Mudhoney – ‘Piece Of Cake’ Interview
Shortly after Mudhoney’s triumphant appearance at the 1992 Reading festival, lan Cheek travelled to their newly acquired plush and corporate surroundings and encountered a band in varying degrees of health, and discussed their ‘Piece Of Cake’ LP, the ‘Singles’ movie and the band‘s elevation from Indie wannabes to major label stars.
For all I` know, the Sub Pop offices in Seattle may be plush, executive and air conditioned affairs, but I somehow doubt they exude the feeling of wealth quite like the Warner Brothers offices in London. The building is a spacious maze of chrome, smoked glass, black leather sofas, elevators, security guards, MTV playing lazily on a multitude of TV’s, and toilets you’d be proud to have in your own home. Call me a crude and unrefined bumpkin if you must, but tome it resembles something out of ‘Dallas’. This is big time. This is also where I meet Mudhoney, darlings of the Seattle scene and Warner Brothers’ latest signings. They look almost as out of place in their new surroundings as I am made to feel when the security guard checks my pockets and frisks my person.
But today Mudhoney have obviously made an effort to mark the occasion with style. Mark Arm, vocalist and guitarist, favours a bright orange shirt; drummer Dan Peters opts for ‘Sonic Life’ t-shirt, muddy boots and an ill fitting baseball cap; and guitarist Steve looks clean and presentable in lumberjack shirt and sneakers. Bassist Matt Lukin, who ordinarily looks like John Belushi circa The Blues Brothers’, is today wearing precisely what he wore at the Reading Festival two days ago, and looks like anybody you care to name who’s recently died. It transpires that Matt had got up for breakfast the previous day but somehow, inexplicably, failed to make it past the bar. Nine
Hours later he was still there. Today he slumps on his sofa with the air of a man suffering unspeakable agony, clutching an unlit cigarette preciously to his bosom all afternoon. “I‘d normally light it,” he groans beneath a shroud of pain. “It’s just today l think I will probably have a heart attack if l smoke.” Remarkably, Dan, who looks like a veritable picture of health in comparison, spent the entire nine hours propping the bar with Matt. “It was more than nine hours,” he states triumphantly. “We’ve spent about a hundred pounds a day drinking,” reveals Matt before adding, somewhat guiltily, “but we didn‘t drink that one hundred pounds just by ourselves…”
“Sure we did,” corrects Dan, seemingly offended. “But they were darned expensive drinks.” It makes you wonder if Warner Brothers really know what they’ve let themselves in for, especially considering Matt’s infamous quote, albeit spoken three years ago, that suggested, “I don’t think any major label would want us. Mark can’t sing, Steve can’t play guitar, l can’t play bass. Dan‘s the only musician in the band. “l think that’s how it was in the beginning, “counters Mark, “but now I really think l am blessed being able to play with three really good musicians that all have original styles. l know that l can’t play guitar, and l don’t know if what l am doing can be called singing, but l love the way Dan plays drums, Steve’s a great lead guitar player, and Matt comes up with some really cool bass lines.”
“Gee,” says a relieved Mark, “thanks, Steve.””We’re all far more advanced now,” Steve continues.
“Except for me,” shouts a voice from lan’s general direction.
“Yeah, Dan’s, worse now.”
And Mudhoney disintegrate into fits of giggles. All except Matt, who looks like he’s about to give birth to a Pterodactyl. Furthermore, this is the band that announced to the world, prior to their ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge’ LP, that they were about to split up. “We were doing interviews over here.” recalls Mark, “and we said we were stopping
So people asked if we were splitting up and we decided to say yes. We have been known to intentionally confuse journalists} But Warner Brothers nevertheless signed, gave them greater freedom than any other interested party, major or otherwise, and backed them all the way. There remains a general pang of regret that they had to leave Sub Pop, but internal politics and financial restrictions’ became so severe that their mutual friendship with the label was beginning to suffer. The irony is that had Nirvana’s ‘Neverminnd’ LP been elevated to major rock monolith only two or three months earlier, Mudhoney’s hand would never have been forced.
