This isn’t the first time I’ve interviewed Bob Mould. Here’s the lead from my 1998 Reader interview:
“What is there to say about Bob Mould? Either you know his music or you don’t. I’m not going to even try to recap his career, except to say that his music – whether it was performed with Husker Du, Sugar or as a solo performer – is among the most influential in modern music. I’m not overstating. Bands from Nirvana to the Pixies revered Mould and Hüsker Dü as the virtual inventors of post-hardcore alternative rock.”
The only thing that’s changed since that story ran is the number of bands influenced by Mould, including Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Green Day, the list goes on and on. At the time of that ’98 interview, Mould had just announced that he was giving up playing with an “electric band.”
“I’m getting to the point in my life where it’s time to start thinking of doing other things, whether it’s focusing more on the acoustic performances or putting together something else… I don’t want to be up there at 50 trying to rock out, with a band or something, and have people say, ‘I remember seeing him when he was really great.’”
Now at age 52, Bob Mould is in a band again. His trio, featuring Jason Narducy (Verbow, Split Single) on bass and Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats) on drums, will be among the bands playing at Saturday’s Maha Music Festival at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village. You can be sure, based on his amazing album Silver Age (Merge Records, 2013), that he’ll be rocking as loud as he ever has.
He explained the 1998 announcement and what happened afterward from his home in San Francisco:
Bob Mould: It was a time when you couldn’t step out of the house without three alternative rock bands jumping on your front yard playing. I’d grown pretty tired of that style of music at that point. I’d spent 19 years of my life touring around in a band as a guitar player and singer in some iteration of a punk rock band or rock and roll band, and I was living in New York City and hadn’t really taken any time for myself, mostly in not having much of an identity as a gay man. I’d given all my life single-mindedly to music. So I think the landscape of millions of alt rock bands combined with personal frustrations of wanting to take some time for myself led to that rather grand announcement I made back then.
Fast forward 15 years, a lot has changed in my life. I spent a number of years living as a gay man in New York City as opposed to being a punk rock guitarist living in a van. So that mission got accomplished. Those millions of alternative rock bands either went away or started making other kinds of music.
Fast forward to 2012, out celebrating a record I had made 20 years prior (Sugar’s Copper Blue) that helped to sort of define that genre that I learned to hate. It’s funny how life does that. We always think we’re going down a straight path, sometimes you circle back and that’s what happened. So, I’m a liar (laughs).
The Reader: I discovered you through Workbook, and then discovered Hüsker Dü afterward. When you play festivals like Maha, what do you suspect your younger fans know about your career? Just the last couple records?
Mould: There are 20 year olds that come to the show with their 45-year-old punk rock dads, and there are young people who I’m presuming (know) the entire body of work and not just one record. I don’t think there’s a lot of kids that go ‘Wow I heard “Star Machine” or “I saw people talking about it on 4chan.” I’m guessing it’s the entirety of the work, and they want to see the person who’s done this work. I sort of doubt with the younger audience that it’s any one specific thing, other than me.
The Reader: Do you think they identify you with Hüsker Dü:
Mould: They might. They might identify me with Workbook (Mould’s first solo album from 1989). When I talk to people after shows people always invariably mention their entry point in the body of work, whether it’s Workbook or Zen Arcade (the landmark 1984 Hüsker Dü album) or Beaster (Sugar’s 1993 EP) or whatever it might be. I think most younger people I talk to it’s just “I heard about your work.” “I heard about you through the Foo Fighters movie.” “I heard about you because Green Day talked about you.” “I heard about you because Jimmy Eat World talks about you.” So it’s a lot of that kind of thing too.
The Reader: How do you think your music fits in with what’s going on today, at least from an indie standpoint? Do you wonder if kids who are into Arcade Fire or Of Montreal or M83 will identify with your new album?
Mould: Can’t tell. I don’t do that kind of research. Right now I’m guessing my audience is older. The challenge is always to reach a younger audience. As far as the bands you just mentioned, M83 probably being the youngest and hippest of those three, I love that band, but I don’t know if many of their fans love my music. (laughs).
The short version of what’s going on is once I got the autobiography (See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, 2011) out of the way and got back to writing songs, touring around with the Foo Fighters and back with Jason and Jon making Silver Age and revisiting the Sugar stuff, it’s all real easy, it’s real natural. When I’m back in that environment where I seem to do my most natural work, it’s pretty easy. And we’re enjoying it right now because, as I think you or anyone who’s followed me for a while knows, things can take a right turn at any moment. We’re just enjoying the fact that we’re kicking the collective ass right now, we’re just sort of having fun with that.
The Reader: How has performing changed for you at age 52? Is any of it physically trying?
Mould: Hell yeah. It’s been physically trying since I started. All the natural things, you lose a little bit of your speed, you lose a little bit of your voice, as the years go on it’s little harder to sing as I used to. But I was just in the gym for an hour and a half. I think I’m in better shape than most guys my age. I think I’m in better shape than most bands I’ve seen play. So as far as being on stage and being confident about how I carry myself, I feel real good about that.
The travel doesn’t get any easier. I’m sure anybody who gets older will tell you that. It’s just the way things are. As far as the creative part, what is that thing ‘Youth is wasted on the young’? We do all these stupid, crazy things when we’re younger, but when we get old you have all this wisdom but you don’t sometimes have the tools to use it. Well I actually think I’m in a pretty good spot right now. I think I’m beating Father Time pretty well at the moment.
It’s funny, I went to see The Who when they were coming through on the Quadrophenia tour. How old is Townsend now, almost 70? (he’s 68). You wouldn’t know it, would you?
The Reader: I saw them recently and Daltrey’s voice was shot that night, but he might have been sick.
