EXCLUSIVE: Read an Excerpt from ‘Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion’

Our esteemed Decibel colleague Adem Tepedelen might be too modest to tell you, so we’re gonna tell you for him: He wrote a fucking book. With Steve Turner of Mudhoney, no less. Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion is basically Turner’s life story, from his Seattle childhood and BMX/skate days to his early hardcore stint, seminal supergroup Green River and, of course, Mudhoney. Who we’re pretty sure are the only grunge band that (A) has 100% living, breathing members, (B) are still together, and (C) have retained a sense of humor.

Fully engaging at every turn, Mud Ride will take you through the rise of grunge, the ensuing Sub Pop drama, drug overdoses/deaths, the landmark Nirvana/Mudhoney tours and all the other crucial stuff you’d expect—albeit from a fresh and informed perspective. But Turner and Tepedelen also offer rare insight into the DNA of grunge beyond (but including) usual suspects like the Melvins, Malfunkshun and the U-Men. In this exclusive excerpt, Turner talks about his involvement with little-known bands like Spluii Numa and Mr. Epp and the Calculations.

In one of the distant branches of the grunge family tree you’ll find an obscure generic hardcore band called Spluii Numa, which are mostly notable for their weird name and the fact that Alex and I were in it together for a hot second in the summer of 1983. Legend has it that the ridiculous name came from graffiti on Alex’s locker at the Northwest School. Someone had written “John Lennon Lives” (this was after Lennon was gunned down in New York), and another student had scratched out “Lives” and replaced it with “went spluii numa.” Crass, yes, but somehow poet- ically punk rock.

Alex was playing drums for Spluii Numa before I joined for all of a month and a half. I didn’t even play a show with them, although there’s YouTube footage of Mark and me joining them onstage at a couple of different gigs at the Metropolis in 1983. It gave me yet a little more experience being in a band, and I was getting serious enough about playing music that I decided I needed a guitar upgrade.

My sister’s boyfriend at the University of Washington had a frat-mate who was selling a baby blue 1965 Fender Mustang for $200. I thought Mustangs looked cool as hell, and Tom Price of the U-Men played one, which was all the recommendation I needed. So, in the summer of ’83 I traded in the Peavey and bought the Mustang, which I owned for about seven years.

The Fender Mustang is a rinky-dink guitar, but if you overdrive the crap out of it through a clean amp, using the neck pickup, you can almost sound like Ron Asheton of the Stooges. And as far as I’m concerned, that first Stooges record has some of the greatest guitar tones on it, so I was chasing those. Ron Asheton’s gear was very dif- ferent (he’d played a Fender Stratocaster), but I just knew I didn’t want the standard hard rock setup of a Marshall amp and Gibson Les Paul guitar. That wasn’t my vibe.

Steve in Mr Epp at the Metropolis 1983. Photo by Libby Knudsen

Since I was finally outfitted with what I felt was proper gear, Mark invited me to join Mr. Epp and the Calculations toward the end of the summer of ’83. I was thrilled. This would be the first “real” band I’d play in, even though I still didn’t know how to play guitar (which wasn’t a deal-breaker when it came to punk rock). Not only would I be performing in a group that had a local draw, but I’d be doing it with one of my best friends.

My first show at the Metropolis was a little terrifying. It was weird suddenly being onstage, but the band’s experimental, noisy sound provided cover for my lack of skill and experience. The Metropolis had a good crowd, and Mr. Epp had a definite following. That said, there were people who loved Epp and people who did not, so when the shouts of “art spazz” poured in between songs, it was both a rallying cry and an insult, depending on which side you were on. However, the crowds that came to the Metropolis were usually on the same team, so to speak.

The Metropolis was an all-ages club in downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, and for the year and a half that it was open—early 1983 to summer of 1984—this was where so much of what would become the grunge scene a few years later would coalesce. It had started out in 1983 as more of a new wave dance club, where new wave and occasionally punk groups would play. The owners quickly realized people were only showing up for the punk shows. At this point, Gordon Doucette, one of the cofounders, bailed. He played in a local new wave band called the Red Masque, didn’t like hardcore, and was dissatisfied with the direction the club was going. His partner, Hughes “Hugo” Piottin, stuck it out and turned the Metropolis into an all-ages punk club, sort of a clubhouse for all of us. Hugo would also let us do a little work—sweeping, cleaning, putting up posters, whatever—to get in to shows for free sometimes. Even though no booze was served, plenty of the crowd that hung there was over twenty-one. Sub Pop Records cofounder Bruce Pavitt, who was a bit older than us, would even DJ some nights, spinning everything from Minor Threat to Run DMC.

Hugo was very supportive of the local punk scene. For every touring band that came through the club, he would put a few of the young local bands on the bill as supporting acts. Finally, we had a consistent venue where we didn’t have to worry that the show would randomly be canceled or shut down by the police.

