Hüsker Dü Database
Magazine articles & interviews

Flipside #50, 1986

Issue 50 of the venerable SoCal punkzine Flipside, which came out in the summer of 1986, featured an interview with Hüsker Dü conducted a few months earlier, during the band's three-night residency at the Roxy in LA. This was shortly after the release of Candy Apple Grey, a time when the band's departure from SST to sign with Warner Bros was still a very hot topic.


Interview by Jon Matsumoto
     Hüsker Dü is extraordinary because the Minneapolis trio has expanded musically without sacrificing its incredible, electric intensity. A lot of hardcore bands develop into other areas, but usually this also means the tempo is slowed down to a semi-crawl or the heavy guitars are held back. Not with this new and always improving Hüsker Dü. Yes, the group's new album contains a few acoustic numbers. But, while the Hüskers have gotten more melodic and engagingly folksy, it still (90% of the time) resounds with the energy and volume of the best hardcore bands. In early May, when the Hüskers were in town to play a three night stand at L.A.'s Roxy Theatre, I had a chance to talk to bassist Greg Norton and guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould at the headquarters of its new label, Warner Bros. in Burbank.

Jon: How did the signing with Warners come about? Did you approach them or did they approach you?
Greg: We weren't actively seeking out any kind of deal. They contacted us and we were flattered. This was a while ago. We didn't see any reason for leaving SST at the time and we put out "Flip Your Wig." We kept in touch and "Flip Your Wig" sold well and started to get more "straight press" from Cream and Spin and stuff like that. Pretty much the decision was made for distribution purposes. Now all these kids that walk into their local drug store and buy their favorite teen magazine can also buy our record at the drug store. Jon: I know when X signed with Elektra that was one of the big reasons for the move. Were there any hard feelings when you left SST?
Greg: No, there wasn't any hard feelings. SST has retained the back catalog. It's not like we said we're going to pull out everything out from underneath you and we're going to demand all this money. We still see those guys and talk to them. We were recently in New York and Black Flag was playing Maxwell's. We were there a couple of days early to do things like this and Greg Ginn said he'd liked the new album better than the last few they put out. That was kind of interesting.
Jon: One of the things I liked about Hüsker Dü when it was on SST was that you could almost count on a new record every five or six months. I guess that holds true with a lot of SST artists. Are you going to be able to continue that with Warner or is that now bad marketing strategy?
Greg: They're not actually telling us what we should or shouldn't do. We are going to take a short break and have it be a little longer between albums. We have released three records within the space of a year. Four albums in the last two years. We want to slow down a little to get the listener a chance to catch up.
Jon: Did you have a bigger recording budget with Candy Apple Grey?
Greg: Well, we basically started recording the album before we got signed with Warners. And we did spend a little more time on it just because Bob and Grant have gotten a lot better at producing, Bob in particular.
Jon: Yeah, I noticed that Bob and Grant produced the new album. I always think of big record companies assigning some hot producer to their bands.
Greg: Yeah, we got the production rights. We're not close-minded about working other than ourselves. But I certainly wouldn't jump into the studio with the first producer who said, "I want to work with you guys."
Jon: Has there been a backlash with die-hard fans because you're now on a big label? I remember X got some flack [sic] when they signed with Elektra.
Greg: There hasn't really been a backlash. I'm sure there were a lot of people who were anxious about the release of the album. They might have worried about a major label sell-out. But once the album came out and they heard "Crystal" (the first cut) they probably said, "That's the right band!" It's kind of interesting; I've met people who have Candy Apple Grey and they thought it was an SST record. They went, "Oh, you're on Warner Brothers now?"
Jon: Yeah, I don't think people look to see what label bands are on.... There are more slow songs on the new album. That's a little bit of a departure from what you were doing before, which was mostly fast songs. Do you feel that that's a big leap for you? Or is this a logical extension of what you were doing before?
Greg: Possibly a little of all those things. Actually, Bob writes a lot of his songs on an acoustic guitar. That's one song that translates really well live.* Flip Your Wig was more of an up record and Candy Apple Grey is darker and a bit more down.
