Like the other 7.8 billion or so humans on Earth, Bob Mould is frustrated about the ongoing pandemic and is anxious for life to return to normal.
But the former frontman of '80s Minneapolis post-punk pioneers Husker Du and veteran alt-rock solo artist has other things on his mind, too, like more than a passing concern about the ongoing clashes in the U.S. over race, gender, and politics.
“I did not anticipate at 59 years of age that I would have to be yelling at the top of my lungs again, but this is the world that we live in,” Mould admits. “With coronavirus, nobody could have predicted that our government would handle it so poorly, on top of all the other corruption, lies, racism, and everything else.”
Mould’s frustration and outpouring of angst turned outrage led him to do what he does best: head into the studio. His 14th solo effort, Blue Hearts, dropped a few weeks ago. This time, he's taking the troubled state of our society more personally.
Blue Hearts is in every way a Bob Mould record; 13 of the 14 cuts clock in under a punk rock-like three minutes. But though the album has that brash feel, it also contains a surprisingly balanced array of styles and themes. The opening trio of cuts, "Next Generation,” “American Crisis,” and “Fireball,” are incendiary tracks. The muscular and meandering “Forecast of Rain” takes a hard look at the hypocrisy of self-righteous and bigoted religious leaders. “Siberian Butterfly” is a classic Mould power-pop anthem. And on “Password to My Soul,” Mould sums up his lifelong love affair with music and its purpose, singing, “We turn to music when our heads are filled with doubt.”
Mould says about making the album, “I just sat there and said to myself, ‘How do I summarize in 30 seconds everything that just happened in the 30 minutes before, on 'Password to My Soul.' So, really that’s the purpose of that song: the idea of turning to music and holding onto that hope. I guess I'm one of those guys that thinks music can change the world. It changed my world when I was a small kid.”
Mould had been living in Berlin for three years before returning to the U.S. in November 2019 for the holidays. The plan was to fulfill some tour dates in January 2020, followed by studio time in February. But being home was eye-opening.
“To re-enter America with news as entertainment, as opposed to where in Berlin, news was a bit boring but it was informative and bit honest — to have that paradigm shift in my face again in America and truly see how divided the country had become, and how polarized everything was — I was outraged,” he says.
Equally outrageous to Mould was the marginalization of gay people, people of color, and anyone who was not part of the "moral majority." For Mould, a gay man who spent many years in the closet, it felt personal.
“I look back on ’83. That’s what I think about: being 22 years old, certain of being attracted to other men, but certainly not being understanding of what that meant in a broader sense, [and] holding that up against the prevailing politics, the moral majority, all the Evangelicals quick to talk about AIDS as punishment for my lifestyle. Those were sort of ugly times.”
Husker Du disbanded in 1988, after which Mould cranked out solo gems such as the folkish, white soul Workbook debut and 10 other vastly different genre-bending rock albums, along with a few with his power pop trio, Sugar, in the early '90s, such as the 1992 U.K. Top 10 LP Copper Blue. By 2012, he jumped to Merge Records and began his long-term work with alt-rock veteran bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, both of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, indie group Superchunk. The trio cranked out 2012's Silver Age, 2014's Beauty and Ruin, 2016's Patch the Sky, 2019's Sunshine Rock, and this year's Blue Hearts.
In addition to the new album, Mould released a box set called Distortion on October 2. It's a compilation of 18 studio albums, four live albums, and two albums of rarities and collaborations. The packaged collection includes 295 remastered songs, Mould’s solo discography, all Sugar releases, and long out-of-print electronica projects such as LoudBomb and Blowoff.
But amid the hubbub of the new releases, Mould is still thinking about the state of the world, and his responsibility to speak out against injustice.
“If there were ever any time for any of us as artists to go on the record, this would be it, because things can get much worse than they are now. Given the choice between losing a small part of my audience and speaking out, or losing my ability to speak out, therefore having no audience, I took the easier of the two choices.”
And of course, he understands the plight of marginalized groups.
"In the '80s, I learned how to pass; I was a gay white man. People of color have never had that luxury. They have to confront the rest of the world. I can certainly empathize, but I can’t fully understand how difficult that is, but I have to learn. We have to sort of embrace our differences and move forward being mindful, 'cause we’re up against a government that discourages that openly and actively. These are challenging times.”
Speaking of challenges, the inability to tour to support the new album and the subsequent financial impact have been no picnic, either.
“To have an album like Blue Hearts that’s so topically current — musically it was so built for the stage, it's an album that is begging to be played live — that’s really tough right now. We had a lot of plans for touring in September, October, and November with the new album, the box set, and special moments along the tour, but that’s all gotten waylaid because of coronavirus.
"The financial hit [the band] are taking, and our crew is taking, and all the venues we were supposed to play are taking, and the promoters and booking agents, and the whole business — it’s been really tough,” he says, but he sees a potential silver lining. “When it’s time to come back, hopefully Blue Hearts will be a celebration of a victory for Democrats.”