For someone who’s been stuck in traffic on the M1 for the last few hours, jetlagged, freezing and late to the venue, Bob Mould is in a remarkably good mood.
In a few hours, he’ll play the first show of a short UK tour – backed by his long-serving band of Telekinesis‘s Jason Narducy and Jon ‘busiest man in rock’ Wurster who also plays with Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, Robert Pollard and countless other indie luminaries – to a sold-out crowd with all the ferocity of a man half his age. For now, Best Fit finds him huddled over a radiator in the back room of the less-than-glamorous Cockpit in Leeds, nursing a mug of lemon tea and wearing a woolly hat.
The tour is in support of last year’s Silver Age album, his loudest and best in years, and the first since the comprehensive reissue package of his nineties band Sugar reminded everyone what made him so great in the first place. Even ten years ago, he would never have supported this sort of retrospection – when sent a pre-release copy of Hüsker Dü‘s live-album-cum-best-of The Living End for his approval, he notoriously handed it to his guitar tech to listen through instead. However, having released his memoirs (entitled See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody) in 2011, Mould finds himself in a much better place, and Silver Age is all about the man in the moment.
“I think I’ve been able to put the past in perspective,” he admits. “After three years with the autobiography, there wasn’t really a whole lot of soul-searching on this record. There’s not really a whole lot to the words on this one! It was just ‘I’m just gonna write a darn pop record!’” That darn pop record, coupled with the Sugar reissues, a brief tour playing the whole of that band’s 1992 masterpiece Copper Blue, and numerous American chat show performances, has led to one of the busiest periods of his career; “I didn’t see any of that coming,” Mould says, “but nobody really expects that in their fifties. I always hoped I’d be doing this – I didn’t think it would be so bountiful at this point…”
Another major milestone of the last few years was a tribute show at the Disney Music Hall in LA, where the likes of No Age, Dave Grohl, The Hold Steady and Margaret Cho (whose rendition of ‘Your Favorite Thing’ turns one of Bob’s cuddliest moments into something bordering on sexy) all performed songs from all corners of Bob’s catalogue. Footage from the show, released via Kickstarter as the film See A Little Light, shows a Bob Mould who is in his element, albeit also trying to shake off a monster cold. However, it doesn’t exactly chime with the punk rock idealism of his youth. I ask him what his younger self would have made of all the fuss, and his answer is a typically deadpan mutter.
“Get ‘em the fuck out of here!” He laughs. “What the fuck? Of course! That’s exactly what I would have thought…” However, the performances showed Mould some interesting sides to his own work that he hadn’t otherwise considered. “Seeing what Craig [Finn, Hold Steady frontman] did, where he did the preamble for ‘Real World’ as if he’s John Giorno, it was like “Oh! I didn’t really see that coming.” Likewise, Ryan Adams‘ astonishing solo versions of ‘Black Sheets of Rain’ and ‘Heartbreak a Stranger’, released as a limited 7″ for last year’s Record Store Day, ”silenced the whole place.” Mould continues, “I remember telling him a couple days after when I sent a note to thank him ‘You realise that I’m probably never going to play ‘Black Sheets of Rain’ again in my life after that?’”
The film was financed through Kickstarter, a move which the business-savvy singer chose out of necessity. “We went to cable channels, and they were like ‘Oh yeah, we’d love to help!’” However, the amounts they offered “wouldn’t even cover the origination fee for shooting at Disney Hall.” The project eventually raised $102,000. ”I think it’s a great model,” Mould continues. “Will it be around in two years? I don’t know. It seems to be where this is all heading, is the personalisation of the goods to the consumer, as opposed to just putting out a CD for £12.”
However, at other points, Bob has not been so lucky; a poor deal with Virgin Records left him without the rights to his first two solo records. “I have nobody to blame but myself,” he tells me candidly, and hints that they are unlikely to get the same lovingly-repackaged treatment as his work with Sugar. “Anything can be reissued – but there’s a price for that.” Consequently, Mould exercises a certain amount of caution in his business dealings: “I still get people coming up to me and saying ‘Yeah, work with this company, they’re gonna revolutionise everything!’” He chuckles. “And they’re out of business in eight months!” Still, releasing his latest album on a label as illustrious as Merge in this day and age does have him pondering the state of the industry today. “The distractions are great, the profits are low and the incentives are a lot different than when Hüsker Dü started. Now, it seems like everybody’s in five bands, everybody gives their music away…”
However, punk rock has become big business, and the eighties hardcore scene has finally become part of the canon of rock and roll – something which Mould thinks is well deserved. “I’m not surprised. If you ask any longtime musician, or even music fans, they’re gonna argue for their period. Late sixties – ‘Oh my god, there was war and strife and drugs, and nothing’s ever been like that since.’ And if you ask heavy metal bands from the seventies – ‘Oh, there was cocaine and groupies and jetplanes and there’ll never be anything like that!’ And if you ask somebody like me, I’ll say ‘Yeah, we fuckin’ starved and had these bizarre travails on the road that nobody will ever go through.’ Nobody will ever have anything like that again.”
Yet, people continue to want to relive those memories, to the point where there are even two versions of idealistic hardcore stalwarts Black Flag operating in 2013; the band’s head honcho Greg Ginn (and boss of Hüsker Dü’s old label SST) claimed the original name and a more recent line-up, while members of the Damaged-era band make up a (slightly) differently-monikered group. When I ask Bob his thoughts on the split, he immediately replies “I am totally going to see Flag.” That’s the one without Ginn, right? Mould’s mouth curves into a wry smile. “That’s the one without Greg – that would be Fun Flag!”
And, compared with his older self, Bob Mould of today may well be Fun Bob; his Cockpit set opens with the first half of Copper Blue in sequence, before seamlessly diving into the more recent material, and eventually encoring with a trilogy of songs from Flip Your Wig. There are no slow songs to be found – when I ask him beforehand if Copper Blue‘s brutal highlight ‘The Slim’ will make an appearance, he brushes the question off, telling me “ahhhh, we’re done with that.” The show’s energy levels are so high, the songs so catchy, and the playing so intense, you can barely tell which songs come from which era of his career – and, after the gig’s ninety-minute sonic assault, you can’t help but think that that’s exactly how Bob Mould would prefer it.