We couldn't get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly ... but where have they been lately? As you'll find out in this regular feature, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.
Bust out the flannel, three-quarter thermal underwear and Doc Martens, because it's time to look back at the 15th anniversary of the grunge explosion. Though for a time it felt like the buzzed-out, grimy sound would never fade away, the only prominent group that survived the genre's rapid rise and fall intact are Pearl Jam, who recoiled from their initial fame so far that it might just have saved their career ... and, given the list of casualties, even their lives.
Less fortunate were grunge godheads Nirvana, whose meteoric rise to fame was cut short in 1994 with troubled singer Kurt Cobain's suicide, and Alice in Chains, whose frontman, Layne Staley, died of a drug overdose in 2002. After stints with Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has retired from music and has taken up the soft-rockin' subject of election reform these days, and of course drummer Dave Grohl has enjoyed more than a decade of success with the Foo Fighters. As for Alice, after main songwriter Jerry Cantrell released two solo albums, AIC reunited for a 2005 show with guest singers, and this year for a U.S. tour with Comes With the Fall vocalist William DuVall (see "Layne Staley Died From Mix Of Heroin, Cocaine, Report Says" and "Alice In Chains Wrap Up String Of U.S. Club Dates In New York"). However, other grunge vets have strayed farther off the radar.
Biggest hit: "Touch Me, I'm Sick"
Why do I know that name?: Mudhoney helped start grunge and earned tons of respect and admiration from their peers, but came up notably short on large-scale commercial success. The band's explosive and often messy mix of punk and garage rock originated with singer Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner in the mid-1980s, when both were in a band called Green River with future Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard. After Arm and Turner hooked up with former Bundle of Hiss drummer Dan Peters and ex-Melvins bassist Matt Lukin, they formed Mudhoney, releasing their first Sub Pop single in 1988, which featured their signature song, "Touch Me, I'm Sick." The band signed to Reprise in 1991 and released its major-label debut, Piece of Cake, the next year. The group released two more Reprise albums before being dropped.
What now?: Lukin split after the band's 1999 tour, and it seemed like the group was history. But the band reformed in 2001 for some U.S. dates with former Steel Wool bassist Steve Dukich replacing Lukin. After Guy Maddison came on board as a full-time bassist later that year, Mudhoney returned to Sub Pop and have since released a pair of acclaimed albums, Since We've Become Translucent and this year's Under a Billion Suns.
Who: Screaming Trees
Biggest hit: "Nearly Lost You"
Why do I know that name?: Though Screaming Trees beat most of their contemporaries in signing to a major label (after stints on indie stalwarts SST and Sub Pop), the group had a less successful go at the big time due to its long-running internal struggles. Formed in the mid-1980s by brothers Van (bass) and Gary Lee Conner (guitar) and brooding singer Mark Lanegan, the band finally hit in 1992 with its album Sweet Oblivion, which featured the swaying hit "Nearly Lost You" — a highlight of "Singles," Cameron Crowe's 1992 grunge time capsule — and the dark ballad "Dollar Bill."
What now?: The Trees officially broke up in 2000 after a concert to celebrate the opening of Seattle's Experience Music Project museum, and it seems unlikely they'll reunite. Lanegan, who recorded several solo albums during and after the group's run, worked extensively with Queens of the Stone Age but has since left that band. He followed with the formation of the Mark Lanegan Band, which issued an EP and an album, Bubblegum, featuring guest spots from PJ Harvey, Josh Homme and former Guns N' Roses members Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin. He also released a well-reviewed collaboration with ex-Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell called Battle of the Broken Seas. Drummer Barrett Martin (formerly of grunge forebearers Skin Yard) continues to record with the cinematic instrumental band Tuatara, featuring R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, as well as playing on albums by the Minus 5, Therapy?, blues singer Cedell Davis, Queens of the Stone Age and Victoria Williams. He is also pursuing a graduate degree in anthropology at the University of New Mexico as part of his ongoing study of world music. He released his first solo album, The Painted Desert, in 2004. The battling Conner brothers have gone their own ways, with Van playing in the group Valis with the non-ST Conner brother, Pat, as well as the old-school grunge act Musk Ox. Gary Lee has recently relaunched the Web site for his psych-garage band the Purple Outside.
Biggest hit: "Black Hole Sun"
Why do I know that name?: More metal than straight-up grunge, Soundgarden were the workhorses of the movement — the Led Zeppelin to Nirvana's Beatles. Mixing psychedelic rock with pounding riffs and singer Chris Cornell's glass-shattering wails, the band started out on Sub Pop and quickly progressed to a major-label deal and a string of hit albums such as Superunknown and Down on the Upside. The band broke up in 1997.
Soundgarden: Where Ya Been?
What now?: Sure, we all know that frontman Chris Cornell is the frontman for Audioslave, the band he formed alongside former members of Rage Against the Machine in 2000, and drummer Matt Cameron joined fellow grunge vets Pearl Jam that same year (after concentrating on his garage side project, the Wellwater Conspiracy). As for the others, bassist Ben Shepherd has recorded with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme to Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan and Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and has recently formed a new band, Unkmongoni. Acclaimed guitarist Kim Thayil, however, has turned into a virtual recluse, shying away from the limelight since the band's demise. After a few years of inactivity, Thayil teamed up with Novoselic and ex-Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra in 1999 for a protest show in Seattle against the World Trade Organization that resulted in the 2000 release of a live album credited to the No WTO Combo. He also played on Grohl's metal side project, Probot, and in May he made a rare appearance alongside the reunited members of Alice in Chains.
Ever wonder what happened to Crazy Town? How about Snow? Ace of Base? Tell us which faded stars you'd like us to check up on, and you just might find them in a future edition of "Where Ya Been?" Send us your suggestions and we'll get digging...
Past "Where Ya Been" Artist Profiles:
- "Marvelous 3 Now Down To One, SWV End 10 Years Of Resting Their Voices"
- "Sammie Graduating To Comeback, Third Eye Blind Can See Clearly Now"
- "Vitamin C Juicing Up A Comeback, Fastball Heading Back To The Mound"
- "Dream Wake Up, 'Sex' Burns Marcy Playground"
- "Willa Ford Strips Down, Jesse Camp Drops Out"