Bob Mould has been a key figure in what’s now called “alternative rock” since he first recorded with Hüsker Dü in the early 1980s. The Minneapolis band brought melody and extra muscle to hardcore, directly influencing the Nineties grunge explosion. After the band dissolved in 1988, Mould continued to experiment with rock and electronic textures in the group Sugar, and has lately been touring for solo performances, throwing the Blowoff dance party in various cities, and holding readings of his autobiography See A Little Light.
On November 21st, Bob Mould will receive an epic tribute from the likes of Dave Grohl, Ryan Adams, No Age and many others in “See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould” at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles. He’s also beginning to think about his next studio album. “I’m just getting back to writing now,” Mould says. “I’ve been playing the guitar all year.” He called in from the road to chat with Rolling Stone about his many projects ahead, the satisfaction of writing a book and how electronics helped him forge a new identity.
Dave Grohl recently told us how much your music had influenced him. How long have you known him?
I played a bunch of shows with Nirvana in Europe over the summer of ’91, but truth be told, they were a little scary. They were trashing the stage every night. Those weren’t the kind of guys I wanted to be around at that point. They seemed pretty nutty, but I loved their music. I saw a lot of those shows right before Nevermind. They were quite good.
Dave and I met a couple of years ago in Washington, D.C., at the 30th anniversary show for the 9:30 Club – which is probably where he first saw the Huskers. Then last October, he called and asked about coming down to work the Foos record. He’d written a song for he and I to play with the band. I spent a day with him and Butch [Vig] at the studio.
That song, “Dear Rosemary,” would sound like one of your songs even if you weren’t singing on it. Have you followed the Foos’ career?
I’m a big fan of theirs. I played that album There is Nothing Left to Lose to death. The whole band are really nice guys, and Dave has been very gracious. They’ve got a pretty big spotlight on them right now, ostensibly the last great rock band. It was nice that they were sharing a little bit of the light with me. And they’re fun to hang out with. Who doesn’t want to hang out with Pat Smear?
What will you be doing at Disney Hall?
I will be playing a little bit of music at the end. I might sit in a couple of times. I’m sort of music supervising the shows a little bit, trying to get up to speed on which versions of the songs they should try. I enjoy putting shows together. Disney Hall is a great room. I think it will be pretty cool.
You’ve often been busy, but now you seem to have a lot of extra variety in your career now.
There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s really been the last decade, upon moving to D.C. and starting Blowoff at the beginning of ’03 and doing Body of Song and getting a band back together and getting out and doing a full rock show. Three solo records, the band tour, and then the book this year – so it’s been pretty wild. I feel lucky for that.
What part of you book do you keep returning to at your readings?
One of the things I like to read from the book is to give people an idea the importance of environment on creating work. Home is really important to me. So much of the work over the last 25 years has been written at home, with whatever my relationship status was, the physical environment, how social or antisocial I am at any point in my life. That stuff is really key to the creative process. It’s nice to share that with people.
You’re now in San Francisco, and Hüsker Dü famously came out of Minneapolis. How much does location matter?
It’s everything. If you immerse yourself in your life and your neighborhood and the politics and the relationships you make with people and the routines that we establish as people – those are all the things that resonate and make the work what it is. We all write songs from personal experience. Not all of them are literal personal experiences. If you’re in a cold-weather environment like Minneapolis, it tends to be more depressed – you need to find more things to do inside.
Did the book change the way you see any of the events of your life?
Yeah. I’d be hard-pressed to say, “I wrote the book and my opinion on this completely changed.” All of us in our lives have moments that help define us – things that cause shifts in how you view the world. Oftentimes, we’re all in the middle of life, and just trying to get by and take care of the people around us and stay moving – so maybe we don’t consider the effect that those events have. I put it all in a timeline and a pattern started to emerge. That was the beauty of the two and a half years of writing. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of stress. It was crushing at times. But now it’s, “Oh, wow, there’s my handbook.”
Everyone should have one of those.
Yeah, if you can find the time to do it, it’s great. You don’t have to publish it, because then you’d have to go out and defend it [laughs].
When you put out Modulate in 2002, a lot of people were shocked by how deep you got into electronics.
That was a direct result of getting away from rock – 1998 was my “I quit” tour. The public reason was that I was sick of guitar rock, but the deeper reason was that I felt it was important at age 37 to take a moment to build a gay identity as opposed to just being a gay guy. Doing that over ’99 and 2000, the soundtrack of me finding that identity was electronic music – in clubs and restaurants and bars and all that stuff. Of course that influenced me. The resulting records were very naïve attempts at making electronic music. I had no help, no collaboration, no idea what I was doing. That’s what it sounds like when you try to figure it out.
How did you get back into rock?
Body of Rock was in ’05. I was really happy to get back to that kind of music. I’d shelved it for a while. When I enjoy that format, I really enjoy it. I don’t do it 12 months a year anymore, so it’s a novelty when I do get a band together. The fans really like it and I like it and I don’t wear it out. It’s something I look forward to.