If it seems like the international explosion of the Seattle grunge music scene happened only yesterday, think again — this year marks 25 years since the debut of bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Mudhoney.
Sub Pop, the record label that put out many of those original releases, is also celebrating its 25-year anniversary later this summer with a multiday festival in Georgetown, and by reopening a “Mega-Mart” record store temporarily in the neighborhood. For a moment, it will feel like 1988, all over again.
Mudhoney is the only big band from the initial birth year of grunge that has kept playing consistently without long breakups — not to mention having all its members still alive. The now-middle-aged rockers play March 30 at Neumos in Seattle to celebrate the silver anniversary and the release of their latest album “Vanishing Point.”
Yet even with the increased attention the quarter-century mark brings, the always-laconic members of Mudhoney won’t pay that much mind to that. Guitarist Steve Turner sees the anniversary mark as another distraction from making music.
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“The 25 years means something, maybe, but you can use that kind of thinking to boggle your mind on any front,” he said. “I’ve been skateboarding for 35 years, and I’ve been alive for 48 years.”
Still, even Turner admits that if an anniversary brings more attention to Mudhoney’s new album, that isn’t a bad thing. The record is one of the band’s best in years and shows that driving rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be left to youngsters.
“We can’t deny that rock music was created as a youth thing,” Turner observed. “But people just keep doing it as they get older, like us. How do you age in something, and stay youngish, if that’s possible? It’s a weird, built-in problem.”
Mudhoney has stayed fresh for several reasons, which are explored in the recent documentary film on the band, “I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney.”
Though the band never broke up, as Soundgarden did before reuniting recently, the members have taken small hiatuses, aiding the band’s longevity. The group might have disbanded when original bass player Matt Lukin left in 2001, but his replacement, Guy Maddison, has fit in, and all the members argue the new blood has given them renewed life.
One reason Mudhoney never felt the need to break up was scale: Its music has always remained iconoclastic, and as a result, never found the platinum-record success of many of its grunge peers — or the stresses that come with it.
Sub Pop estimates the band has sold 500,000 records, all told, compared to, say, Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” which on its own has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Though the band did sign with the major label Warner Brothers in the early ’90s, it eventually returned to Sub Pop, which put out “Vanishing Point.”
Also, day jobs have always been part of the package. One of the most humorous moments in the “I’m Now” documentary is watching lead singer Mark Arm, who runs Sub Pop’s mail-order division, pack up his own releases for shipping. Few of the people getting their Mudhoney albums in the mail will ever know that a grunge legend put on the packing tape.
Guitarist Steve Turner has had his share of other gigs over the years, as well. He’s run his own record label, played solo shows, done music-production work and also turned his record-collecting hobby into a profession. He now lives in Portland, where’s he’s a father of two.
Drummer Dan Peters is also a dad, which adds another snag to the band’s capacity to tour often, but that may have also added to the longevity: As a result of only playing occasionally, it hasn’t worn out its welcome.
Still, parenting adds a new dimension to the story of Mudhoney, a band that first got its start with the Sub Pop single “Touch Me I’m Sick.” A couple of years back, they were offered the gig they’d always dreamed of, opening for the reunited band, the Sonics, at the Paramount, but they had to turn it down. “It was Halloween,” Turner said, an explanation that every parent understands.
Parenthood also gave perspective to Turner. His 13-year-old son has started playing bass, and he recently accompanied his dad to Soundgarden’s Portland show.
Backstage, hanging with musician friends he’s known for three decades, Turner was photographed with his son, Soundgarden and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic. “You suddenly had two generations of tall bass players,” he joked.
One reason Turner has always been held in high regard in the Northwest music scene is that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of records and also a respect for those who came before grunge. When Mudhoney finally did get a chance to play with the Sonics recently, he said it was a revelation to talk with that group.
“Here you had so many different generations of music represented in the diverse crowd, and onstage,” he said. “There’s a pretty solid sense of music history in this area.”
With “Vanishing Point,” Turner and his Mudhoney bandmates add one more excellent album to the Northwest music discography. It’s the band’s ninth album, and Turner says it has no plans to stop anytime soon.
The title was Arm’s.
“It was Mark’s idea and his lyrical concepts,” Turner said. “I always defer to him, though sometimes maybe we should have argued, ‘That’s not a great title,’ like with [1995’s] ‘My Brother the Cow,’” Turner laughed.
Still, he does see a larger message in Arm’s recent titles. “Tomorrow Hit Today,” and “The Lucky Ones” do reflect a sense of history. “There are a lot of titles that suggest disappearing into the future, if you will,” Turner noted. In that regard, “Vanishing Point” is the perfect description for the Mudhoney of 2013.
“If it’s a looming shadow of demise, I’m OK with that,” Turner said. “We are, in so many people’s minds, frozen in time in how they remember us, and how they thought of us during what was a defining moment for them, years ago. But for us, the moment is now.”
Charles R. Cross: email@example.com