I always point to the Metropolis—as do most of us who were there—as the place where the first seeds of grunge were planted because there was stability and a regular place for us to gather. It provided a place for both popular touring bands of the era and influ- ential upcoming locals to play, but it was also an important social hub. This was where suburban kids like me could come into the city to be part of the scene. It can’t be overstated how important the Metropolis was to the Seattle music scene.

The Metropolis wasn’t the only venue hosting bands, but it was the most reliable. There was an art gallery called Rosco Louie, run by the U-Men’s manager, Larry Reid, that hosted shows in the early ’80s. He later opened Graven Image gallery, in a basement location around the corner, and the U-Men used to practice there. These were important venues because they fostered the growth of the local talent by giving them an outlet where they could perform and hone their chops, and provided a place for the small scene to gather and connect. I remember at least one night when all these venues that hosted punk shows—when the Metropolis was still open—offered a “joint cover” with more than a dozen bands playing between the three clubs. I probably knew every single person who attended—and performed—by first name. The scene was that small.

There weren’t a lot of strangers at these early shows, because the few venues that hosted this music were small and the scene was very insular; there’d be maybe only a few people I didn’t recognize. You can find footage of shows on YouTube where you can see a lot of us playing in our young bands—Mr. Epp, Spluii Numa, Malfunkshun, March of Crimes, Deranged Diction—or in the crowd watching the others.

Since the Metropolis was a small venue (it would look full if there were seventy-five people in the room), for most shows it was a tight crowd. But we weren’t just standing there with our arms crossed—we were very active. We’d go to the edge of the stage and be right up front. We’d jump around and do a uniquely Seattle thing called “salmon diving.” We all thought it was funny to flop onto the stage until there was a big pile of squirming bodies up there, and then slink off. There was some stage diving, too, but we thought our take on it was hilarious.

The Metropolis wasn’t just the hardcore nexus for Seattle locals. Because it would bring in bands from across the United States— Hüsker Dü, Circle Jerks, the Replacements, Fang, Tales of Terror, the Dicks, Code of Honor, Agent Orange, Butthole Surfers—it also became a destination for hardcore fans from outside the city, some of whom had their own bands. This is where we first met future Nir- vana bassist Krist Novoselic, as well as Mudhoney’s future bassist, Matt Lukin.

Mark and I spotted Matt at a Metropolis show because he was wearing a homemade Void T-shirt. Void was a DC hardcore band that Mark and I loved, so we figured we should meet this guy. He told us he was from Montesano, a small logging town over on the coast, and that he played bass in a band called the Melvins, who we’d never heard of.

We had no idea what we were in for when the Melvins finally played in Seattle, not long after we met Matt. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Melvins were the tightest, fastest hardcore band in town. They were proper hardcore, like Washington, DC, icons Minor Threat. Their music wasn’t just a blur of speed—it was musi- cal; you could discern what was going on with the structure and progressions. Their songs were also more complex. We were like, Holy fuck, these guys are amazing! At this point they still had Mike Dillard on drums. They got even better when Dale Crover took over on drums a bit later.

Malfunkshun were another band from just outside Seattle proper that became a crucial part of the scene and the transfor- mation of Seattle’s hardcore aesthetic. (They were part of the Bainbridge Island crew, like the band Stone joined, March of Crimes.) When I first saw Malfunkshun at the Metropolis, they were a noisy band that played a little bit faster—not exactly hard- core, but definitely punk. Malfunkshun were fronted by diminutive bassist/vocalist Andrew Wood (who Stone would later play with in Mother Love Bone).

Andrew was a funny guy and a great performer. He created a per- sona for himself, Landrew the Love God, and as the band evolved, he got more flamboyant. Early on, Landrew wore Kiss-like white face paint when he performed, and had short, spiky hair. (That would soon change, as he and the rest of the band started growing their hair out.)

Like the Melvins, they were one of the era’s influential bands that started to move away from “loud fast rules,” an aesthetic where speed and volume were valued over songwriting. They were on their own trip, incorporating more ’70s hard rock theatrics and musical elements, but still maintaining their underground aesthetic. Landrew played the part of a rock star onstage (and he obviously wanted to be one someday), but the music Malfunkshun played was in no way commercially oriented. A lot of local musi- cians like myself were starting to see bands like Malfunkshun, 10 Minute Warning, and the U-Men as guides toward a post-hardcore music scene.

Because those three bands were regular performers at the Metropolis, there was a gathering aesthetic and cross-pollination happening. We were all seeing these bands perform, listening to a lot of the same records, and starting to develop our own thing. That didn’t mean all these bands sounded the same, or looked the same, but together we were figuring out where to go after hardcore, and we were taking slightly different routes along the way.

Pre-order Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion here.