BY ANDY GENSLER
The Daily Swarm: You have a great new album Life and Times out in April, upcoming shows at Coachella and Carnegie Hall, your Blowoff DJ nights, you’re the keynote speaker at Noise Pop, and you’re writing a book—is this the busiest you’ve ever been?
Bob Mould: At least since 1992–94 when I was with Sugar, which was like three years without a single moment to think. This period is the busiest since then. I’m 48-years old and sort of shocked people are still listening and I have this much work and that I’m getting it all done. The days are getting shorter. I woke up the other day and was like, “it’s February 20th already!” The book, the press the touring — it’s hard to drag stuff around airports, but I’ve been doing it my whole life.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY — DON‘T LOOK BACK
How’s it going with the autobiography you’re writing with Michael Azerrad?
I’m writing everything now and will sit down with Michael in August. I’ve got over 75,000 words so far and I’m trying to get to 150,000 and then we’ll get it down to about 80 or 90,000. It’s been a brutal experience and it’s all my own doing. I’ve never been a person to look back on things. After Husker Du was over I never looked back. With relationships I don’t look back. Looking back in an ordered way, I’m not that thrilled with the things I’ve seen, at least on this level. It’s really exhausting coloring things in, it wears me down visiting the past. Seeing things in the present that parallel the past is a weird process. I’ll be really glad when it’s done.
What’s the process like?
I’ve been talking with people – just getting names, places, dates, and trying to be as accurate as possible. People will be like, “remember that time,” and I’ll have no idea. I feel like it’s something like David Carr’s biography [“Night of the Gun”}. He and I were both in Minneapolis around the same time. He made three veiled references, which I knew right away. I would love to talk to him.
What are some of the best stories or memories you remembered while writing the book?
I don’t remember. You’ll have to get the book.
Come on, give us one Husker Du story. Maybe some memory you hadn’t thought about until you started writing the book.
There are so many things. Okay, like I remember playing “Reoccurring Dreams,” the jam at the end of Zen Arcade at this agricultural home in Oklahoma, which is just this one long note. It was this big stinky barn with all these punkers who were like “Why are you doing this to us?” But they didn’t leave.
HUSKER DU ON JOAN RIVERS, ZEN ARCADE, NEVERMIND
I saw that amazing video of Husker Du playing on the Joan Rivers Show — it’s incredible television. Joan’s kinda out of it and calls “Could You be the One” “You Could Be the One” and asks questions like “who’s the wild one?”
When I watch it now, it looks like a train wreck. But her show at the time had really great music and was pretty smart. It speaks more of her lack of being in touch. We prepped with her, but she didn’t know what to ask. As TV is now and was then, everything is pretty laid out. There’s not a lot of improv. I was thinking, “there’s not gonna be a band in about six months.” What I remember most was they went to all this effort to recreate the album cover [Warehouse: Songs and Stories] which, if you eliminate Joan Rivers, is actually not that bad. Thom Wilson, who worked with the Dead Kennedys, was the live sound engineer.
Twenty-one of Zen Arcade‘s 25 tracks were first takes, and the entire album took 45 hours to make, which included one 40-hour session. The whole album was made for $3,200 — How is that even possible?
We didn’t know any better then. So much great music is made that way — lasting documents are made under that kind of duress and poverty. Once you see the great expanse, the fifth take, the vocal overdubs and the Pro Tools – forget about it. That was like the perfect story — those things don’t happen too often. It was just the right moment and time.
What about all the stories of amphetamines and trucker speed?
Probably. I’m guessing if people were taking downers, I don’t know if we could have…of course it helped being prepared and knowing what you have. When you’re young and focused on your work…it’s all I had and all I ever thought about. I was in a constant state of preparedness. One thing about getting older, having families, having people you care for, getting comfortable is that you have to focus on a lot of different things.
Didn’t you play a show in New York City with the Replacements and the Young and the Useless, which was the Beastie Boys early band.
I think only one or two of the Beastie Boys was in the band [Ad Rock], but that was just one of millions of shows we played.
Weren’t you also tapped to be the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind?
I was on a list of producers and have the demos somewhere, but it didn’t have “Teen Spirit” on it. Things worked out amazing, which was also good for Sugar.
LAST NIGHT DJ BOB MOULD SAVED MY LIFE
How was Blowoff, the club night you did in Brooklyn last weekend?
It was packed and crazy. Usually Richard Morel and I switch off playing two one-hour sets, but Saturday we played three sets for over six hours. The early set I get to play the fun stuff, ambient stuff like M83, the Bird and the Bee, Rihanna, The Loved Ones, old 60s psychedelic stuff, Fucked Up, Swervedriver. The second set is more the American Dream Team, crazy electro, the Ting Tings. Later in the night the guys just want to get their dance on.
Do you compartmentalize your electronic-dance music side and your rock side?
With Blowoff I have a great outlet for electronic music that also allows me to focus more on my regular singer-songwriter stuff. They’re two distinct outlets and they kind of separate naturally, but there’s also a big overlap especially when we do Blowoff in San Francisco. There are a lot of 40 year-old gay guys who loved Husker Du who also love to go out dancing. Standing around after DJing a bear party last Saturday night there were six guys standing around talking about Blur playing Coachella and Fucked Up, No Age, and Throbbing Gristle.
