Arm bringing down the house at an April 1993 gig in New York City. Photo by Frank Forcino / Frank White Photo Agency
“Prosperity Gospel” also has a really live feel. Was that all from a single take with the whole band?
Turner: I think so. I tried to do other stuff, and then we just kind of decided the live take was the best. Generally, for it to be a keeper for a basic track, Dan, Guy, and myself have to have a good take together live. There might be a couple tiny fixes on bass or guitar, but for the most part it’s got to be a good live take for all three of us. Almost all, if not all, of my main guitar tracks on the record are live. Usually Mark has to redo his guitar, because we don’t know the songs very well yet and he’s guiding us through a lot of vocal cues and can’t concentrate so much on the guitar.
Do you guys try to keep up on gear developments at all?
Arm: Yeah, not so much.
Turner: Not really. A lot of people give me fuzz boxes, and different companies will hand me stuff. Like Tym Guitars in Australia makes some amazing Big Muff and other related clones that I think are fantastic. So there’s a few companies like that I keep up with—Death by Audio’s Fuzz War was a pretty amazing pedal a few years back.
Arm: Oh, we’ll try new pedals. In the ’90s I was trying a whole lot of different pedals—I’ve got a shelf full of things that I never use, things that I would buy and play in the store that sounded cool to me at the time but I never really found a place for. My setup is pretty minimal.
Turner: The first song we actually got done for this record was “Hey Neanderfuck,” and I was trying to get as heavy and gnarly a sound as I could. There was this textured pink box this guy gave me—it didn’t have a name on it, so I can’t say what the company is, unfortunately. There’s definitely some [Univox] Super-Fuzz in there, but there’s also an octave button. It made that riff. But I always have an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff in line. My favorite is the Nano, the cheapest ones they make.They’re like $60 or something. They’re almost disposable—because they do break. But oh, well. Buy another one!
You guys are obviously huge fuzz connoisseurs—you named your debut album after the two you just mentioned, Steve—but it’s interesting that the Nano Muff remains your favorite at a time when there are so many painstaking boutique clones of vintage fuzzes fetching pretty serious money.
Turner: I’m kind of trying to get the sound of my original Big Muff. The one I used on all of the earlier records is one of the last production Big Muffs, I think. I got it new in 1984 on closeout. Going off memory and feel, to me the Nano sounds the most like that. In the studio I bring in a whole bunch [of other fuzzes], but then sometimes I just get lost trying to fix something that doesn’t really need to be fixed, you know what I mean? There are others, though—the Foxx Tone Machine. I used to use the Foxx Fuzz Wah Volume quite a bit. That’s one of the best fuzzes ever made, and the Tone Machine is basically the fuzz side of that. I always have that one in the studio with me, but I didn’t use it on this record.
If you think about the aesthetics of where we come from—garage punk, and punk rock in general—a lot of it was made with cheap gear, and a lot of it was reclaiming gear that guitarists had kind of dismissed as garbage. Like the Mustang. That was my ultimate guitar back when I was a kid, but it was pooh-poohed when I finally got one. I could get them for $150. The Danelectro and Silvertone amps were kind of high-rated garbage when we were getting into them. We based a lot of our sound on cheap gear, so it makes sense to me that I still buy the cheap gear.
Arm: In the ’90s one of the boxes that I landed on that I liked most was this Ibanez Soundtank-series 60’s Fuzz. I think they only made it for a year or two, because they’re made of this cheap plastic—they look like a little black Volkswagen Beetle—and they just break. Anytime I’d find one in a music shop I’d just buy it and have a buddy put the guts into a metal box.
Before we close, Mark, I wanted to ask how you keep your screams and howls sounding so consistently feral all these years? It’s a wonder your voice isn't shot!
Arm: I really don’t know. I mean, it might somehow be genetic. My mom used to be an opera singer, so she had a pretty strong voice … but she didn’t scream. I never had vocal lessons or anything, but the one thing she told me was to sing from your diaphragm. I don’t just sing through my throat, it comes from a deeper place. Maybe that has something to do with protecting my vocal chords. Now that I’m a little older, it takes a couple of practices to get it in shape for a show. If we’re on tour, as long as I don’t get sick and we get enough sleep, then it’s fine. Getting enough sleep is key. When we first started touring, I had no concept of that.
Last question: Mark, in an interview a few years back you were asked whether it was weird to have big music magazines fawn over you guys when you first went abroad in the late ’80s. You talked about the importance of being confident—even if it’s false confidence—in order to keep getting onstage night after night. Now that you’re regarded as legends, has that aspect changed at all?
Arm: You know, I still get nervous before we go on. I don’t know if that has anything to do with confidence. It might just have more to do with caring rather than just going through the motions. We’re all confident in what we do and how we work together and how we play together. And I’d be hard-pressed to actually believe we’re legends! We’re just old at this point! In the mid 2000s we played a show with Motörhead in Portland. Afterwards, we met Lemmy [Kilmister, late bassist/vocalist]. A couple weeks later, Steve and I were traveling to the U.K. We were in the same immigration line as Lemmy, doing that zig-zag thing. At one point he just says, “You know, all you’ve got to do is stick around and they’ll start calling you a legend.”
That’s a lot easier said than done!
Arm: I guess it depends. For us it might just be a case of inertia. What else are we going to do? The ball’s already rolling. We like each other a lot. We get along. We love what we’re doing. Why stop, even if no one gives a shit?
Step into a time machine via a treasure trove of vintage footage showing crowds moshing, headbanging, and stagediving to Mudhoney’s fuzzed-out, relentlessly energetic 1988 debut single, “Touch Me I’m Sick.”