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Punk music pioneer Bob Mould talks about today's lousy music, the downfall of corporate rock, the Internet, Omaha, Monica Lewinsky and why after 19 years he's decided to quit touring with a rock band.

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Bob Mould Speaks


By Tim McMahan

What is there to say about Bob Mould? Either you know his music or you don't. I'm not going to even try to recap his career, except to say that his music – whether it was performed with Husker Du, Sugar or as a solo performer – is among the most influential in modern music. I'm not overstating. Bands from Nirvana to the Pixies revered Mould and Husker Du as the virtual inventors of post-hardcore alternative rock.

My first encounter with Mould's work wasn't a Husker Du album, but his 1989 solo effort, "Workbook." I didn't even know he was part of Husker Du, or what that band was about, until I read a review of "Workbook" in Rolling Stone. Then I went out and got a copy of the Huskers' "New Day Rising," and was hooked. But even after acquiring most of Husker Du's and Sugar's catalogue, "Workbook" remains the recording that I most enjoy, thanks to its high-powered solo acoustic delivery.

Which makes it easier for me to accept Mould's recent announcement that after 19 years of making some of the loudest, fastest, hardest and most melodic music ever recorded, he's giving up performing with an electric-based rock band. The tour that brings him to the Ranch Bowl Oct. 7 with a 4-piece band will be his last with full electric backing.

"I guess it is a format that I've been best known for over the last 19 years," Mould announced in a Ryko press release. "But I'm getting to the point in my life where it's time to start thinking of doing other things, whether it's focusing more on the acoustic performances or putting together something else. I really enjoy (playing with a band), but I don’t want it to become a parody.

"I don't want to be up there at 50 trying to rock out, with a bad back or something, and have people say, 'I remember seeing him when he was really great playing like that.'"

Via a phone interview before a sold-out show at Chicago's Riveria Theater last week, Mould talked about his announcement, the media, the state of music and even a little about politics. He laughed throughout the whole damn thing, which pretty much underscores the fact that he's anything but maudlin about giving up his role in the high-decibel punk rock music wars.

 

The press about your announcement has been enormous. Are you surprised at the amount of attention it's been getting from the media?

Yes, but it is fairly newsworthy. It seems to be the focal point of what I've been talking about for the past few months. People have been discussing that this is the last electric band tour I'll attempt to do in my lifetime. It's the story right now.

How many times have you been asked about it? Thousands?

Not quite a thousand.

So you're not getting tired of talking about it?

I just haven't been asked about it a thousand times yet. I don't know if that's my breaking point or not. I think the idea of me bringing it up and making an issue of it leads one to believe that I'd be expected to talk about it. And I don’t mind because for me, it's a really good feeling to know that it will all be over in November.

Are people still trying to change your mind?

No. Putting together a really well-rounded band and going out on the road for at least two months at a time is something I've been doing for a long time, and something that I've really enjoyed. But sooner or later it will lose its charm and, frankly, I'd rather get away from it before that happens. I'd hate to be in the middle of a 3-month tour and then have it lose its charm.

A great deal of your stuff is well suited for acoustic performances. Are you going to continue to do that?

Yeah, I'm sure they'll be as many performances as before, there just won't be these long, protracted tours. I'll be able to hit a certain part of the country for 10 days and then go home, so my normal life doesn't get disrupted too much.

The public seems to be turning away from heavy music and even the media is heralding that rock is dead… again. Is that just a coincidence in terms of your timing?

I'm not really up on what people are into, I don't follow the press. I can safely say that suburban white-guy guitar grunge rock has been tired since people called it that. And if that's what people are reacting against, then I'm all for it, because it's really not that interesting.

My take on the music business in general: I think there's a real problem happening right now and it's the fact that the whole business has boiled down to a handful of large, multi-national corporations that are struggling to get teen-agers to part with their money in their direction.

There's way too much bad music out there these days. I think people are getting sick of buying music that doesn't mean anything to them. Unfortunately, popular music is being reduced to a backdrop or as an accessory when you're buying clothes at the Gap. It's like a handbag or fingernail polish; music has been reduced to something that's meaningless. It's a real shame, but maybe it needs to be destroyed so those of us who take it seriously can find another way to go about our business. Because the music business as it exists right now is a pretty unattractive proposition.

What, then is the future of rock music?

What I see happening now is the Internet. I think there's going to be a pretty big shift in how consumers connect with and support artists. We're going to see a big, big change happen. The big corporations are really scrambling right now, because there may be only another 10 or 15 years left of shipping CDs around the country in boxes on trucks. It's not gonna last much longer.

