Mark Arm Wears Gravity Boots - L Swain
Well, this is it, folks. I am pulling out all the stops and bringing you what you’ve all been waiting for, and it can only go down hill from here. Ladies and Germs, it is with much pleasure that I bring you People Who Work Here’s exclusive interview with the man, the myth, Mark Arm! (wait for applause) Mark Arm is the Warehouse Manager here at Sub Pop Records, and that means that if you order anything from our store, especially a big package that has to be sent via UPS, Mark will have, most likely, put those golden hands of his upon your box. I mean, package. Whatever. Some things I’ve learned about Mark since working with him are: he is super into politics, he has to listen to NPR really loud because his ears are not what they used to be, he can stand fully upright on a yoga ball, his wife cuts his hair, and he’s a funny/fun dude. Let’s meet Mark!
L: Contrary to popular belief your real last name is not Arm. Please discuss how you got this name and how you feel about having a “punk name” at 40+.
M: My friend Smitty and I were deep into a fake argument using non-offensive body parts as swear words. The argument culminated with him yelling “arm arm” at me. I had no response to this attack and we both broke down laughing. Then when Mr. Epp became a real band, complete with instruments, we adopted non-sequitur punk names. Jeff Smith became Jo Smitty and I became Mark Arm. I never thought it’d stick. Luckily, I’m more comfortable with my “punk name” than the easily garbled Scottish name I was born into. [This version seems a lot more tame than what I was led to believe. –ed.]
L: You are most famous for being the front dude of Mudhoney, but you’ve also been in many other bands, including Green River, Mr. Epp & the Calculations, Bloodloss, Monkeywrench, as well as the new incarnation of the MC5 from time to time. Which of these other bands is your favorite and why?
M: Of all these bands, the MC5 is my favorite. It’s not my band, so it’s much easier for me to embrace. The MC5 is one of the best bands ever and they helped lay the foundation for what would become punk rock. Getting to play with the DKT/MC5 was such a fantastic mindfuck. That said Bloodloss was most satisfying musically. After playing together for a few months I realized that we were able to effortlessly pull cool shit out of thin air with everyone playing around each other instead of following the same riff (and no, we weren’t “jamming”). The downside was going on tour with a dude who was in a constant state of withdrawl. The rest of us felt like we were dragging around a whiny corpse and propping it up for shows. [Weekend at Bernie’s! –ed.] Monkeywrench is a total hoot and getting to play with Tim Kerr, Tom Price and Martin Bland is a total treat that happens way too rarely. Shameless plug: our third album (Gabriel’s Horn) in 17 years comes out in February on the Birdman record label.
L: When Mudhoney was getting going you were relatively old (26-ish, right?). How do you think that being more, ahem, mature helped your band achieve the dizzying success that it did?
M: Maturity had nothing to do with Mudhoney. It still doesn’t. [Whatever you say, old man. -ed.] The dizziness was usually bedspins. We were old enough that we had a pretty firm idea of what we wanted Mudhoney to be when we started. I was well aware of the glass ceiling we’d encounter with our brand of entertainment. I just figured it would be lower. We weren’t dazzled by the brass ring and we never bothered to reach for it. [I smell lyrics a brewin’. –ed.] We achieved more than I ever anticipated and I feel incredibly lucky that I still get to muck around in this shit.
L: Major label vs. Sub Pop. Pros and cons of each, please.
M: Major Labels have giant warehouses all over the country. I don’t think I’d be able to wrap my head around their inventory, but I would probably get to drive a forklift. Sub Pop is blessed with a pretty swank warehouse, but since T-shirts have become a major part of our inventory, I wish it was bigger. [Touche, Mr. Arm. -ed.] Perhaps I can expand into the Art and Hardly Art departments. One of the odd side effects of working in the warehouse and getting to know our inventory is that item numbers are seared into my brain. So when the clock strikes 6:47 or 7:04 I flash on Comets On Fire.
L: You have remarkable posture. How do you do that?
M: Why thank you Lacey, how nice of you to notice! Emily & I invested in a matching set of gravity boots nine years ago. We have a wall mounted TV that rotates so we can watch it when we’re upside down. We try to do this at least 3 hours every evening. That’s why I don’t go out that much. The first time I tried this I nearly choked on popcorn and mountain dew poured out my nose. After years of dedicated practice I’ve gotten pretty good at snacking upside down.
L: Who in Mudhoney do you spend the most time with? Who in Mudhoney knows your deepest, darkest secrets? What is your favorite Mudhoney record?
M: I probably see Guy [Male Nurse! –ed.] more than anyone else these days, Dan is a close second. I don’t see Steve that much since he moved to Portland. Steve & I started hanging out in 1983 so I guess he knows more about me than the others, but he doesn’t know much. I refuse to let anyone past these walls, no one get’s in…Get Out! As far as favorite record goes, I don’t have one. I don’t listen to our records unless we’re putting together a comp or trying to relearn a forgotten song. At this point I’m most familiar with The Lucky Ones since that’s the one we’ve been working on and you know what that means, it’s the best one yet. [Available May 20th on Sub Pop brand Records. –ed.]
L: I heard there will be a Green River reunion this summer, true? Tell me how the whole thing went down and how you think your performance will be.
