Rumor has it that Mudhoney leader Mark Arm invented the term "grunge." Rumor is wrong. The affable lead singer does, however, play a sparkly silver guitar, possess an encyclopedic knowledge of arcane music trivia, and claim to not mind the fact that way back in the early '90s, those bitches in Nirvana came along and stole his thunder. Mudhoney, you see, were the grungiest and were expected to be the big grunge breakout stars, so that's just bullshit that misunderstood youth in Kansas were wearing flannel, listening to Temple of the Dog, and waiting in line to see Singles while Arm, who wrote the anthemic, self-loathing "Touch Me I'm Sick" was working a day job. Was there no justice? Of course there wasn't! We caught up with Mr. Arm on a recent Saturday to talk about stuff; junk; bric-a-brac; this 'n' that; assorted miscellany; occasional whatnot; and his new album, Since We've Become Translucent, which is chock-full of sludgy garage rock and also pervy horns.
OC Weekly: So you coined the term "grunge," right?Mark Arm: Oh, yeah, I made it up. [laughs] It's a line of shit that people keep repeating. The story I heard is that you were being interviewed by the British press and you said it.
There are other instances of that word being tossed around. In Australia, there was a swamp rock movement referred to as grunge. The singer of one band was dubbed the high priest of grunge, and apparently if you actually said that to his face, he would punch you.
He hated it that much?
Well, he just thought it was stupid.
Perhaps you now could be a high priest of grunge.
And you know, if I was a little more buff and maybe a little taller, I would punch you in the face. But I would have to settle for punching you in the back of the neck and running.
Maybe you could flick me.
Right. Oh, God forbid. That word is so loaded at this point. It applies to something I don't think we really have that much to do with. We have no connection to Creed, and I'm sure that term gets applied to them.
We like to refer to bands like Creed as "underbite rock." And we have a term for that style of singing: it's known as yarling.
"To yarl"—that's good. But what about the bands that were grunge at the time?
I guess we sound the closest to Nirvana, but they were way poppier than we were. Soundgarden was way more metal than we ever were. Pearl Jam was way more noodly. You know, we always considered ourselves a punk band before the whole grunge thing got thrown in our faces in the early '90s.
Do you meet kids nowadays who were very enamored of the whole Seattle explosion?
Oh, yeah. [Drummer] Dan Peters is convinced at this point that there's a certain percentage of our audience that is made up of people who just want to come out and stare at the people who knew Kurt Cobain. Sort of morbid, I guess, but, you know, if they buy a ticket and have a good time . . .
Were you happy when the Seattle thing died down?
It was a relief to us—yeah, definitely, in much the same way I think the dot-com bust is a relief.
So let us discuss this new album, Since We've Become Translucent. The first song has no words until the sixth minute. Do you hate your fans? What is that about?
I guess that's just setting up the listener for the listening experience. It's not that tough to deal with, is it? It's a mood setter.
I like it. I'm just saying a lot of people expect words—it's a very wordy time we're living in. Did you ever wish you received more attention?
No—God, no, we're close enough to see some of the shit our friends have had to go through. We are perfectly happy where we are. I would much rather have the music be something I'm totally focused on and free to do with what I want, instead of thinking about writing music for commercial reasons, like, "We gotta have a hit because this is how I make my money to pay my mortgage and feed my family." I'd just rather not have to deal with that because then you start making deals with the devil.
And sounding crappy.
Right, and you start doing things like second guessing what people want to hear.
Before long, you're playing frat-boy rock.
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Or playing warmed-over techno.
Mudhoney performs with Throw Rag and Jon Wahl at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Fri., 8 p.m. $16-$17. All ages.