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Yesterday and Today

Are Mudhoney Seattle’s last gasp, or grunge’s original sons ushering in a new era?

“If Mudhoney is still around in twenty years, I just hope it hasn’t
become a nostalgia act,” says Mudhoney’s lead singer Mark Arm in a
conference room on the twenty-first floor of the Time-Warner
building in New York.

“Iron Butterfly probably says the same thing too,” wisecracks
guitarist Steve Turner. Both men agree that a certain degree of
denial might help if they do indeed become retro-cool instead of
just cool. “I think we already are in somedenial,” adds Arm, only
half jokingly.

Not every band morbidly ponders its future, but Mudhoney are
finally following up 1995’s My Brother the Cow with their
fifth full-length album, entitled (appropriately enough)
Tomorrow Hit Today — a direct reference to a song off
their first album called “When Tomorrow Hits.” It’s been ten years
since Mudhoney formed in Seattle, signed to Sub Pop Records, and
helped spawn a genre many now describe with derision: grunge. Most
of their friends from other Sub Pop bands have quit the scene or
moved on: Nirvana and Soundgarden are the obvious casualties, but
an army of lesser-knowns also sputtered to a stop years ago.

But Mudhoney flow on, albeit with humility. They are the perpetual
rock underdogs, the boys who never made it real big. The band even
played under the pseudonym “Beneath the Valley of the Underdog” for
a while, evoking bothRuss Meyers films (like Beneath the Valley
of the Ultravixens
) and the autobiography of Charles Mingus
(Beneath the Underdog). Look at the cover of their new CD
and you’ll see a run-down, bleak hotel in Seattle. Why that cover?
“It just evokes a feeling of failure,” Arm and Turner reply in
unison. “The songs are kind of a downer on the record.”

Mudhoney songs have fiendishly focused on helplessness, sickness,
deception, and desperation since the band’s inception. Arm admits
that while the opening song of the new CD, “A Thousand Forms of
Mind,” offers up “possibilities and potential, by the time you get
to the last tune, all possibilities have been exhausted.”

In between these two songs, however, Mudhoney deliver new
variations on their own brand of punk blues. “Oblivion” and “Try to
Be Kind” sound like excerpts from a cowboy flick — trademark
distortion-pedal power chord meets Western shuffle and twang.
“Ghost” boasts a glam-rock chorus. And an unlisted bonus song
(“Talking Randy Tate Specter Blues”) has Mudhoney experimenting
with a psychotic piano-based, blues tune. A diverse Mudhoney CD?
You bet.

Some credit goes to producer Jim Dickinson, the man famous for his
work with the Rolling Stones, the Replacements, Big Star and Ry
Cooder. Dickinson brought the band down to Memphis to record, and
contributed keyboards, but “he wouldn’t play until everything was
done,” says Arm. “He didn’t want to influence too much. He’s not
like an arranger/producer.” Instead, Dickinson assumed the role of
lunatic producer, squeezing the most inspired music out of a band
too often plagued by musical ruts in the past.

Turner admits he needed the kick in the ass more than anyone: “I’m
usually satisfied pretty fast [with my guitar solos]” he explains.
“If it’s first take and I like it, I won’t do it again. [Dickinson]
really liked it noisy; he liked it if I wasn’t actually playing the
guitar. I was doing leads and kicking the guitar around the floor
of the studio and he was like, ‘Yeah!’ It was random noise. [But]
he has this theory about the solo: Imagine it’s a painting where
you can fit anything inside the [frame].”

Arm can play it anyway you like. He’s been busy in the last few
years recording with various bands: Bloodloss, Monkeywrench and an
alternative rock supergroup called the Wylde Ratttz who will
provide the soundtrack to the upcoming Seventies-glam-in-London
movie, Velvet Goldmine. How’d Arm get so lucky? “I got a
phone call from Thurston Moore,” says Arm. “He explained there’s
this movie that’s taking place in early Seventies London. There’s a
fake Iggy type of character and they needed to write some fake
Stooges type material for the movie. I think they were originally
trying to get the original music, but they approached Bowie first
and he denied them. I heard Ron Asheton was gonna be involved, too.
So I got sent a tape of two of Ron’s songs and I put words to them.
And I came out for five days and had a blast. The band was
Thurston, Steve Shelley on drums, Mike Watt’s playing bass, Ron
Asheton’s on guitars, and I’m the happy monkey behind the mic.”

So now Arm’s Stooges salutes are helping usher in glam rock-instead
of arena rock, Zeppelin riffs, or Black Sabbath memories. “Glam is
definitely going to come back,” believe Arm and Turner. “Two
interviews in a row just asked us about this.”

Not exactly the future of rock that anyone envisioned. But Mudhoney
never claimed to predict the trends. Ask the band how they thought
tomorrow would hit ten years ago and Arm mockingly describes the
Pearl Jam experience:”Eating the crab, the prawns, flying through
the air with our own private stewardesses. That’s kinda what we
pictured.”

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