The year was 1988 and the place was Seattle, at the time a pop-music hinterland whose primary exports had been Jimi Hendrix and Heart, neither of whom found success until after they left town. Mark Arm, fresh off the implosion of grunge forebears Green River, reunited with his former bandmate and fellow guitarist Steve Turner (who’d left a couple of years earlier), and Mudhoney was born. And there, they thought, things would stay.
“We didn’t think it was going to last very long at all,” says Turner. “[Drummer] Dan [Peters] was in two or three other bands at the time. I was planning on college again soon. We just knew that we could put out at least a seven-inch or two and make some noise. And as it kind of continued on, it all was kind of this weird, crazy, head-scratching adventure.”
Twenty-five years later, Mudhoney is still around. Which substantially defies expectations, since of all the bands from the early-'90s Seattle explosion that brought Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and others to national and international attention, Mudhoney (which plays the Paradise on Friday) was the one that seemed to take everything the least seriously. This was, after all, a group that, given the opportunity to appear on the de facto Seattle sampler that was the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s “Singles,” opted to contribute a gleefully bratty song about how ridiculous it was that the music industry and media were paying attention to them and their friends.
“I think we’ve had a healthy disdain for a lot of it,” Turner says. “Especially seeing so many people coming from our underground punk world becoming stars and then acting foolish fairly quickly. We tried to stay a little more grounded, I think. And I think Mark likes to call [expletive] on people lyrically.”
And yet, save Pearl Jam, Mudhoney has outlasted pretty much all of its Seattle-scene contemporaries by now. When Guy Maddison stepped in to replace original bassist Matt Lukin over a decade ago, he became the band’s only new member in a history that spans a quarter of a century; Nirvana had more lineup changes between “Bleach” and “Nevermind.” Mudhoney’s album release schedule has slowed somewhat but there are no major gaps.
In other words, the band that thumbed its nose the most ostentatiously at the very idea of a sustained career is the one that’s most enjoyed one. Turner credits that, ironically enough, to abandoning a careerist approach.
“By the time we made it through the '90s, it was actually not as much fun for a little while there,” he says. “And Matt quit and retired from music. Then we took a year off of Mudhoney, and that’s when I think the longevity came in, because the three of us started playing a lot more music without making any money from it whatsoever.”
With other, more typically grown-up responsibilities beckoning — families, steady jobs (Maddison, for instance, works as a nurse) — Mudhoney became purely an outlet. And that shift in priority, back to a less-serious pursuit, infused the band with renewed vitality. According to Turner, “We still kept making sure that we could play music because we like playing music. It was no longer our job. And we like doing it.”
“I think they’ve always had that attitude, that this is for fun, this is not a career, necessarily,” says producer Johnny Sangster, who has worked with the band since 2002’s “Since We’ve Become Translucent” and recorded the new “Vanishing Point.” “They do things, but it’s not like they’re really relying on it being a full life. They can still have fun doing it. . . . If it isn’t your sole career, then it’s also kind of freeing because you can do whatever the [expletive] you please. That’s exactly what they do.”
And as evidenced by “Vanishing Point,” which nine albums in still sounds unmistakably like Mudhoney — chaotic, raucous, funny, and knowingly dumb — exactly what Mudhoney does hasn’t much changed over the years. “The way we write songs is still kind of the same, we just kind of bash it out in the basement,” says Turner. “We throw out some riffs and see if Mark likes any of ’em. Or he can bring [lyrics] in and see if we like it. And if it feels good playing it, then that becomes a song eventually. So really not that much has changed. We’re definitely our own bosses. We go at our own speed. We do whatever we want.”
That’s been the formula that’s worked for 25 years and counting. “We were not chasing after anything. We never had any set goals. At one point, we did actually say we wanted to do the David Letterman show. I think we decided we had a goal at one point just because people kept asking us.” Turner laughs. “And we failed.”