It’s been a long and winding journey for 47-year-old rock icon Bob Mould.
In the early to mid ’80s he fronted Hüsker Dü, one of America’s most influential and critically acclaimed post-punk bands
My contentment as a gay man — an element that was definitely missing for the first 40 years of my life — is something I’m very conscious of and feel important to impart to others. I was one of those self-hating homosexuals, but now I have a fully
integrated life. Photo Credit: Peter Ross
The blitzkrieg combo — Mould (guitar), co-founder Grant Hart (drums) and Greg Norton (bass) — amassed a rabid cult following through relentless touring and a string of sharp studio releases that included the essential run of indie albums “Zen Arcade,” “New Day Rising” and “Flip Your Wig.”
The group broke into the mainstream in ’86, releasing “Candy Apple Grey” on Warner Bros. Records. By the following year, however, internal strife fueled by the worsening addictions of both Mould and Hart had ripped Hüsker Dü apart.
At the time, no one outside the band’s immediate circle knew that Mould and Hart were gay (though not lovers). Years later, Mould would share that his substance abuse was an attempt to numb the pain of living in the closet and his own internalized homophobia.
“I knew that I was gay from the second I knew anything,” Mould told Q-Notes in an exclusive interview. I avoided it through my obsessive nature toward my work. I didn’t give myself time to explore the lifestyle. My health and my relationships suffered from living in a world that wasn’t gay — at all. I felt so marginalized it wasn’t healthy.”
Mould spent the next few years getting clean and crafting two solo albums — 1989’s stripped down “Workbook” and the ripping 1991 release “Black Sheets Of Rain” — before recruiting bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis for his new band, Sugar.
“Copper Blue” was the first release from the alt-rock trio and an immediate hit with critics and college radio. Music mag NME proclaimed it Album of the Year. The group returned in 1994 with their second — and final — studio album, but Mould was distracted by a far more pressing issue. He was going to be outed.
According to Mould, Spin magazine basically gave him an ultimatum: come out in an interview or we’re going to do it for you. He was devastated, but agreed to participate.
Far from liberating, the interview was a disaster. He practically dripped shame and self-hate. “I was born with it… I am not a fucking freak… I don’t like the word gay because I don’t know what the word really means… I’m not your spokesperson, because I don’t know what you’re about… I do not flaunt my sexuality. It is my sexuality. It is not the public’s sexuality.”
Today, Mould is amused by his freak out. “Now that I’ve had 14 years to become familiar with my community and my role in it, everything is sort of laughable. I get a chuckle out of it all.”
The rocker’s path to a healthy, integrated life included a move to New York City and a full-on embrace of gay male culture. He joined a gym, started hitting the clubs and grew fascinated with the music he was hearing.
He toyed with these new sounds on 1998’s “The Last Dog And Pony Show” then went all the way on 2002’s “Modulate.” Mould’s hard-rocking fans were left cold by the change in direction. The response was more favorable to the rock/dance balance on 2005’s “Body Of Song,” a collection of tracks recorded in multiple studios over several years.
“Body” was completed in Washington, D.C. Mould moved there in 2002. About eight months after his arrival, he joined another resident, renowned music remixer Richard Morel (Mariah Carey, Pet Shop Boys, Cyndi Lauper), to create Blowoff, a monthly club night that, in Mould’s words, draws “1000 shirtless gay guys” to D.C.’s 9:30 Club to dance to a mix of indie rock, Electro and House.
Blowoff celebrated its fifth anniversary earlier this year. Recently, a bi-monthly version has been launched in New York and there are plans for expanding the party to San Francisco in the spring.
With Mould’s life seemingly charmed these days, it’s no surprise that his new album, “District Line,” is scoring great reviews. Music critics are calling the 10-song set a return to form and fans are digging the new songs on the 20-date Circle of Friends tour that’s making its way across the U.S. this month.
Mould and his band will be in Charlotte for a March 17 performance at the Visulite Theatre. In preparation for their lone Carolinas show, I asked the groundbreaking rocker about making music, coming out and rocking the party.
I think “District Line” is your most confident blending of the various styles of music you’ve explored over the years. Do you agree?
