Interview: Bob Mould on new album ‘Silver Age,’ the Foo Fighters and gay politics

08.14.12 6 years ago


Bob Mould spilled his guts in “See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody,” his autobiography released last year. He tackled some of the deep-seeded source of his “rage,” and the juicy stories behind fronting Husker Du, Sugar and starting his solo sets, all within the trappings of coming out of the closet in the early 1990s.

Now, his new 2012 album “Silver Age” is all guts. The Merge release – out Sept. 4 — is what Mould calls his “reaction” to his own autobiography, a spontaneous and carnal outpouring of power pop and ferocious rock tracks with the backing of drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, The Mountain Goats) and bassist Jason Narducy (Split Single, Verbow).
It”s his first release with the renowned indie, and comes after years of multiple different label deals with his various acts, from Virgin to Anti- to Ryko to SST. It also arrives on the heels of more “studied” albums including his last studio set “Life and Times,” his DJing and guesting stint with the Foo Fighters, and at about the same time that Merge is dropping the 20th anniversary remastered reissue of “Copper Blue,” Sugar”s 1992 debut. In fact, as he promotes “Silver Age” on the road, he’ll also be frequently performing “Copper Blue” in its entirety.
Below, we discuss politics, his old Singles Only Records label, DJing, aging, Foo Fighters, rehearsing and evaluating the term “too much information.” Also, check out “The Descent,” the first single from “Silver Age.”