How did you get first get into dance music?
At the end of 1998, I was living in NYC as a gay man and dance music just got in my head. There was some incredible stuff then — Deep Dish, Paul Van Dyke, and Digweed — that was the soundtrack to NYC then. I remember the day it all made sense: I was looking at the Joy Division 3-CD box set and a Paradise Garage 2-CD box set and realized that the covers looked identical and musically they’re not all that different.
ON “MILK” AND BEING IN THE CLOSET IN THE INDIE-PUNK 1980’S
Did you catch the Oscars?
I only got four hours of sleep on Saturday night and had to drive back to D.C. the next day and slept for like 11 hours when I got back. I Youtubed the parts I wanted to see. I was sort of crying a little bit when I saw Sean Penn and the screenwriter from “Milk” – that movie had a lot of impact.
What was it like being gay and in the closet in the 1980s indie/punk rock scene?
It was kind of like the don’t ask, don’t tell policy they have in the military except in the punk rock world it was don’t advertise, don’t worry. You didn’t have to be in the closet, but we had a bigger cause then that: the advancement of music. I am more comfortable in my own space talking about that kind of stuff where it’s my sole responsibility, but inside Husker Du I was only one person.
Did you ever have any problems in the hardcore scene, which included a lot of skinheads, aggro dudes in mosh pits, intolerant people, mooks, etc.—did you ever feel threatened or encounter homophobia?
My sexuality didn’t really enter into the picture. I mean it may have figured into the equation, but it wasn’t germane to what the goal was – to change people though music. Physically, I’m a pretty big guy. I don’t think I’m a tough guy, but I’m 6’2” and 200 Lbs. I guess there was some of that, but it certainly wasn’t the prevailing sentiment. It’s the same as any high school locker room — guys will be guys and that goes a couple of different ways. Ask people who are in the military. The most homophobia I ever felt came from the government. When you got the overlord of the universe yelling that you’re subhuman—that’s pretty bad.
MUSIC INDUSTRY: “IT’S GETTING HARDER FOR EVERYONE”
Having run your own label, Reflex, as well as released your music on a slew of labels including SST, Alternative Tentacles, Warner Brothers, Ryko, Yep Roc, and now Anti, what are your thoughts on where things stand now in the music industry?
With the tech advances of the last 20 years, especially with the internet, you find out about music a lot quicker. In the 1980s and 1990s music was controlled by a handful of people– major labels, AOR radio, and MTV. But with the internet, people can present any idea they want and challenge the norms, which is great. But in the mid-90s with FCC deregulating media and the rise of media conglomerates something interesting happened: people forgot that records companies were beholden to radio, who were beholden to advertisers, so radio would hone in on like 30 seconds of a song. Radio would go back to labels and say your music didn’t test well and ask bands what else they had. Fifteen years later the art of the album and artist development has been thrown out the window. People were paying $17.98 for one good song. At the same time you had usenet groups digitizing music and sharing it. There’s no ideas anymore, no “Shoot Out the Lights,” no “Born to Run” – nobody has an idea of how to make 45 minutes of quality work, it’s all about one song and a bunch of crap.
When you were on SST you actually deferred payment so the label could remain solvent. They ended up owing Husker Du something like $150,000 by 1987. But up until Zen Arcade you made most of your income from touring, just like a lot of bands today.
They didn’t press enough of Zen Arcade. But we were aware that money had to be made. We operated on the premise – even more so today – that you have to put people in a room to make a living. You have to get to the point of people congregating and waking away with a great experience and telling other people about that great experience — that’s religion, that’s politics. You have to tell a story and they have to believe it.
Husker Du’s made its money from live shows instead of recordings…
That’s the idea, but the problem now is that the economics of the business are so compressed. There are five times as many shows now which cuts down on ticket sales. People who used to play to 15,000 might only pay to 4,000, and those playing to 4,000 might play to 1,200, and those playing 1,200 might only play to 300. And I don’t know where those who played to 300 are playing. It seems to be getting harder and harder for everyone.
BOB THE BLOGGER
Do you check out a lot of music blogs?
I find out about a lot of music on the web. I have the luxury of spending a fair amount of my day listening to music. I don’t know a lot of 48-year olds who spend as much time as I do looking for music. A lot of 16 year olds do. I generally look at about 6–8 music blogs. Once a week I have a research day and I’ll try to look at like 120 blogs, but it’s exhausting.
I know you’re an active blogger and on Facebook, is it difficult giving people that much access?
I’m pretty good about it. I thought blogging was a nice way to reach out and open the blinds and have people see what I’m really like as opposed to just the music. Generally it’s been a really positive experience and it’s really what I’m thinking. Same for Facebook. I think it’s a good thing. I know where to draw the line. People do get under my skin or make shit up, but that’s the nature of the internet. But it’s curious, five years into having a blog has allowed me to have more of a normal life. I grew up in the era of the rock star as the most mysterious amazing thing. I never wanted to see Kiss without make-up or Alice Cooper playing golf.