To Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm, nothing is as preposterous as the notion that he’s iconic. “I would be a narcissistic fool to think like that,” Arm told Rolling Stone backstage at last weekend’s Pearl Jam anniversary festival PJ20. But in addition to opening the main stage each night – a test run of sorts for their opening slot on Pearl Jam’s upcoming tour of Canada – they served as a reminder that before Cobain, Vedder or Cornell, there were four ratty dudes from Bellevue who set the mold for a slacker movement.
That’s not the way Arm sees it, however – even though he’s been credited with coining the term “grunge.” “I don’t think we did anything groundbreaking,” he said of Mudhoney’s impact. “It wasn’t like we invented something that didn’t exist before.”
It’s possible that Arm’s modesty stems from the fact that his band never saw much in the way of commercial success: Mudhoney’s 1988 debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, hardly sold any copies. (The album’s highest charting moment came in 2008 when it hit Number 25 on the U.K. indie charts). But Arm pointed to the work of his longtime label, Sub Pop, for whom he’s now the warehouse manager, as being the true influencers. “Ugly people weren’t allowed to rock before us,” Arm explained, adding, “Sub Pop came up with the idea of the ‘loser'” – which turned the previous rock star model on its head.
Arm, who helped Pearl Jam close out Saturday’s show with a howling’ rendition of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” and reappeared on Sunday with the headliners for a throwback cover of Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer,” has known some of the Pearl Jam members for nearly three decades. In 1984, he formed what many consider to be the first true “grunge” band, Green River, with Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, among others. Though Green River – which only existed originally for three years – has reformed a handful of times, most recently in 2008, Arm said it’s unlikely to happen again. “That would be weird without [drummer] Alex [Vincent] and [guitarist] Bruce [Fairweather],” he said. He did, however, confirm that Vincent and Fairweather would be coming to Pearl Jam/Mudhoney’s Vancouver stop – so it’s possible an impromptu reunion could occur.
Still seemingly baffled that the Seattle music scene of the early 1990s remains of interest, Arm finds himself wondering what its legacy would have been had Nirvana – whose 20th-anniversary edition of Nevermind will be released later this month – not been cut down by Cobain’s sudden death. “It seemed to me that when [1993’s] In Utero came out, it wasn’t doing that well until after Kurt died,” he said.
Arm, who lives in Seattle with his wife and two dogs, can barely stomach making it out to shows these days. “In many ways going out to a show feels like work,” he said. “There’s not much more painful than suffering through a band I’m not enjoying.” After all, there are more consequential activities for the nearly 50-year-old to enjoy. “I could be at home watching shitty reality TV,” he said, laughing. “Sometime’s that’s better.”