Being a lifelong fan of Bob Mould, since I was 13, and since he was in his first band Husker Du, I have tried to enjoy all of his work, some is harder and edgier to get into than others. Now, with his recent release of a 19 CD collection of his solo work called “Distortion”, it has to be taken in mid sized chunks, but you can’t stop listening once you press play, it’s just not possible. I have spoken to him many times over the years, as a fan and as an interviewer. This time around Bob and I handled some really bleak subject matter, and believe it or not, he was in high spirits, but still as honest and critical as you would expect a man who has been in the punk world of sound for 40 years. We covered his new album “Blue Hearts” and its subjects, the pandemic, and where we can try to steer this, but most of all , just “Love thy neighbor”. Bob is one of the early “Punk” musicians, who pioneered the scene as an angry young gay man. Now at 60, he feels like the youth of today, especially the queer youth are going to be the ones steering the ship, and soon.
Jeremy Hinks: Hey Bob, glad you can pick this up again, did you get to see my list of 15 greatest albums by LGBTQ artists.
Bob Mould: Yeah, I did thank you for that.
JH: Yeah, well, “Workbook” was so good, and ahead of its time, it was right up there with Lou Reed’s “Transformer” and “Ziggy Stardust”. It’s still ahead of its time, I think in about 5 years people will start making albums to sound like that one.
BM: Yeah, I saw that, it was a lot of hard work, and a bit of luck on that album. I appreciate the kind words on the record.
JH: Well, you have plenty happening, with the complete box set, and then the new album all being released in this short period of time. I mean, 19 CDs is a lot to go through in one sitting, (I did it all, really I did) or even 10, wonderful stuff, but, best to take it in chunks. But the albums, start to finish, is the only way to do it.
I felt like “Beauty and Ruin” how it opened, I felt a very big shift in the subject matter. You have always made stuff that sounds current, that is to your favor, even something that far back. I hadn’t heard the “Blowoff” till now. I have to say, the best was “Saturday Night All the Time”.
BM: Yeah that was one of Rich’s pieces, a good one. (Richard Morel, DC area DJ)
JH: Well, it was all so good, and it really sounded like you guys were having a good time.
BM: Yeah, that whole project, meeting Richard in New York and then getting to know him when I moved to DC in ‘02, and the beginning of ‘03 that was the beginning of 11 years of “Blowoff”. That record went unnoticed by a lot of people, I mean that whole electronica thing, I am happy to hear you mention it, because I’m curious to hear how people view that decade’s work now that it’s so many years away. Lots of electronica and lots of vocoder, and lots of house music has infiltrated so much independent indie music and alternative rock. At that time there was this big wall between the two in America. That’s one of the things I’m excited to see with the box set is to see how those albums strike people after 30 years of work. Hopefully sort of how people looked at Neil Young “Trans” the second time. If’ I’m lucky.
JH: Well, “Modulate” was your first real electronica when you were doing the solo, independent of “Blowoff”, and I loved it because it was so different, it had so many of those like you said the vocoder type sounds, but you still had so many of the same guitar tricks like from “Black Sheets of Rain”, though, a much happier vibe on that one. But the whole Granary Music phase was a different direction. But “Beauty and Ruin” was the change from that, but like I said, “Bob Mould has done it all”. I was trying to count them all up, with the Sugar, Husker Du, and all of this, I think we got to 25, but I still think I might be off.
BM: Haha, actually, I have NO IDEA about that either. I’m really bad at looking backwards, unless I really have to. But that is a good number to work with, so, that is 25 after Husker Du.
JH: So, “Blue Hearts” off the new album, the song “Forecast Of Rain”, it was very clear what you were hitting at, I mean, there was no way to mistake the point. But, the subject matter was so current, I was surprised at how fast you had come up with all of that so fast. You are addressing the whole “Black Lives Matter” points, and that seemed to have been done almost overnight to be releasing that right in the first few weeks of the shit-storm going on. Then I thought, well, why are we STILL dealing with this shit these months later?
BM: To run through the chronology of this, “American Crisis” was written for “Sunshine Rock”. I wrote that in April 2018 when I was still in Berlin. I did not include it on that album, because that was a happy album, and that is not a happy song, so I replaced it with the Shocking Blue cover of “Send Me a Postcard”. “Forecast Of Rain” musically existed in 2018 as well, the words came together in late 2019 when I wrote the album. Specifically, “Forecast of Rain” deal with current events from one year ago. It was recorded in February of this year 2020, and delivered on March first of this year. So, any similarities or events between the album and reality are purely coincidental.
JH: Wow, hey, I said, “Bob is a prophet” I mean, what you said, showed and presented in those songs and video were about NOW, and what is happening as we speak. That is unfortunate that we are still in it.