M:True, we are slated to play Sub Pop’s 20th Anniversary this July. I’m not sure how it went down since nothing’s happened yet. Everyone is psyched to get together again so I think it’ll be great (for us at least).
L: Please name your five top rock performers, in order, and let me know why you like them.
M: This is tough, Lacey. Since you asked about performers and not musicians, I’ll talk about folks who”make good show”.
I’ve been going to Nick Cave shows since the first time the Bad Seeds came to the Northwest (’86 in Vancouver) and I’ve seen them in Europe, the UK and Australia. After all of these performances I’ve concluded that Nick is always on fire and will stop at nothing to put on a good show. I would have loved to have seen the Birthday Party in LA & SF in ’83, but I didn’t have money or a car.
John Brannon is super sweet in real life, but on stage he exudes more heartfelt distain, hatred and contempt than anyone I can think of. I’ve seen Negative Approach play to 3000 people, Easy Action play to less than 20 as well as a bunch of Laughing Hyenas shows and despite the audience, he’s always super intense.
The Butthole Surfers were brilliant performers. No one could touch these guys in the mid 80s. They hung out in Seattle for about 3 weeks in December of ’83 and their special effects amounted to little more than a couple of Radio Shack strobes and flying safety pins. They were mind-blowing. They kept adding to their shows, lights, films, naked dancers, etc. When they played Reading in ’89 they opened by smashing their gear (no, I didn’t see that). It all went south when they started hanging around Ministry though.
Iggy Pop puts everything into each performance, even if he’s touring on a crappy record and is backed by a bunch of hacks. I wish he had a better sense of who to play with. I’m glad the Stooges got back together. That’s something I never thought I’d see. I wish I could have seen them in the late 60s/early 70s when no one understood what they were doing or how to react to them. I would love to watch them confront a crowd of indignant Crosby Stills and Nash fans in some Midwestern college auditorium. I hope I can still hop around like Iggy in 15 years, well not exactly like that, I hope my back and hips don’t get as fucked up. That shit looks painful.
Jimi Hendrix died well before I was going to rock shows, but I’ve seen him preserved on film and no one plays guitar like that. He’s astounding to watch, he makes the craziest shit fluid and effortless. He didn’t just play guitar, he played electricity. He’s even amazing when he’s sleepwalking, like the first part of the set at the Isle of Wight Festival. He wakes up mid-set after going behind the amps to get a boost and blows doors. Sadly, he died a week later.
L: Please tell me a funny story about when Mudhoney was in that Chris Farley movie! Also, your wikipedia entry says you were in Velvet Goldmine which I did not know. What was that like? (PS Dean Hudson HATES that movie!)
M: We were only on the set of Black Sheep for one day, but we did hang out a bit with Chris Farley. Steve was totally star-struck and offered him some blow, which took us all by surprise since the rest of us had never seen Steve near the white lady. Anyway, Chris had only been clean for two months or so. Apparently he never got clean again. Steve still feels guilty about it, but we tell him it’s not really his fault because Chris Farley would have been offered drugs from some other sycophant. I’m not in Velvet Goldmine. My name is on the soundtrack recording, but my voice got erased in favor of Ewan McGregor’s. I did get a chance to write two songs with Ron Asheton (another happy mindfuck) and record them with Ron, Mike Watt (this is how he ended up in the Stooges), Thurston Moore and Steve Shelly as the Wylde Ratttz. Due to the Ewan McGregor crap, it’s hard for me to be objective about the movie. What’s Dean’s problem, is it too gay for him? I like Todd Haynes stuff, especially Safe and Far From Heaven. I just saw I’m Not There and really liked the Fellini homage in the Cate Blanchett part. The Christian Bale segment was straight out of hack biopic 101 though.
L: Tell me how your met your lovely wife Emily, Pet Photographer. What do you guys do in your free time?
M: We met in ’85 probably at a party or a show. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but there was a lot of beer and MDA around at the time. We went out for about three weeks. She moved to NY for awhile, came back to town for a summer and we hung out as friends. Then she moved to L.A. Mudhoney would stay at her place. I had a girlfriend so Emily wouldn’t make out with me. [What a prick tease! –ed.] She moved back to Seattle in ’91 with a boyfriend in tow. Then in ’93 they broke up, I stopped with the opiates and we started going out. We got hitched a year later. By the way, I hear Ruben finally proposed to you,congratulations! [Why thank you! –ed.]When we have enough free time, we like to travel. Our last two big trips were to Brazil and Burma. We’re going to Costa Rica when the rest of Sub Pop goes to SxSW.
L: If you were to have kids what would you tell them about drugs?
M: That’s another reason to not have children, it’s a conversation I’d rather not have. I like drugs. I just don’t like people on drugs. [But what about kids on drugs? That’s fun, right? –ed.]
L: And finally, what is Mark Arm’s favorite place to eat in Seattle and why?
M: Except for lunch, which is usually just sandwiches, I don’t go out to eat that much. I always enjoy the Boat Street Café, Matt’s in the Market, Machiavelli, The Tamarind Tree and a place right next to it that’s simply called Schezwanese Cuisine. A couple of default places in West Seattle I enjoy are Taqueria Guaymas and the West 5. That didn’t really answer your question, did it? [That’ll do, I suppose. –ed.]
PS Mark, don’t try to get all clever in the photo booth. I won’t allow it.