With the release of his seventh solo album, District Line (review), Bob Mould seems to have finally become comfortable in his own skin. For hardcore Hüsker Dü and Sugar fans, this mid-life arrival at something close to inner peace is somewhat unsettling when, after all, Mould spent the past two and a half decades channelling frustration, anger and despair into some of the greatest melodies known to guitar-wielding man.
Even when, musically, chaos and distortion seemed to rule, Mould would always allow his honey-coated tones to soar with a heart-wrenching hook. But at 47 years old, it would be ridiculous to expect him to still fulfil the role of the angry young man. Instead, District Line amalgamates his love of guitar and electronics for a poppier, lighter sound and although lyrically he’s taken a more observational approach, Mould still has a knack for digging up life’s little quirks and idiosyncrasies, making his wisdom and experience a new, valuable asset in place of youthful confusion.
Video: District Line EPK
Featuring Ben Gibbard and Alec Ounsworth
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You briefly toured District Line earlier this year and now you’ve got these dates in May, do you feel as though there’s still plenty of life left in the album before you move on to the next project?
I think there’s always been a pretty solid following for what I do, especially in the UK but also in northern Europe too, and there was enough interest in these dates. Hopefully they’ll turn out well. I’m excited about getting back with the full band - it’s been two and half years.
District Line comes across as a comfortable, easy record to make. Is that down to experience?
I think it was an enjoyable record to make after Body of Song which was stared in 2000 and took until 2005 to finish. I was writing through a number of different cycles and working on it in New York, Georgia and DC, but seeing the response to that record made me feel like I’d gotten to a nice spot with my work – using the guitar compositionally and adding in the electronics when needed. This time it was nice to be situated in one place for a record.
Do you think people are finally coming around to your use of melding electronics with a band set-up?
I think, specifically to me, I’ve gotten better at melding the two. In a more general sense I think people are more in tune with that idea than they were in 2002 (album five of said year, Modulate, split critics with its prominent electronic elements – Ed). I think the whole musical landscape has changed quite a bit and if you look at the good things that are coming out right now and the things that I like this week, most of it is a marriage of electronic and guitar. Whether it’s Does It Offend You, Yeah? or The Whip or whoever, right this minute, they’re sounding pretty good to my ears. I think people on the indie side are much more in tune with the idea of integrating the two. But by the same token when kids go to see Justice, they think they’re seeing a rock show when in fact they’re watching people DJ! I really don’t think there’s much separation conceptually or presentation-wise as there used to be.
How democratic are you when it comes to writing, considering you have Rich Morel (Deep Dish) on electronics and Brendan Canty of Fugazi on drums?
As far as writing the records, I’m pretty much doing everything except for drums and cellos and I’ve brought in Amy Domingues to work on cello parts that are generally mapped out but she has freedom to improvise. With Brendan, or any drummer, now I’m working with Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats), the guys that are playing with me are pretty much free to do what they want within the confines of the songs. Things are sketched out as a starting point but as far as the live band that’s coming over in May, we all work on what makes a good set list and everybody’s pretty free to do what they want. I don’t even really care about rehearsing. I figure people should know the songs and let’s just play (laughs). We’re all good players and we know what we’re doing so it’ll probably sound just fine. It almost always does. I hate rehearsing! These days it’s more about getting players together to address a songbook rather than rehearsing Monday, Wednesday, Friday, six ‘til ten. I loved it when I was 20 but at 47, not so much.
When you moved to Washington DC five years ago you started the Blowoff club night partly as a way of making friends in a new town. Now that friendships and acquaintances have been made, has that social circle and the relationships within it been important to the observational approach of District Line?
Oh yeah, again this record is a good reflection of how I see my life and the people that are in and around it. Blowoff has had a lot to do with it. It was a modest attempt to gather people together and hopefully make some friends out of it but it’s grown into a pretty big deal and I didn’t see that coming. But that’s a great accident and it informs the way that I live and the way that I approach music and it’s all starting to make a lot more sense now.
Does Blowoff give you the impetus to keep up to date with new music?
Totally. I’m constantly, every day, trying to find new stuff and gathering it all up and trying to fit it together to make a coherent night of music for people. It’s made me a much bigger music fan that I have been in years.
Video: 'Again and Again', solo, live in Paris
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When you play live you tend to have your eyes closed. How engaged do you feel with your audience?
