While speaking to Mark Arm, I made two conclusions. First one and the most important – Arm is not the person who has been passing through any sort of personal crisis. Of course, the sounding of Mudhoney has never been the same. Like any band they progressed and evolved. From the unbridled energy of their debut Superfuzz Bigmuff to the recently released Digital Garbage. Second conclusion I came to – there’s never been a dilemma of so-called “second album” for Mudhoney. While recording Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, Mudhoney had put all the iconic qualities of their music into the record: it’s sarcastic and nihilistic. Psychedelic and furious.
This year, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge celebrates it’s 30th anniversary. Louder Than War talks to Mark Arm discussing self-searching and writing Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, transition to major-label in the 90’s and relations with SubPop Records, influences and underground music.
LTW: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge is the album of contrast. You unite your classical sounding with acoustic-written songs, organ-parts, psychedelia. In compositional sense, it’s a step from your debut LP. Was it important for you to make your next record unlike the first one?
Mark: “Eeh…It’s hard for me to totally get back into that frame of mind from over 30 years ago (laughs). Obviously, that was an intentional thing we tried to do. Do it different. Everything Mudhoney does sounds like Mudhoney.
Even if it’s a heavier thing or acoustic-guitar or fast punk-rock thing. It gets filtered by who we are and the way we play I think. So it’s important to still sound like ourselves but to push things in a little bit but different direction.”
LTW: But there’s still this dilemma of a second record. You recorded your first EP – it went great. Your first LP – it went great. You second came out. Reviews went great…But you understand that you should do something differently. For a lot of artists, it became quite a dilemma, dealing with the second LP.
Mark: “Yeah. We just followed the Discharge model. We did Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing and then we did Grave New World.”
LTW: How had your songwriting developed at that point?
Mark: “I guess, we’re little bit more practiced at it (laughs). I don’t think we’ve ever been DEVELOPED SONGWRITERS. We couldn’t fill the tune together (laughs).”
LTW: You were born in the 60’s and used to observe both psychedelic revolution and the very first wave of punk-rock. But psychedelia and garage-rock didn’t come to be a part of your formula until you formed Mudhoney. Was it your desire to get out of the boarders of punk-rock after Green River broke up?
Mark: “You know, I didn’t really live through the psychedelic era (laughter)…I was there, I was alive when psychedelic stuff was happening. But I was a child. I wasn’t really tuned into it. I heard a lot of that stuff later – before punk-rock. Also, after getting into punk-rock, a friend of mine, who was from San-Francisco – I met him at the university… He was into punk-rock too. He puts down this record and goes: “Check out what these crazy hippies did in 1968!” – it was a first Blue Cheer record.
So, it was like: Ok, here is this thing… Definitely psychedelic. But also, kind of punk rock in a way. And heavy-metal…. They’re tripping balls and they’re as heavy as shit! That was awesome (laughter). In high school, I was very-very much into Jimi Hendrix and continued to be into Jimi Hendrix when I got into punk-rock.
So, when I first heard The Wipers “Youth Of America” – [this] record totally made sense to me. “Oh, it’s punk-rock but [with] Jimi Hendrix’ guitar solos – really long and super great”.
LTW: You studied at a private Christian school. At that point of time, when you were 16, you got fired from McDonald’s. I made a logical conclusion that you were an outsider at that point. Do you think that feeling pushed you to write more about finding yourself in an artistic sense or pushed your desire to find the people to play and collaborate with?
Mark: “I mean, playing in a band was almost like accidental. Friends from high-school and I [were] just goofing off and there wasn’t much long-term thinking. Except on the part of one of our friends… If a group of several people would get together and make noise and we were about to have our first show.
We tried to figure out how to get our first show and one of our friends said: “I don’t want to make music a career!” – at that time, I just thought it’s absolutely ridiculous. It was just a group of people… Except from a drummer, no one knew how to play. So, we were making stuff up and just making noise for our own amusement and it turned out like Peter was right! He quit then and he doesn’t have a career in music. I played that first show and now I’m forty years later still making music (laughs)!
