Twenty years after the release of Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind comes Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, the definitive word on the grunge era, straight from the mouths of those at the center of it all.
In 1986, fledgling Seattle label C/Z Records released Deep Six, a compilation featuring a half-dozen local bands: Soundgarden, Green River, Melvins, Malfunkshun, the U-Men and Skin Yard. Though it sold miserably, the record made music history by documenting a burgeoning regional sound, the raw fusion of heavy metal and punk rock that we now know as grunge. But it wasn’t until five years later, with the seemingly overnight success of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” that grunge became a household word and Seattle ground zero for the nineties alternative-rock explosion.
Everybody Loves Our Town captures the grunge era in the words of the musicians, producers, managers, record executives, video directors, photographers, journalists, publicists, club owners, roadies, scenesters and hangers-on who lived through it. The book tells the whole story: from the founding of the Deep Six bands to the worldwide success of grunge’s big four (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains); from the rise of Seattle’s cash-poor, hype-rich indie label Sub Pop to the major-label feeding frenzy that overtook the Pacific Northwest; from the simple joys of making noise at basement parties and tiny rock clubs to the tragic, lonely deaths of superstars Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley.
Drawn from more than 250 new interviews—with members of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Hole, Melvins, Mudhoney, Green River, Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog, Mad Season, L7, Babes in Toyland, 7 Year Bitch, TAD, the U-Men, Candlebox and many more—and featuring previously untold stories and never-before-published photographs, Everybody Loves Our Town is at once a moving, funny, lurid, and hugely insightful portrait of an extraordinary musical era.
Excerpted from Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm. Copyright © 2011 by Mark Yarm. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q.) How did the project come about?
Back when I was a senior editor at Blender magazine, I wrote an oral history of Sub Pop—the Seattle label that introduced the world to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, to name just a few bands—on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. There was only so much I could fit into a 3,000-word story, so I had a wealth of great material left over. I did think to myself, This would be a great start to a really cool book, but I probably would have never done anything with it had my now-agent, PJ Mark, not contacted me with the idea of expanding my Sub Pop piece into an oral history of grunge as a whole.
Q.) Why do you think grunge took off in Seattle as opposed to somewhere else at that time?
A lot of it had to do with geographical isolation. Many people don’t seem to realize that in the ’80s—before the Starbucks/Microsoft/Amazon boom era—Seattle wasn’t the cosmopolitan place it is today. People in the rest of the country pretty much considered it the hinterlands; a couple interviewees told me that back in the day, people who weren’t familiar with Seattle would ask them, in all sincerity, “Seattle? Aren’t there cowboys and Indians out there?” Oftentimes, touring bands would simply skip Seattle because it was too far out of their way. So, in effect, musicians in that region had to make their own fun. And in the process, they honed their own sound.
Q.) What are the biggest misconceptions people have about grunge?
Probably the biggest one is that all these musicians were overly earnest gloom mongers sticking needles in their arms. Of course, a few were overly earnest and some were sticking needles in their arms, but for the most part—and I think this comes across in the book—these musicians were just super-funny and huge jokesters.
Q.) Where does the book’s title come from?
Speaking of humor in grunge … “Everybody loves our town” is a lyric from “Overblown,” an extremely arch song Mudhoney wrote for the Cameron Crowe movie Singles. It pretty much deflates the hype surrounding the scene at the time and takes a semi-veiled jab at at least one grunge superstar.
Q.) What’s your favorite grunge song?
It almost seems too obvious an answer, but Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” is pretty much perfect—and perfectly encapsulates the scuzzy “grunge” guitar sound and scabrous humor of the scene. Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” comes to mind too.
Q.) What’s your favorite grunge album?
Not sure I can pick just one, but there were a few I listened to quite a bit during the making of this book, including Nirvana’s Bleach, Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, TAD’s 8-Way Santa. Alice in Chains’ Dirt is just brutal—and beautiful too.
Q.) What surprised you most about the interview process? What was the most interesting conversation you had?
I was constantly surprised by how open some people were, especially in a community that’s been very wary of the media since it overran their town in the early ’90s. There were questions that I was just dreading asking—usually about drugs or death or acrimonious relationships—that turned out not to be such a big deal after all. Some people were still very guarded, but many more were incredibly frank.
As for interesting interview experiences … Well, as anyone who’s ever interviewed Courtney Love can tell you, there’s never a dull moment there. But one of the most fun book-related experiences I had was a post-interview night of drinking in Seattle with 50 percent of Soundgarden—Kim Thayil, the guitarist, and Ben Shepherd, the bassist. As I was leaving the bar, exhausted, at about 4 a.m., Ben and a bunch of other regulars were still going strong, all dancing on the bar top to an Iggy Pop song.
On a sad note, I interviewed Mike Starr, the former bassist of Alice in Chains, right before he died of a suspected drug overdose. The news of his death really rattled me. After talking to him and seeing him on Celebrity Rehab, I was really pulling for him to make it.
Q.) Is there a grunge band that should have made it big that did not?
Had their super-charismatic lead singer Andrew Wood not died of a drug overdose in 1990, Mother Love Bone—the band from which Pearl Jam sprung—would likely have made it big. Also, TAD—a band fronted by Tad Doyle, who was marketed as a 300-pound ex-butcher from Boise—appeared primed for success in the early ’90s. But TAD were beset by bad luck at nearly every turn. Their downward spiral began when their album 8-Way Santa had to be yanked from shelves because the band used this hilarious, very saucy photo of a couple on the cover without their permission. (Google it.) Legend has it that the woman in the picture had since found God, and the couple took legal action.
Q.) Is grunge dead or does it live on as an influence on bands today?
I write about the great “Is grunge dead?” debate in the introduction to the book. For a lot of people, the death of Kurt Cobain provided a convenient endpoint. But the music never went away, and today three out of the four big grunge bands are active: Pearl Jam are celebrating their twentieth anniversary, Alice in Chains are planning to record another album with their second singer, and Soundgarden are back together after a 13-year break. And the influence of these bands extends beyond the rock community: Lil Wayne has professed his love for Nirvana, and there’s even an up-and-coming rapper named Black Cobain. So grunge is by no means dead.
Q.) Your name is Mark Yarm. The lead singer of Mudhoney is Mark Arm. How much confusion has this caused?
Some. That’s why on my blog, Facebook page, etc., I always note that I am of no relation to a certain Mudhoney front man. It’s a funny note, yes, but if I didn’t put it, people would get confused. During the making of the book, I got a number of messages on Facebook from folks thinking I was Mark Arm, including one from an old friend of his featuring a very nice poem her young son had written about him. But the Yarm/Arm coincidence helped me out too—it was a constant source of amusement among the grunge musicians I spoke with and a great icebreaker.
From the Hardcover edition.