Noise Annoys: Mudhoney's Mark Arm on new LP Digital Garbage
As Noise Annoys favourites Mudhoney return with a brand new album, mainman Mark Arm is here to discuss all things Digital Garbage...
THE release of a new Mudhoney record is always cause for celebration here at Noise Annoys towers: not only does it confirm that Seattle's superlative Sub Pop-signed grunge survivors are still a going concern, it also affords me the chance to log some transatlantic phone time with singer/guitarist/living legend Mark Arm.
Released today, Digital Garbage finds Mudhoney in fine, fired-up form, spewing forth a fizzing set of fuzzy garage punk blues numbers laced with an infectious mix of righteous indignation and dark smart-ass commentary.
"My sense of humour is dark, and these are dark times," offers Arm.
"I suppose it’s only getting darker."
Yes, Mudhoney are angry again, in the twistedly funny way we've come to expect from the likes of Hard-On For War ("the little boys are dying to preserve our way of life, it's our patriotic duty to make sweet love tonight"), the key moment from their George W Bush-era album Under A Billion Suns in 2006, and on 1995's FDK (Fearless Doctor Killers), which skewered the twisted world-view of right-to-lifers: "I’m all for life, 'til the bas***d’s born – after that, he’s on his own."
On Digital Garbage, Arm and co spit back at hypocritical gun-loving, Trump-backing, planet raping, Bible-bashing neo-conservatives, mainstream media-fuelled fearmongering and facile social media-driven pop culture.
If there's a better tune about the latter than Mudhoney's new DEVO-informed, Farfisa-infused and irony drenched anti-anthem Kill Yourself Live ("do it for the 'likes'!"), I've yet to hear it.
"I'm not on social media, so my experience is somewhat limited," says Arm.
"But people really do seem to find validation in the 'likes' – and then there's Facebook Live, where people have streamed torture and murder, or, in the case of Philando Castile, getting murdered by a cop.
"In the course of writing that song, I thought about how, once you put something out there online, you can’t wipe it away. It’s always going to be there. Even if no-one digs it up, it’s still out there floating somewhere."
Likewise, they don't mince words addressing the Trump-loving masses with the deliciously titled Hey Neanderf*** ("thanks for inflicting your misery on the rest of us") and Arm practically sneers himself blind on the likes of Prosperity Gospel, 21st Century Pharisees and Please Mr Gunman ("we'd rather die in church!") while taking dead aim at the criminally selfish hiding behind so-called 'Christian values'.
As he sings on the acoustic guitar-powered blues of Messiah's Lament: "look at what they're doing in my name... my name is owned by conmen inflicting their worst".
So, was writing the songs on Digital Garbage a cathartic process for Arm, Steve Turner (guitar), Guy Maddison (bass) and Dan Peters (drums)?
"Yeah, I suppose so," concedes Arm, with a chuckle.
"I don't know how to really deal with all this s***. I think the music would have been similar no matter what was going on, it's just the lyrical content that's... different.
"It seems irresponsible not to address what's going on, but ideally it's not the record I wanted to make, because hopefully we would have been living in better times.
"I've tried to keep things somewhat universal, so that this album doesn’t just seem like of this time – hopefully some of this stuff will go away."
He adds: "You don’t want to say in the future, 'Hey, those lyrics are still relevant. Great!'"
Indeed, it's a measure of how frighteningly weird things have become when it's almost possible to look back 'fondly' on the GW Bush years. Right?
"I don't want to whitewash the Bush years, or even the Reagan years," the Mudhoney leader cautions.
"I remember in the Reagan years living in the constant fear that like any day now there would be a nuclear war. That seemed like a pretty over-arching thing in the background."
With an audible smirk, he adds: "Luckily, we had Discharge to address this."
Digital Garbage marks the moment when 'new boy' Guy Maddison – who replaced the inimitable Matt Lukin on bass in 2001 – really steps up to bat in terms of his songwriting contributions.
The Aussie came up with the 'seeds' for six of the 11 tracks and even manages to bring his vintage synth fetish to bear on the likes of 21st Century Pharisees and the creepy Night & Fog.
"If it's anybody's record, like musically, I think it's Guy's," confirms Arm.
"Most of the songs originated with his riffs. I mean, ever since he's joined the band he's been contributing – but this time he was prolific and had lots and lots of great ideas we just couldn't deny!"
As for the album's gestation, rather than recording quickly as they did with 2008's The Lucky Ones and 2013's Vanishing Point, this time the band took a bit more time to consider their options – an approach which apparently paid dividends, as Arm explains.
"We recorded 11 songs in early September last year," he tells me of the Johnny Sangster-produced LP.
"If this had been The Lucky Ones or something, we would have been like 'well, that's 11 songs – we've got an album!' But Dan was insistent that this time we write a whole bunch of songs that we could pick from.
"We ended up recording seven more songs in December and four of them actually ended up on the record."
Thirty years and 10 albums into their career, Mudhoney now have more songs than ever before competing for a spot in the live set alongside staples such as Touch Me I'm Sick, Suck You Dry, Good Enough and In 'n' Out of Grace.
Like any band whose creative spark is still burning brightly, they do tend to focus on their current album while on tour – so Irish fans making a pilgrimage to their show at St Luke's in Glasgow on December 1 can expect to hear plenty of Digital Garbage heaped atop the classics – but it seems that the notion of extending their set into some sort of back catalogue-excavating, three-hour extravaganza a la The Cure or their grunge buddies Pearl Jam is not something that appeals to Arm.
"And their fans sing along to every song, which is crazy," he marvels of the Pearl Jam diehards.
"I always think, if they were my favourite band, I would not want to hear the guy next to me singing – I'd want to hear Eddie. Just imagine how annoying that would be at a Nick Cave show, if everyone was singing along?
"'Dammit, I didn't come here to hear you!'"
:: Digital Garbage is out now on Sub Pop. Mudhoney play St Luke's in Glasgow on December 1, tickets via Stlukesglasgow.com/events/mudhoney