Bob Mould has never rested on the laurels of Hüsker Dü, the legendary three-piece he co-founded with drummer/vocalist Grant Hard and bassist Greg Norton in 1979. Since the hardcore-cum-alternative-rock band broke up in 1988, the Minnesota-born artist has released a number of solo acoustic albums, fronted a ‘90s alt band called Sugar, experimented with electronic music and DJed a roving party called Blowoff that specializes in “gay bear disco.” This summer, he’ll release a solo album called Beauty and Ruin, and its introspective, lyric-driven songs are full of the power chords and rock-pop hooks that he first perfected with Dü. Beauty and Ruin feels as vibrant and raw as his music always has, even if, as the 53-year-old musician explained to us over the phone, his subject matter has grizzled and grayed along with its creator.
The album’s first single is called “Hey Mr. Grey.” Are you Mr. Grey? Oh, yeah. I know I’m advancing in the years and it’s a young person’s game. Sometimes I find myself slipping into this combination of reluctant elder statesman/neighborhood curmudgeon who realizes if I look at my credit card statement every month, there’s too many drug store charges on it. But better the elder statesman than the left-out elder. I’m doing the same job I was doing 35 years ago, and doing it generally good enough to stay in it. I think I’m still pretty young at heart, but I catch myself at times in a social setting where I’m there to see a new band and I’m clearly at least 20 years older than the second oldest person in the room. I go up to the merch booth to buy the CD, and everybody’s looking at me like, “Who the fuck are you?” And I’m like, “I’m that guy.”
People always describe your work in Hüsker Dü and Sugar as “influential.” Do you feel that you have been? More in the way of DIY culture. When I was in Hüsker Dü in the 1980s, that band was one of at least 100 bands I could name that lived in the cities that had resources that allowed us to build community and come up with alternative ways to present music, whether it was fanzines or college radio or renting VFW halls so that we could throw a show for Discharge when they came on their US tour from Liverpool. And there were bands all over North America, whether it was Dischord House or the Touch and Go guys or The Big Boys in Austin or D.O.A. in Vancouver. These scenes were disconnected until we built a network, and that was a big influence on alternative culture.
When you listen to your younger records, what do you hear? A self-hating, angry young man. I was 20 years old in San Francisco finding out about this new gay disease, AIDS, and waiting for five years for the president of this country to say the words and that never happened [Reagan notoriously refused to publically pronounce the name of the disease]. That’s who I was then, and I still love that work. But I’ve got way too many years of knowledge to try to replicate that. Now, I revisit the happier songs from that era, and they make me smile.
Do you think your music is better now than it was when you were younger? I think it’s better. It’s deeper emotionally, it’s a lot wider in variety and it’s richer just for the years. I think each record has gotten better.
You’ve become something of an alternative gay icon. How does that make you feel? For many, many years, it made me nervous. I had always viewed myself as a musician who happened to be gay, in contrast to a gay musician. If you wanted a gay icon, I would’ve suggested Jimmy Somerville, Pansy Division, Sylvester—people who made it their defining cause in music. I wasn’t up for that job. In ’94, when the open secret became public knowledge in Spin, I guess I finally reached the gay community. As far as being spokesperson or icon, I always get nervous, because my views are my own and I can’t pretend to represent the community. Our community is even more diverse [than people imagine], because we love to micro-define ourselves. I just happen to be a gay who happens to be a bear who happens to be a muscle-bear who happens to be a daddy muscle-bear, heading toward polar muscle bear.