Interview: Steve Turner (Mudhoney)

by - 7/23/2021

Photo credit: Michael Lavine 

Nesta sexta-feira, 23 de julho, o Mudhoney está lançando a edição comemorativa de 30 anos de seu álbum Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. Conversei com o guitarrista Steve Turner sobre o álbum para o Scream & Yell, onde a entrevista foi publicada originalmente. Abaixo, você confere o papo na íntegra em inglês.

This Friday, July 23rd, Seattle legends Mudhoney are releasing the 30th anniversary deluxe edition of their classic album Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. I talked to guitarist Steve Turner about the record for Scream & Yell, where this interview was originally published. Check out the full transcript from the interview below.

So, 30 years... Does it feel like it's been that long since you released Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge?

No! (laughs) But we remind ourselves how long it's been every year, because we celebrate our anniversary on January 1st. We're used to it not feeling like it's been that long, but it's also impossible to not acknowledge it. It's been a long time and we just keep doing it.

Can you share some of your memories from the songwriting on the album and the recordings... I think it was the first time that you did not work with Jack Endino as a producer, right? 

Yeah, right. The main thing that I'm struck with is, when we were compiling this stuff and kind of researching the time period, just how busy we were, and that we didn't seem that busy. It was a young man's thing, like, we played so many shows and we recorded so much stuff between 90 and 92, that it's kind of crazy to think back. Not only were we doing this, but we were involved in other bands too, you know? Mark and I did Monkeywrench, I was playing bass in the Fall-Outs, I did another little side project called the Sad and Lonely(s), Dan joined the Screaming Trees for a minute... And Nirvana! It's just amazing how much we got done in a short time period, and it didn't seem like we were busy, necessarily. But that's kind of what struck me. We didn't work with Jack on this stuff, you know, we kind of went in a slightly different direction.

When we started going to the UK, in 89... You know, I'm a real punk record collector, and it was like a gold mine over there. I was buying hundreds of seven inch records from some of the bigger bands, like Devo, 1999, The Clash and stuff. But I got a lot of obscure stuff as well, and I lived with Dan at the time... I was kind of turning him on to more of the 77 style punk stuff and a lot of 60s garage... 

I think he was more of a Motörhead kind of guy, maybe, considering his clothes on the “Good Enough” video

There was also Motörhead, yeah. So we kind of scaled things back a little bit and I think it was a little bit more of a garage record, than, kind of the grungy stuff. We did some recordings that are extra tracks on here with Jack in 1990, and collectively we didn't love the way they were sounding. Just nothing to do with Jack or anything, it was too polished of a studio that we were in, you know, and I was hearing some stuff that Conrad Uno was doing at Egg. In particular I remember it was a Girl Trouble album that I just got that I thought sounded great. It's what I was imagining Mudhoney could sound like. The funny thing is I called Conrad and said, “hey this is Steve from Mudhoney and we want to come to Egg and record with you”, and he laughed and just said “why??”. So I thought that was a good omen to me. We went in there and recorded some of these covers that I was talking about, old punk songs and stuff. We had this theory that we were gonna do an album of old punk covers. And then Guns N’ Roses did that, so we're like, “Well, crap, we're not gonna follow their footsteps”, you know? But we went and recorded and loved it. Conrad's a great guy and we got along really great with him. Then we decided to do the whole record with him and as we were getting the songs together, we also bought a Farfisa organ, which Mark started playing on a few of the songs. I think that changed things quite a bit too. And I think it was a bit of a reaction to the “Seattle grunge sound”, a little bit. And this is before Nirvana and Pearl Jam hit big, but to me it was a bit more fun, a little bit less brooding of a recording. 

And what happened to those punk covers that you recorded? Do you plan to release them all someday? 

We released a bunch of them as B-sides to singles, on compilation records and stuff. We were gonna include them in this package, but it was gonna make it be a triple album. So we decided not to do that, to just put the original songs on this collection, with all the extras and make it a double album, a little more affordable and concise. We want to do another compilation of all the covers that we've done through the years, not just from this era. We want to put all those covers and a bunch of more recent ones. all through our career and have another double album of covers. That's kind of our next little reissue project that we want to start working on. Our “Spaghetti Incident” (laughs).

That sounds cool. So, how did Conrad influence or impact the sound of the album? Did you achieve the sound that you were trying to go for? 

