Well, it’s that time of year again. Better than Christmas: it’s Meredith time. Meredith Music Festival, that is. Music-lovin’ homes all over Melbourne are being ripped apart as the search for the lilo pump and tent pegs reaches fever pitch. Bunnings hardware barns have people employed to stand in the front of the registers, pointing and saying, ‘Gumboots that way,’ to anyone who looks slightly at odds with the rest of the store patrons. Mobile phones are buzzing manically as convoy plans and car packing schedules are finalised.
One man for whom none of those things are likely happening is Steve Turner, guitarist for legendary Seattle group Mudhoney. Having already commenced their Australian tour in Perth (Saturday) and with gigs every day this week, they will have no time for gumboot shopping. They may not be briefed in Bunnings’ locations, and it may have been a while since they were in Australia, but they are no strangers to our shores and have friendships running back to the nineties when the band first toured here.
“Just by coming to Australia at the turn of the nineties, I mean the scenes were small. We knew Lubricated Goat so we met all their friends. We knew who The Scientists were; we met Kim [Salmon] when we started playing with The Beasts Of Bourbon a little bit. We managed to meet some people through Beasts Of Bourbon and through Red Eye [offshoot of Black Eye Records], the label in Sydney and Au Go Go Records in Melbourne. It seems like we met everybody.”
It is a perfectly obvious choice for Mudhoney to ask old friend Kim to support their Australian shows (in his band with Michael Stranges, Precious Jules), especially given that after their original meeting Salmon was invited to Seattle to join Mudhoney as a permanent member. What is cool, is that Kim’s band The Scientists were one of Mudhoney’s earliest influences.
“I will take credit for discovering The Scientists. I kept staring at their record – it was at a music store in Seattle – and it just looked like something that [Mudhoney vocalist and rhythm guitarist] Mark [Arm] and I would like,” Steve explains. “We were pretty heavy into The Stooges – and it was [The Scientist’s 1983 mini-album] Blood Red River, where they looked like The Stooges,” he laughs. “They’re Australian, they’re on Au Go Go and we’re like, ‘Okay, that’s a cool label.’ So I finally bought it. It didn’t sound like what I thought it was going to sound like. The guitars were a lot thinner and [they used] slide guitar but the hypnotic rhythms I just thought were really, really cool.” Meeting Kim years later, remembers Steve, was exciting. “It’s like, ‘It’s fucking Kim Salmon!’”
The reunion theme kicks on. Quite obviously, with the twentieth anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s recent celebration of their twentieth year, the demise of the 80s revival and upsurge of young people in flannelette, the 1990s retro cycle has swung around. In the Australian music landscape Soundgarden are the big draw for next year’s Big Day Out, frontman Chris Cornell recently completed a solo tour, Hole was a disappointing Soundwave retraction for some (er, me) and Foo Fighters shows in Australian this week have re-imagined the country’s social networking sites as Dave Grohl prayer wagons. Not surprisingly, Steve Turner is nonplussed.
“Well, we just toured with Pearl Jam,” he mentions, as if to point out that Mudhoney are not shirking their role in the era, or trying to distance themselves. “It’s nice: we’re all still here, we’re all still friends and we still get to play music together; this is great.” But he’s not going to fawn over himself unduly. “I think there’s a bit of a grunge revival right now and they [younger generations] are interested in it because of that. You know, whatever. I’m not nostalgic about the past, myself, really. If you live through it you remember it differently than the idealised versions that people read about. It’s just part of my life. It doesn’t change my day-to-day life, you know. I get up, get the kids ready for school and get to work.” He laughs. “I don’t care that it’s the twentieth anniversary of Nevermind.”
He does, however, quite enjoy catching up with old friends on tour. “Chris [Cornell] was just on some of the shows we did – I hadn’t seen him in, like, fifteen years probably. It feels like a reunion of sorts. Ten years ago we were all running into each other enough that it felt like same old same old, but it definitely feels like some time has passed this time around. There’s a lot of, ‘So, what have you been doing for the past twenty years?’” Turner laughs easily. “That’s just life.”
Of course, these are artists who are continuing to produce new music, not, as Steve remarks, particularly “nostalgic.”
Though in the second half of its career, Mudhoney’s outlay has relaxed to around four years between releases, it has never ceased. Though there was a compilation of demos and rarely-heards [Head On The Curb] released this year, the last proper studio album came in 2008: The Lucky Ones. It’s about time.
“We’re working on it,” says Steve. “We work a lot slower these days unfortunately. We have a lot of demos down so we can start to figure out what to record…We’re at that stage. I thought it would have been done already so I’m like, ‘Goddamn! Why does this take so long?’ Life gets in the way. Three of us have kids; we’ve all got jobs.”
While band logistics are more convoluted now, the waiting can create space for Turner’s own solo work, (Steve has released two albums: 2003’s Searching For Melody and 2004’s And His Bad Ideas) which explores a softer, folk-influenced taste.
“Yeah, I’ve been focusing harder on that lately, getting stuff together again; been playing a lot of twelve string, pondering on some ideas for recording and getting people to help me. I love gnarly punk rock. I love feedback and distortion, you know, I like shitty music,” he laughs. “But I just like playing guitar so I like the acoustic stuff. I listen to a lot of folk music; have done all my life. As far as modern stuff… one of the last things I really liked, and I had to go and track down all his stuff, was The Tallest Man On Earth. I really like his stuff a lot.”
While Mudhoney’s tour only just missed The Tallest Man On Earth’s here in Australia, Steve’s looking forward to making the pilgrimage out to Meredith. He sounds pleased that his work day will be done in time for Grinderman’s set: “We’re all excited about that. We’re all huge Nick Cave fans.”
– Melanie Lewis