Rock icon Bob Mould releases new album District Line
Bob Mould, the genius behind seminal post-punk outfit Hüsker Dü as well as the guiding force behind 90s alternative-rock heavyweight Sugar, will tour the U.S starting March 5. The tour will feature both classic material from Mould's considerable body of work, as well as new songs from his forthcoming Anti- Records debut, District Line.
As tight and unfettered as its cover art, Bob's new album is a satisfying return to form for his fans—which include everyone from the Foo Fighter's Dave Grohl to Daft Punk's Thomas Bangaltar—as well as a great introduction for the unfamiliar to one of alternative rock's most important musicians.
And as they say, all work and no play...many may recognize Bob Mould as one of the two DJs and hosts behind the wildly successful Blowoff parties. The other is electronic maestro Richard Morel (who also tours in The Bob Mould Band).
Recently, Bob Mould agreed to talk with O&AN during an exclusive interview about his new album.
This album is a return for you to a more traditional sound. What were you trying to communicate as a recording artist with District Line?
For the better part of the decade I have been experimenting with a lot of different styles of electronic music. With this record it was a way to get back to what I am more known for. It is more guitar based composition. A lot of that had to do with me putting a rock band together in 2005 and getting back on the road and rediscovering the guitar side of things, so I’m sure the album was largely informed by that experience.
It is definitely a rock guitar based composition with electronics added for embellishment as opposed to the other way around. Thematically it’s pretty well centered record. The prior record Body of Song from 2005 was written over the course of a number of years in a number of different settings. District Line was pretty much written in one spot over the course of a year and a half so it is definitely more focused. District Line is about relationships, put simply. In years past my work has been largely autobiographical in nature, and I think with this record there are certainly parts that are that way but it’s really mostly observational.
As an artist who tends to go from one extreme to the other musically between albums, do you find that your fans are divided sometimes about the work you do?
For 20 years I’ve worked with guitar driven music and then went off into the electronic stuff, and now I think I might have found a nice, happy balance. There are a couple different types of fans that I seem to have. There are the people who always look forward to listening to what I have to say no matter how I deliver it and then there’s a large portion that are so familiar with that early guitar work that their expectations and preferences always lean that way. They really tend to be resistant to change and this album I think speaks to that portion of the crowd better than some of my previous work has. Honestly, I really can’t think about it too much when I’m making music. I am aware of it when I am deciding what the album will look and sound like but for the most part it’s really the furthest thing in my mind.
What kind of writing process do you use? Do you tend to work more lyrically first or musically?
There are really three general ways that I work on stuff. I do a lot of DJ-ing, so if I’m in the mode where I’m putting a lot of music together for a dance night and listening to a lot of electronic music trying to find stuff. On those days if I do that all day and then go into the workroom that’s really where my head is at for that session. There are days where I am listening to a lot of indie rock or older pop rock then more likely than not when I go into the workroom I will pick up the guitar instead. The third way is from journaling when I’m writing narrative or short stories and letters or things like that. I stockpile a lot of words and don’t really look at them for long periods of time. Then I’ll go back and address the words as a whole where I mash everything together and start building music around it.
With a catalog of work as big as yours what do you feel is the closest thing to your masterpiece?
There are a handful of high points in my career that I look back on and really thought I did a good job. In the early 80s with Hüsker Dü I feel like Zen Arcade was a high point that stood the test of time because it was a very daring record for the time because it broke from convention and really got people noticing my work.
My first solo album Workbook is a unique piece. It was different from anything I had ever done before at the time. It was quieter and more introspective than most of my earlier work, and I think that really resonated with a lot of people.
In 1992 I released the first Sugar album Copper Blue, which was the culmination of a really great period of writing for me. It’s a collection of a lot of great pop songs that focused in on a particular style of music. It was really the right album at the right time in a lot of ways because with the success of bands like Nirvana people had really become receptive of that style of music.
Some of the early reviews of this album criticized the lack of a more organic feel reminiscent of earlier works like Workbook. How do you respond to that?
I think some of the production techniques that I have been investigating for the past ten years might be a little confounding to the purists. The more synthetic elements like keyboards and that sort of thing can make some of those people scowl when they hear it but that’s progress in my world. The more I stray from my standard sound the more critics say I should just do what I’m good at so I can’t win for loosing in a way with some people and really I feel like that speaks to something beyond the work. Music is a strong emotional device and sometimes people really just want to have something that takes them back to the place and time that they first heard it and if I’m not offering a replication of an event that someone had when they were 21 then it may upset them more because they realize they aren’t 21 any more.
Do you have plans for your next album yet?
I’ve got a lot of material ready for the next album. I think it will continue in the direction that I’ve started with District Line, but whether it will be a quiet guitar record or a loud guitar record I’ll probably know more toward the end of the year when it’s done. I’m really excited about what I have so far and hopefully it will shape up to be out by next spring.
What other irons do you have in the fire right now?
Blowoff is a monthly DJ event that I co-host here in DC that has grown from a small basement party into a large event that gathers together gay men in their 30s and 40s to listen to music. We do some live video mixing along with the music and everyone has a great time. We play everything from indie rock to lo-fi to progressive house music and disco. It has become a very important part of my life lately and now we’re doing it in New York every two months as well, so it’s growing really quickly. Right now I’m so deep in my work cycle that between all the monthly events and the things surrounding my record release and the upcoming tour I’m pretty much spoken for for the rest of the year.