Bob Mould has proven many things over a career that spans an incredible five decades. During his time in Hüsker Dü, the singer-guitarist drew up the blueprint that a million pop-punk bands later ripped off. He’s outgrunged Seattle on the melancholy front with records like Black Sheets of Rain. He’s been a pioneer on the LGBTQ front, coming out as gay back when those in the alternative-music scene tended to keep their sexuality a secret. And admirably, he’s managed to stay artistically curious, even dabbling in techno on his 2002 solo album Modulate. It’s not every day you get to see a legitimate legend, but you will at the Rickshaw on Sunday (October 22) in a show that will be part electric and part acoustic. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear his live-set staple “Makes No Sense at All”. But, as evidenced by the Spotify playlist we’ve thoughtfully made for you (see below), that’s only one part of an insanely prolific and storied career.
WRITING THEIR OWN RULES. In the beginning there was Hüsker Dü, the band that not only made Bob Mould famous, but also reshaped the world’s view of what punk could be. The Minneapolis trio (which included drummer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton) started out playing petrol-bomb hardcore (check out Land Speed Record, which completely lives up to its name) and then gradually morphed into a band that wrote its own rules. Hop on Spotify and then marvel at how the fantastically distortion-glazed manifesto “Real World” from Metal Circus gave way to the psychedelic fuckery of “Hare Krsna” from the landmark that was Zen Arcade. In its final years, Hüsker Dü had become a punk-edged pop band with late-period records like Flip Your Wig (named after a Beatles board game) and Warehouse: Songs and Stories, setting the table for the likes of Blink-182, the Pixies, and Nirvana. What might have set the group apart from its early ’80 contemporaries—who often never progressed beyond hardcore—was an undying love of mid-’60s pop. Mould has noted he grew up on bands like Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, and the Monkees. He’d pay tribute to that era with Hüsker Dü’s epically punishing cover of the Byrds' “Eight Miles High”, which turns a flower-power favourite into an exorcism. Earlier this year, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds described the cover as “very creative" on Twitter. "Terrifying" might have been more appropriate, but at least he appreciated the spirit of the thing.
MOVING FORWARD. You have to respect a man who is determined to move forward rather than revisit old punk-rock glories to diminishing returns. After Hüsker Dü crashed and burned, Mould—a famous drinker during his younger years, having started at age 13—ended up in a good place, not just careerwise but spiritually. After getting sober, he left the rush of Minneapolis and bought a farmhouse in Pine City, Minnesota, which enabled him to both decompress and process everything that happened with the band that helped invent alternative rock. Life on the farm would eventually start to wear on him; Mould sat around for a year by himself, at one point becoming so desperate for a change of scenery that he started looking beyond music. “I started losing my mind a little bit,” he recalled in his memoir, See a Little Light. “I even applied for a day job at a nearby state park working at the gift shop and giving guided tours.” But out of the solitude (and heavy immersion in folk, world, and Appalachian music) came his first solo album Workbook—a record marked by acoustic guitar and, incredibly, strings. Wanting the release to stand on its own, he forbade his label, Virgin, from mentioning Hüsker Dü in the album’s promo material.
HAPPY ACCIDENT. In 1992 Mould returned to the power-trio format with Sugar, whose debut, Copper Blue, sits with a sparkling 95/100 rating on the aggregator site Metacritic. After Workbook and a gutting solo follow-up titled Black Sheets of Rain, he did a string of European dates with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr., where he discovered that playing 12-string guitar while everyone else was overworking the distortion pedals wasn’t easy. That led him to write a bunch of songs meant to be played loud. Mould hand-picked drummer Malcolm Travis and Athens, Georgia, bassist David Barbe for a recording session and then spent three weeks in early ’92 rehearsing in the southern U.S. college town. Sugar would become a band almost by accident. Noting that he thought he’d be making a solo record, Mould told the Quietus, “It wasn’t a band at that point but what made it a band was before we were ready to leave Athens and head to Massachusetts to record these songs, Barrie Greene who was a booker at the 40 Watt club in Athens asked us to fill a last minute vacancy and play and show and we were like, 'Oh sure. Why not?' And that was the moment we were like, 'Ooops! What are we going to call this?' So the three of us and my then-partner—who was on the management side of things—were eating at a waffle house and there was pack of sugar on the table and that’s how it all happened!”
WELL, NEVER MIND. Who gives a shit what Frances Bean Cobain has to say about Nirvana? The reality is that 1991’s Nevermind is one of the most revolutionary records in the history of rock ’n’ roll. After “Smells Like Teen Spirit” exploded, bands that had previously been sleeping on floors and touring in vans held together by duct tape (hello, Butthole Surfers, the Jesus Lizard, and Mudhoney) found themselves landing major-label deals and getting played on MTV. The record was produced (or some would say overproduced) by Butch Vig, but Bob Mould was one of the early names considered for the job. In 2013 he told the Mancunian, “I know Kurt was a fan of the band [Hüsker Dü], and I know Dave was too. I think that’s why I was one of the names being thrown around to potentially produce what eventually became Nevermind.” Mould has, of course, no reason to be bitter about Nirvana singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl, and bassist Krist Novoselic getting credit not only for finally breaking punk in America, but for becoming rock icons in the process. Noting that he still has demos for Nevermind in his basement, he told Spin in 2008, “In July of 1992, Sugar were performing for 100 people in Morgantown, and a year later, we’re playing for 70,000 people in Belgium. Why would I possibly feel gypped? Not only did I get to spend the whole decade making great music, but more importantly, I was part of a movement of people who created great music and a lifestyle completely different from what had existed before. So when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ showed up on TV, I went, ‘We won!’ Why would I be bitter about not only being there, but getting to be here right now?” Years later, Grohl (who formed the Foo Fighters) would confirm his fandom by not only joining Mould live on occasion, but also having the alt-icon perform on the Foos' "Dear Rosemary".
MELANCHOLY AND THE INFINITE SADNESS. While he hasn’t been totally reluctant to do nostalgia tours centred around classics like Workbook and Copper Blue, Mould has never stopped pushing himself to stay current, which explains why he’s still making vital records as he hits his middle 50s. Last year’s Patch the Sky—his 12th solo outing—recalled Black Sheets of Rain in that the darkness descended during its writing. Hanging over the songs was the death of Mould’s mother, as well as of a number of close friends—the singer closing himself off from those around him while he processed his own mortality. “I’ve had a lot of loss in the last handful of years,” he told factmag.com, “and contrasting that with all the critical acclaim and this sort of resurgence—I mean, best of times in public, worst of times in private. As opposed to trying to hide the content of the record, it’s like, 'Here. It’s a dark record. I went through a dark period. I felt very isolated. I took six months away from the excitement of life to sit and contemplate the meaning of the rest of my life, and here it is.' Blessed are the artists (hello, Nick Cave, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen) whose work deep in their careers is as strong as the songs that first made them revered.