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The Man Who Broke
the Mold

The Man Who Broke
the Mold


Bob Mould is what every young musician aspires to be -- versatile, successful, and beloved. How one man became a legend by defying definition.

One of the most enduring figures in underground music, Bob Mould first garnered attention as a member of Minneapolis '80s hardcore-punk trio Husker Du. The group, known at first for their short and fast songs (which were nonetheless highly melodic and thoughtful), issued a string of albums and established Mould as a formidable guitarist and songwriter. In the '90s he tasted more success with the combo Sugar, which scored a 1992 modern-rock hit with "If I Can't Change Your Mind." Mould has also issued seven solo albums displaying vast range, from the introspective singer-songwriter stance of 1989's Workbook to the electronica-oriented Modulate in 2002.

While Mould's career has always seemed on track, his personal life has often zigzagged. Early on, the rocker's homosexuality was de facto knowledge among friends and close fans but not a matter of public record (which was also the case for his bandmate, drummer-songwriter Grant Hart). When Husker Du split in early 1988, the media was more interested in the band's problems with drugs, alcohol, and interpersonal squabbles. But as Sugar began its ascent, Mould was pressured to come out publicly, most notoriously in a 1994 Spin magazine feature by out Frisk author Dennis Cooper; Cooper and Mould had been friends prior to publication, but the article -- full of quotes Mould claims were not attributable -- cooled their relationship. The luxury of going public when he was ready, as did bigger stars like Judas Priest's Rob Halford or George Michael, was not extended to the cult rocker.

Fourteen years later, Mould, 47, seems comfortable in his skin. With record producer and remixer Richard Morel, he DJ's and hosts the long-running queer party Blowoff in Washington, D.C.; the duo also record and produce remixes under that same banner. And his latest solo album, District Line, has earned some of his best reviews in three decades.

Is District Line really as fantastic as critics say, or are listeners just catching up to you again? We finally figured out how much money it takes to get critics to say nice things! [Laughs] I thought it was a good record when I was writing it. It felt natural, like the songs were easy in coming. And when there was difficulty, I was able to discern what needed to be done to make a song work or round the record out properly.

The last album, Body of Song, was technically a good merging of electronica and guitars. I started it in 2000 and finished in early 2005. It was written across a number of different emotional states, from partnered to single to dating, from pre-9/11 to living in the middle of 9/11 to living here. This one was written in the same spot the whole time. That gives it more coherence. Thematically, things move from one place to the next in a more sensible way.

In recent years you have been revisiting older material in concert. How did that feed into the new record? Getting back on the road and revisiting the old songs with an electric band -- spending a lot more time with a guitar in my hands--led me to write a guitar opposed to writing it with samplers or a combination of samplers and guitars.

I really didn't want [the record label] to push it as "a return." Because I never think of it that way. People are sort of uptight about that, including me. Whatever. I know why they do those things. They've got to get people's attention. I'm not upset.

You have in the past described yourself as "a control freak." Is that still applicable? Other people pointed that out to me, and I became resigned to the fact that it might be true. And now...I like to be in charge. I don't know that I need to be in control of everything.

A good example would be in '05 and revisiting the band format. In putting the four guys together I thought more about chemistry and personality. Once we got together, I was not the ringleader. I was just sort of, like, Start and finish the songs together, and whatever happens in the middle, I'm sure it will be just fine. That was a huge relinquishing of having complete dictatorship over the song.

There are other parts of my professional work where I definitely put the iron fist on--but only because I care.

In the early years did a manager or record label ever advise you to keep your personal life under wraps? No, that was a decision I made. When I was over at Virgin, [my sexuality] was teetering on coming out. You could feel it. And it wasn't like the topic was consciously suppressed, but it didn't get mentioned. At that point, it was all I could do to get people not to talk about Husker Du -- because that was the more salacious story at the time -- let alone talking about me being gay. Once that all passed, and Sugar got successful, of course it made sense that Spin would step forward with the either/or ultimatum.

Do you put any stock in the myth that you have to be unhappy to create art? I may have felt that way when I was younger, and more of a miserablist, but now I know that's not the case. For many years I put my work above everything else. I put it above my health and above my relationships. Now? The two things that are most important to me are my health and my relationships. That I have learned. It just took quite a while.

Blowoff is now in its fifth year and travels to cities besides D.C. If you had to boil the party down to a key element, what would it be? Sexy, masculine guys. The crowd makes the party. Our job is to sort through the music and get rid of the stuff you can hear anywhere. Because Rich and I are both songwriters, we have an agenda: A little less Britney, and a little more Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, and the Knife. We have been fortunate to have such a hot, enthusiastic crowd who really enjoy being educated to good well as doing whatever guys do when you put 'em in a room together on a Saturday night. That's the beauty of it. We set the tone for the crowd and just hope that they follow it. And so far, so good.

As somebody who had his share of troubles with substance abuse, how do you feel about the popularity of crystal meth among gays? I had my moments with it -- for different reasons, I think -- when I was very young. It was a very different drug then. It was more of the truck stop/biker kind of drug. I don't know what this is that they're doing now, but I can tell when they're doing it.

I don't want to be the drug police. People will do what they're going to do. And experimentation is good. But there are drugs that have an effect on people...and it is one thing if they want to do that to themselves. Typically, when people are driven by that drug in particular, the vibe they give off affects everyone around them. If you're in a room, hanging out with a bunch of people, just drinking beer or water, and a couple people who are really wound up come into the room, they don't even understand the impact that it has on others around them.

Has Husker Du ever been offered a truckload of money to reunite? No. It's not worth it to anybody. In the course of one month in D.C. there was a Lemonheads show, Dinosaur Jr., and Meat Puppets, and I don't think one of them sold out. I just don't think there's any money in reunions. The Pixies was a fluke. It was the right thing, at the right time, and nobody will ever come close.

Was it difficult being gay in the 1980s punk scene? Did something in that environment deter you from coming out? There were certain sectors of the hardcore-punk community that were a little homophobic, particularly the bands that modeled themselves after the skinhead bands in the U.K. So there was a small portion that was, and the rest of it was very gay-tolerant--incredibly tolerant, especially compared to going to a metal show.

If you were a "homosexual," it was fine. If you were "gay" in the sense of flamboyant? Not so much. If you flew under the radar, it was fine; it didn't matter what you were doing in the bathroom with your buddy. As far as myself, in the '80s it was more personal reasons than any specific perception with my peers, because they all knew I was gay.

Did you ever have an episode back then, at a club or show, where you feared for your safety because of homophobia? No. Look at the people in Husker Du. Who was going to mess with that? Let's be serious. Not to be a badass, but you got three crazy guys, all jacked up on whatever, coming in and turning your club upside down...and you're going to start in on them?

Prior to being out, would you ever attend a gay pride event? Or even a homo-core show? Or did you just steer clear entirely because that made you nervous? I did not participate at any level. Sometime in the early '90s, when I moved to New York, would have been my first pride event. And that was just watching it up near Bryant Park, being some anonymous guy at the beginning of the parade. That wasn't me hanging out on Christopher and Bleecker; I kept a distance. And I remember the very touching moment when the SAGE [Senior Action in a Gay Environment] bus went by, and I really started to tear up. That put a lot of things in perspective for me and was the first of several things where I went, "I'm a homosexual..."

And need to come to terms with it. Yeah...because someday, hopefully, I'm going to be on that bus.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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