Twenty-five years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Bob Mould, singer/guitarist for one of the most celebrated rock bands ever, Minneapolis’ three-man juggernaut Hüsker Dü, evolving to the point where he would someday record an album of electronic dance music. But it’s been the nature of Mould, a man always on the lookout for a new challenge, not to stay in one place too long. After Hüsker Dü (read our 2005 cover story for more about them and the Replacements) folded in 1988, Mould would helm another powerful trio, Sugar, before beginning a fascinating, ongoing series of solo releases that have ranged from introspective to danceable, from melodic to nearly chaotic. Mould has worked as a creative consultant for World Championship Wrestling and, more recently, created Blowoff, monthly gay discos that began in his current home town of Washington, D.C., and are now held all over the U.S. The enigmatic guitar (and cultural) hero is finishing up what promises to be a fascinating memoir to be published next year and has just released a rock-solid new solo disc, Life And Times (Anti-). Mould took a break from working on his book’s manuscript to speak with MAGNET. Mould will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all this week. Read our Q&As with him from 2008 and 2002.
“I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More” (download):
MAGNET: I saw you play Noise Pop in San Francisco in January at the Swedish-American Hall, and you were clearly having voice problems.
Mould: Oh boy. I hadn’t been singing a lot all year, and I’d been doing a lot of singing and talking the two days prior. And it was just beat-up. I’ve always had this thing for the third day in a row of heavy voice work is not the good one. Believe me, I felt terrible about that.
(2008′s) District Line and Life And Times are both full of noisy, beautiful songs.
Well, thanks. I think Life And Times is the culmination of … I don’t know if it was a conscious return to the guitar or what. In ’05 with Body Of Song, a record I was struggling with for three years, came out of (2002′s) Modulate, a heavy electronic project. Body Of Song was me sort of revisiting the acoustic songs I’d written in ’01 and ’02, and then starting writing new material in ’04. So, District Line was a push more toward the guitars. When I get back to playing guitar, invariably I tend to write more on it. District Line was yet another step toward a strictly guitar record. Life And Times is the culmination of touring a couple of times with a loud band, with Brendan (Canty), Jason (Narducy) and Rich (Morel).
You’ve had hearing problems over the years. I started wearing earplugs in ’89, maybe the only smart thing I’ve done in the past 20 years.
Yeah, yeah. But I look upon it as an occupational hazard. I don’t worry about it at this point. I don’t know how much of it is related to constant volume, but it’s a lot of the bright, percussive things, like cymbals and snare drum heads, that are the ones that’ll take your hearing out.
I can’t quite explain it, but I’ve always thought of you as the next guy in the line of succession from Pete Townshend. I think you’re doing things that maybe he should be doing. Ever heard that one before?
Thanks, I appreciate that. That’s a pretty high comparison. I’ve heard that before. I was a huge Who fan as a kid and as a teenager. And Jason (Narducy) is an even bigger fan. I look at what Townshend tried to do with Quadrophenia and Tommy, these sort of epic works, and yeah, I think it’s had an impact on me. I think it’s had an impact on all of us who are at a certain age, as players and writers of longevity. It’s a battle to keep writing and keep in touch with the core of the work. Life changes, priorities change, and perspectives have clearly changed. It’s a tough deal, when you were commenting on what Townshend should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s hard, unless you understand the life of the writer, what would change his perspective. That’s so much what this thing is about: trying to stay in touch with what’s happening immediately. And people have these visions of him onstage at the Marquee in the ’60s. He knows that. Do you think he really feels like busting a guitar every night? [Laughs] But that’s what we want.
How did you meet Jon Wurster, who plays drums on Life And Times?
I’ve known Jon as a casual acquaintance and a peer for many years—and as a Superchunk fan. I think Jason had been working with him, and when a spot opened up, we brought Jon in immediately. It’s been great working with him. He’s very familiar with my entire body of work and can interpret things I’m working on currently. He’s been wonderful.
Tell me about Modulate. It was interesting hearing you play music that once seemed your antithesis.
I sorta got wrapped up in a new soundtrack in New York in the late ’90s. It wasn’t really a rock town; it was sort of a club-music town. That informed my listening habits, and that, combined with a number of years of being tired with the direction of guitar music, sort of steered me in that direction. If I go back to that period, I was trying to do a number of things at once, and I don’t think I did any of them particularly well. In ’02, there was an idea to put out three distinct records at once: Body Of Song was meant to be the record that would complement LoudBomb, which was very electronic, and Modulate, which was a hybrid record. If I hadn’t been so ambitious, Modulate might have ended up a better record. Having said that, it definitely got me where I am now, in a roundabout way.
And you are still doing Blowoff?
Yeah, I’m still doing Blowoff every month. It was a project that evolved naturally. When I moved to D.C. in the summer of ’02, I started working with a friend of mine, Rich Morel. We started writing together in the fall of ’02, just having a really great time, messing around with sound. Beginning in ’03, we started a monthly party called Blowoff. We had no idea what we were trying to accomplish, other than I wanted to meet people. I’d been in D.C. for seven months and didn’t really have a lot of friends. It was a monthly event that turned into a weekly event, then turned back into a large monthly event, at the 9:30 Club, a 1,200-capacity concert hall. Blowoff’s been a pretty big event here, and every two months at the Highline Ballroom, at Southpaw in Brooklyn and at Slim’s in San Francisco. We just packed out Metro in Chicago last weekend. We’re starting up in Atlanta in July. Actually, I’m busier with that than I am with my guitar stuff right now. It’s an amazing time.