A lot of that was just defining something to do! A way to hang out with my friends. I don’t even know if anyone thought of us being creative. We just thought we were having fun playing around. There weren’t the whole lot of deep thoughts behind it.”
LTW: Commenting on one of your recent releases you said: “It’s not the record we wanted to make – it’s the record we had to make…” – can it be compared with your first releases as Mudhoney?
Mark: “I think, early records [show] what we were doing at a time…A lot of that was just trying to play music we wanted to hear. That we didn’t hear like… At that time, in the mid 80’s, I was working at local college radio-station. It wasn’t a job – I wasn’t getting paid. But I was a DJ there and so many other DJ’s were playing music that I thought was pretty lame and wasn’t playing attention to the cool stuff that was happening.
They were playing independent music but they were playing really pop-stuff. Kind of goth. Like really focused on a new flavor out of England at that time. But they weren’t into the cool stuff from England at that time, which was to me Folk Devils or Spacemen 3 or Billy Childish’s bands. They were more into 4AD stuff. Cocteau Twins – ethereal beautiful music. I didn’t give a shit about beautiful music. I love The Birthday Party and Flipper and Void and Savage Republic (laughs).”
LTW: There still was a certain diversity between underground music of the mid-late 80’s and it’s version in the 90’s. What according to your opinion caused that separation?
Mark: “I think, what happened in early 90’s – there was an idea that poisoned the underground. That you could potentially have a career in music. Whereas in the mid 80’s or in the early 80’s there were only a few people that had that idea and they were really in the underground, so definitely the idea that if you were in Seattle, you could be just in the band that was going on to top the charts. It was ridiculous.
The one example of a band that was from the Seattle area and became huge we can point to was Heart and that happened in early-mid 70’s. There wasn’t like a musical industry/infrastructure here in this area. So people would leave. There was this really cool band The Blackouts, they were from the late 70’s-very early 80’s. They moved to Boston because they just felt like they were playing in front of the same 50-100 people over and over again and they just tried to get a wider audience. I’m not sure why they chose Boston… Cause they should have gone to New York or L.A, probably. Maybe San Francisco or Chicago.
Or Duff McKagan left Seattle after playing in numerous punk-bands, went down to L.A. and stumbled into this band – Guns N’ Roses and I know plenty of other people from other bands who left and took their chances playing music lottery – never got anywhere.”
LTW: There was an interesting thing I came to, which is when you chose a certain style, you still follow a certain role model. This is where epithet “grunge” came to as descriptive, but at the same time, different artists all over the world came to the same sounding and it still was different. Less sarcastic or over-expressive to a point. Do you feel that there was something special in the environment of Seattle that united you all?
Mark: “It’s hard for me to speak about all of Seattle. Everyone has their own personality and perspective and point of view. I have MINE. Which I think, was largely re-enforced by psychedelics. This idea that: “It just doesn’t matter”. I always took the music played seriously but I never took anything surrounding it seriously.
You can’t do anything about how people were gonna respond to the stuff you do. All you can do – do what you wanna do. Hopefully and make it would resonate with some other people. If it does – that’s great. But if it doesn’t – it doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy yourself with what’s you’re doing and that’s always been kind of my approach.”
LTW: A lot of these songs, like “Good Enough” sounds like a good homage to psychedelic-rock bands. Especially the line “It’s a hard road to your heart…” – how much sarcasm was involved into writing this one?
Mark: “In “Good Enough”? It’s pretty straight-ahead, without a lot of sarcasm. There would be more sarcasm and humor in songs like Who You Drivin’ Now.”
LTW: Yeah. But there’s still no role-model within your writing. You don’t have many love-songs for example. A lot of your lyrics are centred on self-searching… I guess it’s a situation where again, you won’t imagine people like Johnny Lydon singing about love songs.
Mark: “Well…(laughter). Hopefully love is a part of life.”
Mark: “I don’t know… (laughs).”
LTW: Sound on your later records has changed – with the releases like Tomorrow Hit Today. I always was wondering, were these changes provided by the change in production – bigger budgets for recording etc., or something you started gravitating to as a songwriter at that point?
