The chat with Bob Mould that formed the basis for this
SnackCake cover story
was conducted at the
Fillmore in SF on 13 Oct 1998, during the latter
stages of the North American segment of the LDAPS tour. This issue of
SnackCake! magazine was the last print edition. The zine continued
for a while afterward as an online version published at irregular
intervals, but its link now
looks quite dead. Article written by Spence D. Photos by Peter Ellenby.
Warehouse: Songs and Stories ("You Can Live at Home" is a power pop
classic, and even though it was written by drummer Grant Hart, it's Mould's
searing guitar blast which truly elevates the song into classic status). I
must admit at this time I still looked upon Hüsker albums like Zen
Arcade, Flip Your Wig, and Candy Apple Grey as being
extremely noisy, unlistenable drudge. However, regardless of my dislike for
his past musical endeavors, I had become a first rate Mould fan based on the
11 tracks contained within Workbook.
Then came Black Sheets of Rain,
an equally potent collection of
bittersweet lyrics and beautifully crafted guitar compositions.
I must admit that I literally slept on Mould's next "real band" incarnation, Sugar.
When I learned that Bob was once again embarking on the solo tip - and that he was going to retire his electric rage antics - I knew that I had to speak with him. Sure, I may not be the biggest Hüsker Dü fan out there (I have since come to love Flip Your Wig, perhaps one of the most brilliant forays into noise drenched power pop ever to see the light of wax) but Bob's solo work has touched me.
The whole "retirement" issue surrounding Mould's latest, The Last Dog and Pony Show, and the subsequent tour in support of it has sparked a lot of questions among loyal fans and the rock world, in general. In terms of a retirement, I can't help but refer to the copious liner notes from Warehouse: Songs and Stories, in which Mould penned the following words: "Sometimes you feel real old, older than you are. Check the aches and pains, the hairline, the demands of life... you've got to know where the breaks are and enjoy life at a realistic pace and reevaluate your priorities."
"That's where I was when I wrote that stuff back in late 1986," responds Mould, speaking to me at San Francisco's
Fillmore." Whether that stuff holds water 12 years
later.... Ahh, I mean it sounds appropriate. It sounds close to
where I'm at now." He pauses before continuing, "But, you know, the real
approach here is that this is pretty much the last time that I want to put
together a loud electric band and go around and tour the country from month
to month on end, because I find that it's a little bit disruptive to my
personal life." As for the rumors of hearing loss, Mould explains, "My
hearing's better than most people's. I don't have any hearing problems.
It's a rumor that unfortunately now I can't have any more fun with because
everybody thinks it's true. My hearing is fine. My head rings after a show
just like everybody else's but two days after a tour is done it's just fine.
I haven't had any M70s go off by my eardrums like other guitarists have,"
Speaking of the hearing rumor, I remember how I always used to refer to Bob as the "Pete Townshend of the '90s." His solo work evoked images of the legendary Who guitarist both lyrically and in the way he worked magic on the six string. Mould, who actually played a set of New York gigs with Townshend a few years back, takes it all in stride. "Well, I was born in '60, so I remember having the 'Happy Jack' single when I was six. So that's when my fandom with The Who started," he recalls. "I loved Tommy and as a kid loved the movie. I was real
familiar with their stuff. People have
drawn - and I think they're accurate, at the risk of
sounding silly - comparisons between what he's done and what I do. I'm
flattered that people find that connection. It's been neat to sit and talk
with him about music and sort of throw ideas around. It's nice. He's got a
pretty huge body of work, you know?"
But then Mould's body of work isn't too shabby, either, including eight records with Hüsker, four solo records, three Sugar records (one comprised of b-sides) and somewhere in the range of five EPs. The Last Dog and Pony Show is a noticeable departure from his previous solo work. First off, there's quite a bit of keyboard and organ layered throughout, especially on tracks like "First Drag Of The Day."
"There was a fair amount of Hammond organ on Workbook," remarks Mould. "I mean, "Compositions For The Young And Old" was pretty much based around that. With the Hüsker stuff, Grant Hart's side of it, he always wanted to bring the Hamond organ into pretty much everything. And with Sugar, on Copper Blue there was a good amount. But I think with the new album, especially 'Megamanic' and 'First Drag,' I think with the real heavy sampled stuff it's more apparent and really sits out there." In fact, the aforementioned "Megamanic" actually has Mould engaging in a rap-like spiel. "'Megamanic,' that was just a spontaneous thing that I started working on in the studio, just messing with loops and with a really old, gritty sampler," he recalls. "It was fun just to take it over to a couple of the regular songs and fuck with those a little bit. I experiment with stuff like that at home a lot but rarely do I put it on records because I got hung up on this thing where all the records are supposed to be very important and carry this gravity. With the new record it was time to let my hair down and show people what I do when I'm having fun."
