Bob Mould’s professional life began with a box of old records. “I had the Dobie Gillis childhood,” says the singer-guitarist-songwriter, calling from his Washington, DC, home. The man who helped invent alt-rock is referring to the title character in the early ’60s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, whose father owned a store. “When I was six, my parents bought a mom-and-pop grocery. And the same people who sold tobacco to grocery stores were the vendors for the jukeboxes at the truck stops. So when it was time to change them [the records] out, they put them in a box and gave them to me. I still have all that stuff.”
In his late teens and early 20s, Mould’s passion for music led him to punk and the formation of the prolific hardcore legends Hí¼sker Dí¼. By the time Dí¼-influenced acts like Nirvana and the Pixies were changing the rules of rock, Mould had moved on to the more polished sound of Sugar. When that band ended in ’95, he returned to the solo artist route he’d started down directly after the dissolution of Hí¼sker Dí¼. Then, around 2000, he began dabbling in electronica, before taking a break from music to work as a scriptwriter with World Championship Wrestling.
But with 2005’s Body of Song and his latest, District Line, the musician has returned to the six-string-based music that’s a comfort zone for his fans. Mould conjures up maelstroms of electric guitar on rockers like “Who Needs to Know” and “Return to Dust”, and rich, ringing acoustic backdrops on the bitter love-gone-sour tale “Again and Again”. He also throws a little electronic seasoning into the mix, including vocal effects in the driving “Stupid Now” and a slithery keyboard solo in “Old Highs and New Lows”. Mostly, though, it’s a reassuring return to form that will please long-time fans. He even digs into the vaults for “Walls in Time”, a reflective, spare track written around the time of his first solo record, 1989’s Workbook.
One reason he’s happy to return to familiar territory is Blowoff, a monthly DJ residency in Washington, DC. The dance party feeds Mould’s jones for the latest sounds, thus freeing him up to write, record, and perform the guitar-pop epics that are his forte.
“The DJing is like going to a party,” he says. “The rock tour’s like going to war—you get a couple changes of clothes, you’re in a different bed every night, loud shit’s going off around your head all day. It’s good, but they’re very different.”
Asked to name some of his picks from a recent set, he reels off a list of names that includes the U.K.’s Nathan Fake, Portland’s Saturna, and Brooklyn’s Santogold, as well as better-known names like Interpol and George Michael. “I covered a lot of lo-fi, a lot of indie-rock and a lot of French house music. And that’s all in an hour. Then it’s on to the electro and house stuff.”
Mould saves tunes by Hí¼sker Dí¼, his most influential band, for the live shows. He still trots out some of the old warhorses, such as New Day Rising’s “Celebrated Summer”. Mostly he’s interested in what he calls “the poppier stuff”, and not the heavier, angrier punk blitzkriegs to which he no longer relates. “There are things I can’t do anymore, and a lot of those songs I’m not feeling,” he says. “And I don’t think it would be good to fake it.”
The Bob Mould Band plays Richard’s on Richards on Sunday (March 30).