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"It's pretty easy, actually, it just took a while to figure out," Bob Mould says, explaining how, after years of personal discontent, he finally grew comfortable with himself. "[It happened] when I stopped putting work above everything else in my life, namely my health, and my relationships with people. When work consumed everything, that's all I had."
Twenty years after serving Hüsker Dü with resignation papers, fourteen years after he was essentially outed by a reporter from Spin magazine, and six years after releasing his first electronic album, it's clear that the 47-year-old Mould no longer belongs to us. And by "us," I mean Minnesota underground rock fans, those worshippers before the wailing wall of angst that Hüsker Dü built. The title of his new album, District Line, serves notice that Mould is firmly ensconced in Washington, D.C., the Shangri La which has been his home for the last six years, and it is clear he enjoys being part of the city's progressive gay community.
Longtime fans surely won't begrudge him happiness, but as concerns his songwriting, they might not be so thrilled that he is no longer raging. District Line lacks the bite of his self-loathing, pessimistic alternative-punk and -pop albums of old—like Everything Falls Apart, Zen Arcade, and Black Sheets Of Rain—seemingly depriving the depressed among us of someone to commiserate with. As with a lover who has left, it's easy to hope that the Mould of old will return, that he will repent his happy ways and bless us with inspired gloom-anthems for the rest of his days.
But it ain't gonna happen.
"If that's what people want from me, they're probably not going to get it in the doses they prefer," he says. "I'm much more content about where I am as a person these days."
And so on District Line, we get ruminations on life, friendship, and love, in which Mould more often sounds infatuated or insecure than betrayed and disconnected. Of course, his world will never be entirely peachy keen, but songs like "Old Highs, New Lows" betray an uncharacteristic tenderness. "As your eyes show my reflection, I try to ignore the decay and listen harder to the tone," he sings. "The pitch of your broad chest as it exhales into mine."
"That happens when you get older," Mould comments with a laugh, adding: "That's what I've noticed. I think vocally, [the album is] a lot more relaxed. The delivery of the stories is more comfortable and relaxed. The content itself, there are some crazy, bleak moments in there [but] I think there is more optimism than usual."
The formerly quite private Mould is so open nowadays that he blogs regularly about his life (modulate.blogspot.com), often plugging his D.C. dance party, called Blowoff, which has expanded to New York and will soon add dates in Chicago and San Francisco. Mould notes that more people come to see him DJ these days than come to see his concerts. In fact, it's somewhat surprising that District Line continues in the vein of his last CD, Body of Song, by featuring mostly songs that were written on, and for, guitar. His first studio albums of the decade—Modulate and Long Playing Grooves—were electronic, but District Line really only features one song that falls into that category, "Shelter Me," which Mould says is going over like gangbusters among critics and radio DJs in Europe.
"I think there's a portion of my audience who like the guitar stuff more than the electronic stuff, and there's a portion who have come to enjoy the work for what it is, compositionally," he says. "And I think it really depends on where they got on. People who got into my work in the '80s are more into the pure guitar stuff and the people who got into my work with Sugar are pretty used to the density of keyboards being added to guitar stuff."
He adds that his current tour, which kicks off here, will continue his recent trend of featuring songs from the Hüsker Dü and Sugar catalog.
But make no mistake—he bears little nostalgia for his Twin Cities rock 'n' roll days. Few things seem to bring him more glee than recalling the day he tendered his resignation from Hüsker Dü. "It was like, 'Oh my god, no more of that. Excellent. Now what do I do?' The absurd level at which things were operating at that point made it very easy to walk away. I thought, 'Anything would be better than this.'"
Part of the reason it was so liberating, he continues, is that he had no backup plan. "[T]here was nothing waiting in the wings to replace it, which is the great part of the journey."
"The journey" is the type of phrase Mould throws around a lot these days, having come out of the closet again, this time as someone who can live with himself. "I know that, in the end, everything usually works out just fine," he insists, "whether it seems like it or not at the moment."
BOB MOULD performs on WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775