Sound & Vision: Mudhoney’s Mark Arm is Still Stuffing Records at his Own Record Label, Sub Pop

Sound and Vision
Hans Anderson
photo by Renata Steiner

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Mark Arm never had a midlife crisis. “Whereas like other people, they hit 40-something or whatever and are like, Oh, man, I’ve been working this whole time and I got this family and these kids. I want a red sports car and a divorce,” says Arm. “In my forties, I didn't have any of those feelings. I'm like, I am so happy where I am right now.”

When Arm was in his forties he was managing the Sub Pop warehouse. He’s still working that job today, now in his late fiftes. The Mudhoney frontman, whose given name is Mark McLaughlin, has been a pillar of the Seattle music scene since the '80s. Mudhoney’s song “Touch Me I’m Sick,” is a grunge anthem.

And aside from a few albums in the mid-'90s, all of Mudhoney’s music has come out on Sub Pop, which also released the early recordings of Soundgarden and Nirvana, marketed the Seattle sound, and is principally responsible for grunge’s popularly.

Arm’s first release on the label came in 1987. The album was Dry as a Bone by Arm’s band Green River. Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt would describe Dry as a Bone as “gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.” It’s one of the first instance of grunge being used to describe music in Seattle.

Green River eventually broke up and Arm formed Mudhoney, who also released their music on Sub Pop. The record label, in its nascent days was a bit different than it is now – for one, there was no warehouse manager.

“In the early days, it was sort-of all hands on deck,” says Arm, "like, if there were singles that needed to be stuffed, people who were in the bands in town would show up at the office space and stuff singles even if it wasn't their own band. No one was really getting paid or anything.”

Today, people are getting paid for this – specifically, Mark Arm is getting paid for this. He usually doesn’t stuff individual records into envelopes, but he does manage bulk orders, like those for record stores.

“Sending out our own records is a very humbling experience,” says Arm, “because you can pretty much see the demand.”

If you take a cursory look around the internet, you can find articles with headlines like “Mudhoney was the Nirvana that Should Have Been” or “Godfathers of Grunge: Seattle’s Mudhoney Roars Again.” Arm doesn’t make grand statements like this.

“Just by happenstance, I was in a band in Seattle at a time and a place where there was a thing that was happening in town that took off and we were part of it, but we weren't like the focus of it,” he says.

Even though many of his contemporaries became immensely famous, he came from the punk scene in the 1980 and never really thought he would be able to make money from music. “Some of my friends had a little bit more, I guess, confidence that they could make this music thing work out,” he says.

Arm went day job free for a while when Mudhoney signed to Reprise Records, but eventually, he had to get a job in the late-'90s

“My wife was working, I was not,” he says. “There wasn't a ton of money and she was like, you know, maybe you should get off the couch. And I was like, hey, I take the dogs to the park every day. What more do you want?”

Arm started working again. Eventually, he moved over to Sub Pop as a warehouse manager. By this time, Mudhoney was off their major label and they still wanted to record, so they also returned to Sub Pop.

Now, if you ask Arm if ever thought Mudhoney would last 30 years, he’d tell you no, but they’re still releasing records. Their most recent album, Digital Garbage, is witty, dark, dad punk. It came out in 2018 and is uncompromisingly them.

Mudhoney have chosen a path of sustainability, day jobs, and occasional recording and touring. “I think it's just sort of different approaches,” says Arm. The approach that the members of Mudhoney take is based on their circumstances."

A few members of Mudhoney have kids – some in elementary school. “No one just wants to walk away from their family for like a half-a-year or more of touring,” says Arm who, along with the rest of Mudhoney, felt that there wasn’t a whole lot of benefit from touring more.

“The numbers just sort of dwindled. The numbers are being the people in the audience,” he says.

Arm never attained huge fame but he can play atop of the Space Needle and the next day go to the grocery store and no one notices him. He feels pretty lucky.

He still gets to play shows and make the music he’s always wanted to make, working a day job allows him to do this without compromising his values.

“I've been able to squeak by finding jobs at places where I don't have to put on a suit or dress sharp or whatever and I don't have to put on a fake personality to get along in the cubicle world,” Arm says.

Mudhoney's latest release, the EP Morning in America, is out now on Sub Pop, of course.

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