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Q&A: Bob Mould: An online exclusive interview

An online exclusive interview

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

By Drew Fortune


Anyone who has read the Hüsker Dü chapter in Michael Azerrad’s 2002 book Our Band Could Be Your Life can appreciate why I was understandably wary about interviewing Bob Mould. Portrayed by label heads and bandmates as someone who could “stink up an entire room with his bad vibes,” the notoriously volatile Mould has evolved from an amphetamine fueled, raging dervish into a well adjusted, middle aged man who finally seems comfortable in his skin. As the frontman of post-hardcore torchbearers Hüsker Dü, Mould’s crackling angst and sonic intensity helped shape the indie-rock and alternative explosion of the late Eighties and early Nineties, and luminaries from Frank Black to Kurt Cobain have cited Mould as a major influence. Following the release of District Line, his seventh solo outing and first on the Anti- label, Mould spoke with me from his Washington, DC home.

“I have a pretty small life here,” he says. “DC is very diverse, in that it’s a government, military, educational and lawyer based town, and I don’t play much of a part in those industries. I walk everywhere I need to go, and I take care of my friends, my business and myself. That’s really about as simple as life gets.” In a career that spans nearly three decades, the origins began in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1979, when an 18-year-old Mould met future bandmates Grant Hart and Greg Norton. The trio became Hüsker Dü. (The beguiling band name is a reference to a popular Sixties board game with the tagline: "Where the child can outwit the adult.") The group’s landmark sound — a furious cacophony of speed, skeletal guitar and muffled, shrieking vocals — were a direct reflection of the mindset of an angry young punk, jacked on booze and cheap speed, dealing with his bourgeoning homosexuality in a cold, unreceptive town.

“I don’t have that kind of outrage anymore, but that’s just me getting older,” Mould says. “I don’t have that utter, blind rage in my vocabulary like I did when I was 19 or 25. As time goes on, my life changes. But now I’m able to affect change and the work is hopefully a reflection of where I’m at as a writer, a music fan and a person.” District Line is a veritable “Best Of” collection of elements that characterize Mould’s songbook. The 10 tracks meld the urgency of Hüsker Dü with the delicate intimacy of Mould’s solo work, while the hooks and pop elements of Sugar (Mould’s project in the early to mid-Nineties) shine amidst a swirling undercurrent of electronic that reflects his latent obsession with house music.

Modulate [released in 2002] was a complete abandonment of my normal style of putting music together,” Mould says. “I relied heavily on samples, loops and beats. District Line was composed completely on guitar, so that gives it a certain instant familiarity for people. It was a comfortable record to make and fairly effortless. I don’t recall too many nights spent awake stabbing myself in the hand with a quill, while a candle burned in the corner.

One of the album standouts, the wistful “Old Highs, New Lows” can superficially be taken as a relapse song, with the protagonist sinking back into the routine of old habits and bad relationships. “I stopped drinking and using drugs 18 months before I left Hüsker Dü, and I think everyone deals with it differently throughout their life,” Mould says. “I don’t think old demons ever leave, but I believe they can be put in their proper place. Music making is my life, it’s my work and it’s what I do every day. It’s the thing that I look forward to, even when I don’t enjoy it. The music can create demons as much as it can alleviate them. The music business can certainly create demons.”

The curious laissez faire mentality of many contemporary indie bands seems antithetical to the ideals that Mould rallied behind in the Eighties underground. When asked if that passion still exists in music, Mould paused, chuckled, then took a deep breath. “Culturally, things have changed completely. I had a vision that music could change things. I had a vision that the way the music was presented, whether it was putting out your own records or playing non-traditional venues, those things would have a cumulative effect and change the way people looked at music. And it did, but I think the only thing to come close to it since has been the rave culture of the early Nineties, which wasn’t sanctioned by Clear Channel, wasn’t major label and certainly wasn’t regulated by the FCC.

“Our culture has been so corporatized that people wouldn’t recognize an original thought if it slapped them in the face. Back then, you didn’t have the Internet: You had people going door-to-door selling an idea, a vision and a concept, and selling a lifestyle that wasn’t sanctioned and couldn’t be Googled. Everything is completely different now, and out of this something good will eventually come, but I really haven’t seen it yet. I think we’re still learning the rules of this technology and culture, and it’s a really fucked-up culture.”

 

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