A few hours before our interview, footage surfaced of Mudhoney’s Mark Arm (as well as guitarist Steve Turner and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil) joining Pearl Jam for their hometown Seattle show, with Arm bounding across stage while weaving through the legs of everyone else and belting out ‘Kick Out The Jams’.
“It was fun, y’know? I love the MC5, that song’s a lot of fun to play, and we’ve done it before with Pearl Jam. It was an easy song to pull out of the quiver.”
It was a showcase of Seattle’s musical history, yet Arm doesn’t feel any innate geographical allegiance. “I’ve never been one to have any hometown pride. I’m not a nationalistic person, not like ‘Go USA!’ or ‘Go Washington State! Go Seattle!’ Where you’re born or where you grow up isn’t anything you have to do with, it’s sheer happenstance. It’s always baffled me that people have hometown pride.”
Though Mudhoney enjoy the status of revered veterans, Arm rejects the nostalgia that overwhelms many of his contemporaries. “For me it’s always moving forward. I don’t dwell on past glories, I’m not even sure if there were any,” he laughs. “Sure, I have fond memories, but there are shitty memories too. There’s a balance to be struck there.”
Last year saw the release of Vanishing Point, Mudhoney’s ninth full-length studio LP. It came five years after the release of The Lucky Ones, marking the longest time between Mudhoney albums. “There were a couple of things. Steve [Turner, guitar] moved down to Portland when we recorded The Lucky Ones, which was our last album. So our practices became a little bit fewer and further between, because Portland is a three-hour drive away. Any time we practised it was a six-hour round trip for him. Then in 2010, one of my good friends at Sub Pop died in a car accident. So that took me a long time to think about not missing him.”
Recent setlists for Mudhoney’s US shows provided a varied selection of new and old material. “For these Pearl Jam shows, we came up with two different setlists. One where I didn’t play guitar, the old songs with just one guitar, like ‘Who You Driving Now?’and ‘Suck You Dry’, then a couple songs off The Lucky Ones and a couple songs from the new album. When we played with Pearl Jam here in Seattle we tried to come up with more of a psychedelic setlist for our own amusement, songs with a lot of guitar solos, where the other one was more punk. Who knows what we’ll be doing on the Big Day Out, we’re not sure what our set times are.”
The divergent styles of punk, psychedelic and everything in between stem from a democratic songwriting process. “When we write, we collaborate. We end up writing stuff that falls into stuff that everyone in the band likes. Steve tends to be a huge folky as well, he likes more folk than I do. Then I like a lot more jazz than he does, not that I can really play jazz. When the four of us get together, it mutates into something else. When we try to play jazz, by virtuosity, it becomes a Mudhoney thing.”
As for longevity, it seems Mudhoney will be around as long as the band’s collective carcasses allow. “I don’t know if it takes a lot of mental sharpness, because I’ve been really, really drunk up there [onstage] and it’s seemed to have gone fine as well. I actually do wonder how long we can do this, physically. The hopping around, acting like a fool onstage part of it, for sure.”
Like ducking and weaving between between Pearl Jam’s legs? “Yeah, if my back went out, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Mudhoney‘s new album, Vanishing Point, is out now through Sub Pop/Inertia. Catch them at Sydney Big Day Out at 4:30pm on the JBL Essential Stage. You can also see them at their sideshow at the Oxford Art Factory on Wednesday January 29 with Feedtime.