I have pretty different approaches between the solo shows and the band shows. With the solo shows I’m more in my own space and just trying to imagine all of the orchestration and all of the parts and things that go with it. I only have my hands and my voice and my expressions to get it across, so it takes a little more concentration. With the band stuff, when I’ve got reinforcement up there, I’m very aware of what the crowd is doing and if the crowd is agreeable and excitable it makes a better show because I’ll see it and I’ll take note of that.
Since you revisited old Hüsker Dü and Sugar material on the recent half-acoustic/half-electric solo tours, do you now feel as though there’s an expectation that you will play old material and are you comfortable with that?
It’s fine. I went for so long without addressing it and was able to continue to grow and try different things and I’m grateful that people stuck with it. Now, let’s be honest, the clock is ticking.
That’s a little ominous!
No! That’s just life, and to pretend that it’s not would be worse I think. There’s only so many more times that physically I’m going to want to drag stuff around the world (laughs) and while I still have the energy and still have a semblance of the appearance people remember, why not? I guess I’m grateful people stuck through the different phases. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t more phases to come, but in the meantime it seems like a nice compromise being made.
Do you feel put out when referred to as a ‘gay music icon’ – why should your sexuality even come into it?
I opened that dialogue up so, it’s out there and I can’t really worry about it.
Do you feel as though you would have done anything differently if you could go back and advise your younger self on coming out?
I think it all worked out just fine. I could probably dole out advice to people more on the level of sexuality more than on the level of music. I mean, life is short and once I self-identified as a gay man it opened up a lot of other possibilities because it was a part of my life that I never really addressed, especially publicly and once that was sorted I felt like my growth as a person picked up quite a bit. Having said that, again, from where I was raised and my journey, it’s different than kids coming out on MySpace when they’re 11! You didn’t have that in the ‘70s… But you know, our culture has made this quantum leap that we can’t go back on and maybe I’m not as in touch with how kids deal with their sexuality these days, but it seems like a almost a non-issue now, which is a bit frightening too, because it’s a history that will eventually get lost.
Living under the Reagan administration provided plenty of rage for Hüsker Dü and Bush is almost a mirror of him, so why aren’t more musicians enraged these days?
If I look back, economically America was in a much tougher spot and we weren’t in a mock patriotic war situation. It was more the ascension of the charismatic Christian, the moral right and the enemy was more within. The Reagan admin’ looked inside the country for enemies instead of provoking outside enemies. But this has been an opulent decade, which is ridiculous because there’s no money to be had, and maybe that has something to do with why people aren’t as enraged as they should be. Or maybe Western cultures have become numb to rage because it can be found in the comment section of every blog that you go to, and rage is so unfiltered that true rage can just appear to be another comment.
Have you ever considered living outside the US?
Yeah, Berlin would be a great place to live. I think it would suit my lifestyle just fine. They like to rock, they like to dance, they like the gay… (laughs) I’m always thinking about other places to live even when I’m completely satisfied and I don’t know if that’s just me or an artistic notion or an American notion.
Do you think you’ll re-visit the material on (Sugar’s) Beaster live?
The other guys sometimes look at me when we’re working on set lists and it’s like, “Why aren’t we doing Beaster?” It’s because I don’t want to scream anymore. I don’t have that kind of rage in me. I could probably do something close to it but I’m not really feeling it right now. That’s the simple answer; I’m not really feeling the Beaster right now. The set list is really up right now in mood, and this is pretty much the happy set. I like it that way. At the end of the night I’m coming off stage and I’m laughing and I’ve had a good time and I’m not dealing with demons, I’m just celebrating the happier moments of the songbook.
Are you working on new songs?
(without hesitation) Oh yeah, this record got delayed a couple of times and it added up to a year late, so the lion’s share of the next record is already written and hopefully will be ready by next year.
Will it cohesively follow District Line?
It would fit perfectly as a continuation. Maybe more like Workbook (Mould’s solo debut of 1989 – Ed) and less like Sugar - more contemplative.
No huge surprises? No reggae or jazz?
No reggae ever, no jazz right now!
Video: Hüsker Dü, 'Could You Be The One'
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See Bob Mould on tour in the UK in May, dates as follows:
23 Glasgow ABC
24 Manchester Academy 2
26 Birmingham Academy 2
27 London Koko
Bob Mould also appears at the DiS-partnered Primavera Sound in Barcelona, May 29-31; click here for further information, and here for Mould’s MySpace page. District Line (review) is available at your local record store now.