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August 13, 2007
Perusing photographer Charles Peterson's Touch Me I'm Sick, a book which compiles many of the photos he took during the "grunge" scene in the late 80s and early 90s, one would notice that Mudhoney is among the most prominently featured bands. The group is shown in all of their spastic glory, with beer cans, distortion pedals, and flailing bodies in abundance.

The band has been known for their brand of the Sonics meets Black Sabbath since they put out their first single, "Touch Me I'm Sick," in 1988. It was the British music press' fascination with them that eventually led to the whirlwind of hype surrounding their more marketable friends in the early 90s.

The band soldiered on through the end of the decade, dutifully putting out records and touring regardless of the fact that the scene's popularity had fizzled. After a brief hiatus, the band released Since We've Become Translucent in 2002. Simultaneously, guitarist Steve Turner had been writing songs of a different ilk than his usual Mudhoney tunes. The songs appearing on Turner's 2003 solo debut, Searching for Melody (Roslyn Records), are decidedly folk-oriented.

While the change has surprised many, the seeds of the musical direction have actually been in existence longer than those that inspired him to first join a rock band. Turner claims to have been into folk long before discovering punk rock as a skater and has had the urge to sing and play guitar by himself for almost a decade.

I caught up with Turner before playing a solo set in Virginia (he played a series of shows in between Mudhoney dates during a two week tour in December of ), and before even speaking to him, the folk direction Turner has gone in was immediately obvious, rendering him almost unrecognizable. He is now bearded and looking more like a farmer than a long-haired punk rocker. As I found through talking with him, however, the change is not as sudden or profound as his acoustic guitar and facial hair would suggest.

---

LAS: It seemed like this new album came to fruition very quickly, but I read that you first picked up a guitar and taught yourself to sing in 2001?

Steve Turner: Well, I already knew how to play guitar, of course. [laughs]

Well, yeah...but I mean, you've said that you listened to folk and rock all your life.

I listened to more folk growing up, actually. I never liked hard rock, and I grew up the 70s when there were things like, you know, Kiss was popular and I thought that shit was just dumb. In retrospect, it was no dumber than most of the punk rock that I immediately liked once I heard it, but I mean really, why is Kiss any dumber than Devo or the Misfits.

I have an older brother who actually lives here and he's coming tonight. He was never into rock music at all, so I didn't even have the older brother influence thing; he was into show tunes, so I had show tunes around the house quite a bit. I had a couple folk records from my parents. I always liked the really early rock 'n roll like Elvis Presley and stuff like that. I guess I started checking out records at the library, and like it was usually Folkways records, like old blues records and stuff cause, you know, public libraries are good for that kinda stuff.

So that's kinda what I listened to more until I was a skateboarder, and in '79, all skateboarders had to go punk rock because some of the famous dudes did. Suddenly instead of blasting Ted Nugent at the skate ramps and stuff it was Devo and Black Flag and The Sex Pistols. I actually liked it - I think 'cause it was more energetic and stuff. It was simple songs; it wasn't that like grandiose 70s prog music or just stupid-ass heavy metal. There's a bit more of a brain behind punk rock. There's rebellion and anger, and a little more thinking behind some of it, anyway.

So you started out listening to non-rock music, but you've waited this long before delving into folk. What held you back?

You know, I think just being in rock bands and stuff, that was kinda like, once I started doing that I'm like punk rock and all that. I knew I didn't want to sing in a rock band; so then I just didn't bother to do [any singing]. I kinda made a half-assed stabbed at it in the early 90s, and I couldn't yet figure out how to sing and play guitar at the same time, so I think that might have scarred me and kept me from trying it again for a few years. I don't know why, I don't have a good reason.

I think there's a few years when Mudhoney was just so busy, and it was so time consuming that I was actually getting kind of burnt out on music for a little while there in the mid 90s or something. I didn't really want to play much at all. I took a year off. I made two half-hearted attempts to go back to college, but it never quite stuck. So finally, I think Mudhoney stopped being our day jobs - we weren't making enough to live off of it anymore, for a variety of reasons. I think then music started feeling more like a luxury again to me and something that I actually did like to do again, because it wasn't so all-consuming anymore.

I think then once I realized that this isn't my job anymore - I don't have to play music if I don't want to - [that] if I'm gonna play music, I should play more of the music I actually wanna play, and it's this kinda stuff. I mean, I wear earplugs with Mudhoney, you know, you can't do that shit forever. [laughs] We all have hearing problems at this point - there's no 38 year-old rock musician who's ears aren't somewhat fucked. I wanna keep hearing and playing music for the rest of my life. I mean, I love playing loud rock music too, but I'm happy to not to do it all the time.

