Friday, March 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Q&A with Mudhoney's Mark Arm: Laid-back guy, fired-up music

Seattle Times staff reporter

Free Mark Arm!

The man who helped launch the grunge movement and spawned a thousand imitators — in a radio interview, Courtney Love once said that early in her career, she had to force herself to not sound like Mark Arm — is being forced by his label, Sub Pop, to work in its warehouse!

Well, "forced" isn't quite true. True, he's there voluntarily, and he says it's one of the best day jobs he has had. Still, Mark Arm should not have to have a day job!

Not that he's complaining.

"It's great," he says, with a giggling laugh that has a "who cares?" flavor to it. "Everyone here's really cool."

And then there's the fact that Sub Pop just released another Mudhoney CD, "Under a Billion Suns."

This is Mudhoney's second tour of duty with Sub Pop. After helping launch the label, the band signed with Reprise/Warner Brothers in 1991. Arm's nasally, snide delivery over screeching guitars and pounding drums never translated into major record sales, and the big label dumped Mudhoney in 1999. Back to the Seattle label. At the time, it might have seemed like a wounded animal crawling home to die, but Arm's men still had life in them. The 2002 album "Since We've Become Translucent" had some bounce to it (horns!), and "Under a Billion Suns" is even better (again with the horns, led by Craig Flory).

Early reviews have been glowing: "Their best record in years" (Alternative Press); "Mudhoney's saving grace is their sardonic worldview, which is as touchingly sick as ever amid the horn-spiked, bluesy arrangement" (Entertainment Weekly); "Mostly they deliver a bluesy sprawl full of meaty punk riffs and Stooges-schooled abandon that still outpaces less-inspired slop-rock bands" (Rolling Stone).

Though the metal-punk-garage sound hasn't changed much, "Under a Billion Stars" has some of Arm's most pointed lyrical messages: "I've seen the enemy/and it is us"; "the little boys are dying/to preserve our way of life/It's our patriotic duty/to make sweet love tonight."

Arm, a Bellevue Christian High School grad who turned 44 last month, gamely played along with an irreverent — and, at times, irrelevant — Q&A from the West Seattle home he shares with his wife:

Q: Would you prefer to be referred to as A) "aging slacker"; B) "grunge pioneer"; C) "the pride of Bellevue Christian"; or D) "is he still alive?"

A: (After laughing) I'll go with D.

Q: If you were to star in the grunge sequel to "Brokeback Mountain," who would you want your co-star to be, Dan Peters (Mudhoney drummer) or Steve Turner (Mudhoney guitarist)?

A: (Laughing again) Can't we make it a three-way?

Q: True or false: Mudhoney is the Rolling Stones of grunge?

A: False.

Q: Who's in better shape — Mark Arm or Mick Jagger?

A: Maybe Mick Jagger.

Q: Who's in better shape — Steve Turner or Ozzy Osbourne?

A: Steve Turner.

Q: Why Seattle?

A: Huh?

Q: Why have you lived here, all these years?

A: I grew up here. Simple as that ... (laughter) and it's not Kirkland.

Q: How do you compare and contrast the three producers — Phil Ek, Tucker Martine and Johnny Sangster — who worked on "Under a Billion Suns"?

A: (Long pause) That's kind of hard to say. They're all super great to work with, and they're all a little different — they've got different ears. I have a hard time answering that.

Q: Have you ever had three producers on one record before?

A: (Laughing) Our previous record had four.

Q: Are you too much for one producer?

A: No. They're just all people we wanted to work with, so we [worked around their schedules].

Q: Briefly describe the most annoying neighbors you've ever had.

A: The people who lived next door to us when we first moved into our house in West Seattle. Nosy retired couple.

Q: Briefly describe the most annoying record company executive you ever worked with?

A: Keith Wood, the president of Caroline Records, who distributed for Sub Pop. He told us we wouldn't be able to do any side projects ... we'd have to go on tour nine months a year, and "sweeten up" our guitar sound. After that, we figured, "If an indie label is this bad, we might as well talk to a major!"

Q: What kind of music does God like?

A: I'm not convinced there is a God.

Q: What kind of music does Satan like?

A: If there's no God ...

Q: What would President Bush's favorite song from "Under a Billion Suns" be?

A: "Blindspots." (Sample lyrics: "Blindspots make it easier/for me to get through the day ... ")

Q: What would President Bush's least favorite song from "A Billion Suns" be?

A: I don't think he would like any of them.

Q: But what would he hate most?

A: (A song title that roughly translates to "Sexually Excited by War.")

Q: What's the biggest difference for Mudhoney about this album?

A: I don't know. I don't know if there's really that much different. We're not concerned with trying to be different just for the sake of being different.

Mudhoney performs at 10 tonight at the Crocodile Cafe ($15).

Tom Scanlon:

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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