Mudhoney

“When in doubt, fudge it.”

On September 19, 1990, perhaps with an eye on the daily news reports of US forces massing in Saudi Arabia in preparation for an assault on Iraq, Mark Arm recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” at Reciprocal Recording studio in Seattle. Mudhoney fans might have been surprised to learn that the voice of such mindblown anthems to oblivion as “If I Think” and “In ‘n’ Out of Grace,” was now taking on the definitive antiwar song. The times were indeed a-changin’ – both for the world, and for Mudhoney.

            During the same Reciprocal session with engineer Jack Endino, some further work was done on a recording from earlier that same year. On May 19, Mudhoney had taped five songs at Music Source, a large studio in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. Endino was behind the desk then – as he had been for 1988’s catalytic debut double-A side “Touch Me I’m Sick”/”Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” the Superfuzz Bigmuff mini-album and 1989’s self-titled LP – and this session was notionally the start of the next Mudhoney album. But the fact that nothing had been done with these recordings after four months told its own story.

            “We decided we didn’t much care for it,” Steve Turner says today. “It didn’t sound right to me, it sounded a little too fancy, too clean. It didn’t have the dirt.”

            Mudhoney hadn’t gotten where they were by sounding a little too fancy. “Touch Me I’m Sick” made a virtue of its tactile grubbiness – and in so doing, ignited a generation aesthetically jaded by pop culture always equating sophistication with progress. Yet now Mudhoney were apparently acquiescing to the same principle. During the few months which separated “Touch Me”/”Sweet Young Thing” from Superfuzz Bigmuff, Reciprocal had upgraded from 8-track recording to 16, and it was on this higher spec machine that Mudhoney had recorded both their mini-album and debut long-player. Granted, in the context of songs like “Here Comes Sickness” and “Flat Out Fucked,” ‘sophistication’ was a relative term. But as Mark Arm subsequently observed: “There was a grittiness to that very first single that never quite got recaptured.”

            The Music Source session utilised 24 tracks, distancing Mudhoney even further from their raw essence. Unhappy with the recordings, Steve Turner instigated a change of direction. He noted that Thrillsphere, the cool new album by Tacoma WA garage rockers Girl Trouble, had been released by PopLlama, a record label run by Conrad Uno out of his house in Seattle’s U-District. In the basement of that same house, Uno had a recording studio, named Egg after the cartons pasted on the walls in an optimistic attempt at sound-proofing, which also boasted a ’60s vintage 8-track Spectra Sonics recording console, originally built for Stax in Memphis.

            In the two-plus years since Mudhoney’s official inception on January 1, 1988, Turner had become worn down by the routine of what increasingly felt like a career as a professional musician – something he’d never aspired to. One benefit of the band’s frequent visits to the UK in 1989/90, however, had been the ready availability of cheap original era punk singles, which Turner brought home by the box-load. He proposed a twin-pronged palate-cleansing operation.

            “My idea was, why don’t we go check out Egg Studios, go in there for a day and record a bunch of punk covers, and see what it sounds like. I called Conrad, and said, ‘This is Steve from Mudhoney. We want to come in there and record with you.’ He started laughing, and just said, ‘Why?!’ I figured that bode well for Conrad!”

            Over a couple of days at Egg in October, Mudhoney celebrated their love for punk of all shapes and nationalities, cutting versions of The Adolescents’ “Who Is Who,” Angry Samoans’ “You Stupid Asshole,” The Damned’s “Stab Yor Back,” Devo’s “Gut Feeling,” The Milkshakes’ “She’s Just 15,” and Void’s “Dehumanized.” Loose plans to release a punk covers album were abandoned when it emerged Guns N’Roses were toying with a similar notion – ironically, as GN’R’s The Spaghetti Incident wouldn’t appear until 1993, and turned out more a heavy rock smorgasbord than Mudhoney’s lean’n’lethal concept. Nonetheless the exercise was vindicated, as Uno’s funky basement joint both felt and sounded right.


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