Bob Mould is tired of being angry. At least for now, that is.
For a career that spans over 40 years with such seminal and influential bands as Husker Dü, Sugar and his own solo output, the trailblazing singer-songwriter has laid the groundwork with bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements for what modern guitar-rock can only aspire to be. But while some of his earlier music had been characterized by his scorched earth and highly personal subject matter, his brand new album Sunshine Rock, out on Feb. 8, finds Mould looking to lighten the mood just a little bit. But that deserves some context, of course.
The new album comes off the heels of a trio of deeply reflective releases, 2012’s Silver Age, 2014’s Beauty and Run which came after the death of his Father, and 2017’s Path The Sky which was written after the death of his mother. Since then, Mould needed a fresh start both musically and in his personal life. He found a new home in Berlin and began shedding away some of the distress that made his most recent albums so visceral for some of the brightest and most immediate material he has released in years. Metro caught up with Bob Mould to talk about Sunshine Rock and the rest of his incredible career.
“Whether it’s peer review or commercial success, it’s always good when people get what you’re doing and they have an appreciation and understanding of it. And yeah, the bonus round continues.” – Bob Mould
Bob Mould (center) with bassist Jason Narducy (left) and drummer John Wurster (right). Photo: Alicia J. Rose
Your new record Sunshine Rock comes off a run of some really excellent records — Silver Age, Beauty and Ruin, and Path The Sky. Do you view your new record as a continuation of those records or do you see it as a fresh start?
Bob Mould: It was definitely time for a fresh start. I think you know, losing my dad, writing Beauty and Ruin, losing my mom, writing Patch The Sky. This time around, it was like I’m hoping for a break here. You know I’ve had writing at the end of 2016 going into 2017 and then all of a sudden the song, “Sunshine Rock” appeared. It became the tent pole for the record. It became the “a-ha” moment. Write to the light, don’t write to the dark. You know my work well enough that it takes some effort to make that decision. It’s not a natural one for me. So yeah it was definitely a very conscious decision. Once the brightness appeared, I was like “Okay. Let’s go with this.”
It seems like throughout your career with records like Husker Dü’s Zen Arcade, you needed to get some negative emotions out of your system in order to start fresh. Is that how those last few records were for you?
Bob Mould: Well I think going way back, as far as the ’80s with Husker Dü, Flip Your Wig was the record that I was like “ahhh! We shook it.” We used to have a rhythm with Spot, who was the producer and engineer and sort of the ethos of SST records at the time. To make that move away from working with Spot and eventually working away from SST you know me and Grant [Hart, Mould’s songwriting partner in Huser Dü who passed away in 2017], when we had the whole record to ourselves you know to make Flip Your Wig exactly the way we wanted.So, I think that was the brightest spot, personally for that band’s history. That’s my personal high spot.
It’s good to shake things up with a record. I would say there’s a couple of key differences between this and the previous records. You know, the more singular, visceral vocal approach that started with “Send me a Postcard.” That became the template to how I would sing this whole record. There’s a lot of immediacy and urgency there. But, on the flip side, but equally important, the precision and importance of those strings, I think that both those things together and living in Europe, those are the group of things that could conspire to change and make this record different from the other two records.
The record has the same blistering guitars usually associated with your work but also introduces some lush orchestral string arrangements. Were you conscious of trying to stretch the arrangements as far as they could go this time?
Bob Mould: Making the decision to do strings, or following through, and getting everything out, getting the folks in in Prague to work on this, that was a late entry into the process. As I’m writing and demoing songs, they’re fairly elaborate. A lot of times, I’ll use keyboards as placeholders for melodies and a couple weeks before we started making this record I sort of woke up one morning and realized I must have more melody! I’m going to destroy things. I’m going to spend five days orchestrating six songs. So, that became my objectives, and maybe it was a way to … I don’t know (laughs). But, I always write with melody in mind.
