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When Bob Mould emerged from the Minneapolis/St. Paul punk scene fronting the trailblazing band Husker Du in the early 1980s, it was at a time when conservatism in the form of the Reagan Era and the Moral Majority was driving policies that put a target on the back of the disenfranchised.
It’s something Mould clearly felt as a self-described “22-year-old closeted gay man.” Fast forward to 2019, and the New York native felt the current climate was not dissimilar thanks to “ … a charismatic, telegenic, say-anything leader being propped up by evangelicals.”
It was a situation that provoked Mould to write “American Crisis,” a blistering diatribe that opens with the line, “I never thought I’d see this b****** again/To come of age in the ‘80s was bad enough/We were marginalized and demonized/I watched a lot of my generation die/Welcome back to the American crisis.” And while it was originally penned to appear on his last studio effort, 2018’s melodic powerhouse, “Sunshine Rock,” he quickly realized it was an odd fit for that particular batch of songs. What the punk elder statesman instead chose to do was use it as the creative seed that eventually spawned his latest album, last year’s “Blue Hearts.”
“‘American Crisis’ was a song I recorded in Germany that was a really harsh, sort of political/social type of song that didn’t fit with the theme of “Sunshine Rock,” he explained in a recent phone interview. “So I held onto it and as 2019 went on, when I wasn’t on the road, I lost my time in Berlin. I was a little bit divorced from the politics of America, but once I got back to San Francisco toward the end of 2019 and was writing all music and lyrics for “Blue Hearts,” I was pretty enraged and furious at the state of America. There are a lot of callbacks to the early ‘80s. The discovery of HIV/AIDS and marginalized communities, which I was a part of. Before COVID-19 arrived, I was feeling all of these things that I just mentioned and that was the main thrust for “Blue Hearts.” The record was recorded in early 2020. I’d been out playing some of the songs live and got it all finished by the end of February. Then everything in the world changed and man, here we are. Who knew those themes would not only reflect back on those days in the ‘80s, but also still be pretty important ideas this morning?”
Continuing his decadelong collaboration with bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, Mould’s outrage led to a nine-day binge of recording that took him back to his early days.
“I was in the Husker Du/”Zen Arcade” motif of getting things done as soon as quickly as possible and don’t look too deeply under the hood,” he said. “Just make it feel right. I think it’s loose, noisy and melodic. I think it’s got all the things people like and I like ‘em too.”
“After opening with the acoustic “Heart On My Sleeve,” where one line grimly mentions, “ … and we’re going to war/And we’re going to die,” Mould plugs in and lets it rip. When he’s not furiously riffing while railing about economic disparity fueled by gentrification (“Racing to the End”) or heartbreak (“When You Left”), he slows down just enough to question religious hypocrisy in “Forecast of Rain” via couplets like, “This love thy neighbor thing, does it apply to all mankind?/Or only those who fit neatly inside/Your narrow lines?” These sentiments reflect how Mould feels about the current mood of the country.
“The politics of the prior administration … that particular menace left some really deep footprints and it seems like there are a lot of people rushing to fill those footprints,” he said. “As far as coronavirus, it feels like the country is pretty split in half on this. For the half that hasn’t taken the measure to help us get out of this — I think the other half of the country is not going to get them back. And I think that quarter of the country that’s in the middle for whatever reason — I think we should listen to their concerns and try to bring them up to speed with medicine as we know it. But I do think there is a portion of the country that we may not be able to get them to help us. They seem really concerned with the word freedom as opposed to the concept of freedom, so I can’t really help them with that.”
As if touring behind a current album weren’t enough, Mould is also out promoting “Distortion: 1989-2019,” a mammoth 24-CD box set released by UK imprint Demon Records that is an exhaustive compilation of the 61-year-old rocker’s solo work. And while Mould is quick to say he’s not one for walking down memory lane despite releasing the 2011 autobiography “See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody,” he was surprised to find that digging through his musical archives unexpectedly triggered some of the same reactions.
“I remember when I was writing the autobiography and revisiting my life to the date that I was writing, how deep I had to dig to bring those stories back to life and make sure that I was telling them as best I remembered along with people, places and situations,” he said. “It was a lot of emotional content in there. I thought with this project, we’d sort of just breeze through. As I was getting deeper into proofreading and listening over and over with the masters, sure enough, those songs brought all those situations back to life, which is great. I didn’t see it coming, but I should have known better from the book. I don’t usually like to look back anyway, so it was a little extra, but everything turned out great. I’m really happy with the package.”
“Now that he’s back on the road for the foreseeable future, Mould is juggling band and solo dates as part of the “‘Distortion’ and ‘Blue Hearts’ Tour.” Fans can expect him to deliver a grab-bag of material from his previous bands, Husker Du and Sugar, and from solo catalog.
“One of the big frustrations of last year with the touring that was scheduled for last October, which is what we’re doing this fall, was that ‘Blue Hearts’ was really a record that was written for the stage,” he said. “And while that made it doubly frustrating, we now get to tackle this material live, which I believe is going to be super fun. Beyond that, I think it’s going to be a really solid look back from ‘Workbook’ (his 1989 debut solo album) through ‘Sunshine Rock.’ There’ll be pretty good representation for most of the guitar records. We covered the ‘Copper Blue’ (Sugar’s 1992 album) stuff back in 2012 pretty thoroughly. The Husker stuff — there’s always a clutch of those songs we like to play every night. I think it’s going to be a real well-rounded show, but we always like to come out and showcase the newest material. That’s the plan.”
What: Bob Mould Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts! Tour, with Jason Narducy opening
Where: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City,
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021
Tickets: $20 to $35, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or englert.org/event/bob-mould/
Artist’s website: bobmould.com/