Bob Mould's New Workbook

Former Husker exploring new sounds on three new releases

Bob Mould performs in Leeds, Great Britain.
Andy Paradise/WireImage
Bob Mould performs in Leeds, Great Britain.
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In the years since he stopped making noise and melody with Husker Du, Bob Mould's interests have fluctuated from his aptly titled and radio-ready band Sugar to the quiet introspection of the solo acoustic Workbook. In recent years, having completed a six-month stint writing wrestling scripts for the WCW, Mould's found himself in front of a computer, sampling guitars and keyboards and digging around for sounds that fit with his latest interest: electronica.

With four years elapsed since his last album The Last Dog and Pony Show, Mould's hiatus has yielded three albums: the recently released Modulate, a half-electronica/half-rock record; Long Playing Grooves, an entirely electronic work to be released June 18th under the alias LoudBomb; and the acoustic Body of Song, slated for a September 10th issue. Mould took time out to talk about his new records, plans for his Granary Music label and his upcoming Carnival of Light and Sound tour.

You seem to be enjoying a particularly creative period.
It's been about three and a half years since the last record came out in the fall of '98. I finished up touring at the end of '98 and then came back home to New York and started writing in a lot of different directions. I started writing some solo acoustic stuff and I started messing around with a little heavier electronic direction than I've ever gone in. On and off I've been writing in a lot of different styles. In 1999 I wrote for about six months and then I got the writing gig at WCW and that ate up everything from Labor Day '99 to Easter 2000, and then in the fall of 2000 I got back to writing and settled in started heading in more of the electronic direction. I didn't know what I was doing. I had to learn how to create that music by myself using different samples, different software packages and different sounds and melody.

What drew you to electronic music?
I've just been enjoying working by myself, sitting and composing messing around with different sounds. I think I'm influenced by things I've been listening to -- whether it's Sasha and Digweed or Junkie XL. They're some of my favorite records in the past couple years. Quite frankly, the late Nineties through about now, all the sort of heavy, "why me" guitar rock stuff I've heard before. I did it a lot before. I wanted to try something different and to learn. It was fun to not really understand what the end result was going to be. I was fishing around in different directions and trying to find a marriage with the electronic stuff and my pop sensibility.

Are you anxious about how it will be received?
A bit. I know as a fan when somebody whose work I really love throws me a curveball, it takes a while to adjust to it. I fully expect a certain percentage of the audience to not like it, but I wanted to make that record. I feel real strongly about it. If I put the electronic songs on the back half of the album, they might say, "He's sort of dinking around trying to make a statement." But I put them up front. This is the way the record is supposed to be.

How does the songwriting process compare? How do you approach writing "Sunset Safety Glass" vs. say "Standing in the Rain" or "Favorite Thing" or "Dreaming I Am"?
"Sunset Safety Glass" started with me sampling a riff I played on the acoustic twelve-string. The sped up sample of that bizarre hurdy gurdy rotating wheel sound through the whole thing drew me in, and I sat and thought, "How can I make this fill out?" I picked up the acoustic guitar and played that and then laid down a very simplistic 4/4 beat underneath it, and then I tried to use the traditional sonic lifting I would do with any song. It's a lot of the same techniques, except it's not based around so much composing on guitar but composing around samples or found sound -- like with "180 Rain" that's the newest song on the record. That was written last August. I really liked the process of building it with all those fancy colors on top of it and taking all of the traditional stuff away and being left with the bells and whistles and having to construct a song inside of that. I'd never done that. It was like, "Wow this is really fun." Ideally it will start to evolve. I have no idea what direction it will go.

"Trade" sounds like the best blend of the electronic stuff and the more melodic things you're known for.
What's weird about that is I was sort of jamming with keyboards and loops, and I fell into that song. That song is from 1987. It was a song I'd written when Husker Du was still together. I brought that to the other two people in my band and it never really stuck.

You mentioned you used a lot of found sound on the album. Where did you go to get it?
A lot of it was taking guitars and keyboards and really sort of destroying them in side of a computer, crunching down heavy with distortion and compression, flipping them over. There's no outside samples -- I tried going that route but it just didn't sit with me. I've been composing and making my own sound for so long I wasn't that keen on grabbing a Supertramp record and sampling it, although I love that Daft Punk record to death. I think as a composer it made more sense to me to make my own sounds. It all sort of generated for me from my hands and my head. Someday maybe I'll go that other route.

What's your plan for your label, Granary Music?
What we want to do is get it up and running with me first. We want to get the bugs worked out on my stuff, and then once we see how it works start looking for other bands. Once we start signing bands, I think it will be all over the place -- electronica, spoken word, anything we feel deserves to be heard. We're basically using my brand name to take it to a small group who would buy it out of loyalty to me and whoever else might want to hear it.

Tell me a little bit about the Carnival of Light and Sound tour.
This tour is driving me nuts already. The deal is I gave it this name Carnival of Light and Sound. I'm going to create tracks I can play along with for the whole new record, in addition there's going to be 9 X 12 screens behind me. I'm putting together original film content for every bit of the show; some music video kind of stuff, some images and textures, some racy some a little bizarre some of it ambient stuff. I send people out with cameras four, five six hours a day and then I sit here and try to edit the things. It's the best we can do with the time and money we have. It's not a feature film but it's interesting and it will give people something to look at besides me.