Mark: “Tomorrow Hit Today was the only big-budget record we did. And that was BECAUSE the way our contract with Reprise was structured. Like the first two records were guaranteed records. We got a certain amount of money advanced and whatever we didn’t use in the actual recording we got to keep right? We recorded fairly cheaply… and also we wanted to not just move from independent-label to big label and make a slick-sounding record.
When you see that – mistakes happen over and over and over again. So, we recorded at the same studio we did Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge – we recorded Piece Of Cake [there]. By the third record, which was an option in the contract…There was actually a new A&R president who has just came in and wanted to clean the house and wanted to get rid of us. But our A&R person worked really hard for us.
The way the contract was structured – whatever we didn’t spend on recording from the recording budget, that would just go back to the company right? So we figured: This is probably our only chance to work with a producer and co-producer and we thought long and hard about if we’d go like that and whom we would go with. Friends of ours just recorded with Jim Dickinson.
And of all the producers whose names were flooded, he seemed like the one person we could stomach – if that makes sense. He had a pretty fucking cool track record and it turned out that he was a great guy and a totally, weird awesome pleasure was working with him. I think, that’s one reason that record sounds different and also, it was mixed by David Bianco, who was a totally pro-mixing engineer.
Normally, when we mix something it goes pretty quickly. But he would spend OVER A FULL DAY on one song. We would come in, like a couple of hours: “That sounds great, David!” – and he was like: “Yeah-yeah-yeah!”. Then we would come back – cause, he didn’t want us havering over shoulders…We would go away for a couple of hours and come back and it would sound even better!
I’m not even sure what he could have possibly done. But he was a very-very talented at that. And there were just things musically…like…Bringing into the things that he was listening to. Like I really listened to Dr. John in the mid-80’s. But by the mid 90’s he was a part of band’s vocabulary.
The more you listen to the other things, the more you absorb them and go: “I like that! I don’t like that!” and take what you want! So A Thousand Forms Of Mind to me is a blend of Black Sabbath with Dr. John.”
LTW: When you get to recording process, do you usually have a concept or idea of how it should sound like ?
Mark: You know, when we work on something in a practice room and we have a pretty good idea. But we have still open if another good idea strike is while we’re in the studio, going with that. We found that generally our first instinct is the best instinct. The studio, especially with Pro-Tools nowadays – the tracks are infinite. You can just keep doing overdubs, keep doing overdubs.
You’re not limited to 24-track or 48-tracks if you slave two machines together. You can just go to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tracks. You can drive yourself crazy with too many choices, right? We work best when we work quickly and decisively.
Instead of just going over and over and laboring the same thing, ’cause, a few times we’ve actually done that we end up going to a very first idea. Or maybe the second idea. By the time you get to 30th idea it’s terrible (laughter). BUT at that time you’re doing this 30th idea you might think it’s good.
And then, you’d sit and step back from it trying to sit through all the versions of things you did and: “Oh, shit! They were the right way at the beginning…” (laughs).”
LTW: Your recently released Digital Garbage is quite a dark record. You criticize the record-industry a lot – with the songs like Kill Yourself Live. Why did you decide to focus on negative aspects of the record-industry within this record ? Even though, you still experienced all these things over the years.
Mark: “I don’t think that record had much to do with the record industry. More with social and political shit that was happening in America at that time. And is still going on! There was just… Its impossible not to talk about it for me.”
LTW: What made it so important to you to talk about these sort of things ?
Mark: “It was just what was clattering my mind at that time. So much horrible shit during Trump years. One of the things he did – before that, people wouldn’t just generally say overtly racist things. They might think that but they wouldn’t just…They pushed it back because they knew they’d get in trouble for it or get some pushback. Trump just opened it up for these people to express themselves freely. Which, in one sense is terrible. But in another sense is good because it lets you know who they really are. So you fight them much easier.”
LTW: There are some artists who initially set up to write a record…When creative process starts for you, Mark?
Mark: “I don’t know how it starts! It happens in different ways. Most of our songs, the music comes first. And then, the lyrics. I think, that’s important – there’s no point without good music. And hopefully, the music we write is good. At least, we seem to like it (laughs).”
