: I taped a bit off Perry Mason or something and used it for the intro to “Ozzie.” I was just watching TV and, I don’t know why, but I pressed record. It seems weird that I would have done that with Perry Mason, but it just struck me as really funny.

Fairweather: I always preferred the live stuff to the albums. I thought we were a pretty rocking live band. Mark was super entertaining.

Endino: Skin Yard played with them a number of times. Green River were pretty hilarious live, because the shows were always kind of chaotic events. I was doing sound at the Dry as a Bone record release show, and I heard Mark announce that, “Because it’s our record release, we’ve decided to celebrate with some cake.” They had made some kind of green cake with green frosting on it, and I thought, “This doesn’t sound good.” So basically, by the end of the night, there was green frosting on everything. I didn’t quite see how what happened, but somehow green cake became distributed around the room and various audience members’ bodies.

Arm: A lot of times I just remember being really drunk and a lot of times probably on MDA. It didn’t necessarily feel good all the time. If I was in a pissed-off mood, it only amplified that emotion. It wasn’t just the love drug. It’s maybe not the smartest thing to do, but I was young and dumb and felt like I had plenty of cells to fry.

Ament: We opened up for PiL [Public Image Ltd.] and they wouldn’t let any of our friends in. They didn’t have a guest list, so we snuck in about 20 of our friends up the fire escape in the back, and then our friends started sneaking around. A few of us got into PiL’s dressing room, and we pillaged their dressing room. At the end of the show, when I went to get paid, the promoter told me there was no way we’d ever play in that town ever again.

Turner: I saw the legendary show at the Paramount where they opened for PiL, and I saw when they opened for Sonic Youth. That might have been one of the first shows they did with Bruce, because I remember carrying Bruce’s guitar, to be their roadie and get into the show for free.

Raphael: Mark Arm didn’t have super long hair or anything like that, but if you looked at, maybe, Jeff Ament, you might think, “This guy’s kind of taking it from the Poison, Mötley Crüe, L.A. rock style.”

Kim Gordon: Half the band was into glam. I remember Jeff wearing eyeliner at some point.

Ament: There weren’t a lot of Green River gigs. Seattle was a tough place to play back then. When we did get shows, Mark would often have something up his sleeve. I think there was a show with Agent Orange and he put a bunch of sardines in his underwear and then pulled them out and threw them on the crowd. I think some of them got into the PA and the promoter said, “You’ll never play this town again.”

Arm: I’m not sure what kind of fish it was, but it was spinier than I imagined. Stone found this pair of silver lamé pants that were super tight at a thrift store and bequeathed them to me. It was basically leggings. I just thought it would be funny to have a stupid bulge like rock guys did and reveal a fish.

Fairweather: Halfway through the set, he pulled it out of his pants and threw it in the audience, and then it came back onstage in several pieces. We were using Agent Orange’s drum carpet, and the fish got all over the carpet and those guys were not amused. Years later, when I was touring in a band called Love Battery, we played with Agent Orange, and I talked to the singer. I told him the whole story and he just looked at me and walked away. I was like, “Oh, I guess he’s still not happy about that.”

Turner: Mark was a wild man. In fact, it was little much for me. So when Mudhoney started, I said, “We can do a band, but you have to play guitar again.” I thought it would ground him a little bit, plus I liked the way he played guitar.

Gossard: We were confident. We’d go out there, and if we had enough beer in our system, it all kind of worked. The closer we got, and the more success we were having, the more we were thinking, “Well, we should have success.” So self-consciousness — wanting to be good or good enough — creeped in a little for me. I think to be good, you have to really believe and forget about the consequences of it all. So I think the early shows — drunkenly, in the small places — were the best.

Fairweather: We had a show lined up in Boston, opening for the U.K. Subs, and we had maybe one or two more lined up in the middle of the country with Big Black. We played a show in Missoula and then drove to Columbus and played with Big Black. We played with them in Kentucky somewhere, too. At the Kentucky show, the PA died on us and Mark thought they’d shut the power off.