BM: Specifically with “Forecast of Rain”, I went to Catholic Mass every Sunday as a kid, I did my Confirmation as a teenager. I went back when I moved to DC, I went back for 3 years to see if there was anything new going on, if there was anywhere I might fit in, but unfortunately there wasn’t any solace there, so I left the Catholic Church behind again. But that song is a very simple question that sort of revolves around “You” religion, you write these rules for me, the NON believer, or maybe “Sometimes” believer, but do you actually follow your own rules? As we have seen over the past month, I mean, hey, if I ran a billion dollar plus theology based university in southwestern Virginia, and I thought it was a good idea to find and pay someone to pleasure my wife while I watched. That’s totally cool if you wanna do that, but you are setting up these OTHER RULES about how I live? There you have it. It’s not the act of what Falwell Jr and his wife and the guy from Florida did, I have no problem with them doing that, BUT, if you are going to do that, don’t point your finger at me.
JH: Well, sure, escaping Mormonism, which is the phase I am in right now, when the church leadershit, and yes I mean that “LEADERSHIT”, they come down on all of us in the low ranks, and then we find out what they are doing behind closed doors, it’s the same thing with the Falwell situation. But the big piece of the video was saying “This is your religion, and look at all the shit and misery it has caused”. This “Love thy neighbor” thing, clearly isn’t what they are pushing for. IT reminds me of Jon Ginoli and Pansy Division’s song “Blame The Bible”. Then there is Jello*, the targets of his music were always religious leaders (Jello Biafra is the lead singer of the punk band the “Dead Kennedys”).
BM: To me it’s the hypocrisy of it all, like in the ’80s with Reagan and the “Moral Majority”, when evangelicals try to weave their way into politics and try to dictate policy on their telegenic TV leaders who they support. That is where I draw the line, that is not what America stands for. Again for me, and if you were in a religion for part of your life, you know there is a lot of good to it. But the essence of religion, and community and sharing stories, and helping the less fortunate, of course those things are good, but it’s that blatant hypocrisy, and it’s evident in the politicians, and it gives the average believer a really bad name. I mean, how can you support the people who do this.
JH: Yeah, if it was “Love thy neighbor” that Jesus taught, we could all stand behind that as a perfect moral philosophy, but I’m not hearing any of that from “Christians” these days.
BM: No, I’m hearing “Your vote won’t count, cause I am going to override it with process.” Ha.
JH: So on the new album, I am hearing a nice healthy dose of guitar distortion that was wonderful. On the subject matter did you feel like you were walking a fine line between being the guy who has something to say, and being the overly angry man just losing it?
BM: I actually took a look back at work that I had done before with limited tools. I went on the road for two weeks in January with one electric guitar, and one small pedal board and a bag of clothes. That’s what I did through the 80s, and into the 90s. And I played new songs to people showing them the direction I was about to head musically, and I got 100% support from them all. When I went out to the merch table people were saying “Oh my God, Bob, you are on fire, just go with it”. I didn’t tell them that after the last gig on this tour I played that I’m going to Chicago to record this album of all these new songs I have been playing to them. Honestly I didn’t have a lot of time to consider what was happening, I was mostly just working on instinct, because back in 1983, that’s kind of how it all happened. I didn’t spend a lot of time wondering if it was going to get played on the radio, or is this going to sound good and be marketed. NO, I was this pissed off gay kid that was getting bounced around by my government, and religion saying “This is YOUR punishment, not ours”. So using that as a loose framework for this album. I didn’t have time to think about it, it was instinctive, that was the beauty of it, that is the framework I built for myself.
JH: Sure, and I could hear a lot of that, some of it was earlier guitar work, but then the feedback and sounds were full of this charged raw emotion that you could only “Feel” like listening to Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”, it was great.
BM: Yeah, stick your head in the middle of it some time… (Laughing)
JH: Do you feel like you really successfully got your anger across this time?
BM: I think I made my point, I think there is a lot of pleading with people to try to use music to find hope, to understand that music can change the world. That it always had the power to change the world, and it will, despite whatever intentions the modern music industry holds for the artists that supply it with content.
JH: You just knocked out my next three questions Bob.
BM: Well, read them to me in reverse and I’ll answer them again (laughing). I think I did a very good job of stating what I am concerned about, what I think about the state of the world, I think I tell my overall story as a gay man, as a 40+ year singer-songwriter, musician. I think I tell it well, when I was telling John and Jason the methodology and theory behind this album, they were totally onboard, they got it. It did not need a lot of explaining, we would start at 10 am and I said, “Guys, can we just please turn our phones off, and go into the studio and make music”. Let’s forget about the rest of the world for now, and let’s try to do this one simple task we have. I think they got that we approach making a record how we did it before we all became addicted to our screens. You wanted to know how we made a punk rock record? Well, this is how we did it. That’s what you are hearing, you see these words, you hear this noise and you feel the emotions. They come from an agreement, they come from a process, and that’s how we looked at it, and I think it shows in the end result.
JH: So, lemme read you the question that you just answered.
BM: Go ahead.