And you’re writing a memoir.
I’m about to finish it. I have to turn it in October 1. I was just looking at chapter 19. Who knew I was a book writer? And who knew I had the sense to say, “No, you have to read the book.” [Laughs] It’ll be good, should be an interesting read. I was struggling with it for a long time, but I’ve learned to let go of it, and now it’s just time to get it done.
You’re about to turn 50.
Yeah, in the fall of ’10, actually. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but had I known in my 30s how much better my 40s would be, I don’t think I’d have sweated it. It’s the forces of gravity that bum me out. Otherwise, everything’s fine.
Did you grow up listening to the Byrds and the Beatles? I read that somewhere. That might explain the melodic strain that’s always present in your music, no matter how loud and noisy.
Yeah, all the mid-’60s pop: the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, the Monkees, any of that AM-radio jukebox music.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve been writing liner notes for Sundazed Music, specializing in ’60s reissues, so I’ve got to work with a lot of my old idols, like Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
Oh, excellent! Is Roger still in Colorado? I’ve never met him.
No, he’s in Florida. In fact, I spoke to him right after one of those huge hurricanes passed very close to his house a few years ago. And that’s a good intro to another question. I’ve recently interviewed both Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, and both of them claim, that in spite of past difficulties, there’s going to be a Kinks reunion. So what about one by Hüsker Dü? I realize everyone’s given up, and you guys pretty much don’t want to be in the same room, but what about it?
Yeah, you’ve pretty much answered it yourself. [Laughs] I think more important than anything to do with Hüsker Du, I’m so incredibly content with the place that I’m at in my life right now. There’s no way I’d want to derail the wonderful life I have now to revisit something that was wonderful at the time but doesn’t have a lot of bearing on who I am right now. There’s no way that anything I could now with anybody would live up to some of the things all of us went through in 1982. [Laughs] So, let’s just keep those good memories.
What kind of music would people be surprised to hear that you like?
I think when I used to play Kelly Clarkson at Blowoff, people were confused. But then all of a sudden everybody loved Kelly Clarkson. You know, I’ve got a weakness for those pop songs, those really overly commercialized songs like “Since U Been Gone.” It reminds me of early new wave, which I thought was cute at the time, as well. It’s harmless music, not telling anyone to go out and kill or rob people. It doesn’t have a whole lot of depth to it, but sometimes it’s fun to have music that doesn’t mean anything.
Tell me, if you would, about the gig with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling?
Well, I had friends in the business, I’ve been a lifelong fan, and an opportunity opened up. So I went down to Atlanta and worked for seven months. I had a great time. I was creative consultant. I helped with writing the shows, directing the shows, talent evaluation. I was right in the center of the storm. I worked in Atlanta two days a week and was on the road three days. It’s a strange business, because it’s a combination of acting and athletics and a high level of trust.
Did you like The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke?
I liked it as a film. I thought it accurately portrayed a small part of the wrestling business, independent wrestling groups in New Jersey, really well. I don’t think it portrayed what the WWE does right now. But I thought it was a really good story about anyone used to fame and acclaim and then being confronted with what do you do with the rest of your life once it’s over.
Did you ever think you’d have a music career that would last 30 years?
I didn’t think that I would last 30 years! You know, they’ll pry the guitar out of my cold, dead hands. It’s what I do. I’ve got the best job in the world. When I wake up in the morning, I always remember that in the 90 seconds it takes me to get from my bed to my desk. Why would I ever think of trading it in, as long as I enjoy it, and I’ve got a roof over my head? Lord knows, there’s not going to be any Medicare or Social Security benefits when I get to that point.
As you know, Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage initiative, passed in California by a very close 52 to 48 percent margin. I think most people know it’s going to happen eventually. How did you feel about that?
Yeah, eventually it’ll come around. But the people have spoken. Next time, they may not say the same thing. In the wake of that, it’s important for the 48 percent to show those people who might be on the margin, exactly how this came about, whether it’s the Knights Of Columbus, large corporations or the Mormon Church getting behind this. You start to look at who the people are trying to hold back progress. And a lot of times, it’s the fringe element of people who believe in God. Sorta sad, because they’re giving God a bad name. This wasn’t really his idea, and it’s a pretty foul interpretation. Even worse, look at the murder of that late-term abortionist (George Tiller). That’s terrorism, isn’t it? Look, they’re legal. Get over it! The 52 percent have to be shown: This misinterpretation of religious writings has got to stop. People who have a screw loose have access to guns, and this is what happens. I hope you’re happy.
How do you feel when politicians say they’re for equal rights for all citizens and then say “not yet” to gay marriage?
Well, first off, I’m a Democrat. I was late to the Obama party. I wasn’t so sure. But when it came down to it, I got behind the party. But he’s in a tough spot with a crumbling economy and two wars. And I understand that these things have to be dealt with in order of priority. Gay marriage isn’t a real priority for the country right now. I’m not happy about that. I know I’m gonna get yelled at for saying this, but honestly, they have to get the housing/mortgage crisis straightened out first. Until Americans are sure there’s a future they can bank on, some of these issues aren’t going to be considered important. Everything in its order, I think, although it’s not what a lot of my friends want to hear. But it doesn’t mean the fight stops.