I think the reason that big business has been able to control the artists and control the direction of pop culture is because it was controlling the distribution. And once that's taken away from them – and it's slowly slipping away – everything's going to change.

Will that mean more freedom for artists?

Yes, but I think artists will have to be satisfied with a smaller fan base. Yet, they should be able to reach that fan base directly in years to come.

Sort of how Prince tried to by using the Internet to sell his last CD?

Yeah, but on a more practical level. I think if Prince hadn't freaked out and let Best Buy have that record before he fulfilled his Internet orders, he might have been onto something. But you can't have it both ways. If you're gonna drop out, you've got to really drop out. And he didn't want to drop out completely.

Despite the sorry state of music, is there anything that's out there these days that you like to listen to?

Neutral Milk Hotel are really good. There's a group from Washington state called Modest Mouse, they're really interesting. Their stuff really impresses me; it has a really good feel to it. They really paint a nice picture with their music. I even like the new Money Mark record; it's a good, interesting sort of pop-type of thing. I think the most recent Smashing Pumpkins record is more interesting than anything they've ever done.

The bands that are trying something different unfortunately won't attract a large audience.

Probably not, but I don't think the point of Modest Mouse or the Rachels or Neutral Milk Hotel is to reach a big audience. I think a lot of those people are just following their muse, which I thought was what we were all suppose to be doing, instead of following our A&R person's advice.

So what will you miss most about touring with an electric band?

It's weird, this week I realized it's not so much about "great show" or "bad show," it's more about the people-things that happen amongst those who travel with us. Little funny day-to-day things that happen, people's idiosyncrasies and how they all start to pile up and turn into characters. Real life stuff. That part I might miss, but I have that in my normal life, too.

What do you remember about Omaha?

I remember the IHOP that got turned into a Japanese restaurant, serving the Japanese community since at least 1990. I found it quite interesting, but I never ordered the buttermilk sushi. Omaha's very spread out; it's an horizon-oriented city. It seems like there are about three miles between blocks.

One final question… because your music has always dealt the politics of relationships… what do you think about the whole Clinton/Lewinsky thing?

Historically, where do I put this one? JFK, everyone's favorite president, did much, much worse. Yet is revered. I don't have a problem with that; it didn't affect his performance as far as I can tell. Nixon. Pretty bad shit. They got rid of him. Things he did: Vietnam. Thank you very much. Let's jump up to Reagan and Bush. I'm the president, I want to fund a covert operation by introducing crack into the inner-city neighborhoods of America, thereby destroying the moral fabric of the city. Move up to Bill Clinton. He gets a blowjob by an intern. I don't know... is it just me or is that really not germane to the fact that five years ago we entered an entirely new economy that will have the impact that the Industrial Revolution had? I don't think it's that big a deal. And I don't know too many people in the public eye, if hard pressed, who would deny having an affair outside their marriage.

The people who are so quick to condemn are the people who couldn't even fathom being in that situation. I don't see any problem with it, other than the guy is a fool for doing it, but does that mean we think any less of his activities as a president? No.

You know, all people see are the sound bites. Of course this whole thing is choreographed. It's nonsense; it's a ridiculous thing. And if anybody truly believes the president is truly evil because of it, they've got to check into what politics and government is all about.


(return to the profiles home)

Most of this article was printed in The Reader Oct. 1, 1998. Not included in the published version was the first few paragraphs of the introduction and the question and answer concerning Monica Lewinsky (maybe because the question sounded awkward, more likely because the publisher/editor prefers to keep politics out of his music coverage. You'll have to ask him...)

Copyright 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm getting to the point in my life where it's time to start thinking of doing other things, whether it's focusing more on the acoustic performances or putting together something else. I really enjoy (playing with a band), but I don’t want it to become a parody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can safely say that suburban white-guy guitar grunge rock has been tired since people called it that. And if that's what people are reacting against, then I'm all for it, because it's really not that interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reason that big business has been able to control the artists and control the direction of pop culture is because it was controlling the distribution. And once that's taken away from them – and it's slowly slipping away – everything's going to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don't think the point of Modest Mouse or the Rachels or Neutral Milk Hotel is to reach a big audience. I think a lot of those people are just following their muse, which I thought was what we were all suppose to be doing, instead of following our A&R person's advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The people who are so quick to condemn are the people who couldn't even fathom being in that situation. I don't see any problem with it, other than the guy is a fool for doing it, but does that mean we think any less of his activities as a president? No.