Sound on Sound, on Sound, and Even More Sound.
The Punk Series – Segment 1
There are three types of Rock and Roll guitarists; Rock Stars, Genius Musicians, and then there is BOB MOULD.
If you were a punk in the ‘80s, or an alternative / indie rock fan in the ‘90s, OR watched a professional wrestling match in the early 2000s, OR watched an episode of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”, you have heard and seen the work of the world class guitar GOD/songwriter, Bob Mould. His original punk band “Husker DU”, was the first punk band signed to a major label. He continued into the 1990s with some of the greatest guitar work ever recorded on solo albums, and another band called Sugar. He moved on to fill the dream of almost every kid from the ‘80s, writing the scripts for professional wrestling. His music is ever evolving, while still having a “Formula” of tricks and riffs with multiple layers, defining the term “Wall of Sound”. He did EDM music in the project party ‘Blowoff’ and his own videos for EDM music showed incredibly painful, and tender imagery about love and relationships. All of this from the guy who wrote “Bad actor 1, picks up folding chair from audience, and smacks bad actor 2 with it”.
Spending ridiculous amounts of time with music veterans, like Dave Groll from the Foo Fighters, or anyone else you can think of, Bob Mould has pretty much done it all. His recent videos have a comedic “Washed up”, making fun of himself theme, but he is going strong, he has more longevity than almost any punk musician that started at the same time.
I spoke with Bob over a call from his current residence in Berlin. After several minutes throwing names of “Henry, Jack, and Jello” and some geeking out about his production tricks and his formula (he has more tricks and skill than The Edge from U2, yes I did just say that), we had the following convo. He is very easy going, but you will see his stories makes him incredibly complex.
JH: Bob thanks for taking the time to talk to me here. I don’t know if you remember me but last you and I talked was in Boston in 02, on the “Modulate” tour. I wanted to get a few points out in the open. The readers of Instinct Magazine (I think anyway) need more exposure to PUNK, and Indie rock. I am hoping to expose your music to a wider audience in the LGBT community. You know, in the LGBT mainstream music its focused a lot on Imagine Dragons, and Lady Gaga, and not that there is anything wrong with them, I LOVE them both, but, I hope to get you in front of Instinct’s readers… Also, IT’S FUCKING BOB MOULD!!!
BOB MOULD: You just stole my tagline… (Laughing)
So, Bob, Berlin congratulations on that, I used to live in Hamburg, Dresden, and Hannover, Bremen as well, I love north Germany. I wish it didn’t have the historical scars that it does, because it truly is a wonderful city.
Yeah, it’s a wonderful city, been here on and off for the last 3 years. And yes, now they are making an effort to own up to their history, but it’s an issue with some Germans as to how much history to own.
So hey, new album, I have not gotten to hear all of it yet, and a new tour, that isn’t coming to Salt Lake… So, EXPLAIN YOURSELF!!
New album February 8th, 4th album with the same label and band, all been pretty successful for the band and the label. But yeah, no date on this leg for Salt Lake. Though we were there last year with the Foo Fighters.
I’ve heard the title track, and it’s fantastic. It has the “Formula” on it, and I can stand it next to something on “Workbook” and it all sounds current. “Workbook” was beyond its time.
Yeah, going back 30 years now on that album, was the first time I brought cellos into the sound field, and fast forward to now, and I have the Prog TV Ensemble. So this record is a continuation of the motif of this decade, but now with the orchestra, it’s an extra value for the older fans of the last 3 records. For neophytes, it’s me at 58 having reconciled a lot of conflicts in my life, but oddly enough going back to my childhood for inspiration on this record. When I was child in the ‘60s, 5-6 years old, my toys were jukebox singles. My parents bought the used jukebox singles, and that was where my love of music started. Putting those 7” singles on a plastic record player, hearing that sound, and watching those labels go around, was a way to keep myself alive in that violent turbulent household. SO, fast forward half a century later, the cover is an homage to the Capitol Records label that I stared at as a kid. So you can hear The Beach Boys and Spector in there.
Thus explaining the label, this is the music that hypnotized you as a kid.
Yeah, that’s my take on the “Great American Songbook”.
Oh yeah, I remember being hypnotized by the “spinning apple”, you get that right?
Yeah, Absolutely I get it.
Well, speaking on (Phil) Spector, when I hear specifically “Brasilia”, that’s how I imagine the “Wall of sound” to be. And I’m not ashamed to admit, when you played “Brasilia” in Boston on the Modulate tour, I cried, it was so intense, it was your champion piece of the early stuff.
Now, “Patch the Sky” is the heaviest I’ve heard from you in a while, and you’re telling stories in these? Do you write the songs to tell the story, or is it the feeling? How do you start off with a song, cause the lyrics, and the formula are often not lining up.
“Workbook” was a different kind of storytelling, but I can tell you the whole story building to patch the sky. From Bright “Silver Age” was the 20-year companion piece to “Copper Blue”, brighter pop record. During the campaign for that record, I lost my dad. During the campaign for “Beauty and Ruin”, I lost my mother, so that had a heavy influence on “Patch the Sky”, so you can see from the bright “Silver Age” to this cloudy “Beauty and Ruin” to this dark patch the sky. When I come to this record the only way to go is up, it’s not a good idea to go down. So that is a lot of the ideas around “Sunshine Rock”, so that sketch of the decade puts that in perspective.