Mould: I will always give someone like Roger the benefit even if it’s shot, it’s still Roger Daltrey, you know? And Quadrophenia is a pretty fucking hard record to sing at any age.
The Reader: In that article from 1998 you predicted a lot of changes in the music industry that came true, specifically how the internet would impact music distribution. But you didn’t predict Spotify. What do you think of the service and its business model?
Mould: I wish they would pay the musicians, but that’s not their model, is it? Labels aren’t making any money. The distributor is usually the one that makes the money in anything and yeah, Spotify makes a lot of money putting the entire recorded history of music up. Most of the online streaming services are trying as hard as they can to avoid paying any kind of penny-rate royalty for playing an artist’s music in order to gather a database that they can then exploit, sell and advertise to. We don’t see any of that. We’re just the raw materials in the equation.
The Reader: Then why don’t you pull your music out of Spotify?
Mould: Sometimes you have to sleep with the devil because that’s how you get your music heard. It’s not like there’s three radio stations and five tactile record stores (in every city). The landscape has changed so much trying to reach your core audience, let alone build a new audience in this day and age. Unfortunately the records become — in the market place — a billboard for other things you can sell — tickets, t-shirts, stuff like that.
The Reader: So what are we going to hear at Maha?
Mould: I can tell you what the shows have been like: A fair amount of Sugar stuff focusing on Copper Blue. I enjoy playing that record quite a bit. We’re not playing the whole thing again, that’s for sure. We sure enjoy playing a good chunk of Silver Age every night, that’s a pretty easy record to play live. The response to those songs seems to be as strong if not stronger than the Copper Blue stuff. And there’s stuff from the Hüsker Dü era that is fun to play. I haven’t been playing a whole lot of the solo records. It’s not where we’re at as a band right now. The three of us have got a way that we’ve found (to) play well together, so we’re going to stick to that motif right now – the louder, faster pop stuff seems to be our strong suit, so that’s what we’re doing.
The Reader: Will you ever do Black Sheets of Rain again?
Mould: Funny, we pulled out “Hanging Tree” (from the album) in Cleveland the other night only because I was walking around before the show talking to people, I walked over to the record store, and it seemed like three out of four people came up to me and said (passionately) “Black Sheets of Rain!” And so two thirds of the way through the set I stopped and looked at the crowd and said, “This is sort of a Black Sheets type of crowd isn’t it?” Loud pop, and then I just looked at Jason and Jon and said, ‘Do you guys know “Hanging Tree”?’ Jason knew it, Jon just said “Huh?” So I said, “Let’s just play it.” We hadn’t played it in four years and Jon worked his way through it fine and people loved it. It was just out of nowhere. It was just that vibe. People had talked about it all day. It would have been very selfish of me not to play one of those songs.
The Reader: You’re playing with the Flaming Lips at Maha, I don’t know if you know anything about those guys.
Mould: We’re good buds from way way back. Wayne (Coyne) and I have known each other since ’86 when we played together in Oklahoma City. And then Matt and Kim and I fucking love The Thermals, we’ve played together before. It’s gonna be really fun. I like Omaha. It’s a great town and good people so it’s gonna be a fun time.
The Reader: What are you going to do after Maha?
Mould: We have a handful of festivals and I think there’s talk about going to South America in October. I should know more about that in the next several days. Nothing’s confirmed. If we ever get off the road I hope we start to look at the next record, get some more recording done. The autobiography is coming out in soft cover form Oct. 15. We haven’t really fully exploited the See a Little Light documentary (a Mould tribute concert performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA in 2011 and featuring, among others Dave Grohl, Craig Finn and Ryan Adams). We’re trying to figure out a way to get that in front of people again as the holidays come up. Still DJing a fair amount. It seems like I keep looking for time off and I don’t seem to find any.
The Reader: Seeing as I could be holding up this article to you in an interview in 15 more years, what predictions do you have for 2028. You’ll be 67.
Mould: Probably, if everything still works, it’ll just be more of the same. Like I said, ‘97 ‘98, I was pretty sick of the alt rock and wanted to find my gay identity, which I never bothered to do. Now that alt rock is framed a little more properly at least in my mind, and my gay identity is framed properly in my mind, that sort of wipes all that out to me. I get up every morning and work on music, I try to keep myself in good shape to get on stage, and I take it very seriously, but I have a lot of fun with it. It’s pretty much all I do, so why not keep doing it?
The Reader: One final question… because our last interview ended with a question about politics and the Monica Lewinski controversy that was brewing at the time, what do you think about Obama and the job he’s doing?
Mould: I think Obama’s done really good. I can’t remember in my lifetime as much obstruction being placed in front of one person as has been placed in front of our current president. It’s pretty fucking un-American what these conservatives are doing to this president. It really is. It’s really sort of a shame. And piece by piece that little empire that they built on greed and divisiveness and skin color is going to go away soon and they’re not going to be left with anything except memories of how they couldn’t stop time and progress and momentum and people just wanting to get on with their lives. They can throw all the roadblocks they want, it’s not going to work.
They’ve made it really really difficult for Obama to get anything done. I think he’s a pretty brilliant president. I think he’s very methodical. I know in the gay community there was a lot of outrage about EDNA and DOMA and gay marriage that he didn’t act soon enough. He acted when the time was right. Everybody wants everything now. He had a country to rebuild, you know? In case nobody looked when the Republicans left town, they pretty much took the silverware with them.
I think he’s a good man, I think he’s an honest man, He’s an incredibly well-educated man. I wish the obstructionists would just get the fuck out of the way so that all of us that would like to make this country a better place for everybody can get back to work. And I think even conservatives are coming around to it. They’re starting to see that they’re really in a mess and they’ve got to start acting like adults and start acting like reasonable people.