During the ‘90s, Americans became transfixed with Seattle’s music scene, as “grunge” took America by storm and introduced Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden to the world.
Mudhoney, too, is a Seattle band that was around during the grunge era—and although the group never made it big itself, it’s been a huge an influence to countless bands. See the group perform at Pappy and Harriet’s on Friday, Oct. 23.
During a recent phone interview from Seattle, guitarist Steve Turner discussed what has kept Mudhoney going all these years.
“There are a few different answers,” Turner said. “I think the main one is that we still like each other and the music. … We take it seriously, but we have other things in our lives going on that are just as serious. We have families and jobs, and we make it work when we can. Even when one of us would take a break, we’d be like, ‘Why break up?’ Because then you have to get back together if you want to do it.
“We probably should have, after watching indie bands break up, do reunion tours—and do very well,” he laughed.
If you listen to Mudhoney’s recordings—from the band’s first, self-titled record from 1989, all the way to 2013’s Vanishing Point—you’ll notice there has never really been a change in the band’s sound.
“It’s not really a formula, and it’s more of what happens when you play together,” Turner said. “We try to branch out, and we think we have some variety in what we do, but historically, it’s stayed the same, and we do what we do. I don’t think we’re as locked in as the Ramones or anything like that, but there are things we like collectively. But if we tried to be an R&B band, it wouldn’t work. It would sound ridiculous, and it wouldn’t please us. When we come up with a good, weird, noisy riff, we like playing it.”
While some bands bristled at the term “grunge,” Turner said Mudhoney embraced it.
“At least I did,” he said. “I don’t know about everyone else, but I was like, ‘Fuck it! If we’re not grunge, who is?’ For Mudhoney, we all grew up through the punk scene, but we were very aware of what happened in the ’60s with the Sonics and the Wailers, and the pretty intense garage scene that was happening in the Northwest. But we were half Black Flag, half Sonics, half Black Sabbath—so I guess we were 3 halves! But it’s about aggressive music and not being so macho.”
After former bassist Matt Lukin (who was also a founding member of the Melvins) left, in 2001, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer approached the band and ended up playing bass with Mudhoney on a track titled “Inside Job.”
“We hadn’t done anything for a while when Wayne contacted us to do a song for a compilation he was putting together,” Turner said. “It was the dot-com era back in 2001, and he got some money to put together a compilation of stuff and asked us if we wanted to do it. We said yes, but Matt had quit, and we hadn’t done anything for about a year. Wayne got hold of us, and we said we could come up with a song, but Wayne came to our place and asked, ‘You guys don’t have a bass player?’ We said, ‘No,’ and he asked, ‘What if I play?’ We were like, ‘Yes, please!’ He came up with a way better bass part than I had for it. It was amazing, and everyone loves the MC5 and Wayne Kramer. He’s such a great person too.”
Sub Pop Records has been Mudhoney’s label for the majority of the group’s career.
“I think we’re grandfathered in there for life,” Turner said. “(Frontman) Mark (Arm) manages their warehouse. But we have a shared history with them. When it was their 25th anniversary, it felt like a big deal, and they had the big Sub Pop Festival, and we played on top of the Space Needle. It was like we got our gold watch.
“It was weird and strange for a few years when we weren’t there, but Sub Pop was weird and strange at the time. They were trying to compete with the major labels for a while, and had some money from Warner Bros., and by the turn of the century, they had their stuff figured out again and scaled back down. They focus on what they do best, which is hire people to find cool music —not really any particular genre, not just things they think might sell.”
It had been five years since Mudhoney put out a record when Vanishing Point came out in 2013, and it was well-received by critics and fans. Turner thinks there’s a reason for that.
“I’ve been really happy with the past two records we’ve done,” Turner said. “I think a lot of it was because it had a tagline, and it was our 25th anniversary along with Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary. I think it made it easier for people to give it a listen versus just writing about it, saying, ‘We’re just this old grunge band from Seattle that didn’t make it as big as their friends.’ They still say that, but they could say we’ve been around for 25 years. … It’s been like gravy to us, and we’ve thought, ‘Wow, we get to put out records and travel around?’ We still get to do it, hang out and have a pretty good time.”
Mudhoney will perform with The Freeks at 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 23, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.