Hüsker Dü Database
Magazine articles & interviews

Rock It, Sep 1986

If this issue is any indication, Rock It was a slick magazine out of LA with roots in mainstream rock but an ear for new music. Editor Jeff Silberman wrote this piece — for all intents and purposes, an interview with Bob — after Candy Apple Grey had been out for a few months. The accompanying color photo, uncredited in the magazine, was shot by Daniel Corrigan.

by Jeff Silberman
t promised to be an epic rock 'n' roll confrontation of art vs. commercialism. Minneapolis' Husker Du was one of the most critically acclaimed groups in the land. Their 1984 double album, Zen Arcade, was hailed as a punk/rock combination of the Beatles' White Album and Sgt. Pepper. For an encore they released two
albums in the following year, both of which were honored in The Village Voice's "Best of '85" list and scores of other publications.
      Then the inevitable. Husker Du finally signed with a major label, Warner Bros. The usual questions were raised. Will the thrash/pop trio succumb to corporate rock standards of mass appeal success? Like other highly touted acts, will they opt for a breakthrough under the wing of a big-name producer? Will they change their ondescript visual image? And last but not least, will they be able to withstand all that and sell records?
      Their debut Warner release, Candy Apple Grey, hasn't answered all the questions. It hasn't exactly gone platinum, but it has easily topped the sales of their past work on the independent SST Records. The new tunes are more accessible, but that basically confirms a songwriting trend evident for a few yers. One thing, though, seems assured: Husker Du stuck to their creative guns not only in the studio, where they produced the disk themselves, but in how they approach their craft.
      Guitarist/singer Bob Mould detailed the usual reasons for leaving an independent label for a major. "SST's a really good label, but there's only so far you can go with them," he said. "When we started getting a lot more press in the '7-11 magazines' — People and Creem — it became apparent that the people who shopped there had no way of finding our records. A decision had to be made as to how to approach things in the future. It was sort of a test to see how many people really wanted to hear the band. And judging by the record sales (of the new album), a lot more people want to."
      Actually, the band started recording Candy Apple Grey before they signed to Warners. "Most of the songs were written around Flip Your Wig (their last indie release)", Mould noted. "They were like the dark side of Flip. But some of the ballads were two years old; it just seemed like the right time to finally do them."
      Besides the ballads, the main difference between the new wax and their past work is the growing presence of keyboards. "Some songs, like 'No Promise Have I Made' and 'Sorry Somehow,' just called for them," Mould noted. "When I wrote 'Hardly Getting Over It' I kept hearing a certain 'ping.' I thought it'd be more like a ride cymbal, but for expediency's sake we used keyboards."
      Mould, with drummer/songwriter Grant Hart, only recently started to self-produce the band after years of

