If you know anything about Grant Hart, it's probably that he was the singer/songwriter/drummer in one of the definitive bands of the Eighties, Husker Du. He also got a lot of press for being a junkie. Not just any junkie, but an irresponsible junkie. Showed up late, missed gigs entirely, was booted from his band as a result of his addiction, or so the stories went.
After those details, the list of recognizable facts on Mr. Hart shrinks drastically. But the Minnesotan hasn't been hiding away in his Midwestern lair, making snowballs and shooting speedballs. It may come as a surprise to some that Hart has been at the helm of a group named Nova Mob for five years, releasing three albums yet playing almost exclusively in Europe, where Hart finds the financial opportunities far superior to those offered by cheapskate club owners stateside. And, for the record, Hart says he is "sober. Except for the occasional cannabis, but that's something that's never led me into too much darkness."
Of course, there is one other possible reason for Hart's lack of U.S. domination: It's no piece of cake working in a shadow. In this case, it's the rather large one cast by the other half of Hsker D's singer/songwriter brain trust, Bob Mould. Two years ago, Mould formed Sugar and released Copper Blue; the album topped many critics' best-of lists and made alternative rock fans everywhere get all gooey.
Now Mould has come out with another whopper, File Under: Easy Listening, right at the same time that poor Grant is pushing Nova Mob's new self-titled CD. "All my life, I realize that my next record is going to be compared to Bob's next record," says Hart from a hotel room in Birmingham, England. "But it's going to push me on to achieving something a little different or a little better each time."
What he and bandmates--bassist Tom Merkl and guitarist Chris Hesler--have achieved with Nova Mob is every bit as impressive as Mould's latest offering, and there's no mistaking the mighty sound of Du that Hart's work still retains.
But don't think he's stuck in a rut. If it ain't broke, don't change your pop sensibilities, which is what Hart has in spades. He writes absolutely barbed hooks that catch on glorious washes of distorted guitar. "Little Miss Information" and "Old Empire" could have found a home on Husker's godlike Warehouse: Songs and Stories, but then again, so could half the tunes here. And Hart can sing, sometimes sounding oddly like Axl Rose. "That never occurred to me," chuckles Hart. "But I can tell you I don't wear the bandanna and little shorts."
Fans turning out to see Nova explode all over the stage won't be hearing the Du oldies, Hart admits, but that's something that has become less and less of a problem. "It's really changed a lot in the past two years, I think, from the passage of time," he offers. "The people who are old enough to have a realistic picture of Husker Du--besides the myth of Husker Du--will come to the shows more interested in where that has evolved to now, rather than for nostalgic purposes. There'll always be 15-year-old punters who would love to be able to see Husker Du, or a pale imitation. I would like to have lived in Germany during the Weimar Republic; I can't do that, either."
But Hart can bask in the Glow of Influence. His old band created a hooks-with-wall-of-noise blueprint that is still used in garages and basements today. "Let's say I know it without feeling it," he says of Husker's legacy. "We tried a lot of different things. We had some EP B-sides that had a number of acoustic tracks from a live encore. People have come up and said, 'Oh, on top of everything else, you guys invented "Unplugged"!' And it's like, 'C'mon!'"
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Despite Hart's latest achievements, it seems all roads of conversation lead back to Husker Du. Particularly to Mould (the third Du-man was mustachioed Greg Norton, now a chef in Minneapolis and still a close friend of Hart's), who Hart sorta-kinda-but-not-really gets along with. "There's a way of making things enjoyable that no one is better at than Bob," says Hart. "The Bob that I miss is the Bob that made me laugh." On the other hand, "it's hard to talk to somebody and then two weeks later in the press they disavow knowing you. It doesn't exactly make you want to send them a thank-you card."
"I thought we could even oppose each other without having to resort to character assassination," Hart complains. "When I left the band, within 24 hours, New York was ablaze with the news that I had been fired from Husker Du because of my rampant heroin addiction. Considering at the time I was on methadone . . . once I left the band, it was like [Mould saying], 'Okay, well, you're not going to have anything, either.'"
Of chef Norton, the only member of Husker Du to take a nonmusical career road, Hart almost sounds envious. "Now he doesn't have to fight so hard for his happiness. He doesn't have this person in his life--as I do Bob--to channel himself in accordance with. . . . I think Bob has discovered that I really don't matter. He's got a commercial success and he might as well attune himself to that."
Though Nova Mob is currently on a two-month stateside tour, across the water--away from the country that Husker Du crisscrossed so many times, away from the country where Bob Mould lives--Europe is always open. And there are worse things than being a temporary ex-pat. "The gigs pay well enough that we can concern ourselves with musical and promotional chores, and that's it," Hart explains. "We don't have to drive ourselves eight hours to the next gig, and it's nice coming in to a club and there's coffee for your driver, and you get a cheese sandwich while you're setting up. That sort of thing.