Well, we didn't know exactly what we were going for. He's a really laid back, mellow guy, and I think that helped a lot. He's got great ears, of course, and I think he’s a great engineer and stuff. But he was just mellower and he's, like, a little bit older than us. If you saw him, you'd think he's an old hippie, you know. Gray hair, beard, really loves baseball. He was just a really casual guy that we got on with really well. And we had real restrictions in that studio, because it was an eight-track studio, so we had to do things pretty live, we had to make sure it was a good take. He was good at letting us know if it was a good take or not, because sometimes you lose sight of what you're after in the studio. We don't really argue in the studio, but people can get kind of uptight and anxious. And I think that was the greatest thing that he contributed, he was just kind of mellow and just reminded us it's not that big a deal. Do it again if it's not right… 

And you recorded it all at Egg Studio, right? It was Conrad’s own place.

Yeah, it was in his basement. The Young Fresh Fellows did a lot of stuff there through the years. Scott McCaughey [Young Fresh Fellows] worked there as well, as did Kurt Bloch [Fastbacks], who was one of the other engineers at Egg. It was kind of a different part of the Seattle scene, people that were very important to it as well. 

Do you remember how long it took for you guys to record it all? 

I don't, actually, at this point. I want to say at least a week. We didn't spend a lot of time doing stuff at this point. It was still pretty quick, get in/get out. So I'm gonna guess about a week. I know the next record that we did, Piece of Cake, we did it there as well, and that was two weeks in the studio. 

You have a lot of new material on this deluxe version. Back in 91, how did you decide which tracks to include and which ones not to include in the final track list? 

I'm not exactly sure how... [While setting up the reissue] we quickly realized that we had made some mistakes in the songs that we put on the record [laughs]. Not mistakes, but we used to think that if we didn't spend very much time on a song, we would kind of dismiss it as maybe not as good. Like the song “Ounce of Deception”, I don't know why it wasn't on the record. 

It's a great song. 

Yeah, I know! We realized that after a couple years. We're like, “Dang! That song is like one of the best songs we wrote” and “why did we not put that on the record?”. But I think we just kind of dismissed some songs if they were so easy to write or something. “Ah, that took five minutes”, you know? 

Did you use all of the recorded material now or is there something still in the vaults?

Well, there's a few covers that hopefully will come out on the covers record. I think that was just about it. We even put that weird noise jam on there, that I can't remember what we called it... So, I think that's about it. We dug pretty deep and found a lot of stuff. Most of them are previously unreleased, but there’s also some tracks that came out on singles. The version of “Overblown” is the same one that came out on the Singles soundtrack, that was recorded at Egg too... I remember it was like, US$ 150 to record or something...

In your documentary, I'm Now — The Story of Mudhoney, you guys talk about your self-titled album with not so many kind words... I just love that album so much, so I wanted to ask you what do you dislike about it? And is that why you haven't done a deluxe version of it? 

There's not much else to add to that one, for one. After that record, that was kind of it. That was our first batch of songs, that and Superfuzz Big Muff. The extras kind of ended up on the Superfuzz Big Muff reissue. It's not that we dislike it, we just didn't think we added anything to it. It makes sense, because the songs are all kind of written in the same six months, but to me it just wasn't quite as dynamic as Superfuzz Big Muff. I mean, we love those songs and we still play a lot of those live. It just felt a little bit flat, like we didn't add anything to it. And I think that was the reaction that led to Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge being fairly different from the self-title record, just trying to move on.

Another thing that is mentioned in the documentary is that the record was also considered, in some way, a “savior” record for Sub Pop, as the record company wasn't doing so well financially back then. Did you feel any pressure regarding this? 

No. But I'm glad it came out when it did, and that it kept Sub Pop going for a while, because they were having serious troubles. Then, later that year, you know, Nevermind came out and that really saved Sub Pop. We kept them going for the next few months, until Nevermind started blowing up. We were really afraid they were going to go out of business for a little bit there.

And then it led you to, eventually, leaving Sub Pop.

Yeah, our relationship with them got a little bit strained, because they owed us money, and they were friends, and they were having trouble... They were kind of overextending themselves. It was just a stressful time between us, Jonathan [Poneman] and Bruce [Pavitt, Sub Pop cofounders], for sure. We had to move on to somewhere else, so our friendships can be saved, as opposed to the business relationship. We didn't expect to go to a major label, but it just made sense. Ultimately it was not a wrong decision. Obviously, that's all water under the bridge, because we've been on Sub Pop now for the last 20 years, very happily, Mark works there, it's a great relationship. 

A few years ago you ranked Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge as your favorite Mudhoney record. Do you still feel that way?