When I got close to the tracking, I went “well, I’m going to go strings” and then it was a flurry of writing. So, the melodies were there but they didn’t manifest as strings until the last minute of the writing process. That’s kind of how I got to that immediacy of the vocals similar to Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain. The last time in recent history that I’ve gone in and sung without thinking. I haven’t done that in a long time. Sugar records were very meticulously stacked. I got into that habit and that habit stayed with me until Patch The Sky. That methodology and just going for that singular vocal. That happened I did not plan for that to happen. It happened because we did that Shocking Blue cover [“Send Me a Postcard]. We had a day where we had nothing else to do so we started doing covers and that was the first time I sang in the studio on the record.
You have been playing with bassist Jason Narducy and drummer John Wurster (Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, The Best Show) for almost 11 years now. It’s wild to think that this is the longest running band that you’ve ever had.
Bob Mould: John came on board pinch-hitting for this drummer that I had, who wanted to get off the tour early. It was in 2008 when he joined me and Jason. John was available he came in and learned the whole show during a sound check at the Tavern in Solana Beach, and yeah. No looking back since then! The three of us have always been playing together, that was 2008 and it’s 2019. So, 11 years. I always say I started this band at the being of 2012 when the we started recording Silver Age. To me, that’s kind of the benchmark of when we started working together as a band. So, yeah it’s a great band and we love playing together.
What makes the chemistry of this current band so special? Do you find that they push you further or do they just understand what you are looking to do within a song?
Bob Mould: It’s a combination of those things. It’s the language that we all grew up speaking in different places but we all learned the same language. You know, ’60s pop, ’70s rock, punk rock and then we’re off to the races. John and Jason have been musicians their whole lives and they know my stuff pretty well. So, it’s fairly effortless when I’m writing songs and then presenting them.
When they hear me run through it once or they hear a demo of it they go “Oh, I know exactly what you are trying to do.” That’s just because of decades of shared language and a lot of shows together. There’s really no ego involved. We’re just trying to have a good time because it’s what we do, trying to make sure that people in the crowd have a good time because that’s what they’re there for. We’re just doing what we do. We don’t spend every waking moment together. This is kind of joy and a luxury when we get those three months every two years to go play or that week and a half that we go make a record. Because we’re not doing it all the time, it’s not like a vacation, but it’s something special for us.
It has been a constant thing in your career that you have been championed by record labels that were inspired by the work you had done with Husker Dü. First with Creation Records signing Sugar and now with Merge Records putting out your solo releases. Does it strike a chord with you? Does it feel good to know that your influence is being felt?
Bob Mould: I didn’t see it coming and I’m grateful for it. I think if we go back to the autobiography in 2011 [See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody], and the Disney Hall tribute show of 2011, that became the concert documentary, I think that’s where the stage might have been set for that. I think it created awareness for people who weren’t familiar with the work and they came to it by association. I think, specifically with Merge, originally they were just interested in the Sugar reissues, and I mentioned to them that I might have a new album and I played them some stuff. It was sort of funny because they came originally for nostalgia but ended up with a future. So, it was crazy how that happened right (laughs)?
Watch the Bob Mould band playing the Husker Dü classic “Ice Cold Ice” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall tribute show with Dave Grohl below.
Totally! I have to say, It’s a really great time to be a fan. Every year, or so, a new Bob Mould record comes out.
Bob Mould: Yeah. Four in this decade and then a couple of other different phases of the movie and the book. It’s been super busy and I’m really, really grateful. I didn’t see it coming. But, I can see how it showed up now in hindsight. I think having John and Jason has made a huge difference. Having people on with me that bring it the way those guys bring it, both live in the way that we travel together. We have fun. There’s no craziness. You know, there’s fun crazy but not crazy-crazy. We travel well. We hang out well together. We know when enough is enough. We’re very respectful of each other and it makes for a great work environment. When it’s that much fun you just want to keep making work.
As far as recognition, yeah I’m super happy about that. Whether it’s peer review or commercial success, it’s always good when people get what you’re doing and they have an appreciation and understanding of it. And yeah, the bonus round continues.