With their 2018 LP Digital Garbage, and their new EP Morning in America, Mudhoney are back, offering up musical reflections on the dangerously bizarre political discourse happening in the United States today, working in a snarling idiom—punk rock—and spitting out condemnations like sulfuric acid at anyone and anything.
Evangelical Christians (“21st Century Pharisees”).
The Internet (“Kill Yourself Live”).
Society (“Morning in America”).
You name it, and these days, it’s likely that Mudhoney has got something to say about it.
Each song taken from their latest recordings is sung with a sour taste in singer Mark Arm’s mouth. “America rolls out of bed and looks in the mirror, and can’t believe what it sees,” he sings on the EP’s title track, actually sounding aggravated about having to be the drudge who must deliver the bad news. “Wraps up in the flag for cover, splitting it at the seams, feeling so ugly…. ‘How can this be me?’”
It’s the lyrical equivalent of the disgust brought on by a foul smell.
But then again, as Arm says with a chuckle, “I think deep down inside, I was hoping to convey something different [laughs].”
It’s hard to see Arm writing about peace, love, and understanding—but if nothing else—you can count on his honesty. “Those songs are a reflection, lyrically, of my thoughts at the time,” he says. “It would have been nice if different things were happening and I could write different, way more meaningless lyrics [laughs]. I would’ve preferred that.”
Arm probably would have preferred a lighter theme; so not to be mistaken, no one would ever mistake Mudhoney for the MC5 or Bad Religion: proto-/punk rock groups where protest is an essential component to the music.
Or, as Arm puts it, Mudhoney has never been “outwardly political.”
“I think because things are so insane, it’s impossible to ignore,” he says. “I can’t speak for any other songwriters out there, but basically everyone in the band cut their teeth on punk rock and hardcore in the very early eighties. Guy (Maddison, bassist) was doing it in Australia, and Steve (Turner, guitarist) and Dan (Peters, drums) and I were going to shows in Seattle. So, you know, really smart, political records from bands like Really Red were a huge, huge influence. It’s also kind of hard for me to turn a blind eye to shit.”
What hardcore meant to the members of Mudhoney in the eighties is exactly what grunge meant to millions of kids around the world in the nineties, and people often wonder if something such as that magical moment in time—that youth explosion which cultivated a scene of artists destined to capture the zeitgeist—could happen again in modern music. Mark Arm gathers that anything is possible, noting the success of The Strokes and The White Stripes at the turn of the century as examples. But, even he knows that’s as close as it comes, and it’s actually not very close at all.
“Even as big as some of those bands got, they never were on the cover of Time magazine like [some bands] in the early nineties,” says Arm. “So, I don’t know [if it can happen again]. I mean, I think it’s potentially there, but it probably won’t look or sound anything like what happened and what came out of the Northwest in the late eighties and nineties.”
Just as the title of their 2008 LP suggested, Mudhoney are The Lucky Ones. Unquestionably, the mania that came hand-in-hand with the euphoria of the grunge scene left Mudhoney pretty much unscathed, especially when compared—oftentimes tragically—to some of their contemporaries:
Alice in Chains.
One by one, time and circumstance took them all off the playing field.
But, to this day, Mudhoney continue to tour and make albums pretty much at their own will, with the backing and blessing of their record label, Sub Pop. But it’s not a couch trip, and if their live show is any indication, Mudhoney has in no way evolved into a lounge act. Let it be understood, Arm knows his band still has to work for its independence.
“I don’t know if I’d buy the whole ‘paying your dues’ thing, you know? Just in general, I think that is a stupid conceit… like, “I’ve clocked in so many hours playing these clubs and we’re now due a bigger audience.’ It’s like, ‘No, you’re not.’ That should be completely based on how good your music is and if it speaks to people, you know?”
Fortunately for Mudhoney, the music is still very, very good, and at least for now, the music actually is speaking to people. Or about them, at the very least.
One of the standout tracks on Digital Garbage is “Next Mass Extinction,” a song of caution that, unlike the dinosaurs, there’s no follow up act after mankind does itself in. A wheezing harmonica buzzes underneath Arm’s doomy refrain that “Nothing will replace us,” before once again having to explain what’s happening to the “neanderfucks,” as Arm has so affectionately dubbed them.
“This living planet is cleaning house, it’s sick of our shit and kicking us out.”
But, as fate would have it, no one is kicking Mudhoney out anytime soon.
“We’re really in a good position. We get to do things on our own terms,” says Arm. “We all have day jobs and families and stuff, so we’re not beholden to the music that we make and touring to bring in our income. You know, conversely, a band like the Melvins—none of those guys work day jobs, but they work their fucking asses off touring and releasing records. There’s kind of two ways to go about it and still of maintain integrity, I think. But, I actually like being home most of the year. At this point, I’m 57-years-old now, so it’s not like, ‘Man, I just want to go hang out in the same fucking dingy club that I hung out at for the last 20 years!’”
But rest assured; Indeed, just like the song says, Mudhoney will be replaced by nothing.
BE SURE TO CATCH MUDHONEY AT WHITE EAGLE HALL IN JERSEY CITY ON OCTOBER 4, AT UNION TRANSFER IN PHILADELPHIA ON OCTOBER 6, AND MARKET HOTEL IN BROOKLYN ON OCTOBER 19!