Not quite two years after the breakup of Hüsker Dü, Bob and Grant
separately returned almost simultaneously to Europe accompanied by their
respective new backing bands, with Grant beating Bob across the ocean by a
few days. The interview with Grant that appeared in
of Bucketfull of Brains was among the first of the post-Hüsker
era to give Grant an opportunity to sound off at length on a variety of topics.
The editing is a bit sloppy, and interviewer Jon Storey fawns too much, but
he asks some excellent questions.
SIDESTEPPING THE SLEDGEHAMMER
Grant Hart has just released his first solo album since leaving Husker Du.
It's "Intolerance", it's on SST, distributed in Europe on Rough Trade and it's stunning!
"Bucketfull" took the opportunity to talk to the man a few days before his first London
gig*, featuring Scottish band The Cateran as replacements for Grant's comrades in his
latest venture, Nova Mob. Grant and I met in the scolastic environs of
the October Gallery in Bloomesbury, London. But first, the rant....
Given Bob Mould's high profile in the media and his commanding front stage
position as guitarist and a vocalist, it's all too easy to overlook the
contribution of drummer, vocalist and songwriter Grant Hart, to the runaway
success of Husker Du. On a more personal level, it was he who wrote most
of my favorite tracks by that band, including the glorious "She Floated Away"
& "You're A Soldier" from their last double album, "Warehouse: Songs
During and following the bust up of Husker Du a lot of bullshit hit the fan and Hart seemed to be the prime candidate as the root cause of the friction. Perhaps Grant, then amidst fighting heroin addiction, was and easy target - but who knows and, frankly, who cares. Two things are much more important - Grant has sorted out his personal problems and has recorded a superb new album of his own songs; "Intolerance" is the corker in question and takes off from where his acclaimed solo debut single "2541" left off.
If "All Of My Senses", "Intolerance"'s opening cut, doesn't have you wrestling to get your cash out of your pocket in double-quick time I'll eat Philo Calhoun's wallet (not quite as onerous a task as you might think, more nouvelle cuisine).
Yes, it's that good (the
track, that is, not the wallet). As an organ riff slips out into the ether,
Grant becomes Eric Burdon singing a majestic lyric involving "an icicle bending"
and "a sidewalk melting", chanted backing vocals and shaken tambourine.
It's almost impossible to believe that this wasn't written and recorded two
decades ago. A veritable masterpiece. The following cut opens with harp
that sounds like it has Dylan's lungs providing the power, then the 'band'
crunches into action and that's when you realise that you have a killer album
on your hands. The whole thing has such a vibrant and alive feel to it that
I was taken aback when Grant told me he recorded it all himself, except for
the backing vocals!
"She Can See The Angels Coming" is another superb number; almost uncannily, certain aspects are reminiscent of parts of the as-yet-unreleased double album by English psychedelic maestros, Kaleidoscope ("White Faced Lady", we're putting it out on Triad in January) originally recorded 20 years ago. And don't think I'm just plugging our own product here; when you can, compare the distinctive vocal intonations and indeed the whole quasi-religious aura (both Grant's song and the Kaleidoscope album have themes that involve death and suicide) and you'll hear what I mean!
"Intolerance also includes a version of Grant's previously released, and much
acclaimed "2541" (refering to the address of Husker Du's first studio/home),
a song of huge spirit and humanity and utterly irresistable too. But the whole
album really is a glistening treasure trove of ideas and captivating music, and
by golly, it's got hooks a plenty too. Ten marvellous tracks in all.
By Bucketfull standards, my interview with Grant was pretty short, but then so was his time - he was on a interview conveyor-belt today and off to the Netherlands tomorrow, nevertheless he was gracious enough to request extra time to talk further when his manager started to get fidgety as other interviewers began to queue up outside (my apologies to them). In any event, I think we managed to cover the new album and his post-Husker career pretty extensively.
B.O.B.: "All Of My Senses" is very reminiscent (vocally) of Eric Burdon.
G.H.: Really, I thought "Roller Rink" on side two sounded more like the Animals. It could be all the keyboards.
B.O.B.: So you've got some time for Eric Burdon and the Animals?
G.H.: Oh yeah. NB: Grant has also been known to cover a Love song live).
B.O.B.: Since Husker Du, have you been a fairly prolific songwriter and if so, why did you choose to put "2541" on the album, as it came out as a single about a year ago?
G.H.: The EP actually happened while we were working on the album but then SST were having real difficulties and we couldn't finish the album. The basic tracks were recorded in June, 1988, it was half finished for a year.
B.O.B.: Did you work on the tracks in the interim?
G.H.: I was doing production work that I didn't have to go into a studio to do - making tapes of different orders of songs. It's a better album for it...... but I didn't quite need all that time.
B.O.B.: I really liked "The Main", at the end of side one, it has a real sea-shanty feel to it.
G.H.: That was another one augmented by background vocals. The instrumentation on that is just a little bar room piano and drone organ - afterwards the organ seems to suggest pipes, and the singalong chorus is very atmospheric.
B.O.B.: So "The Main" - is it to do with the sea, as in 'the Spanish Main'?
G.H.: It's more or less a drug song.
B.O.B.: I thought it was one or the other, or a double entendre perhaps?
