ANGER! EDGE! INTENSITY! ELOQUENCE? Bob Mould

A new album and a revisit to his sugar catalogue
provide the songwriter reason for some added sweetening.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

“I’m on tour and want
to get to bed,” a tired Bob Mould insists. True, the guy has a fearsome
reputation, based in large part on a body of work that incorporates some of the
most aggressive riffs ever put to wax. That description spans his work with
Husker Du, Sugar and his own solo output, which, with few exceptions, mostly
prove to not be for the faint of heart. And yet, while an aggressive and
agitated MO has mostly comprised his stock and trade, Mould’s demonstrated he’s
never been a one riff rocker. Digressions into dance music (as a professional
deejay), mellower musings (his surprising solo debut Workbook), literature (courtesy of last year’s
autobiography See a
Little Light) and
professional wrestling (seven months spent as a consultant) helped dispel the
notion he was the once and forever insurgent his early recordings suggested.

 

Okay, maybe the
wrestling part doesn’t exactly prove that point. And maybe his new album
doesn’t either. Indeed, Silver
Age proves an intensely
rocking yet amazingly melodic effort that brings back memories of his “other
band,” Sugar, which evolved early on from the solo career he first embarked on
in the aftermath of Husker Du’s bitter dissolution. Nevertheless, Mould comes
across as both amiable and eloquent when he sat down with BLURT and candidly shared his thoughts about
his career, his current record, the rerelease of the Sugar catalogue, his
divergent interests and what it’s like being an openly gay rocker in a
sometimes hostile society.

 

“Good
questions,” he graciously commented once the interview was over. “Sorry, I’m
falling asleep here and I’ve got a festival to play tomorrow.”

 

No
worries, Bob. Your courtesy becomes you.

 

 

 

 

BLURT: Let’s start with the new album. The press materials
that accompany it say that it was “inspired and informed” by your
recent shows opening for the Foo Fighters. And yet, your fans might argue that
you actually had your own effect on the Foo Fighters, given the combination of
a blistering delivery and melodic undercurrent that they’ve also used to their
advantage. So would you say your experience was about inspiration… or
perhaps, affirmation?

BOB MOULD: Oh, a
little bit of both I guess. In my book, See
a Little Light, I talk about
how we all play hot potato with this thing called music. If it’s not Frank
Black or Dave (Grohl) or Pat (Smear) or whoever, we all just sort of have this
love for music, and I think we just share that with each other and inspire each
other. If that’s affirmation, then so be it. I just think getting up on stage
with the Foo Fighters will get anyone in a kind of rock-minded mindset.

 

This new album
sounds very personal, as if there are a lot of things you’re trying to get off
your chest?

No, the album isn’t
personal at all. The album comes from a very simple place and it came about
very quickly, Again, going back to the book, I spent three years with Michael
Azerrad crafting this tome about 45 years of my life, making sure that every
single word was the word that was supposed to be used. So it’s three years for
a book and three minutes for a song, So no, compared to the book, the album’s
not very personal. It’s a little love letter to the music and what music means
to me. It’s not meant to be torn apart and framed alongside the book.

 

You and Dave
Grohl came of age at similar time and in a similar musical environment. Did you
know him before you guys went out on tour and did you guys talk about your
common roots at all? You also played on their recent album, so did that cement
a bond between the two of you?

The history with
Dave is that we sat together in a room and talked for the first time in May of
2009, I think it was, and it was a venue in DC called the 930 Club. Dave grew
up in that room, and Husker Du also used to play in that room. Dave and I both
came in to play the 30th anniversary party and we went in a room and talked —
like I said, it was the first time we actually talked about things — and I
think it was a pretty instant bond. Then I went to Dave’s house to work on the
record and meet his family and meet the other guys, and subsequently to meet
all the other people in his operation, and that further cemented a bond. I
think definitely it will always be there.

 

Was Husker
Du the product of the post punk era and/or an attempt to expand that sound and
bring it a broader reach than some of the ’90s bands that followed subsequently
picked up on?

Well, the punk
thing started in ’76 and Husker Du started in ’79, so technically, yeah.

 

Was your
attempt to merge the melodic nature of your tunes, as reflected thru Sugar,
with the brazen hardcore assault that had marked the music of Husker Du a
deliberate move on your part, or was it the result of a natural evolution?