LTW: At the beginning of 90’s, with the splash of alternative culture mass-media cultivated “Rock Is Dead” slogan – in its various forms. The same was told the decade after about grunge music. But if grunge, initially grew out of various styles of music, rock-band-format hasn’t really changed since the 50’s and the 60’s. Have you ever thought on rock-music as something if not dead but dying? Especially, when commercialism came to it.
Mark: “I don’t know. I think, as long as somebody’s playing any form of music, writing it and enjoying it it’s not dead. Even though, it pushed the way underground. Or as a very small fan-base. Like…Marching-band music. Or polka (laughs).
But there are still people who play it, enjoy it, listen to it. What happens in any kind of cultural pop-aspect at any given time – it’s not that important to me. There are obviously times when rock-n-roll sort of intersected with that pop-culture. Like when it first happened in the 50’s. You had Bo Didley and Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Domino Fats. They had chart-hits.
And then, they disappeared for a while. Bobbled up again in the 60’s with the Beatles. 64-65 or something like that. Beatles and Stones became the dominant radio-force. But you still had smaltsee pop-songs in the charts as well. That kind of died down in the 80’s.
Dance-pop and C+C Music Factory and whatever the fuck heavy-metal is…I think, what became known as “grunge” bobbled up from the underground and had some anticity to it. A lot of people who were kind of familiar with some of that underground stuff…
By the time, we signed to Reprise, this woman who worked at Alternative Department at Reprise/Warner Brothers she’d spent time in a Crass farm in the UK. Hanging out with the band Crass. People like that who’d come from the underground getting their jobs and major labels…”
LTW: Playing more than 30 years you’re in a position now, where Mudhoney are considered as a classical band of a certain movement. You were signed to an indie-label, you got signed to a major, started playing festival shows…And you have a fan-base with the people from different generations now.
Mark: I would argue – we had bigger shows before we signed to a major-label. And then kept playing the same size-shows for a number of years. Then, these shows got smaller and smaller and smaller (laughs) and then, slowly got a little bit bigger!
But that’s cool. Rock n Roll was saved by the White Stripes, The Strokes and stuff. In the late 90’s, like you were saying earlier, rock-writers, the music writers were saying: “rock is dead”. And it was all about The Prodigy and The Crystal Method and electronica.
The weird thing to me was that idea that electronic music was new. But it wasn’t (laughter)! I mean, there was the whole bunch of synth-band from the early 80’s (laughs).”
LTW: What it was like for you to get back to work with SubPop when Since We’ve Become Translucent came out?
Mark: “It was great! It felt like a homecoming. Except, we went to a remodeled house (laughs). When we went back to SubPop, the only two people who would been there and were still there were Jonathan Poneman and Megan Jasper. But now there’s a lot working at SubPop and I work with them now! So I have to say that (laughs).”
LTW: How much has your views on the music business changed after you started working at SubPop?
Mark: I try not to think about the music business. Except when it comes to the mechanics of releasing a record. Our own records. But…I don’t care. The records that sell make some money but that’s not the point. If that’s what we were about – trying to make money, we would not be playing music (laughs). We would have gone to work on Wall-Street.”
LTW: Like your former bandmate who decided to quit the music business and like you said: you played that show and now you’re here. Still.
Mark: “Yeah. His goal was – he wanted to be a writer. And maybe an actor. Which is probably even a harder thing then being a musician (laughs). At least, if ideally, if you have a band, you get along with everyone in the band and it’s some sort of…Every band I’ve ever been has been a group of friends. We’ve all known each other first and gotten along. It wasn’t like we look for people and classify…There are no ad’s like: “Looking for a bass-player with a pro-look and an attitude…”. It was like: “Oh, I played in another band with the guy from Maddison and he’s AN AWESOME person. And he plays bass very-well! He’s very creative and has great ideas”. So that is how, I think, we ended up remaining together for so long.”
Photo credits: Emily Rieman, Michael Lavine
The reissue of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge is out now via SubPop.
Interview by Dan Volohov. Find his author’s archive here.