G.H.: Yes! It's a triple entendre actually. It's a sea shanty and during the Spanish-American war there was the battle-cry "Remember the Maine" - the Maine was blown up in Havana harbour, which precipitated the war, and then it's having to do with the circulatory system too.
B.O.B.: So does the ship The Maine have any significance for you?
G.H.: No it was just lyrically suggestive.
B.O.B.: How close do you think your album comes, when compared to the sounds you had in your head?
As close as the budget allowed. There was really no budget to make this,
compared to the last two Husker Du albums.
B.O.B.: If you had the budget, where would the differences have been?
G.H.: I might have tried more alternate versions or more time mixing. When I hear the album, there are just a couple of spaces where I know I bollocks-ed it up doing a couple of punches on the board.
B.O.B.: Would you have attempted to do any of the songs on this album with Husker Du?
G.H.: "Now That You Know Me" is the only song on the album that was ever played live by Husker Du. It wasn't a bad version, but I like mine better - so many times with Husker Du the subtlety was lost; it was like cracking an egg with a sledgehammer sometimes.
B.O.B.: And if you'd tried to record those songs with Husker Du, would they have been changed too much by the other members for your liking?
G.H.: Considering what the result is, yes. It's really easy for me to say yes, because playing all the instruments myself I had the advantage of doing it as close as possible without translating it to another person. A lot of times with that band, if the structure was beig played right, it was passable enough - but that's a compromise you always go through - I do that with my new band, Nova Mob......
B.O.B.: But first, what happened to your other band, The Swallows?
G.H.: The Swallows had been playing for about a month and a half before Husker Du broke up. But the problem with going from being the drummer with Husker Du to being the drummer with anything else is that you have to be twice as good a drummer - that's the way things are. [So Grant took a break from the Swallows] Five months later, I came back in again and played some rhythm guitar, instead of drums - which was perfect for me. By then those fellows had already writtten an entire set which they were performing by themselves, and they really had an identity of their own without me and they seemed more interested in their own things instead of doing my songs - gotta love 'em for that, you can't take that away from them. So in order to look myself in the face I had to bow out of that band......
B.O.B.: Did you feel that you might end up putting those people in the same position into the same position you were put in, when you were in Husker Du?
G.H.: Exactly, exactly! Had I not been there I would have been oblivious to however big a bastard I would have been to them; but if I had not been there they wouldn't have had these other pressures of being "Grant's band".
B.O.B.: Ok, tell me about the new band, Nova Mob.
G.H.: It's Kevin, Tom, Mike and Grant; I'm singing and playing rhythm guitar.
B.O.B.: And keyboards? (Grant had been playing piano just before we started talking).
G.H.: That we'll work in. We don't want it to appear that I'm some kinda jack-of- all-trades straightaway, especially after abandoning the drums so recently. I wrote all the songs for Husker Du on guitar and piano...
I didn't write any on drums!! Right now it's fun to be in a, quote, Garage,
unquote, band again. It actually reminds me in some ways of the first couple
of years of Husker Du.
B.O.B.: Where did the other guys come from? Did you know them from any of the bands you've worked with (as a producer) like the Magnolias or Otto's Chemical Lounge?
G.H.: No, although the bass player of The Swallows was in the Magnolias. He was the biggest reason I wanted to work with the Magnolias in the first place, and now that he's out of the Magnolias, I really have no fondness for that band at all.**
B.O.B.: If the new album was mostly recorded over a year ago, does that mean you've got lots of new material ready to roll?
G.H.: About two albums' worth. In August, Nova Mob presented an opera that I wrote, called "The Last Days Of Pompeii", we were a bit under-rehearsed but it went over really well. I think that would make a really nice, pretentious first album by Nova Mob.
B.O.B.: Is the band Nova Mob something separate to what you're doing solo or are you now part of Nova Mob and that's it?
G.H.: I have every intent to exercise the same freedoms as they are granted within the non-existent confines of Nova Mob. Nova Mob goes out from the centre, not inwards. Kevin, the guitar player, has written mostly musical things because I consider myself primarily a lyricist, in that I consider I do it better.....
B.O.B.: Better than........?
G.H.: Than everybody else (laughs).
B.O.B.: So what about your music then?
G.H.: I guess in putting together a song I take interesting words and make the music more interesting by them. I don't pull out fancy chords or anything like that - and the good thing about that is that a lot of people can sing along and play along, not that I'm into Mitch Miller records or anything like that. Like Chuck Berry says: "I have no kick against modern jazz, unless they try to play it too darned fast, and change the beauty of the melody, and make it sound just like a symphony". It's like..... rock'n'roll, man... how many rock'n'roll songs in the world are the same three chords - practically all of them.
B.O.B.: How much musical training did you have?
G.H.: A little bit more than I display. I started out playing piano - everybody in my family took some piano lessons; after a couple of months the piano teacher said I should wait because I was playing everything by ear and I wasn't reading anything - I just memorised what she was playing. Then I was in the high school band, and youth symphony and that sort of thing. Then by the time I was 17 I was in Husker Du which was a very great musical education - good and bad.Things to avoid as well as things to seek.
But Grant Hart's "Intolerance" is definitely something you should go out and seek, without delay. I'd put it in my top five albums released in the last year, without having to think about it, and if I were to really caste my mind backwards....... well, shit, we could be here all night!
|with thanks to Grant, Bill and Colin from Rough Trade.|
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