Shumway: Everything went out, and we thought they had turned the lights out on us because it was like, “Get the fuck off the stage.” What happened is a fuse just blew. But before they fixed the fuse, Mark was taking all the mics and throwing them in the audience because he was like, “Goddamn you.” Then they fixed the fuse and we started to get all the mics back. We got all of them except for one, and it happened to be the most expensive one. Afterwards, we were getting paid, and Big Black goes, “OK, you guys don’t get anything because you guys lost this $250–$300 microphone.” It was just like, “Oh, man.” I think they gave us gas money and that was it.

Fairweather: Steve Albini was like, “You guys should leave now.” So we did.

Albini: We played a show with them where they went on ahead of us, and I think they were disappointed in the size of the audience that they were playing for. So they were slightly tantrum-bound onstage. And, you know, everybody acts like an asshole when he’s a kid. And they were kids.

Arm: I thought they cut our power for whatever reason, like “Get off the stage.” I reacted poorly for sure.

Albini: They were pretty headstrong, and that was one of their strengths. They were acting with a lot of confidence and very fond of their own band, but it was also an irritant to people who they interacted with. They had developed a mild case of “rock star,” but that wore off since I’ve encountered those people in other situations in Mudhoney or whatever.

Ament: When we went to New York in ’86, it was sketchy. But when we went to Detroit, it was the scariest thing. That’s still one of the sketchiest cities I’ve ever been through. It was Detroit on All Soul’s Day in 1986. There were fires burning everywhere and houses burning and tons of people in the street going, “What the fuck?” We opened up for Samhain at the Graystone, which was in a super gnarly part of town. When we pulled in, we were going, “Oh, my God. What is going on?” There were literally houses burning.

Fairweather: When we finally got out to the East Coast, we found out the U.K. Subs didn’t get visas. This was before cell phones. So we drove all the way across the country to play with the U.K. Subs, and it didn’t happen. But we ended up playing at CBGB’s, which was just as amazing, and we did end up playing a show with the U-Men in Hoboken, which was great. They were touring in a shitty old school bus. We were like, “Whoa, you got it figured out.”

Shumway: I remember one show we played with Redd Kross and Malfunkshun where there were these fluorescent lights hanging down that kind of look like swings. Mark crawled up the PA and sat down on one. It just went, ba-boom. You could see it give way from the fixture. The chains had sort of given from above. I was just thinking, “Oh, shit. This is our last show.”

Fairweather: He could have hurt himself, but then he dove back onstage and rolled and got back up and totally hit a note. I was like, “Damn, that was awesome.”

Gordon: The first time we went to Seattle to play was probably 1985. Green River opened for us, and we were just like, “Who’s this guy who’s like Iggy Pop?” meaning Mark. He was amazing. We became friends, and whenever we’d go there, they would play with us. We thought they were really exciting. They were kind of garage-y. I think we related to that too, because we weren’t hardcore. They were like bands like the Meat Puppets, Minutemen and even Black Flag to an extent, who were more rock than hardcore. When we heard Green River, we related to that in a way — that they weren’t straight hardcore.

Endino: I’m not even sure if the words “indie rock” were popular back then. It was “garage rock, “punk rock,” I don’t know.

Ament: I don’t even remember the word “grunge” being used until, maybe, during Mudhoney stuff. And then obviously when Nirvana blew up and things started happening for us. Then we all got lumped into grunge. But when I think of grunge, I do think of Green River, Mudhoney, Melvins. That, to me, seems like the right thing to call it.

Turner: The term was already being used a little bit to describe dirty-sounding guitars. I think the first time I heard the term was to describe Johnny Burnette and the Rock n Roll Trio’s “Train Kept a Rollin’,” which was considered the first use of fuzz-tone on a guitar, because there was a broken tube or something in the amp. To me, that’s grungy.

Arm: I think Bruce [Pavitt] wrote a little snippet that said something like, “Grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation” in a Sub Pop catalogue. It was just complete hyperbole. Like, yeah, as if a generation even heard that record.

Turner: I know Mark used it in a fanzine one time in the early Eighties. There was a band in the Seattle called Cat Butt, and they called themselves “grunge-adelic” or something like that in ’87. So that was a term that was being used. Mark does not want to get credit for being the first to use the term, though, so let’s give it to Sub Pop.