JH: I felt a lot of anxiety in the final breaths of that song “American Crisis”, and I felt like I felt the same anxiety, was that what you wanted to do? Well if yes, then the mission accomplished. So, there you go, make my job so much easier. How about we move over to “Password To My Soul”, that one was kind of, well, bleak. It reminded me of that movie I just watched, “The Social Dilemma”.
BM: I’ve only heard about it.
JH: Well, that song actually was kind of the … soundtrack for that film, you left no stone unturned as to how you feel, and what you were thinking. So, talk about that one.
BM: Well, let’s look at the album from top to bottom “Heart On My Sleeve” was a soliloquy, then the real action starts with “Next Generation” through “Hot Action” to “Password To My Soul”, and to me that is the summary of all of the subjects that I have addressed in the 20 some odd minutes prior to it. It was written from the perspective of the encapsulation of all of the ideas, whether its politics, religion, or technology, or the confusion I perceive in the world between “Windows” and “Mirrors” and “Screens”, I think those words once held meaning, and now they all blur together because of technology. Sometimes I think we see each other that way, sometimes we see the past and the future when we look at these things. We live in a really dislocated world, and temporal events are often out of sequence in our lives, and we have all sort of gotten used to that. And I think the pandemic made it worse. So, there are a lot of callbacks on the themes of the record, and that is where “Password To My Soul” came from. “Here is my cloud of nightmares, the password to my soul”. There you go, we are all in this spot where you can see your whole life is on display for people, you can curate it, adjust it, speed it up, slow it down, you can call back on it, I mean social media is crazy, it makes us all think differently.
JH: Well, wait till you see that movie “The Social Dilemma” man, it’s “Bob the Prophet”.
BM: Ha, it’s just so easy though, it’s right in front of us, and this is my job.
JH: Yeah, but if I was to have someone “Write” about it, I would hand it to you, just make sure you have some awesome guitar work for it to ride on top of.
BM: So, that last thought is that the ocean is sort of an epilogue, after all that feedback and all of that noise you have this last moment that is a familiar resignation.
JH: Speaking of are you on the coast? You’re not in Berlin anymore I see.
BM: Yeah, I’m in San Francisco now.
JH: So, jolting me back to the memories that you don’t have of the modulate tour, last time we talked, you said you didn’t remember much of the video you used for the backdrop of the shows, but I LOVED them, they were innovative, and in many ways touching.
BM: Well, thank you.
JH: On this one, what made you decide to print the words in the videos? Was it the double whammy?
BM: To make sure people understood that the words were important, as they are always in music. And these are pretty fast and furious songs, so I think it was helpful for the casual audience, and people thought “Who is this guy and what does he do?” from seeing it in an article or a blog post. Maybe people who have not heard my music so much, it made it a little bit easier for them, after all, it is punk. And the fact that we can’t make videos like we usually do because of the pandemic we did what we could with the limited resources, more than just people in windows on a screen.
JH: Did you ever see U2 on Z00 TV?
BM: No, didn’t get to.
JH: They had these huge screens, 100 feet tall, and they had words and images blaring across them, oftentimes so fast you barely caught what they were saying, but then images, song lyrics, whatever. You did it, very much like that, I mean that was 1992, but you did it now, today, and it was just as effective, I find it to be a fabulous tool, seeing the words with the lyrics. I know this about yours because I talked to another publicist last week, and I told him I was going to be talking to you in a few days, and he freaked out and went off on how great the video for “Forecast of Rain” was.
BM: Oh my God, that’s so sweet. Yeah, and sort of using the redaction technique is very of the moment too. If there was ever a 2020 record, this is the one. We gotta get to November, and hope it’s not violent till January. This is for real now, I think people are starting to see how close we are getting to a totalitarian rule.
JH: Looks like we are tying up here for time. I remember the last time we spoke, I asked you what your message would be to the young LGBTQ folk who are in the closet, afraid and vulnerable, you said “You’re great, you are wonderful, and don’t let the bastards beat you down”. Do you care to sustain, or amend it, or append that statement?
BM: I will stay with that, and I will add to that, and now you know the rest of my story in deeper detail, so perhaps everybody in general can recognize that when the government leans too heavy on religion for support, if you feel like why are they doing this. Take it from someone who remembers what “Otherism” feels like from 40 years ago, and it’s a shame that I have to rail against it again. Victories are not always final, and democracy is not a given. I have a lot of faith in the youth, and young people in America to get us to a better place. My job is to inspire people and tell stories, and maybe in those experiences people can see we are going to get to the other side, and it’s painful. Everyone has a right to be who they want to be. I have this fear that there is so much bigotry coming towards us now. And they have such a clear eye on legalizing that bigotry, we have to take ownership of what we want the country to be.
You can hear the masterpiece of distortion (of thought) and guitars, and fabulous lyrics at bobmould.bandcamp.com/album/blue-hearts and seek out Bob Mould through other social media below.