Bob Mould has been many things to many people over the past two decades. To some, he was the savior of 1980s music with Husker Du, one of the most beloved hard-rock/punk bands of that decade.
To others, he's the thoughtful singer/songwriter responsible for a series of experimental and challenging records throughout the 1990s. He even was a scriptwriter for pro wrestling when he wanted a break.
But Mould has returned to his roots, both musically and philosophically, with his new album, Body of Sound. It's much more of a "rock" record than his last few, and the songwriting has gotten more personal and direct, as opposed to Mould's famous artistic distance from his own work.
"The place that my head was at on this record was just simplicity," Mould said in a telephone interview last week. "It's really not a convoluted record. I was writing from much more of a universal perspective, as opposed to the voice that I think you're used to hearing, you know, the more deeply personal, allegorical voice. This record is much more straight up."
As to why he chose a direct approach lyrically, he said, "It fit well with the music. There's a lot of verse-chorus happening here; there's not a lot of in-between passages and crazy twists. It's what I was feeling at the time."
Recently, Mould was quoted saying that he's finally let go of the anger that drove his early work. Explaining himself, he said, "That's just getting older. Anger is an energy that's best served to the young. Life gets a lot more complicated and you start losing people and everything gets a little bit shorter, and anger becomes a lesser emotion."
He said he's become more comfortable with his past and how people related to his classic music. "There's nothing I can do about it," he said. "What I do when I get up in the morning is think about the work I have to do that day. I don't think about the work that I've done. That's left to other people. I understand the impact of the work on people, so I'm not dismissing that, but my reality is waking up every day to move forward. The thing that gets a little vexing to me, a little frustrating, is when each new successive work gets held up against things I've done before. I'm proud and flattered and honored that certain touchstones in my career, that my work and other people's work gets held up against it.
"Memories are great but comparisons are tough. Professionally, that's the part I've always scratched my head about. And I've come to realize in the last year that there's nothing I can do about it."
While he's comfortable with his past, one off-limits area is the state of his relationship with Grant Hart, his one-time collaborator in Husker Du and from whom he is famously estranged.
When the topic is broached, he said, "There is no relationship, so there's nothing to talk about."
The interviewer tried again. "Yet you guys performed together a few years back."
"That was seven minutes," Mould said.
Another try. "So you don't speak or communicate? Because you guys made some great music together."
"Thank you. That was a long time ago. I'm in a good mood today. Let's move past this," Mould said.
He's much more comfortable talking about the changes in his life, changes that took him from Minneapolis to national stardom and then back to New York in the 1990s, where he discovered the new sounds of electronica.
"I was tiring of the guitar sound in general. I'd been doing it for 20 years. The sound had been beaten into the ground by corporate rock. I was looking for something different. It was the music that was the soundtrack of my newer life in New York City. I started hearing people whose work was resonating deeply within me, people like Sasha, people like Paul Van Dyke. It was challenging to me. It was foreign to my ears and I was hearing that kind of music everywhere and started to chase that sound down myself.
"Fast-forward to 2002 and Modulate comes out. It was my first attempt at using a new set of tools, a new set of colors I hadn't approached before. I'm real proud of that record, but it was a difficult record for people. I knew it would be, as it was coming out, that it would be hard for people to understand.
"Jump ahead three more years to the integration of the electronics into the record that is Body of Song, which compositionally is very simple and based in the guitar structure. It's a very familiar songwriting style for people, but underneath that songwriting style is a lot of the things I'd been working on for the past six years. I think this record is a really good balance."
As far as artistic freedom goes, "I've always had that," he said. "There's never been a problem with censorship or direction. In the Warner Brothers years, as with the Virgin years, in big corporations there are people who'd like records to be more radio-friendly. They'd like certain things to position themselves to be able to sell more records, but as far as tampering with the vision, no. And the Husker Du records were self-produced. I'll be at loggerheads with publicists occasionally on how to set up a record, but that's about it."
The show at the Vogue will be a one-man show. Mould and his band recently finished several months touring America, and he didn't necessarily like what he saw.
"I have a weird view of America, because I play in mostly liberal towns, although we did stop at a few Wal-Marts along the way. Gas is expensive, and that's ground the country to a screeching halt. When energy is cheap, times are good. When energy is expensive, times are bad. Times are bad right now. I get the sense that people are resigned to the fact that we've been in a war that we shouldn't have been in. I think it's a shame that it's taken this long for most of the country to realize it. But I don't even think people talk about it."
He said, "Through a set of circumstances and a chain of events that the government has created, we're very beholden to our government right now, which is a scary place to be. The poor have gotten so poor that they have no choice. The rich have gotten so rich, they're building fortresses as Rome crumbles. And the rest of the people are wondering if they're going to be able to make the house payment next month and when all this is gonna end. I think people are in hunker-down mode right now. And the divisive issues of the 2004 campaign, whether it was gay marriage or terrorism, I think people realize there are much bigger problems facing the nation right now."