Yeah, I do. “Modulate” was me learning to make electronic music by myself — in public — with all kinds of new tools. “Body Of Song” was written over four or five years, so it was a wide range of time for blending things together.
I was sitting in the same spot [in D.C.] writing the new album. I’ve had years to learn how to incorporate electronics into a record composed on guitar. As a result, “District Line” reads better, start to finish, as an album. And because it was composed on guitar, it feels more familiar to fans.
How did the experience of hosting Blowoff each month figure into the creation of the new album?
To be honest, in the beginning Blowoff was just a way for me to meet people. [Laughs] When I moved here I only knew a few people. During these five years Blowoff has become a real institution and the highlight of my month every month. It’s brought great people into my life and allowed Rich Morel and me to introduce them to some great new music.
As far as its impact on “District Line,” the storylines on the album are about my tiny little life here in D.C. Blowoff brought me
I’ve never been to a Blowoff event, but the iconography seems to lean toward Bear culture. Is that accurate? And do you consider yourself a Bear?
Yes, and maybe. [Laughs] Our crowd is 30s, 40s, 50s — more mature guys who sort of self-identify as masculine, bearish. We don’t discriminate for sure, though. Everybody is welcome and everybody shows up. As for myself, I don’t know. People say that, I guess, and right now I have a big old two-month beard. [Laughs] I am who I am. I don’t have a lot of Bear paraphernalia in my life, but I’m very into the whole Bear culture thing about guys being regular guys. I think that’s refreshing.
What got you into remixing and DJing?
When I moved to D.C., Rich Morel and I struck up a friendship — I had met him before in New York — and we decided to start writing music together. He had been working with Deep Dish and they had given him a DJ rig. When I saw it in the studio I said, “What’s that?” He said, “The guys bought it for me. It’s stupid.” [Laughs] I told him, “Well, I don’t know anybody. If we throw a party maybe I can meet some people.” Rich was pretty reclusive but we started up and that was the beginning of it.
What’s the difference between rocking a crowd as a musician and as a DJ?
You can’t stop and kiss hot guys when you’re playing in a rock band. [laughs] When I’m performing all eyes are on me. When you’re DJing people will come by and give you a kiss, but they’re also kissing other friends and focused on other people. When I’m DJing I try to read the crowd and the environment and play what works for the party. I’m not really addressing people, I’m trying to create a space.
Richard Morel is among my personal top five remixers. What’s it like collaborating with him and will he be in your touring band?
He is in the touring band, playing keyboards and singing background vocals. Working with Rich has been great. He’s a great remixer with a great ear for sonics. For three years I was working alone [exploring electronic music] with no guidance. When I got with Rich I could see how he was constructing things, learn what I didn’t know about merging electronics into my own music.
At the same time, he would watch me to see how I would build things for a pop track — like layering and stuff. It’s been a really good collaboration.
Some artists acknowledge that they’re gay but pointedly reject the label and disavow the culture — which is rather annoying — but you have completely embraced the gay aesthetic since coming out.
My contentment as a gay man — an element that was definitely missing for the first 40 years of my life — is something I’m very conscious of and feel important to impart to others. I was one of those self-hating homosexuals, but now I have a fully integrated life.
I have great admiration for you and (Judas Priest lead vocalist) Rob Halford for coming out to two very male rock constituencies. Have the two of you ever met?
No. We have mutual friends, but we’ve never met. It’s going to happen at some point though and we’ll have a lot of stories to share. Really, I give him tremendous credit because [the heavy metal] audience is even more resistant than the hardcore punk scene.
What level of contentment with your professional career have you achieved now? How about personally?
I think I’m happier personally than professionally. I wish I could turn the clock back a little bit on how the business is run. It’s pretty hard to make a living in music right now. Personally, things are great. I have a wonderful group of people around me who are a source of inspiration, healing and comfort. We don’t worry about status or winning and losing. We just try to enjoy what we have.
What can fans expect at your Charlotte show?
A rocking band playing loud. Bring earplugs.
info: Bob Mould plays Charlotte’s Visulite Theatre on March 17. Doors open at 8:00 p.m.; show at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. www.visulite.com.