No. We were just
making the music that we made. By the time of Flip Your Wig,
the album we made in fall of ’85, we were more inclined to show our pop roots.
And then with the two records on Warner Bros., we were trying to reach a bigger
audience, which is why we changed labels and went from SST to Warners in the
first place. Did it affect the craft? No, but it affected the business. It was
pretty much the natural evolution that I just described, yeah. With a detour
for Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain, which were melodic, but in a very different way.

 

Is there a
difference in your approach as applied to your solo work versus your work with
a band?

No, there’s really
not that much difference. When I sit down to write songs, I’m writing songs for
myself. Once they’re written, I think about an audience and then sometime
later, I think about how they might get played live. I talk in the book how
Sugar’s Copper Blue was actually envisioned as the third Bob
Mould solo record, so there was no Sugar when those songs were written and
Sugar only really became a band after those songs were rehearsed and we were
about to play our first show. We thought it might be good to have a band name,
so that’s how that happened. So there’s not that much difference. Writing is
writing whether its for a band or solo-wise. If I was writing for a children’s
movie, I guess it would be different.

 

Your first solo
effort was very mellow and melodic compared to your earlier efforts with Husker
Du. That must have taken a lot of your fans by surprise?

Workbook took a lot of people by surprise, a
pleasant surprise as history shows.

 

Were those songs
left over from earlier efforts that maybe had never fit before?

No, those songs were
never leftovers. Again, in the book I describe the year 1988 and the challenge
I had set for myself, which was to relearn how to make music in a voice that
was different from the one that I had used with Husker Du. The stupidest thing I
could have done was to use leftover songs from Husker Du or to emulate what
Husker Du sounded like. Had I done that, I would have stayed with Husker Du.
That’s why I left Husker Du in the first place. It was time to move on and come
up with new things.

 

Give us an
idea of some of your early influences.

Beatles,
Byrds, Hollies, Who, Dave Clark 5, Kiss, New York Dolls… all kinds of stuff.
Trucker songs from the mid ‘60s.

 

What role did
you take in the recent Sugar reissues?
I oversaw all the artwork, participated
in all the group interviews and worked real closely with my mastering engineer
Jim Wilson to make sure the records sounded better than they did originally.
Jim did a wonderful job, and I think that’s one of the highlights of the
reissues. The clarity of the sonics is key.

 

Any plans to
do the same thing for your solo catalogue?

In
Europe a couple of my albums were remastered and reissued as another package. I
don’t know if Merge has any plans to do that over here and I haven’t pressed
them to do so. But for the completist, I would suggest you look to Demon in the
UK for a reissue of Hubcap and The Last Dog and Pony Show and Livedog 98, along with all the B-sides
and an interview disc in a fine box set.

 

 

 

Have you ever
spoken with your band mates in Sugar about reforming?

Yes,
we spoke at some length about it.

 

So when you
played the entire first Sugar album in concert to mark its 20th anniversary,
was here any thought of asking the other Sugar musicians to participate?

Yeah,
I asked both of them, It would have been a great idea. David is now a full time
professor at the University of Georgia and Travis is now a full time employee
of a university, so the scheduling for the tour didn’t work out with their
schedules. Consequently, it was not possible to reform Sugar for the 20th
anniversary of Copper Blue. David
came and saw the band and that was great. I look forward to seeing Travis in
Boston in a couple of weeks. But I also love playing with Jason (Narducy) and
Jon (Wurster), and I love playing my songs, the songs I wrote in 1991 for Copper Blue.

 

Why did that
band break up in the first place?

In
the fall of 1994, after a show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, we drove
up to Connecticut to stay in a Motel 6, David and I went for a walk and he
informed me that his kids were acting up and he really needed to be at home
being a dad as opposed to being in a band called Sugar. I was already pretty
burned out on it (the band), so I agreed completely and we finished out our
commitments. January of ’95 in Japan was the last Sugar show.

 

Speaking of
break-ups, the animosity that followed the dissolution of Husker Du was well
documented.

There’s
a huge mythology. My book touches on that as well. In January of 1980, I was
tired of the band so that’s why it broke up. That was the answer I gave you
about Sugar, but it works for Husker Du too. I was tired of the band.