Fairweather: The term meant nothing to us at the time. Especially when bands like Stone Temple Pilots came out. People were like, “They’re totally grunge.” I’d say, “Huh. All right.”

Turner: I don’t mind being called grunge. With Mudhoney, I remember in 1995, everybody was so over the whole “grunge from Seattle” thing. I was like, “Man, if anybody is grunge, we are.”

Arm: When people say Green River are influential, I just point everyone to the Melvins. They were going before Green River.

 

“This ain’t the summer of love …”

The group started recording their first proper full-length, Rehab Doll, in the summer of 1987, but they broke up before it came out in June 1988.

Gossard: Rehab Doll has some good moments on it, and I think it was cool, but we were already going down the road of being torn apart from where we were going to go and how we were going to do it, and it was maybe less fun at that point.

Arm: The thing that strikes me about Rehab Doll is how it has rock riffs, and then I’m just spewing darkness over the top of it. That might not have been the best approach, but it’s the approach I had. I can see why after listening to that, Stone would just be like, “Maybe we’ll work with Andrew [Wood].”

Fairweather: When I listened to Rehab Doll again before our reunion seven or eight years ago, I was startled by how kind of prog-rocky it is. There are a lot of guitar parts. It’s pretty note-y. I had forgotten how much effort we put into doing that kind of stuff back then.

Gossard: We had a little more time in the studio. We had a producer, at that point, who had a bit more ambition in terms of trying different things.

Shumway: They tried to have me play to a click track. I can’t play to a click track. I remember they were trying to fix my drums at one point, and they were going, “God, his tempo’s all over the place.” It was more of a live thing. I can only play what I can play. So Rehab Doll was a little too polished in my opinion.

Ament: I was really into industrial music and Depeche Mode, bands that were using triggers on their drums and doing super weird stuff. So we triggered a metal sound on the snare drum, and it sort of made it sound lame. The music wasn’t really the kind of music to try to put Depeche Mode or Sisters of Mercy production on.

Shumway: Jack Endino did the original demos for Rehab Doll, and it more or less captured what we sounded like. Then we skipped having Jack do it and had this other producer come in, and I don’t think he really knew what we were about. When I listen to the original mix of Rehab Doll today, the drums sound like some big-haired metal band. It’s like grunge meets Poison.

Gossard: We thought, “Why don’t we keep experimenting with anything we want?” Then you learn the limits of that and go, “OK, sometimes it’s just not good.” So I was thinking, “This is our third time in the studio. What does a studio do? Jimi Hendrix did backwards guitar, so what can we do?” I think there was this very amateur [experimentation] that maybe was unrealized or distracting.

Fairweather: We recorded this one pretty late at night with Bruce Calder. We were in a fancier studio, and to afford it, we had to record in the evening. We’d get there at 6:00 or 7:00, and record all night. I remember we wanted it to sound super professional. Stone and I would get together and play acoustic a lot back then. I played sitar on “One More Stitch”; I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just tuned it to an open tuning and strummed it, but it sounded pretty cool.

Arm: I remember singing “One More Stitch” on my back, underneath a grand piano. It was opened up and there were mics picking up the resonance from the strings, as well as the mic I was singing into. So that was a cool, weird experiment. I haven’t done it since.

Ament: Every time he hit a note, one of the strings would vibrate. We were trying to get into Alice Cooper territory.

Gossard: I was really glad we did the song “Rehab Doll,” since Paul Solger wrote it. He is one of my guitar heroes. He played in Ten Minute Warning and the Fartz. He was just a smooth, badass guitar player. I met him and he wrote that song and said, “You can have it.” I played it for the guys — they all loved Paul Solger — and they were psyched. I thought that was pretty cool.

Arm: The song “Rehab Doll” is about dope, man. We’d hear about people we knew getting strung out and having to go to rehab. It’s nothing too deep. The ironic thing is I wrote those lyrics before I was even really familiar with that stuff. It might have been right around the time I was starting to dabble in, like, ’87.