It’s definitely one of my favorites. It was a really creative and fun time. But I like them all. We've always said that Piece of Cake was one of our least favorite records, just because I think we got a little too arrogant and cocky, and didn't work hard enough on it. But that one has one of my favorite songs, “Suck You Dry”. If I would point to one song that sums up Mudhoney, I would say that one, because it's the perfect Mudhoney song to me. But, yeah, I like this record a lot, and I'm really happy with the way this reissue’s come out. I think because of the pandemic we were all in lockdown and we had a lot of time to focus on doing this one right, and finding stuff... We were digging through our closets and finding old DAT tapes of weird things we didn't remember. That whole other session with Jack, for example, was amazing to find how finished it was, because I don't even remember… I thought we did one or two songs or something, and there were several of them. I think we've done a pretty good job. I'm a huge fan of reissues that have lots of extra stuff in them. 

The year of 1991 is considered by many critics and fans as one of the best years in rock history. Do you have any thoughts on that? 

Well, I think it all started in the mid-80s — talking about american underground music. Hardcore is kind of what started a lot of this, because most of the indie bands that people think of as 90s iconic bands, we all kind of came out of the teenage hardcore scene. Especially speaking of Seattle, we were all in crappy little punk bands, and going to the same little all-ages punk shows in 83 and 84 and stuff. You can point out to record labels like Touch and Go, Homestead and SST, that had all these great bands, like Big Black and Sonic Youth. It all kind of grew out of hardcore, like Dinosaur Jr. They're all people that are coming from the same thing and trying to figure out what to do next, because hardcore was kind of a dead end, artistically. How fast can you go? So, it got all these punk kids extending their influences and discovering other music, like 70s rock, 60s psychedelic stuff, noisy stuff. By 91, there's a lot of really great bands that had been kind of going for a few years. You know, I could point to 88 as being a pretty massive year. That's when Sonic Youth did Daydream Nation, Dinosaur Jr…. All these things were happening. I think with 1991, it's more like: “Nirvana hit big” and open a lot of people's eyes. I believe there was a bubbling under for a number of years in America, that kind of pointed the way.

I want to talk a little about some of the tracks on Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. For example, “Broken Hands”. That track starts out with a riff that we had previously heard before, more specifically on Neil Young's “Cinnamon Girl”. Whose idea was it to include that reference? 

Ah, that was just kind of an accident. I was like, “oh my god”, that's the opening riff, you know. So he gets kind of tackled on there, because that song definitely has a bit of a Neil Young vibe to it, you know. And a bit of Roxy Music thing that they had to point out, for the soloing and stuff. It was just kind of a funny thing to do, there wasn't a whole lot of thought behind it.

Do you know if Neil has ever heard it?

We were lucky enough to meet Neil Young a couple times, because Sonic Youth was touring with them one time. But I don't know if he’s heard it. I do know that we were in Hawaii, opening for Pearl Jam, and Neil Young was there. It was Mark's birthday and so everybody was singing “Happy Birthday” to Mark and Neil Young was singing along, without having any idea... So Mark was serenaded by Neil Young for his birthday [laughs]

That's funny. Now, about “Pokin’ Around”. That song reminds me a lot of Dinosaur Jr. You know, that J. Mascis chords... Did you do it on purpose?

No, but I will totally cop to Dinosaur Jr. being an influence. I was really excited when I first heard their first record. Because I had just really gotten into Neil Young, and that was through the Meat Puppets, and then I got “Zuma”, anyway… I could tell Dinosaur was the exact same thing as me: nerdy hardcore kids that heard Neil Young, you know? I was also getting really into folk music, at this point. I learned how to play the harmonica a little bit. But yeah, there's definitely some Dinosaur in that song, no doubt about that. I'm a huge fan. I love a lot of the Dinosaur stuff, I love Sebadoh [Dinosaur Jr.’s Lou Barlow other band].

You were talking about the harmonica, and I think it was the first time we got to hear some harmonica and Farfisa on a Mudhoney record. How did you incorporate those instruments into your sound? Did it come out naturally or the producer influenced you in some way?

I mean, the Farfisa is because we bought one really cheap. So we suddenly had a Farfisa. I love 60s garage stuff, as does Mark, and that features a lot of Farfisa. Things like Question Mark and the Mysterians, The Animals and things like that. It was just an obvious thing to add on a couple of the songs on that record, because they were very 60s garage influenced songs. Mark knows how to play piano a little bit, so he had enough piano knowledge to figure it out pretty quick. That is when we started doing standard tuning, because before that, we had tuned a little bit lower, like a half step down on the first album and the Superfuzz Big Muff stuff. But we had to go to standard tuning, because it was just too confusing for the farfisa. So that's when we actually standardized the tuning again.

Tell me a little about that. Many bands use that tuning and beginner guitar players have a hard time trying to figure that out.

