Mudhoney are truly original. The Seattle band, who helped define the early days of grunge with their dirty, feedback-laden sound, have seen many trends come and go in their 30-year career, but they remain steadfastly driven to deliver some of the best fuzzed-out punk rock going. Calling them a “grunge” band would be a bit of a misnomer, since their sound draws influences from a wide spectrum of loud rock. One can hear everything from Blue Cheer and garage rock to punk and blues rock in their sound. Of course, it all comes with a healthy layer of sonic dirt. So, “grunge” is more an adjective than a noun when describing the type of music Mudhoney play.
The band—vocalist and rhythm guitarist Mark Arm, lead guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters, and bassist Guy Maddison—unleashed their 10th album, Digital Garbage, on the world through Sub Pop Records on Sept. 28. The new album—their first since 2013’s Vanishing Point—does what Mudhoney always do by taking square aim at the insanities of the modern world in the best way they know how: with a biting sarcastic wit and a righteous fuzz-punk attack.
The title Digital Garbage comes from a lyric in the song “Kill Yourself Live,” a biting indictment of social media. Though, Arm is quick to point out that he isn’t only talking about social media in the album’s title.
“Anything that happens online is always there, floating around. I’m sure there are still some Myspace pages going out there. It never leaves,” Arm says. “I don’t know; I thought it was a cool title and the art department could do something interesting with the cover.”
The rest of the 10 tracks on the album take on subjects such as gun violence on “Please Mr. Gunman,” modern-day conspiracy theorists on “Paranoid Core,” and religion on “21st Century Pharisees,” “Prosperity Gospel,” and “Messiah’s Lament,” as well as one positive song at the end.
“It’s definitely a product of the times,” Arm says of Digital Garbage. “It’s hard to ignore what’s going on. ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is something I’ve wanted to write about. It seems like everything it preaches goes against everything Jesus would have preached. They use the Bible to justify their terrible lifestyle. Now, I’m not a Christian, but I don’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Though, the religious songs express an opinion I’ve had since I’ve been a teenager.”
The positive closing track, “Oh Yeah,” is a joyous minute-and-a-half garage punk nugget that offers an escape from the hell of modern living through blowing off steam by skating, surfing, and biking.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a palate cleanser,” Arm says. “It’s about how we deal with stress. Steve skates. I surf. Guy rides his bike. It’s the ways we blow off steam, which I think is important.”
Since Mudhoney have had a long, vital career, Arm is in a position to offer some sage advice to young bands starting out. Listen up. You might learn something.
“My advice is to play with your friends. Don’t put out an ad; stick with your friends. Anybody can learn how to play an instrument,” Arm says. “Also, when we started, we divided the publishing four ways, so there would be no arguments over that. Everyone gets an equal share. No one member of the band is more important than the other. This way, you don’t have band members fighting each other to get their songs on the record.”
Mudhoney have had quite the ride. They helped invent—and then survived—grunge to become one of the most respected and consistently great rock bands going. Through thick and thin, they continue to release killer albums and bring it live. They’re a true testament to the power of music, and friendship, to overcome all.
How do they do it?
“I’m not sure, really,” Arm says. “Mainly, we get along, and we enjoy getting together to play music. Thirty years is remarkable. It’s like we’re in a four-way marriage, and we’ve all found our Prince Charming.”
Top photo by Greg Jacobs