Ament: Redoing “Swallow My Pride” had to have been Mark’s idea, since Steve wrote the music to that song and he wasn’t in the band anymore.

Arm: I think we might have also just been short on material. We recycled a lot of songs over and over again.

Gossard: “Swallow My Pride” had a simplicity and a straightforwardness to it that people really liked. I think it probably reminded people of our humble beginnings and Steve Turner who had quit. So we probably redid it as a tribute to Steve and that era. But the song’s kind of a hit for us. We’d been playing it live, and it had been evolving, so I imagine we redid it to go back to a simpler time.

Turner: I thought it was cool that they redid it. Bruce Pavitt had the wild idea to try and make it the “Louie Louie” of Seattle, so he had some of the bands cover it, like Soundgarden and Fastbacks.

Arm: Someone pointed out that the chorus part of “Swallow My Pride” sounded like [Blue Öyster Cult’s] “This Ain’t the Summer of Love,” so when we redid it, we incorporated part of the Blue Öyster Cult song, which I was pretty unfamiliar with.

Fairweather: In ’87, probably right before we recorded it, Mark decided it was 20 years since the Summer of Love, so ’87 was going to be the Summer of Fuck. So he changed the lyrics.

Ament: We played a show with Sonic Youth when we were making that record, and Kim came in and put vocals on.

Arm: The very first time Sonic Youth came to town, Green River opened. We played with them every time they came through town, unless we were out of town. So they were in town and we said to Kim Gordon, “You should be on our record.” On the original mix of Rehab Doll, her vocals were almost erased except for the groan at the end. That happened after the band broke up, and I was no longer participating. But a young girl was brought in to do that vocal part, so now it’s a balance of both vocals.

Gordon: I remember being excited to be asked, because it’s not much singing. I was flattered. There had a big fight when I wasn’t there. Jeff didn’t want me to sing on the song, I guess. I don’t actually know if they ended up using my vocal. Maybe they used some of it.

Endino: Kim Gordon’s vocals are throughout much of the song, but the band mixed almost all of it out on the original. I’m not even sure you can hear her in the original mix because she has a low voice. They thought, “Well, it’ll sound like there’s a girl singing along with it.” But then when you actually hear her voice, it almost sounds like Mark’s because she has a low, husky voice and in the same register. When I remixed it, I’d turn it up and you couldn’t really tell there was anybody other than another band member singing on the track. I was able to find a few places specifically where she was saying something individually and I turned those up so you can tell she’s in the mix now.

Turner: I thought the production on Rehab Doll was awful. It just sounded awful. When we did the reunion shows 10 years ago, I still thought it sounded awful. It was kind of funny because everybody by that point had decided it sounded awful. I haven’t heard the reissue yet.

Endino: The original mixes of Rehab Doll were done in a hurry. They’d started recording it and then broke up and mixed it after they’d broken up. They’d done 8-track demos with me and they were really exciting. But then they said, “Sub Pop’s giving us some real money, let’s go and do a big studio and record on a 24-track machine and make this big record.” But they broke up in the fall of ’87. Sub Pop had spent the money on it, so they went in and I’m not sure who was there — I don’t think the entire band was there — but Rehab Doll was being mixed. So I don’t think they spent a lot of time on it and the mixes show that. Nobody was particularly happy about it, but since the band had broken up, nobody cared that much. But I cared, because I knew how good it should have sounded.

Shumway: The preproduction demos for Rehab Doll are so much better and so much more alive. I wish we would’ve put that out instead of Rehab Doll. If we put that out instead, I think the band would have lasted a couple more years. We would’ve been happier with the sound.

 

“It’s the summer of fuck!”

On October 24th, 1987, Green River played the final gig of their first run — opening for Jane’s Addiction and Junkyard in Los Angeles — and decided to disband at a rehearsal that Halloween.

Ament: The Jane’s Addiction show was a huge part of the breakup. We didn’t have a particularly good show.

Arm: We did a West Coast tour and we played a show in San Francisco at a place called the Chatterbox. It was off the hook; it was fucking great. The atmosphere was such that I think I overextended my vocals. A day or two later, we’