Mudhoney Carry Grunge Torch

Despite absence of mainstream success, Seattle rockers continue on the musical path they first set out on.

With grunge's heyday now well behind them, Mudhoney, one of the movement's seminal bands, are settling into a role as road-tested veteran rockers, plugging away against all odds.

"I don't think we'll ever be a huge pop-band," singer Mark Arm, 36, said recently from a tour stop in Salt Lake City. "That's obvious, and it was never something we strived for in the first place."

By rights, the Seattle band's newest album, the critically acclaimed Tomorrow Hit Today, would be propelling the group's 10-year career to new heights. But despite critics' kudos, the album, its fifth, has yet to make an impact on the charts, radio or TV since its late-September release.

So the band labors on, far from the spotlight that peers such as Pearl Jam or Nirvana either became accustomed to or withered under. Now, what comes across to Mudhoney's loyal fanbase is that the foursome -- Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, bassist Matt Lukin and drummer Dan Peters -- still cares about making fresh music: The band continues to nudge its muscle-bound sound in new directions regardless of the flavor of the month.

Tomorrow Hit Today, produced by veteran Memphis-musician Jim Dickinson (who played with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones and produced seminal LPs by Big Star and the Replacements), finds Mudhoney digging deeper into familiar ground without simply turning over the same old rocks.

On songs such as "This Is The Life" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Poisoned Water," the band wrenchingly addresses environmental degradation, even though the plight of the Pacific Northwest -- birthplace of the grunge movement -- long since has made nightly-news headlines.

"It's not like a concept album," Arm said. "But ... if you've got your eyes open, things like that will just reveal themselves to you."

Mudhoney's determination to keep forging ahead is clear in their spirited live shows.

"I really appreciate how they're playing nine, 10, 11 songs off the new album every night," said 19-year-old Peter Trahms, who maintains the unofficial "Mudhoney From Seattle, Wash.," webpage.

"I personally have a distaste for some of the older material," said the Seattle native, now studying at the University of California at Berkeley.

"I'd rather hear some of the stuff that isn't played so often. But I understand that that's why some of the people are there to see them, and maybe they have an obligation to play those songs."

Rather than trying to replicate their earlier, more primitive energy, the members of Mudhoney these days try to relax and appreciate their older work. At a recent show at Chicago's Metro club, the bandmembers confidently ripped through their chestnut "Touch Me I'm Sick" (RealAudio excerpt of live version).

With his veins bulging from his neck, Arm sang the track not as a requisite rehash of days gone by, nor with any hint of contempt for the work or the band's fans.

"We hadn't played 'In and Out of Grace' for a long time until this tour," Arm said of another chestnut the band has been playing. "And I think I had a worse attitude towards 'Touch Me I'm Sick' five years ago. Now I just totally have fun with it."

When the band first started, it played about once a month, he recalled. This fueled the group's enthusiasm to get up onstage. In turn, Mudhoney's live shows gained a reputation for being explosive. "If you've ever seen the cover of Superfuzz Bigmuff [1988], that gives you an idea of what shows were like. People were just rolling around on the ground," Arm said.

"That gets sort-of lost when you're playing one night after another," he added. "There's no way to sustain that without faking it."

Whatever its popular success, or lack thereof, the band's been through a lot since the members first met at an informal jam-session in 1988.

"Before everything happened, we had no idea what was going to happen, and we had no idea what the potentials were," Arm said. "Now I just kind of look back at stuff and have a clear understanding of where we fit in, in terms of music in general."