 

Have the ties
between you and the other musicians been reconciled at all over the years?

No.
Tried once with Grant. Haven’t tried with Greg. I’m done trying. It will not be
reconciled. Good luck to both of them and all their future endeavors.

 

How did your
new band come about?

I’ve
been playing with Jason on and off for the last 20 years. He’s a dear friend
and a fine musician. He started playing in my touring band in 2005 when Body of Song was released. Jon joined in
2008 in the middle of the District Line tour. Jon is an amazing drummer and Jon and Jason together are an amazing
rhythm section. All the musicians that play with them say the same thing that I
do — what an amazing rhythm section. It definitely feels like a band after
four years of playing together.

 

Did you give
them any kind of pep talk, back story or other insights about how you want your
music delivered?

Nope,
they know my music from start to finish. I don’t have to tell them anything
except play it the way you want and I’ll follow along and have fun. So that’s
what we do.

 

 

 

 

Your music
often bolsters the impression that you can be an intimidating presence. What
would you like people to know about the real you?

You
know, a lot of people say that, but I’m a kind soul, and even more so these
days as I get older. So yeah, I’ve heard that before, so that’s a part of me,
but the other part is that I have a fucking incredible sense of humor which I
don’t share as often as I should. You can ask around on that. I can usually put
an entire room in stitches if I want to, but my humor is a secret weapon so…

 

You’ve
diverted in the past to pursue other passions, with dance music in particular,
but also with wrestling. Have you gotten those fancies out of your system or
will they show up again in the future?

As
far as dance music goes, I have a DJ with me named Blowoff and we’ve been
working together for about ten years. We’ve got residencies set up in
Washington DC, New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago… we’ve been
to Dallas, we’ve been to Atlanta, we’ve been to Portland, Oregon, we’ve been to
Denver… so that’s actually a pretty full time thing for me. As far as
wrestling, yeah, I worked seven months as a consultant for a company called Pro
Championship Wrestling which is owned by AOL/Time-Warner. I was a lifelong fan
of pro wrestling and I still am to a lesser degree. I was always a student of
the business and I had a lot of people teach me about the business and as a
result, I had an amazing seven months learning the ropes from the only people
that I imagine are crazier than rock musicians. But I don’t know if I could go
back to working in pro wrestling. It’s changed a lot and I don’t think I could
be of much assistance.

 

How would you
describe the trajectory of your solo career up until this point?

It
goes up and down just like anything in life. Workbook was a good record. Black
Sheets of Rain
was a good record, although it didn’t get as good a reaction
as Workbook. The Last Dog and Pony Show came back to rock. Body of Song also came back to rock with a little bit of
electronica. It was a little bit over the top but still a good record. Somebody
told me last night how much they loved that record and I was very happy to hear
that. District Line — good record,
but a little disjointed at times. There were a couple of false starts on it,
but it turned out to be a pretty good record. Life and Times — great record but sadly overlooked. I wish I had a
little more help from the record company on that one, but I’ve been through
that scenario as well. It doesn’t affect how I look at the record; it just
affects how I look at the business campaign. Silver Age… it’s a kick-ass record actually. I’ve been telling
people it’s not just a good record, it fucking kicks ass. Everybody that’s
heard it says, “This record kicks ass,” so I’m going to start saying it too.

 

An inevitable
question: as a gay man in a nation that’s still struggling with sexual equality
and the debate over same sex marriage – – not to mention recent comments from
the vice president, the president and more recently, the owner of Chick-Fil A,
what can you add to the debate?

For
anyone who has a problem with gay marriage, if you don’t want to have a gay
marriage, that’s cool by me, I’m not going to make you do it. If you don’t want
to have gay sex, I’m not going to make you do that either. So along the same
lines, don’t be so insistent on things you’ll probably never do. Maybe they
should just find something else to complain about, because people just don’t
have time for this. Ten years from now, we’re all going to look back and
wonder, why was this such a problem? Why was gay marriage such a problem? Ten years from now, it will all pass. But in the
meantime, you got the guy at Chik Fil A, you got the guy who set the cereal box
on fire in front of General Mills… You know, karma’s crazy, It’s best just to
tend your own garden.

 

 

[Photo
Credit: Peter Ellenby]

 

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