Bob Mould is hanging out on a conference line in San Francisco, taking on journalists in sequence to promote the second leg of his Sunshine Rock tour. When the Straight dials in, he’s talking with another interviewer about his plans to renew his visa to continue his stay in Berlin, his current home base.
So we begin there, when the previous interviewer signs off: since Mould seems happy in Berlin, what’s with his video for “Lost Faith”? The video has Mould being interrogated by German journalists and police and pursued by menacing hooded figures, first into a gay bar and then into an abandoned building that looks from above—he acknowledges the point—like an enormous cock and balls. It’s pretty angst-ridden, paranoid stuff, no?
“Ah, it’s all right!” Mould says in a jocular tone. “We were looking at the resources we had in Berlin to make the most impressive video that we could. Since we were doing this on a modest budget, and just looking at the song and how we could craft a story, that’s what I arrived at as an idea, talking about me migrating and not being able to fit in, chased by drones, surveilled. It’s sort of a European pop-music video, actually, they all look like that—at least the ones I see at the gym!”
The cock and balls, it turns out, are an abandoned U.S. listening station in Teufelsberg that Mould and company had access to. The gay bar is Woof, a bear bar in Mould’s neighbourhood, run by friends of his.
Looking back on his last four albums (including 2012’s Silver Age and 2016’s Patch the Sky), you realize that Mould and his bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster have now been together for nearly as long as Hüsker Dü was. The consistency of the four albums they’ve released seems to run afoul of Mould’s stated principle that “the best way to survive is to mutate”—referring to his restless and continual self-reinvention. It’s a tendency that has seen him play blustering hardcore, artful psychedelic-tinged rock, ’90s college pop, and even modular-synth-driven electro, at different phases of his decades-long career. So is the newfound constancy an effect of his working with the same musicians for so long, or has Mould finally found his groove?
“I think I’ve found this groove, which is a familiar groove,” Mould replies. “When we got together at the beginning of 2012 to make Silver Age—the three of us, and Beau Sorenson, our engineer—my m.o. was making these highly crafted, highly demo’d-out studio albums, and that’s where we started. And over the course of the four albums, the trust has gotten built up as we’ve made records and played these songs live, and we’ve got our shared language now.”
Mould has occasionally been described as a control freak, but having so solid a unit has helped him relax a bit.
“We’ve gotten better as a band, and it affects the way I write for these records. It’s like—Silver Age was a win, and then we just kept building—I kept having maybe less control, and just letting people do what they do, and I think we’re getting better results.”
One of the talking points about Sunshine Rock—particularly germane to the title track, which is as cheery a love song as Mould has written—is how upbeat it is, but there are definitely troubled moments, too; it’s still identifiable as a Bob Mould album.
“I totally agree,” Mould says. “The first four songs are real bright, vibrant, and outgoing, and sort of set the stage, but Act 2, songs 5 through 9, are a little more interior, definitely darker, but not terribly so. Then the last three could have gone either way, and I chose the brighter stuff. It worked out well, and ‘Western Sunset’ is such a great closer. We tried that song for Silver Age, and I think we tried it again for Beauty & Ruin. The third time’s a charm on that one—it’s the perfect closer for an album about sunshine!”
Bob Mould plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Sunday (April 7).