“I have a copy of it,” Steve Turner admits of a recent nonfiction book in which his band, Mudhoney, commands a full 40 pages. “But it’s weird. I’m a total music book geek, and I’ll read about other people plenty, but I have no interest in reading about myself. I’m happy to talk about that stuff, but I guess I just don’t need to read someone else’s impressions of it. I’ve never seen the movie Hype, either.
“I did read an excerpt in a magazine from the Butthole Surfers part of the book,” Turner amends, “And that was really funny. They used to come to Seattle a lot, maybe even before their first EP was out, and they were just crazy. Absolutely insane. You can’t exaggerate how crazy they were, at least to our little minds, walking in and being, like, Jesus Christ!”
Turner is spending this Sunday morning at home in Seattle, watching the New York City Marathon (“I ran one in high school. It ruined my knees.”), considering some skateboarding (“I still ride pools and bowls and stuff, but I don’t street-skate. I’ve broken ribs a few times.”), and getting his affairs in order so he can go on the road for a few weeks in support of his first solo effort, Searching for Melody. He’s joined on the 2002 recording by Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters, fellow Green River alumnus Stone Gossard and producer Johnny Sangster, but he’ll be performing unaccompanied on the leg of the tour that includes an appearance in Missoula.
Turner sings on Searching for Melody. A lot. It’s more of a revelation than his understated (but still recognizable) guitar playing, because in the entire Mudhoney discography Turner has supplied the lead vocal on exactly one song: “Paperback Life,” mischievously attributed to ’60s garage legends ? and the Mysterians, on an EP that appeared around the time of the band’s second LP, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.
“The music was very Billy Childish-derived, kind of a joke in the studio,” Turner recalls. “I pretty much wrote the song, but I didn’t really feel like crediting myself.”
Which comes back to why it’s a revelation to hear Turner step up to the mic on Searching for Melody. The defining sound of Mudhoney has always been the voice of Turner’s longtime friend, Mark Arm. The two have been “joined at the hip,” in Turner’s words, for over 20 years now. In fact, he reckons that there’s only been one month in all that time when they weren’t in a band together. Does the solo gig reflect a desire to get out from behind Arm’s distinctive yowl for awhile? Not at all, says Turner.
“I never wanted to sing in Mudhoney and I still don’t. I think the reason I’ve never sung in a band is that I secretly knew I wouldn’t be a very good rock band singer. Mark’s a great rock band singer. The little bit I would try to sing occasionally was enough to convince me I shouldn’t. I guess I play more folksy stuff by myself because it’s better for me.”
In interviews and articles, Mudhoney are often portrayed as top-seeded also-rans of the post-Nirvana indie boom, prickly but lovable underdogs who could have joined Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in the platinum winners’ circle if they’d only been more willing to play the game. Turner is quick to point out the flaw in this thinking, which presupposes a mass-market audience for anything Seattle after the success of Nevermind.
“I mean, we cared enough to put out records,” he says, “and we still do, but I never had any childhood fantasies of being a rock star or anything like that. Really, I think all you have to do is listen to the music that we chose to play and the music the bands that made it big chose to play, and there’s a reason that we didn’t get huge. We were never radio-friendly.”
Mudhoney, though still active, maintain a much lower profile than they did 10 years ago. Family life has finally caught up with three of four members, and for that reason tours longer than an extended weekend are a rarity these days. Turner works part-time as a gardener and landscaper, and enjoys it—he can’t stand staying indoors when it’s nice out, he says, and his career goal has always been simply avoiding full-time employment to make room for music. He also says he doesn’t reflect much on Mudhoney’s past. “It is what it is,” he says, insofar as he even thinks about it.
“We had more success than we ever thought we’d have, so it was all a bonus for us. I’m really happy to have lots of rich friends, and I’m really glad I’m not one of them. Money’s great and all, but I don’t want those headaches and I don’t want to be in that world.
“I do like visiting it occasionally, though,” he admits. “It’s fun to wander around that world for an afternoon, but then I want to come back to mine.”