Late last month, I spoke to Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm via telephone. In the interview we discuss the bands’ career, the new album Vanishing Point, while finding time to touch upon the Bromley Contingent and the current state of Guns N’ Roses.
BRETT: Hello, Mark. Before we go at it, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been a fan since 1991.
MARK: That would make you quite old.
BRETT: About forty-something.
BRETT: And I would like to thank you for blowing out one of my ears at the Highbury Garage.
MARK: I remember that show. That was in ’98, when we were kinda getting some bad press and not feeling the love.
BRETT: You weren’t? We screamed our arses off that night.
MARK: You guys were great but the NME and Melody Maker were less receptive.
BRETT: That was towards the end of the classic line-up too, if I remember correctly?
MARK: It was very close. Matt (Lukin, ex-bassist) was unhappy for two years and he was getting a bit passive-aggressive about it. It’s all good between us now though.
BRETT: The new album, Vanishing Point, is a cracker. I hear a lot of different sounds in there and even detected a bit of, dare I say it, country…
MARK: Where did you hear that, Brett?
BRETT: A bit here and there, and on ‘Douchebags’. I guess I associate slide guitar with country music, even though it’s not country per-se.
MARK: That’s why we make the music and leave it for you guys to interpret.
BRETT: It’s quite a short record. Just as I was getting into it, it was all over.
MARK: It’s a little snapshot of a time in our lives now. One of my favourite records ‘Funhouse’ (The Stooges) is only seven songs. If a record is too long it can lose impact.
BRETT: I just saw the trailer for Vanishing Point where some guy smashes up a Walkman before you look into the camera and walk away. What was that about and why did you decide to make a trailer?
MARK: The idea behind the whole thing is that a kid who is listening to his indie rock tape, then he hears us and is trying to get away from it. There used to be a trailer with an Indian and a canoe (Keep America Beautiful) and, at the end, the Indian looks into the camera with one tear in his eye. It’s paying homage to that – one tear because of Mark Arm!
BRETT: So your band and career is the topic of a new film, I’m Now: The Mudhoney Official Documentary. Could you tell us a bit about it?
MARK: Ryan [Short] and Adam [Pease] had done a documentary about Tad (Tad: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears) and I was interviewed for that. They asked me if it would be a good idea to do one about Mudhoney; I thought it might be ambivalent and tragic.
BRETT: Are you pleased with the results?
MARK: It’s hard for me to be objective. I think they did a good job. They came out to every tour we did, Japan and Brazil, and got a good sense of how it is to be us.
BRETT: You also released a classic performance from Berlin on DVD not too long ago.
MARK: That came about when we were approached by the person who filmed it in 1988. He had since started a label and was going through the vaults. He contacted us and said he had a 24 track 4-inch reel of the show. That’s good enough, I think.
BRETT: Out of curiosity, have you seen the trailer for Guns N’ Roses new live DVD in Las Vegas?
MARK: No, should I?
BRETT: It’s filmed on a trillion cameras using a trillion dollars’ worth of pyrotechnics and nude pole-dancers. Axl even does ‘November Rain’ on a flying piano. The only thing missing is Liza Minelli in a pair of fishnets doing the Can-Can.
MARK: I did see an acoustic performance of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and Axl was so out of breath that it looked like he was having a coronary!
BRETT: And we go from the new album to dissing Guns N’ Roses…
MARK: Dissing Guns N’ Roses is like kicking someone when they’re down.
BRETT: He should’ve done the whole thing as a solo tour.
MARK: You mean Chinese Democracy right?
BRETT: Yeah, that nine million dollar opus from Geffen.
MARK: (Laughs) Like, how are you even going to get the money back from that? It’s ridiculous!
BRETT: You guys have been going for twenty-five years. How does touring and going on the road now compare to doing it back in the day?
MARK: It’s really hard to put myself in that place. I’d say I’m personally happier now than I was back then. In a sense, we’re having more fun now. Obviously going to Europe for the first time is irreplaceable… we took things for granted.
BRETT: I can imagine.
MARK: We knew a lot of bands who struggled but things were easy for us. That’s how we got the album title for Piece of Cake because it was just that – a piece of cake!
BRETT: Predictable question but do you have a career best record? Is there anything you listen to and think “we’re never going to be able to touch this”?
MARK: I don’t.
BRETT: That’s good.
MARK: There are some albums we did that I think are better than others.
BRETT: I like Tomorrow Hit Today.
MARK: That is one of our best. Again, we recorded that during the time when we weren’t feeling the love. You had albums by The Prodigy out – electronic music – none of us had jobs and the band wasn’t the focus anymore. But now we don't get to do whatever the fuck we want and I think that keeps us alive.
BRETT: Tour dates. I haven’t actually checked but I know you’re playing London. Are you playing all over and doing a full tour for Vanishing Point?
MARK: We’re doing a three-week European tour that starts on May 21st. We’re doing six German shows, the UK… you want me to name them all? (Laughs)
BRETT: No, that’s not necessary.
MARK: But we’re coming to a town near you.
BRETT: The one thing I have always loved about Mudhoney is that you tour regularly and are always around. I’ve been a fan for a long time and it’s nice to have “that band” who grows up and matures with the times, while the listener grows up and matures on the parallel. All I can say is that you guys best not be going anywhere.
MARK: It’s cool to hear you say that, Brett.
BRETT: Even when you started, your early Sup Pop singles were doing the rounds here in a very quiet town in Kent. The first two I bought were ‘Burn It Clean’ and ‘You Got It’ on 12” from a store called Influential Records.
MARK: Where do you live?
MARK: The Bromley Contingent?
MARK: Do you know where Siouxsie [Sioux] lives?
BRETT: No, but Ma Idol (Billy’s mother) lives a stones’ throw away from where I went to school. Or at least she used to. I don’t know if she’s there now.
MARK: Wow, I think you’re the first person I’ve ever spoken to from Bromley. Where is it in regards to London?
BRETT: Just outside. It’s a fifteen minute train journey. I was just a little too young to be part of the scene that happened there but I do associate myself with it residually. I was born in the same place as Poly Styrene, went to the same school as Billy Idol and know a few people who were around back then.
MARK: That’s very cool.
BRETT: Anyway, thanks again, Mark. It has been a pleasure speaking to you and I shall see you in June at The Forum.