Jon: The first album of yours that I got was Metal Circus, which was really good hardcore punk. And then with Flip Your Wig last year, the band really seemed to develop. The melodies were a lot stronger. The band seemed to have grown so much musically. How do you view the evolution of the band?
Greg: The way I've seen it is that it's all a maturing process. When we first started in 1979 we all sort of knew how to play but we really didn't know how to play. We just played as often as we could, and in the span of seven years we've matured as musicians, songwriters and producers. It's kind of a natural kind of thing. You would hope that the more you did something, the better you'd get at it.
Jon: Was there a hard-core scene in Minnesota that you identified with or belonged to? I was sort of surprised when I saw you a few years ago because I didn't see a big punk contingent there.
Greg: When we started in 1979, I guess, for lack of a better term, we were a punk band. I guess hardcore didn't get going until 1981. And in '81 it was our first time to the west coast. We didn't know what hardcore was. We just got up there and played real fast and loud. We were real abrasive and we jumped around a lot and people said, "Wow, what a great hardcore band." And people started writing that. We never really considered ourselves hardcore. So the audiences would definitely be "hardcore" crowds. I think after Metal Circus and especially Zen Arcade, a lot of other people started noticing the band, and they liked the band because of the music and not because we werre into one particular thing. So now when I think of Hüsker crowds, I think of people who are very diverse and have interesting backgrounds.
Jon: Would you ever consider moving out of Minnesota to, say, Los Angeles? Or would you stay there no matter how practical it would be to Los Angeles or New York?
Greg: Yeah (we'd stay in Minneapolis). Actually it's kind of practical staying in Minneapolis. For touring in particular, it's real easy for us to take three weeks and totally take care of the east coast, and take another three weeks and do the west coast. And take another three weeks and do Texas and the south. And then do Canada. If we lived out in Los Angeles and we wanted to play New York and we played the way out and we played the way back, we'd be out for three months.
Jon: When you played the "Mary Tyler Moore Theme," was that sort of a tribute to Minneapolis or was it meant mostly as a joke? It's great. I love the song.
Greg: It was sort of a fun and funny thing to start off with. Then it's a real nice song. But since we're from Minneapolis, we always got the "Oh, you're from Minneapolis, how's Mary Tyler Moore?" or "What's Lou Grant up to?" and stuff like that. So we just started playing that.
Jon: I liked the video to that, which is merged together with "Makes No Sense At All." I thought you did a funny job spoofing the whole intro to the "Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Greg: Yeah, it was real windy the day we did the shots at the mall, so nobody had a hat they wanted to throw. It would have gone a block.
Jon: When I was trying to set up an interview with you guys about a month ago, I was told you were busy shooting a new video. Is this now a major league production?
Greg: We shot it on super 8 and it was transferred to video. It's a little grainy. It's not a "rock" video. It has a lot of live footage and it has a lot of footage of us just sitting around.
Jon: Which song did you shoot?
Greg: "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely."
Jon: How do you guys decide which song you want to cover? You've done some really great versions of songs like "Eight Miles High" and now the live "Helter Skelter" on the new 12 inch. Are those just songs you grew up with and liked?
Greg: Yeah, we don't really sit around and have meetings saying we have to pick four covers this year. It just sort of comes up. Like "Eight Miles High." the first time we were out on the east coast we did a show at Folk City, which is a real small place where Dylan first played. At the sound check we just said, "Let's play 'Eight Miles High.'" I didn't even know the bass line, but I just followed along and made it up. So we thought it would be fun for Folk City. We played it and it was kinda fun and we just kept playing it and then we recorded it. Now "Helter Skelter" is just a fun one to play live and get wild and make a lot of noise. Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum jumps up and sings on that.
Jon: It's amazing how Minneapolis is suddenly all the rage in the rock circles because of the number and the quality of bands that have come out of there—you guys, the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and of course Prince and his related groups.
Greg: Yeah, but it's always been there. It's just about everywhere something's going on. I guess after "Purple Rain" got really big people started saying, "Oh, Minneapolis!" and then they say, "Wow, there are other things going on here too!" Us and the Replacements were growing and even more writers started looking at Minneapolis. But it's the same with Athens, Georgia, Boston and Austin Texas.