”Yeah, fucking Nirvana,” moans Steve, in mock exasperation, “it’s their entire fault.” “If they’d put that record out sooner,” adds Mark, wilfully labouring the point, ‘if they hadn’t been chucking TV’s out of hotel windows every night, if they…” But whether Nirvana are to blame, which quite blatantly they’re not, is somewhat irrelevant. What does matter is Mudhoney’s
‘Piece Of Cake’ LP, named, so Steve assures me, after the cream éclairs and fondue fancies splattered over the Damned on their debut LP. ‘Liar’. It’s a record that sees Mudhoney harking back to their ‘Superfuzz Bigmouth’ days, trading distorted and psychedelic guitar spurts with furious drumming and raging vocals. The likes of ‘No End in Sight’, ‘Living Wreck’ and the single ‘Suck You Dry’
‘Suck You Dry’ is as dirty and tormented as Mudhoney have ever been, adding credence to the bands insistence that, “we did the recording exactly as we wanted”. It may have been recorded on relatively high-tech sixteen track as opposed to the eight track ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge’, but in every other respect, ‘Piece Of Cake’ is more brutal and more exhilarating. It also sounds genuinely angry.”Yeah, there’s anger in some songs,” agrees Mark, “but there’s a variety of emotions; love, hurt, pain. Is shininess an emotion‘?” This flippant, innocuous comment reveals much about Mudhoney’s attitude. Some would have you believe it’s all so easy for them, that the song writing, rehearsals, recording and touring come as comfortably as a stroll in the park, it’s a plausible theory but maybe, just maybe, it’s simply that they don’t want you or me to dig too deep, to get too close. Either way, in conversation they rarely take themselves or their music too seriously, preferring to trade jokes and exchange jibes rather than give too much away. Ask Mark about the anger in his lyrics and he bizarrely starts talking about dog’s sickness; asking if this music lark really does come so easily to them and he starts ranting about two-bit musicians in US bar bands. A little later we discuss Mudhoney’s casual unflappable nature, a subject Steve seems eager to talk about, until Mark somehow develops the conversation towards his suspicions that The Charlatans perform live with the aid of backing tapes. Thus the thread of debate is lost. They may be some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but to get Mudhoney to actually talk about Mudhoney, “We’re all far more advanced now,” Steve continues. “Except for me,” shouts a voice from Dan’s general direction. “Yeah, Dan’s worse now. “Is a grievous task. And all the while, quietly moaning in the comer, Matt nurses his unforgiving head.
The ‘Piece Of Cake’ album contains four brief interludes of ‘sound’ evenly spaced through its duration, the intention being that each band member had thirty seconds to till with whatever they considered to be a good idea at the time. I make the grave error of referring to them as ‘snippets’.”Wow!” exclaims Steve, “you called them snippets. Would you normally call them that? Wow, you would? We call them snippets ourselves but we really didn’t think anybody else would.”
The track ’When In Rome’ even pilfers the precise guitar line from their debut album ‘If I Think’, although, remarkably, Steve and myself are seemingly the only l ones who know. “You do that?” asks Mark incredulously Now, I didn’t even notice.”
“Ha, so sue me,” snorts Steve. “We’re north—west,” adds Mark, helpfully, “we say snippets.” _
“You’re from the north aren’t you, Ian?’ asks Dan.
“You know, in the north-west…” begins Matt…. But I’m not letting this one go. I’ve developed a theory about which band member created which piece and, god dam, I need some confirmation. The techno piece had to be Mark’s; the death metal juncture was undoubtedly Dan‘s; and one suspects the ???? Offering (less than cunningly titled The Fartz’) was the work of a marginally healthier Matt. Which leaves Steve as the author of ‘Wooden Legged Cowboy Buck’, the country tune?
“Yee-hah! He got ‘em!” Screams Dan, stealing the shine off my moment of glory. “Yup, I was that farter,” pipes a diseased voice lurking in the shadows of a black leather sofa. Ignore for a moment such minor distractions as this quartet of snippets and 16-track recording, and with °Piece Of Cake’ you‘re left with an album that’s musically Mudhoney. The track ‘When In Rome’ even pilfers the precise guitar line from =their debut album ‘If I Think’, although, remarkably, Steve and myself are seemingly the only ones who know.
“You do that?” asks Mark incredulously. “Now, I didn’t even notice.”
“Ha, so sue me,” snorts Steve.
As our time together quickly ebbs away, we discuss the much vaunted ‘Singles’ Movie, a romantic comedy starring Matt Dillon as loser rock singer, but propelled out of all proportion by its engagement of Seattle bands, Seattle settings and Seattle in-jokes. Various members of Pearl Jam appear in Dillon’s backing band and there are live excerpts of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, but Mudhoney’s one entry on the soundtrack a tenuous, mythical song entitled Touch Me, I’m Dick’ is the total extent of their involvement. Regardless of what anyone else may have told you?
“I don’t really know what the idea of the movie is,” reveals Mark, “but it’s not chronicling the Seattle music scene, I know that much.” And before any of us can stop him, he’s fondly reminiscing about seeing The Stardells and the Chocolate Watch Band captured live in the tear — exploitation movie ‘Ride On Sunset Strip’. Dan, meanwhile, surveys the flowers scrawled crudely across his chest (“Err, I was drunk,” is his explanation”); Steve reveals his undying approval of stage diving (“Hey man, it’s their show too”); and Matt sits quietly, unlit cigarette still in hand and homesick for his Dutch wife (“When we’re separated, I really miss her,” he says sweetly). And I leave them with their thoughts; struggle through the streets of London and return northwards, quite possibly more the wiser