It came about very natural for us. For the first year and a half of Mudhoney, we didn't have a tuner. We just kind of tuned to each other. So that was a real pain in the butt, because we were standing there on stage, “bing bang boom” [makes tuning sounds]. So we finally decided to buy a tuner and we just kind of said, “whatever we're tuned to right now, that's what we'll tune to”. So it turned out we were about a half step down, and that's what we tuned to for the next year, until we bought the Farfisa.

Do you have any memories from the shows — I don't know if you toured right after the album release —, but can you share memories from shows from that era? 

That's just kind of a continuum to me, you know? We toured a lot back then. We had gone to Europe a couple times, then we cut our hair, and I remember that being a really big deal to Europe and to England. It wasn't this weird conscious thing, but they kind of turned it into a big deal. To me the record kind of sounds more like “short hair rock and roll”, rather than “long-haired rock and roll” in a way. We toured a lot and we've always had a great time touring. We all really get along with each other. What I would do in those days, before the internet and stuff, I'd just go to record stores. I'd found a phone booth, pull out the pages that listed all the record stores in whatever town we were in, and tried to figure out where they were and go hit a couple record stores and buy more. And then drink a bunch of beer.

In the original record cover all the characters are falling off from a boat and in this new one you changed it to an airplane — this illustration also appeared in the CD booklet. Why change it to be the main cover now?

Ed Fotheringham, who did the artwork — he was also one of me and Dan's roommates at the time —, I loved his paintings. I guess we decided to change it to one of the others for this reissue because, basically, we couldn't decide which one to use. So that's why we put all three of them in the original booklet, you know. It was kind of, you know, it was just sitting around the dining room table at home and Ed drawing funny pictures, basically.

I saw a picture of you guys on social media recently, where you got together to rehearse for the first time since the pandemic started. Do you have plans for this year, to tour in celebration of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge?

No, we're not going to tour this year. We're going to wait until 2022 to do some touring again, just to see how the rollout goes. We have some recording time in September and we're going to try to record as much as we can. Hopefully we'll get enough for a whole album, and if not, we'll figure something else out. We've been not doing anything for a long time, so we all have a lot of ideas for songs. So I think it'll come together pretty quickly. 

As far as your solo career goes, do you have plans to write and record new stuff? Did you write anything during the pandemic?

Man... No. I'm kind of disappointed in myself with the solo stuff, for not getting more written. The muse kind of comes and goes, you know. When I think about writing songs on my own and singing them... You know, those records were made before I had kids, and I think there's a direct link to it. I'm a single dad, both my boys live with me. Writing songs is kind of — I describe it as kind of humiliating. I’m not a natural singer and it's not a role I really wanted. I have to be alone in the house, basically. And it's a humiliating process to try to write a song that I don't think sucks, you know. I can write riffs all day long, but actually singing a song and writing lyrics that don't make me cringe is harder. I'm not home alone very often and I just got out of the habit of it, I guess. But I'm in another band here in town, with a bunch of other old dads, basically, called Sunday State, and we have a second record coming out real soon. So that kind of gives me a little bit of that creative juice. I'm trying to write some songs right now, actually. I'll see how it goes. They might just end up being Mudhoney riffs, instead of solo stuff. 

Mudhoney came to Brazil quite a few times, the last one being in 2014. Do you have memories from the country? 

Yeah, the first time we went there, I was amazed at it, you know? For lots of different reasons. I remember just thinking that, as a kid, here in America, we don't learn very much about Brazil. It's just kind of dismissed as a third world country, which is just so wrong. All of South America, actually, we don't learn about it in school. And it was so different than what I thought it was going to be, you know. We went to these towns, like Recife, and places like that that I've never heard of, and it turns out there's millions of people that live there. I'm, like, “why haven't we heard of these cities that have millions of people in them?”. It's a blind spot, we don't know very much about it. And it made me want to learn more about Brazil. I actually even enrolled in a Brazilian Portuguese language class, because I was…

Wait, so we could be doing this interview in Portuguese this whole time?

[Laughs] This is what happened. I enrolled in it, I went to the first few weeks of classes, and it's a difficult language for English speakers to learn. But then I broke my ribs skateboarding, and I was laid up and I missed a couple of classes. Then I was behind, so I gave up and didn't continue. It was one of those regrets in my life, but I loved it there. It's just such a multicultural, cool, fascinating place to me. I love going to Brazil and we love a lot of Brazilian music. The 60s and 70s stuff, you know. When we were there for the first time, one of the promoters gave us a bunch of CD-Rs of obscure Brazilian 60s and 70s stuff. Not just the real obvious ones. And it’s so amazing to us, and I love that there's such a respect and love of the Brazilian music in Brazil too. Even grunge rockers still love a lot of the Brazilian music.

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