Cross Country Bear: An Interview With Bob Mould

Words and photos by JENZ

Lots of what has been written about Bob Mould revolve around his involvement in music being seminal (punk band Hüsker Dü), groundbreaking (indie Sugar), and boundless (his solo projects). But what’s fun to see is that beneath a man who keeps a stoic front is a guy who clearly cares about not only his craft, but is attuned to the changes impacting us societally and worldwide.

It’s also refreshing to see that he’s not afraid to branch out as well –- into DJing, activism, or wrestling scriptwriting.

During a pre-show interview at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, where Mould was prepping for his Saturday headliner slot for the Noise Pop Festival, the New York native sat down with me to discuss other aspects of his life usually held on the reserve: his sexuality, observations and fears regarding technology, and how it feels to be celebrating a body of work two decades later. Mould may come off as looking stern or solemn in pictures, but in person he radiates a demonstrative intelligence I’ve not found in many people in general, let alone musicians. His articulation exhibits a keen eye on the revolving world of music around him, and his ability to hold an attentive conversation is something to wholly admire.

TW: So there’s a rumor that you will be moving to San Francisco sometime soon.
BM: Ah, wow… I would like to relocate [from current home of Washington, D.C.] but I’m not sure if I can sell my house. I moved there in the summer of 2002. It’s a great city, good chemistry. It’s also an odd place to live too. The racial division was pronounced because of the Bush administration, so everything was and still is slightly tense. But on election night at 10 p.m., the town changed. People started to walk U Street [a main drag], we all went out.

Valencia Street here was a similar sight. Lots of people shut down the streets to clang on pots and pans and dance.
People hanging out of fire trucks, celebrating; it was a seismic change. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people all came out in D.C.

A couple weekends ago, I had the pleasure in seeing John Cameron Mitchell do a performance called “The Origin Of Love” live, and there was a screening for one of his films after. You did some work on Wig In A Box in 2001. How did you get involved with Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
I was living in New York at the time and was friends with Stephen Trask [composer for Hedwig]. He was also in Cheater, which was the Hedwig house band. I was actually interested in producing the music but it just wasn’t able to happen. Steven and John developed a club called Squeezebox, this queer male night, and I got to watch the show develop. I mean, here in San Francisco, there are things like the Folsom Street Fair, Dore Alley… all communities I am familiar with.

There is actually a festival called Hairrison Street Fair with something similar.
Really? Related to Bear Week? Nice. The bears are my people.

What are some things you didn’t know going ino your craft that became evident as your progressed? You have been in the game a long time, and successful at that.
One of the most important things to have watched is how technology is affecting music; this online presence, an online life. The way recording music and the responsive to it have been affected, I think it’s killed the record industry, in a way. But it’s also created these communities that everyone can be a part of and participate in. A comment I made in this panel I was apart of yesterday was “If you were a music fan back in the day, it was a commitment to move.” But at the same time [with the invention of the Internet], I can find new music, I can social network.

You recorded “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” for Wed-Rock, a same-sex marriage compilation for the legalization of gay people to marry. With the debates heading to the state Supreme Court, how do you think everything is going to pan out?
For that track in 2004, it was to support the Freedom To Marry organization, which I’ve done a lot of work with. I wasn’t surprised with the passing of Prop 8 in November, though. The politics of hate and fear are still strong. It’s just going to take time and education. It could also galvanize if people are ready to fight. With all those things combined I have hope. I don’t think the topic of gay people getting married presents a problem to anyone, really. But there are also bigger issues to think about. Minorities fighting discrimination can very well say, “This is not important to me because there is more to deal with.” There are other things taking precedence. People are losing their homes and jobs.

With all that’s happened in your career, especially in this current social climate, how weird is it that you’re celebrating Workbook 20 years later?
It’s a little odd to be revisiting that success, but it’s also so great at the same time. Every time I get to put out a new record, I’m still amazed. I’m very grateful.

Is there any question you feel never gets asked in all your years in interviews?
Not particularly; but I do always get asked about the Hüsker Dü reunion. It’s not going to happen. My autobiography that’s being worked on is coming out next fall. There will be things in there you didn’t know about me, I’m sure.

Cross Country Bear: An Interview With Bob Mould