In some ways this new solo album seems to be about kind of living in the now. I’m wondering if that has much to do with this period after you’ve released an autobiography and you’ve been through a couple live records and different band formations in the last five years?
Well, it’s really a nice reaction to the autobiography.
Like it”s coping with being that open and raw to the people who love your music.
Yeah, about being that open with fans or with the world at large…I’ve gotten really great reaction from people about it. It filled in a lot of things that certain people presumed, but weren’t sure and I think for other people it was this whole new illumination that they didn’t see coming and there are a few people that have been upset with it, that didn’t want to hear the story.
Did it bring to light some misconceptions that they had about you?
No, not really. I don’t think any misconceptions. I think the main thing is people coming forward sort of with, “God, our lives are so similar; I had that small town child of alcoholic parent,” all that stuff; dealing with a lot of people coming-how they were protecting or dealing with their sexuality and how it affected their work; people coming forward, talking about how the church left an impression on that and how they resolved it or moved forward with it. All the different things that I think are key to making me who I am and how it informed the work.
…The book resonated deeper with select people who have come forward to me and have said to me, “You have no idea what this meant.” I did it for selfish reasons, but that’s a great result of having done it: to try to figure my own life out. And so when you say “being in the moment” or those kinds of things, the book-once I was able to close that stuff up, say it once and get ready to move forward — it made life a lot easier.
As far as the lyrical content of this record it’s very spontaneous. It’s very simple. It’s everything that the book isn’t. It sounds right. It feels right. So it’s a lot rougher record. The last few records, especially “Life and Times,” they very were studied records. This one was just flying off the speakers. As soon as you put it on it just starts coming off the edge of the speakers.
Totally. I like the description as heavy pop record. It’s very heavy.
When I finally started to finish, especially when I was playing it for Merge I was like, “Is this a little too much?” It doesn’t have a quiet moment until the very last song.
I was thinking about the line in the title track, the line “never too old to contain my rage.” Is this record at all about age and the aging process? Is there anything you are too old for in the music industry, some sh*t that you just won’t put up with anymore?
No, the business I grew up in and the business that I work in now are very, very different. I mean I just enjoy working. I enjoy playing music for people. As far as things I won’t put up with, they’re case by case and they’re usually small things and they’re not really interesting things.
As for “Silver Age,” there wasn’t a lot of deliberation about I’m going to write a song about age or aging. It was just sort of a snotty song and it became the title track only because I honestly didn’t think about it until I was like “Oh, ‘Copper Blue,” oh, ‘Silver Age.”” I’m going through all these other song titles and then I was like, “Duh” and I didn’t think about it that way until towards the end when I was looking for an album title.
Do the easy thing.
I’m trying to keep it easy and fun this year.
Was that part of the inspiration of who you kind of tapped as your band?
I’ve been playing with Jason and John for four years now and Jason for a long time on and off and he’s been on board. Jason came onboard in ’05 for “Body of Song,” but he and I toured together for many years doing solo acoustic shows. We go back about 20 years.
The three of us, it’s really great. We actually don’t rehearse much.
I guess I shouldn’t admit that.
We pretty much get together and when we prepare for a tour we rehearse for-we run the set twice maybe. I didn’t let them hear the songs until we got to recording. I think I sent them the demos two or three days before the first day of recording. It was the three of us in a room learning the songs. We spent a couple hours just going through the songs, play, play, play. We recorded everything and then when we felt like we had it, we had it.
It very much feels like a band even though it carries my name as the artist’s name. Definitely the three of us have-we work. We travel well together. We enjoy each others’ company and we play well together, so that’s what we do.
Do you have a lot of songs in your back pocket that you save because you feel like it would be for a project that goes under a different name, or under a different project? If so, what does that look like? Are you planning on starting a different band, material that is separate than the Bob Mould moniker?
Yeah, there has been instances of songs that I’ve held onto for different you know-that maybe didn’t fit the projects that I was doing. I’ve got a bunch of stuff that I’ve-a bunch of stuff that I wrote last year and that definitely didn’t fit into “Silver Age” and that’s sitting there in a pile as well. It always happens. There is always more than gets released.
I’ve always played with that idea of having a band where I just play guitar and I don’t have to sing and maybe I don’t write the words and yeah, that could be really fun. I don’t know when I would fit it into my schedule between now and the end of March.
Yeah, you’re kind of busy.
I’m kind of busy right now. I’ve got the Blowoff projects — me and Rich Morel and my DJ gigs — but we wrote and recorded an album and put that out in ’06, and we’ve been DJing together for almost 10 years. It has been really, really successful.
I’ve been doing a lot of-DJ gigs with the Foo Fighters and I’m starting to do a lot more of that on my own. I’ve got a rock DJ party I do in San Francisco called Distortion Plus that’s super fun.
Especially considering your history with the Singles Only label, you”ve carried on this curatorial role, kind of the traditional disc jockey, the kind of guy we just don’t see any more on radio anymore. Do you hope to kind of make a return to putting out other people’s records and to take on more curatorial roles like that?
I definitely do that with my DJ work. As far as a label itself, it’s been years since I’ve had a label and the last one that I was involved with — like you said — was we pressed singles and that was about it and that medium disappeared and came back. Vinyl is back.
I look at the mechanics of running a label these days, and I look at major labels and I feel so sorry for them now because the only people that are left there are people who really care about music. And then I look at labels like Merge or any of the good Indie labels and people just work so hard and care so much about the work. I don’t know how I could-I could definitely curate for a label. I don’t know if I could manage a label again because the distribution is completely different than the last time I did it. I would love to, but the mechanics of it are completely different. 
One thing that I’ve never really seen your name associated with is movie soundtrack work and composing for film and moving picture. Is that something you’ve considered and is any of that kind of in the future? Do you hold on to compositions, instrumental compositions or things like that perhaps for a visual pair up?
I would-the idea of doing soundtrack and composing music for film has always been on the forefront for me of something that I would love to do. The catch for me has always been the amount of touring that I do. When one works in the film world you want to have to be on call 24/7 to make adjustments. It’s not as simple as just composing songs and handing them over to somebody. When you’re scoring for film, everything is queue related and often the music people are the ones that have one of the hardest jobs because if they edit two seconds from the film all the music has to be adjusted. And I’m not the kind of-when I take on a project, if I would get involved in a project of that importance and that scope, I would have to pretty much give up everything else that I’m doing to be available for it and I’ve just never had that opportunity because I’ve always been a working musician and touring a lot.
The timing is not right. I’ve been asked a lot. I’m still in contact with a lot of film houses. It will happen sooner or later and yeah, I would love to do it and yes, there are years and years of soundscapes sitting there.
As for working with Foo Fighters, you were featured on their last album. Have you been working with them on anything else?
I did a lot of DJ dates with them last year. It started right as “Wasting Light” was about to come out. And I went out and played a couple shows with them in L.A., sat in with them. That went well. Then they had me come over last July when they did the two big shows at Milton Keynes at the National Bowl there and I was DJing each night for 65,000 people, which was crazy, and playing arenas… Dave [Grohl] was very gracious. He was a key part of the [Bob Mould] tribute last November. Dave has been very, very generous with his life. He absolutely did not have to do any of this, but I sure appreciate him reaching out and saying nice things about the work and having me be part of his work and we get along great. And I love hanging with Pat. We’ll see. That’s pretty much Dave’s call.
We’re doing some shows together in Europe, so that will be fun. I love hanging with those guys. That had a lot to do with “Silver Age” is what it is too.
It had a lot to do with “Silver Age?”
Just in terms of getting up in front of 15,000 people and playing rock. It’s sort of like, “Oh, that’s right, I’m really good at this; I did this for years.”
And it fits right in with you kind of have a pendulum. You go from acoustic to electric and from dance to more subdued to pop to hard rock and it just seems like it fit right into kind of your era, especially with the autobiography and everything out.
It’s definitely in my wheelhouse, to use a popular, at the moment, word.
Going back around to talk about your autobiography… There seemed to be a sea change in your opinion about in being more vocal during political seasons or being more vocal about sexual orientation and gay rights and things like that. There was a turnaround in the middle of the 2000s. Now that it’s still such a hot political season now with the election year and with same sex marriage being a huge issue for it, do you find yourself wanting to get more involved in politics and activism? Where do you stand when it comes to feeling responsibility as a popular and famous gay musician?
I was always reluctant years ago, not because I didn’t feel passionately — I looked at other pop stars that did it and sometimes I thought it was disingenuous. I just was like, “I’m a singer/songwriter, not a politician.” I used to write songs about that exact thing and I just didn’t feel like it was my place to tell people what they should think or what they should do. As I got older and I got more set in my ways and I started to feel more comfortable in sharing sort of my views on those things, especially if they affect me directly like gay marriage does or it affects my people, so to speak. I feel more comfortable with it and I see a place for me talking about those things.
I think the passing of Sally Ride and the fallout that we’ve got coming from that currently it’s just it’s an embarrassment. It’s a real embarrassment when you have this contest coming in November. We have these two people, and they”re very, very different and that’s what this game is about. They position themselves differently on social agendas and when I see one of the contestants coming forward and saying this person was a “national treasure and did so much for this country,” but her partner of 27 years, “Well, f*ck her, we won”t do much for her.” It’s bullsh*t.
I would like to see President Obama step forward any moment now, like maybe later today or sometime…
I think there is a lot changes happening in the world and people need to step forward and make a case for fairness. We have to push this all forward, all the way around, on all levels. Have people realize, “This affects me.” Think about it. If you don’t want to gay marry somebody, don’t gay marry them. If you don’t want to have gay sex, don’t do it. Don’t do it.
So you just in kind of being more open about your sexuality now and having that knowledge out into the world do you draw a line of privacy about like of people knowing too much about you? Is there a “too much information” button that flashes when you enter into any kind of particular aspect of the music business?
Yeah. If somebody asks a question that I think stretches across the line of privacy, they have to at least match the advance for my autobiography. How”s that? “I could answer that for you, but it will cost you a lot of money.”

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