Mark Arm is sitting in the warehouse at Sub Pop records in Seattle. He’s just clocked off from his day job at the label but his mind is elsewhere.

This November, the founder of grunge legends Mudhoney will have a new gig. He’ll become the new frontman of The Saints, one of the most iconic bands in punk history.

“I’m kind of overwhelmed and super excited,” he says. “I just hope to God that I do everyone proud. It’s kind of frightening. It’s a lot to take on. I don’t want to f*** this up.”

Return of the original punks

Punk rock history is hotly debated among music fans. While there are plenty of claims about who released the first punk record, there’s no denying The Saints were pioneers.

The band formed in Brisbane’s outer suburbs in 1973 and released their searing debut single ‘(I’m) Stranded’ in 1976, months before the first releases from bands including Sex Pistols and The Clash. Their debut album followed in early 1977.

After being largely ignored in Australia, the band decamped to the UK where they made two more incredible albums before the band’s classic line-up fell to pieces.

Frontman Chris Bailey kept the band going with different personnel until his death in 2022. Kuepper rejoined the band for limited but unforgettable shows in 2007 and 2009.

The call for Mark Arm to join the legendary Brisbane-bred punk rock band came through earlier this year. It took Arm by surprise. Like most red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll fans, he loves The Saints, but he has no personal relationship with the band’s members.

“I’ve been in bit of contact with Ed, a couple emails, but I’m yet to meet him in person,” Arm admits.

They might not yet be friends, but they are certainly mutual fans.

“I just think he’s just got a fantastic voice,” Kuepper says of his decision to ask Arm to front the band. “I just really like his singing. I wanted a vocalist that had a certain kind of power and vocal presence, and Mark has that.”

Arm is not the only new face in this iteration of the band. Sunnyboys bassist Peter Oxley, who has accompanied Kuepper in The Aints and his recent solo work, will hold down the lower end with original Saints drummer Ivor Hay.

The great Mick Harvey — founding member of The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and an esteemed solo artist — joins Kuepper on guitar.

“I’d rehearsed with Ivor and Peter a couple of times, and I was thinking, ‘I sort of miss my double-track guitar-playing, playing these songs,'” Kuepper explains of choosing to enlist a new guitarist.

“We considered a few people, and then Mick came up in the conversation, and I just thought, ‘Yeah, f***, that is obvious.’ He has the history. He’s a really strong rhythm guitar player. I think I’m a fairly strong rhythm guitar player, and the combination of the two, the electric and the acoustic, will work really well.”

Arm won’t be in Australia to rehearse for some time. For now, he’s practising every day by singing along to Saints songs on his daily commute to the Sub Pop warehouse.

And while his lips have mostly remained sealed so far, he couldn’t resist letting a visiting Australian in on the secret.

“I saw the Cosmic Psychos two nights ago and, in between talks of new hips and hearing aids and whatnot, I told Ross [Knight, frontman and bassist] about this,” Arm says.

“He was starting to get a little giddy.”

Why now?

The reformation tour will see the band play Saints songs from 1973-78 – the years Kuepper was in the band – and coincides with a long-awaited reissue of the band’s classic 1977 debut album, (I’m) Stranded.

“This reissue of the first album, this box set, has been a work in progress for about four, maybe five years,” Kuepper explains.

“It all started before Chris [Bailey, original frontman] died and then kind of got paused for a little bit. It’s just been this really long, ongoing process.”

The band’s fervent fans will be beside themselves with excitement about this unexpected development in The Saints’ long and complicated story. The good news is Kuepper – for whom The Saints is just one of many musical projects across his long career – is genuinely very excited as well.

“When we started the rehearsals – we’ve only done two – it was just really great going through that material again,” he says.

“I’ve played some of those songs over the years, but always differently. Now doing them differently again, by sort of sticking fairly closely to the original arrangements, it was energising.

“I found it inspiring in a way that I didn’t think that I would. I thought I’d enjoy this, but I’m actually thinking, ‘This is going to be really great.’

“You can never relive the past, it’s going to be of the now, but there’s going to be an atmospheric aesthetic, which harkens to that earlier material.

“I’m excited about it. Which is a great feeling.”

Mark Arm performs with Mudhoney at Ypsig Rock Festival in Castelbuono, Italy in 2016.(Getty: Roberto Panucci)

As far as Mark Arm is concerned, he just wants to do the right thing by the band and the fans. He’s a rock legend in his own right but has no interest in letting ego get in the way of a celebration of such a special band.

“I want to be true to Chris and try to honour him,” he says. “I’m not going to just scream my way through Saints songs: That doesn’t make sense. I’m focusing on trying to get the attitude and the delivery… I want to do it right.

“It’s not about me. This isn’t about me at all. I just get to participate in it.”

The Saints’ national tour kicks off at Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide, on November 13, before heading to Castlemaine, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane.

Learn more about Australia’s rich punk rock history on The J Files right here.