So the video for “Hold On”, it seemed to show the underside of it all. Talk about that.
With the videos, I collaborate with Alicia Rose. She is very familiar with my work and we have made some great videos together. “Hold On” was sort of a loose idea and some elements of sexuality conflict.
Well, there was this room of “Bob Moulds” in that scene, or just various guys in lumberjack shirts. Are they Bob Moulds in different stages, or just “Bears”. Was the point “This is not really my scene?” I mean, you walk through a bunch of Bears, then past some judges, and a drag queen, to play on a stage..
Those were all my friends in Portland, and it’s fun to push ideas around, as where we all are at this phase of our lives. That was after 11 years of ‘Blowoff’ playing directly to the bear community. And playing ONLY ONE Lady Gaga song per night if possible. No offense, she got talent.
Oh yeah, she’s AMAZING I’ve seen her perform. But right, different world.
But it was a fun, playing with different ideas of sexuality and judgment in the video. It was not to be judgmental, but to play on that “Who is being the bear”, “Who is judging who”. We had fun with what we had.
So, “The Descent”, that video, that had a lot of the same ideas of “Brasilia”, “I’m washed up” and depressing, the themes, of “I knew that this would happen”, “They don’t take these things down at the bank, they just take money” (Brasilia crossed with Trenton Lyrics). It’s funny watching YOU in a suit, it hits you in the gut.
The idea was as you walk away from one thing, where do you go, and what are you looking for. To have all of those things in a box, and you’re walking out of an office tower, into my friends family farmland, burning things along the way, then building this place of isolation, this unknown circumstance, that took me from this office tower. That’s what we were trying to convey with that.
Even though that’s nothing YOU can relate to, I can relate to that personally. Not building the hut but, getting shitcanned from the corporate world, and having to pack it up and leave the office. But there you are setting the guitar on fire.
Videos are great ‘cause I get to play around, add a story line, an attempt that may or may not be literal to my own experience, trying to tell short stories with film. Honestly I’ve never been comfortable being a video star, but it’s great when it works out.
So, on that, flowing perfectly. I think there is a pirate version still on YouTube, the video clip on the screen behind you at Modulate, of “Soundonsound”, that told one of the most wonderful stories of a relationship. That was about a relationship, not a gay or straight one, just, here is a phase of life.
I did 90 minutes of video for Modulate, we just made as many as we could in a short time. I’m glad you got a connection from that one, but all those videos were a blur.
I think a video for readers of Instinct, would be Sugar – “If I can’t change your mind”. Its early 1993, and I’m not out like I was in 1994, my sexuality was an open secret in the business. The video, if you see that, it’s a strong political statement for someone who is not out as a queer artist. And at the end of the video, I hold up a Polaroid of myself and my partner, and I turn it over and written on the back were the words “This is not your parents world”. That was a pretty strong direct statement, without coming out and saying “Hey I’M GAY”, and this is a song about ANY relationship. Being able to say that to the world in film was a nice trick.
We can go back to 1990 to “Black Sheets of Rain”, the song “It’s too late”. That had me tied to a fence, with a burning American flag, “Silence = Death” there were a lot of political messages of what kind of crisis of what “WE” the gay community were in 1990.
Reminds me of another interview where you said your anger in Husker Du was about how Reagan couldn’t even say the word of what was killing all your friends.
YES, you look at Husker Du, and we were in the ‘80s, now we are into the meat of what this is about. In the ‘80s, being a young confused musician from a small farm town who knew homophobia, all too well, including losing an acquaintance of mine in an incident that was almost identical to what happened to Matthew Sheppard, I go to the Twin Cities, and I meet a couple guys, we do this band, and we are part of this growing hardcore punk scene, and I’m struggling with my sexuality. Now hold that up to what’s going on in America, with Reagan, the “Moral Majority”, a government that does not even acknowledge a health crisis that’s happening in the gay community, that’s going to transcend the gay community, and become a worldwide problem. We were told we were “less than”. This is before the internet, before kids were coming out at age 11 online.
I’m looking at historically, at the turn of the last century, the German psychologists were doing the legwork to decouple homosexuality from pedophilia. Things were really crazy back then.