(At this point, Greg and I were ushered into another room. Here Hüsker guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould is waiting patiently, having just finished up with a separate interview.)
Bob: You're taping over a Beatles album.
Jon: It's been taped over a number of times. It was a Beatles album about four years ago.
Bob: Okay. "Hey Jude" is not that great of an album anyway.
Grant**: I was kinda glad we moved in here. I wanted to have a cigarette but I wasn't sure if that person (who usually occupies the office) smoked or not.
Jon: Are you friends with the Replacements?
Grant: They started shortly after we started. Both bands have sort of gone on parallel lines. We don't see them a lot any more. They're on the road and we're at home, or we're on the road and they're at home.
Jon: You never know what you;re going to get at a Replacements show. They're real unpredictable.
Bob: It's part of them.
Jon: Sometimes I get the feeling that they're deliberately trying not to further their careers, at least in the commercial sense.
Bob: It's hard to sat what their goals are or what they want to get out of it. I'm not sure where they're at.
Jon: Do you see Hüsker Dü going in a certain direction artistically?
Bob: Each record we work on the blueprint and then take it to the studio. If we haven't been doing it live then we have a little work to do. If we have been doing it live then it stays the way it is. As far as direction, each album basically is just the mood of where we were at the time. As far as conscious change, we're changing all the time. It's hard to say if there's a direction we're heading for. There's sort of this road, but there are a lot of detours that you can take. There are a lot of different gas stations out there.
Jon: Is it pretty hard writing songs on the road?
Bob: Yeah. It can be done. You can write anywhere. In the bathroom if you want. I myself tend to take a journal. I take notes on the road, either mental or written notes. Just assimilate everything. I have one room at home where I just sit and work a lot. I try to remember things I saw or was thinking about. I open up this exploding box of notes. Sometimes I have page one from something and page two from another and they end up being one song! It's like two different universes. It's like seeing different images and spitting them out. They come out in different orders.
Jon: How about a song like "New Day Rising?" What inspires something like that?
Bob: Yeah, it's three words. That was more of a liberation than a poetic thing. It wasn't poetic at all.
Jon: I thought maybe you had seen a beautiful sunset like on the cover of the album. You know that album cover reminds me of a story Mike Watt told me when Rolling Stone wanted to shoot the Minutemen for the magazine. At first they had taken some shots at the beach. But those pictures were rejected by the editors because they weren't punk enough. I thought maybe you were trying to shatter the whole punk stereotype with that cover.
Bob: No. That was just a pretty obvious cover for the title. It should have had a sunset.
Jon: Is there a strong sense of community with the bands in Minneapolis? It was real strong here in L.A., but it seems to have died down a little.
Bob: there always has been. We all run into each other. Of course, it's not a very big city. All the bands have a sense of responsibility to the scene. But I think all the bands want to be judged individually as well, and not just be a "Minneapolis band." It's a real responsible scene. There aren't many bands wrecking clubs or anything. That doesn't happen.
Jon: Here we've had problems with the police...
Bob: I think in Minneapolis everyone takes the music near and dear to their hearts. The music scene is so good for Minnesota. It's probably the biggest export the state's ever had!
Jon: It seems like there are a lot more home-grown bands now. People don't feel like they have to move to L.A. or New York to make it. I think that's been good.
[Bob's response was apparently lost in another editing accident...or perhaps was actually the latter portion of the statement above.]
Jon: It could be interesting though. If you really hated L.A. you could come here to live and then write an incredibly angry, cutting album.
Bob: People around the country are all different. That's what's great. Bands from Georgia have a different way of looking at things or getting them across. That's what's cool about it. You should be able to make it on your own terms.
Greg: I think those bands that feel you have to move to L.A. or New York find that there are too many people and bands out in those areas.
Jon: Did you get offers from other labels?
Bob: Everybody.
Jon: How did you decide on Warners?
Bob: Warners was the most reasonable of the labels about listening to our concerns about not wanting to be packaged or marketed. Don't make a big stir, just let us put out records. Don't try to make us something we're not.
Greg: They were real sincere.
Bob: Yeah. You have to grill them about why they're interested in you. "You got Van Halen, ZZ Top and Dire Straits. What do you want us for?"
Greg: I think some labels may hear a buzz about somebody and they may have never heard of them before, but they'll say XYZ record company is really hot on this band and they're about to sign them so they say they'll sign us.
Bob: Warners was the label that was interested in us when Zen Arcade came out. We kept turning them down, but they were very persistent. When we finally sat down to talk to them they had some good reasons.
Greg: My experiences have been very good with Warners as far as publicity goes. I heard Legal Weapon signed with A&M, but when they went into the studio the company said, "No, don't do that; we want you to sound more like Bryan Adams."
Bob: That didn't happen to us. We said we didn't want to be the next whoever. And they said, "We don't want you to be anything else. We like the way you sound."
Jon: Do you have a lot of material for the next record?
Bob: We have a lot of songs as always. But we haven't gotten together to figure out what we're going to do yet. We're too busy touring. Then we're going to take the summer off and do some work on the next record. Maybe the album will come out early next year. It's really up in the air [hmmmm]. We're one of those bands that have lived and died by a timetable for the last five years. I just tore the damned thing off the wall when we started this tour. I said, "This is silly." I looked at it and there wasn't but five days off and I said, "I can't do this any more." I was not going to kill myself. We're just going to go home and cool out and work on some tunes....
Jon: Do you have any final words to add?
Bob: No words of wisdom today....

*For whatever reason, probably an editing or transcription error, the song referenced here is nowhere specified...maybe "Celebrated Summer?"
**This is the first indication of Grant's presence, and context suggests that it's really still Greg talking here.

Back to Hüsker Dü magazine articles page
Back to Hüsker Dü database main page