Anyone who was privileged enough to see Mould's last electric go-around was obviously aware that the man was indeed having fun. By all accounts his shows were loose and ragged without being sloppy. Just a guy, his guitar, and some friends having a blast. Over the years Bob Mould has had the fortune to work in both a band atmosphere and in the solo spectrum. One can't help but wonder about the pros and cons of each type of situation.
"Whenever it has a band name it seems to sell more t-shirts. I'm serious. That's the only difference, really," he laughs. "Kids perceive an actual name like Bob Mould to be boring. A name like Sugar is exciting. The content is not that different. It's marketing. And I didn't realize it until after the fact. It wasn't some master stroke that I came up with while climbing some mountain. It was just like I noticed it. That's why Sugar was able to get a broader audience and to have that brief intersection with the mainstream for a couple of months. We used a lot of primary colors in the video and we had a band name. People aren't gonna put my name on a t-shirt and walk around. They're not gonna go back to school the next day and say 'Man, I went to see this 33-year old guy and he rocked and here's his name on my shirt.' They're gonna laugh that kid outta school. The funny thing is that I think all the work is equally good. The Workbook/Black Sheets era, Sugar, and the Dog and Pony stuff is all real consistent and it's all pretty high quality and it's all my stuff, save a few Sugar songs which [bassist] David Barbe brought in. And no knock on Sugar, but the band was put together to make the third Bob Mould solo record. It just ended up that it was going so well and we were having so much fun with it that I thought it would be nice to give it a band name because everybody seemed to be on the [same] wavelength. Anyway, it's really about perception. Sugar reminded people a lot more of Hüsker Dü, and I think for people who missed out on Hüsker, it was their chance to re-live it. It looked a little more familiar. Or maybe 'Bob' was where he was supposed to be, where people wanted him to be, in a three-piece, over stage left, screaming fast pop songs. And it was all very comfortable. Which is great. You know, I don't know these things as they're happening, but when I look back and the hindsight is a little more accurate than the here and now, I say 'Okay, I get it.' I'm cool with it. It is what it is. It's just my interpretation of the recent past, having been there for all of it."
Given the title of his recent album and tour, does Mould actually see the rock and roll machine as being a dog and pony show? "To me the dog and pony show is all the promo jazz. Sometimes I get trotted around and I gotta do the meet and greets. Kissin' hands and shakin' babies and doin' the whole thing, tellin' everybody to go see my new movie and vote for me for senator. It's part of projecting a persona and
I'm not really that comfortable with it.
I would hope that I can do my work, put it out there and an audience will
come to it at the right time. But the whole dog and pony deal, really
promoting records, doin' the deal - it can be really humiliating. If I have
to go to a radio station in Timbuktu and the on-air talent, who is much more
famous than I'll ever be in that market, puts me on the air for five minutes
at drive time and I'm not even out of the room and he's like, 'Who the fuck
is that asshole?' You know, sure, I feel really good. Take me to the
next market and I'll do it again. When doing something for the station means
they might play your stuff, then my faith in programmers
being able to have independent thought and playing songs because they like
them, it's all gone. That's the part that hurts. When I go on with Jockboy
or whoever and he's making a fool out of me because that's what he does with
everybody that comes to [the station], it's like I'm just a piece of meat.
It's like I'm yesterday's sandwich and I'm supposed to curry some favor with
the station where they might flip me in on next week's call-out. I'm like,
'Okay, so you really don't give a fuck about the record, but I'm here and this
is supposed to get me 10 points in the ring toss?' But then the funny thing
is that I fight these things and I don't want to do them and then every once
in a while it's an amazing scenario where everybody wins. Like 30 people
come, I play a few songs in the studio, I talk to real fans, who had to
justify why they wanted to see the show. The response is amazing, you
couldn't believe how heartfelt and sincere the requests were for tickets.
I love doing stuff like that. But man, when I'm just out there jumping
through the hoop, it's hard and I lose my faith in the business."
Being a legendary musician is hard work, and when you work hard you tend to et mighty hungry. So what does Bob Mould reach for when those pangs kick in? Believe it or not, his favorite snack cake item is Little Debbies. "The ones where it's like soggy oatmeal cookies pressed together with the foam in the middle," he explains. "I don't eat them any more, but I went through a phase of really liking them." Mould has since given up the LDs in favor of Power Bars. "I was into the chocolate ones for awhile, but then it began to remind me too much of eating Tootsie Rolls so I went over to the oatmeal raisin. They seem to be more of a staple food item. I'm a Power Bar guy. You can eat them standing up and you don't have to stop what you're doing."
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