It must be kinda weird going from playing these gigs to Mudhoney shows.

It makes the Mudhoney gigs so much more fun, too. Like, honestly, these gigs have been really nerve-racking to me. It's kind of scary, and in that way it's kind of a cool rush because it's petrifying. Then when I just get to relax and be the guitar player making a bunch of noise, it's a lot more fun than it was for a while - all things in temperance. [laughs]

Have you found playing by yourself more rewarding?

I wouldn't say "more" - it's just a different thing that I haven't done yet. I mean, I've been playing in rock bands for 20 years with Mark [Arm, Mudhoney's singer] and so it's pretty easy, you know? We actually take more care about it lately, and that's not necessarily a good thing in rock music either. I think sloppy, crazy rock music is best made by kids 'cause that's just the way it is. But yeah, they're both really rewarding, still. Mudhoney - we kinda dug in our heels, and we've been doing it more the last couple of years, but it's been harder to do because Dan [Peters, Mudhoney's drummer] just had a second kid, so we can't tour at all. Guy [Maddison, Mudhoney's bassist] is a full-time nurse. So when we do get to do it, it's extra fun.

But this stuff is also... I can kinda see that I can do this forever, you know? Just play at the local bar down the street or something, and get something out of it. Which I do - I love doing it. It's something new and fresh, and I still feel like I'm getting better at it.

Do you feel at all like this is a new phase, or are the two sides going to keep living in coexistence?

Well I've started recording the new record, and I think they're going to start blending a little bit more. I'm going to start playing with a band live too, a little bit. But it's still gonna be really mellow, in comparison. I still have Dan playing on some of it again... it seems like the mellow songs are getting mellower and more rocking songs are getting more rocking. For the next record, I think it'll hopefully have more variety. And then right after this, though, I wanna make a punk record too. I'm gonna do another record pretty quickly this spring, I hope, to record a whole batch of short, shitty punk rock songs. Then I'll feel really schizophrenic. [laughs]

Sounds like you're going to be pretty busy.

Yeah, that's good. Right now I don't really have to work as much. So I have some time to do some of this shit, and I'm kinda somewhat inspired, so I might as well do it all while I can before reality sets in and I have to be working more.

Have the crowds at these gigs been mostly Mudhoney fans, or have they been a new set of people for you?

I dunno, it's kinda hard to tell. There's obviously going to be a few Mudhoney diehards coming out out of curiosity. There's also Mudhoney fans who aren't down with it at all. I went over to Spain a couple of times last spring and it was really funny because there would always be one dude in the back with his arms crossed kinda glaring at me - some long-haired dude in a MC5 shirt or something who's like uuuuuuoooooouuuuugh [imitates disapproving groan]. I think it was actually the beard more than the actual music I was playing. [laughs, strokes facial hair] Yeah, I've shocked some people. I just trimmed it too; you should've seen it about a month ago.

Is it a part of the folk singer look?

I don't know what it is. I was doing a lot of work as a gardener and stuff, you know? I'm a hippie. When push comes to shove, I wanna live in the country. I'm happy being a gardener and doing that kind of stuff, so I guess it makes sense. I mean, I've had a beard before. I'm 38 and I still don't have a full beard. It's taking a while to come in. I'm waiting for sideburns.

Is there any chance that if Mudhoney does go back and write another record that this music would influence it?

It probably would a little bit. Through the years, everything we've been into individually has influenced it too. Almost ten years ago now we did a split single with Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and that's only because I had such a strong interest in that shit already - it kind of turned the other guys on to that stuff, so they were all really psyched to do it too. It pops up. Mark's jazz thing has definitely popped up here and there. The blues thing... I think we've fucked around a bit more with Monkeywrench or something [Mark and Steve's other band], at least in theory.

Yeah, it'll probably pop up a little bit more. I've learned how to finger pick a little bit now too. I think that's what they're a little more scared about. But I mean, they like a lot of the same shit. I don't think there's any music from the 20th century that at least one or two of us doesn't really like. But we always come back to punk rock and Black Sabbath... and the Sonics and Black Flag.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/stivturner
SEE ALSO: www.mudhoney.net

--
Tom Nash
A former LAS staff member based in Vienna - that's Virginia, not Austria - Tom graduated from high school and we are all just so, so proud of him.

See other articles by Tom Nash.

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