working with punk producer Spot. "He comes from a different school of production," Mould explained. "The sounds he hears in his head are unique, but not very fitting to what we're doing now. A producer's job is to be critical of the performance and the arrangements, and to have an idea of how the album should flow from start to finish. I think I have a better grasp of that than Spot or anyone else. Why hire someone who costs a lot of money to come in, sit around, drink and point his finger? I can do that myself."
      Apparently, Warners agreed. Major labels often pressure new bands into hiring big-name producers to provide an accessible sound and to lend an objective ear to the recording. "That's (the disadvantages in not using a producer) the price we have to pay for having these other good qualities," Mould responded. "Our albums, for better or for worse, aren't two hit singles and filler.
and the way they sound on record."
      The main change during the recording was in the mood of the material. "The tone of some songs got a lot heavier," he stated. "At one point, it sounded real wimpy and saccharine. It was ridiculous! So I started looking at the songs to discover what they were really about. I realized that one song didn't need high background vocals, and another needed static stuck in the corner of the mix, or a low-frequency tone. Subliminal things like that can make it more aggressive. There's a balance between overblowing everything and keeping it somewhat close to a live setting."
      However, Mould was quick to point out that not all the material had to be suitable for live performance. "It's Jekyll and Hyde," he remarked. We'll never take the keyboard stuff out live," he stated. "I shouldn't say never, but if we did we wouldn't have a fourth person on keys. We tried to
programmer would do after dropping the needle on "Crystal" and hearing the abrasive guitar thrash practically shred the speakers.
      "To tell you the truth, I'm not worried whether they like it or not," Mould retorted. "It's up to the band to be like the record and be happy with its content. We like scaring the hell out of people; I like that noise at the beginning. If it doesn't fit in a particular radio format, too bad. We didn't make the record for radio; we made it for people to listen to. There's a formula for pulling singles — the first release is usually song three from side one, followed by song one from side two, then the title track, etc. We didn't sit down and go through the hysterics of that. Our records are musical progressions, from start to finish, through a number of emotional changes."
      Although several tunes could fit right into any AOR playlist, it wasn't because of pressure by Warners to "mainstream" the sound. "I can't speak for Grant, but I write songs I want to hear," Mould asserted. "I thought that was what people liked about our band. The label's job is to find the qualities in us they feel are saleable, and do that without selling us out. Sure, I could see us on Top 40 someday, but we're not going to change anything to accomplish that. Making Top 40 would probably make me write even harsher songs. I jsut don't put a lot of stock in 'instant hit' songwriting. I don't think there's ever much soul in it; it's a lot of formula. Writing a song for Top 40 is easy; writing a song for yourself is difficult."
      Already, Mould, Hart and bassist Greg Norton are setting their sights on the next album. After almost a month of inactivity, Mould has been inspired to write 20 new songs. "The amount of writing I do is in direct correlation to the amount of living I do," he declared. "If you don't live, you don't write. If you don't see anytihng, you have nothing to write about. Get out of your back yard and do things, talk to other people and have some experiences. When I start writing I start seeing lots of things, some things I don't like, some things I do. Either way, it's a stimulus. Directly proportionate to how much you take in is how much you put out."
      In that light, there doesn't have to be an inherent conflict between Husker Du and Warner Bros. Not when Bob Mould and company care far more about the quality of their work than about the quantity of records they sell, and when Warner Bros. respects them for that. "I don't have any commercial or career goals," Mould concluded. "I just try to write a better song each time out. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. But that's the thing I strive for — to become a better storyteller, to write better songs and become a better player."

"Our records are musical progressions,
through a number of emotional changes."

They're like diaries. Sometimes they're real nice; sometimes they're not so nice. That goes for content as well as execution. Bands who hire big-name producers still have clunkers on their records. I think our clunker ratio is a lot lower than theirs."
      Candy Apple Grey was recorded in Nicollet Studio in Minneapolis, where the trio cut most of their last work and Mould produced other local acts like Soul Asylum and Impaler. "It's real comfortable," he noted. "It's no more than 10 blocks from where I live. In New York or L.A., I'd have to go back to a motel after a session. Besides, I've done so much stuff there, over the past two years, that I've got it pretty well wired for sound. I know all the nuances of the room, be it the hertz problem or where the floor should be filled with a little more sand, or certain bass taps that aren't quite right. Little things like that you can't trust to an outside producer."
      To say the Huskers engage in pre-production would be a gross understatement. Not only do they know exactly what songs to record, but they practically know the exact order of the songs before they start recording. "We still leave a lot to chance as far as our sound goes, but we do know what songs work well and in what order," Mould explained. "We tend to play songs in batches live like they are on record, because we think they should be presented that way. There's always last-minute changes, but they're nothing radical. On Candy Apple Grey, there's really not much difference between the first rehearsal of the songs
come up with a straight version of 'No Promise Have I Made,' but it wouldn't work. A song like 'Whatever,' off Zen Arcade, has never been played live. A lot of good ones haven't."
      Other songs, like "Crystal," lend themselves to live improvisation. "I want to do more of that in the future," Mould said. "'Crystal' has a pretty straight arrangement, but there's lots of room to get outside. The same goes for 'Wit And The Wisdom' and some of our instrumentals. Writing is such a loose term when we're doing songs like that. It's not so much writing as it's pure emotional expression."

ost of the songs on Candy Apple Grey fell into place, both in the studio and on record. The major exception, "Crystal," became the disc's inaugural cut practically by a process of elimination. "There was no other place
for it on the record," Mould admitted. "It's not a very good song to end the album, and it'd stick out in the middle of side one. It became obvious that we should set the pace for the album, so everyone would know wjere this record was at. It wasn't a happy-go-lucky pop album."
      That logic flies inthe face of "conventional" wisdom. Any promo rep will tell you that almost all radio program directors, when evaluating a new act's record, automatically play the first cut on the first side. If they don't like it, they probably won't even listen to the rest of the disc, and it won't get airplay. Imagine what an unsuspecting

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