So, this is the ‘80s, here I am, in this hardcore punk scene, and I am being acknowledged, we were creating this scene. There was a lot of queer folk in the punk rock scene, we all knew who we were, we kept our heads down. But now, in hindsight, I was not seeing all of the opportunity and all of the acceptance that was there, ‘cause I was still struggling with it. But that hardcore scene, took in a LOT of misfits, and a lot of people on the fringe of a lot of things. People who were living right on the edge of the margin, between homelessness and a place to sleep. And I was still not sure of my own sexuality, and how to express that, and I think the environment the government created held a lot of people back. As the ‘80s went on, many artists and activists who had the bravery made the government acknowledge this health crisis and issue, and how it was effecting people. And I look back on those times, and somethings I think, I should have done more, or I think I did enough, I did what I could to. But I go to a moment, early 1984, a poet John Giorno, was a friend of mine, he had a record label, and he would do compilations with underground bands. He did one compilation album “A diamond hidden in the mouth of a corpse” and Butthole Surfers were on it, Sonic Youth were on it. He asked Husker Du to do a track. Grant Heart (Late drummer for Husker DU) and I said sure, but let’s challenge everyone on the compilation to give the proceeds to an appropriate cause. And John suggested this group that goes around town, giving meals to people sick with AIDS, they are called “God’s Love, We deliver”. So at times, when I think I didn’t do enough, I think, well, we did help to advance the cause in that little modest way.
Backtracking here. I moved from Washington DC to a REDNECK SHITHOLE TOWN in southern Utah when I was 13. And the only way I was going to be me, ‘cause I wasn’t a redneck shithead, was to hang out with the OTHER 6 misfits. ‘Cause I didn’t want to listen to Alabama, and AC/DC, these guys had tapes of Book of Love, Depeche Mode, Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, and The The. Then he got us into DIVINE, which was totally over the top.
OH THAT’S EXCELLENT
SO, I was introduced to your music by a gay guy, listening to Depeche Mode, and Dead Kennedys. By the time you came out, I didn’t have MTV, and was like a monk for a few years. When I heard you came out, I went over your music, but I didn’t see it in the subject matter of much of your music. UNTIL I SAW the Modulate video for Lost Zoloft. The song was heavy, but the video, was INTENSE, painful. ABSOLUTE GENIUS.
Well, Modulate was as “OUT” as an album could be. But, yeah, you don’t get it in a lot of the subject, “Glad to be gay by” Tom Robinson, and what Jimmy Sommerville was doing who were the pioneers who really stood out there at the forefront. If you look at my work, is that it’s all in there, but those songs are “Gender Neutral” and that was how I could sing about my feelings, without having to be specific, and now it doesn’t matter, we are fully integrated. But that’s the answer to “But how can Bob be gay, and still rock?” And, well that’s a kookie question, people love the songs because it’s about two people. I mean look at Rob Halford.
Man, Halford’s name shows up in EVERY piece I do.
HE SHOULD (In a confirming voice) he is such an amazing figure. I’ve been reading interviews with him, and I’m thinking “Oh my God, I had no idea you were so brilliant, you add so much insight to the community”.
So, you’re EDM, you did ‘Blowoff’, I know you were resident in DC.
Yeah, it started as 30 guys in a bar, suddenly to 1500, then it ended up touring, multimedia, we were going to P-town for Bear week, Chicago for IML, Atlanta. Playing other people’s music, to tell stories, to a dance floor full of guys, who loved being educated about things beyond Lady Gaga. And the irony of ironies, Lady Gaga is in DC and she shows up at ‘Blowoff’ to have us play “Bad Romance” for the first time. Joke of jokes on me, or Cyndi Lauper, and SCISSOR SISTERS come with a newly cut mix.
(Insert: My mate Popskull went to a ‘Blowoff’, his description was NOTHING LIKE THIS)
So, last note, I know you did “Wed-Rock”, and Henry Rollins said it was the most American thing for same-sex marriage to happen. AND, today, is the 5-year anniversary that the federal courts struck down the ban on same sex marriage in Utah. And I was able to give my best friend Karen away to marry the woman of her dreams. That was in my opinion, the turning point for Utah. Utah has the highest rate of LGBT teen suicides in the nation. Can you give a message of inspiration to the LGBT teenagers in an emotionally vulnerable state?
You’re great, find people who accept you for what you offer to the world. Don’t let the bastards beat you down.
That is a great note to end on Bob, Thank you so much.
Bob Mould’s new album ‘Sunshine Rock’ will be out February 8th on Merge Records. His World Tour begins January 22nd in Austin, Texas.
Website – https://bobmould.com/
Follow Bob Mould on Instagram @bobmouldmusic
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/bobmouldmusic/
An indie GONZO music journalist in Salt Lake City, and an Anarchist behind the Zion Curtain. Jeremy Hinks is an obnoxious Type-A Male, who is embarrassingly straight and a staunch LGBTQ Ally with little tact, and a big heart. He has supported his LGBTQ friends since he was a teenager. The Gayest thing that ever happened in his life was winning Lady Gaga concert tickets on a radio contest. (because he knew insane amounts of rock and roll trivia).
He is writing a book about every concert he has been to (GONZO STYLE), but wonders if the world would want to read about all 46 U2 shows he has seen. He has made a name for himself photographing Pink Floyd tribute bands, and is a local concert photographer in Salt Lake City. (He even shot U2 a few times)
He is one of the photographers for the LOVELOUD Foundation in Utah, an organization to bring awareness and support for the young LGBT community in Utah, and to bring an end to the epidemic of suicides there.
He also drives a Vespa, and wears kilts, is rarely seen wearing pants, should be considered armed and dangerous, so do not approach without extreme caution.