Grunge has never been an easy genre to define. Growing out the liminal space between punk, metal, hardcore, noise-rock and primitive indie-rock, the Seattle-born idiom went from a scattered local scene that Sub Pop co-founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman coined "grunge" to sell records, to a worldwide phenomenon in a matter of years. Soon enough, bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains were some of the most popular groups in the country, ushering in a cultural makeover that launched ratty guitars and tattered flannels into the mainstream consciousness.
However, of all the bands that were either slapped with the grunge tag or eagerly claimed it, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil believes one band in particular epitomizes the whole genre.
In a new interview with Lifeminute that's been transcribed by Ultimate Guitar, the foundational grunge guitarist opened up about what it was like to be a part of that fast-rising scene, and how he comes to define it all these years later. While his own band, along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, are undoubtedly the most widely-known grunge bands in the world, Thayil believes that the Seattle underdogs Mudhoney are the quintessential grunge group.
"Grunge was this generic label of referred to bands from Seattle in general," Thayil said, "but also included bands like Smashing Pumpkins, and Stone Temple Pilots get thrown in with grunge a lot — they were in L.A. and Pumpkins were in Chicago. There's certainly a cultural aesthetic that we shared with all those bands, but I think musically, the idea of a big power chord that's all fuzzy and distorted [is what we shared].
"I think Nirvana might embody the musical identity of grunge, maybe — the band that'd best embody grunge, I would think, is Mudhoney, Mudhoney's sound, and their style and attitude. That's like the archetypal grunge band.
"The Pumpkins certainly had those elements, and Nirvana. It was only grunge in that we came from the same place and we were friends of those guys. And we played the same venues, we played the bills together."
There you have it. Straight from one of the guys who was there and helped invent what we now know as grunge. If you haven't heard Mudhoney then their 1988 debut, Superfuzz Big Muff, which we dubbed one of the 15 most essential grunge albums, is the perfect place to start.