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Once more with feeling

A conversation with Bob Mould


"I'm not guaranteeing that this is going to be super-professional," chuckles Bob Mould over the phone. He's referring to the fall tour of the United States he's about to embark on with a new band that didn't start practicing until last month--and who will be performing songs from Mould's entire oeuvre, including Hüsker Dü and Sugar.

The trek follows the release of his latest solo record (and first for local label Yep Roc), Body of Song, which finds him returning to the melancholy, guitar-based pop he's best known for. Coming four years after the loop-driven atmospherics of his last albums, Modulate and Loud Bomb, the new record was played almost entirely by Mould himself, with a majority of the drum tracks supplied by Fugazi's Brendan Canty (who will be holding it down on this tour) and a few appearances by David Barbe, who played with Mould in Sugar.

Independent: What started the move away from guitar to electronic or "club" music on the last few albums? Was it that you got bored with guitar and its possibilities, wanted to challenge yourself, or were you just bored with rock in general?

Mould: After 20 years of roughly the same general idea, I wanted to take a break and challenge myself. In the late '90s there was so much indie rock that was pretty much unlistenable ... I just wasn't feeling it anymore. I needed to make life changes as well, one of which was getting off the road. So I switched from the analog approach and moved on to computers, and fell deeper into listening to electronic music.

What are the "Blowoff" club nights? Is that a weekly/monthly event? Are you DJing? What sort of stuff do you play?

I moved to D.C. three years ago, and one of the first people I started working with is Rich Morel. He's done lots of remixes for other people. He and I got together and started writing an album together that was pretty loop-based. Over the past two years we've been doing this weekly night where we both DJ ... it's been really fun--we play lots of different stuff, from house to indie-rock.

What, if anything, do you think rock music and DJing share? What opportunities for emotional expression are available on the dance floor?

It's an awareness of who the audience is ... with Blowoff, we've sort of educated our crowds on what we're going to do. If it's either picking a set or with an entire recorded body of work, you're just educating people on what you do.

There's mention in your bio about cutting and pasting/time-stretching/etc., and how the editing process has become a type of compositional process. Do you find that this approach hinders spontaneity, or does it open the door for a new type of spontaneity?

It goes a number of different ways. Sometimes the first level [of ideas] is really great and if I had left it there it would have been fine, but ... I've found that the possibilities for experimentation are great. That's what we want as artists, to have limitless possibility.

Do you think that digital/computer multi-track recording programs allow a song to "never be done" in some ways? If the possibilities for sampling, effects, EQ, enhancement are virtually endless, is it harder to establish a ceiling on a project?

I'm pretty good about knowing, "I have to sit here, find the one that works best, and go with it." Sometimes it's not clear ... I don't know how much unfinished stuff I have lying around. Yesterday I was fixing lunch and a song that I hadn't finished from five years ago popped into my head, and I thought, 'It'd be great if I could actually finish that by just putting some guitar on there."

When Sugar was still a band I remember reading that you were having problems with your throat from screaming that much, and that you had to go to bed with the TV on because of the ringing in your ears ("Still do," he immediately replies) ... Has this stuff changed at all?

I don't scream hardly at all any more. I'm not feeling it anymore, but mainly I just don't want to tear up my voice all the time. I quit smoking about seven or eight years ago, and that made a huge difference. The hearing is fine, but when I go on the road, when everything's so quiet at the end of the night, when a pin drops it sounds like a bomb. In the studio my ears are great--I can hear ground loops that the engineer can't.

What Hüsker/Sugar/solo songs are you particularly excited about bringing on tour? Is it weird at all to hear these songs performed without the people from those bands on the stage with you?

We have a list of 40 songs we're learning.... It will not be side two of Zen Arcade or Beaster [Sugar's gloriously thunderous 1993 EP] all the time. It's more pop stuff--I want to make this a fun, three-minute pop song tour. Probably not so much off Workbook [Mould's second solo record from 1991]. I got together with Rich and we ran through some stuff and it was OK. I have a feeling that it's going to be strange in rehearsal [to play his other bands' songs], but I want to make other people smile as well.

Your bio mentions disposing of "vague allegory" in the lyrics on the new songs. Do you feel like you were aware of such a practice when you were writing lyrics in Hüsker Dü and Sugar and on your earlier solo albums, or were you just writing what you felt, which happened to fit the category of "vague allegory"?

My life is a lot more open now than it was 20 years ago, whether it's due to media or to me releasing more parts of myself to people. With Hüsker, it was very visceral and angry and political, then in Sugar it got universal. This record is a combination of autobiography and observation. When I had the platform/vision/destruction in me it was amazing, it was a great part of my life. There's other people that can do that better than I can now.

What do you mean by "platform/vision/ destruction"?

I was very frustrated with politics, entertainment and the world at large ... You try to create a different world where everyone chips in $100 to get a PA and put it in a U-Haul. Twelve years later it turns into a video with cheerleaders. Nobody saw that coming. [Laughs]

Given that you had that sort of frustration during the Reagan years, why do you not feel the need to address similar issues in your music now, while we're under an administration that is possibly way worse than anything Reagan created?

I went through it once, so I understand that it's a fleeting thing ... no matter how inept and how deep in the shit we are, in five years it'll get better. In 1985 I didn't think it could get any better, but by 1993 it was way better. As for politics--maybe I'm just not feeling that anger vibe. I'm trying to make peace with myself. I have enough faith in humanity that I know we'll be OK at the end of it.

Read the complete interview at www.indyweblogs.com/scan

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