Better Modulate Than Never.
Bob Mould plays The Zoo on December 10.
“Today was our voting day today in the US,” explains Washington DC based musical legend Bob Mould.
We’re not using the world Legend lightly here, either folks. As the principal instigator behind bands like Husker Du and more recently Sugar, Mould has done more than his fair share in shaping the post punk musical world order, and helped pave the way for the accessibility or todays alternative musical endeavours. But before we get stuck in, there’s a more pressing question.
Why do you guys vote on a Tuesday?
“I don’t know. We just do. I voted today. It’s really funny, there’s a guy running for a shadow congress seat, because DC is not officially a state, so we have a shadow senator. The guy that’s running for the Green party, his posters look like he’s one of the guys from Weezer. Is he in a band? What’s he doing? He’s got the horn rimmed glasses, and it’s like dude, that’s a CD cover… He’s threatening to chain himself to a banister at Capital Hill for two years. He’s an anarchist. He’s got cool posters.”
Mould’s most recent release, Modulate, finds him once again bound for Australia. Modulate is an album that for many familiar with his wall of sound guitar may find an acquired taste as it bubbles and percolates with all manner of strange electronic backing. But that’s really the point. Going against the grain, or at least people’s expectations, seems only to add fuel to Mould’s considerable musical fire.
“This is a comparable kind of tour to the last time I was out there in 91,” he explains. “You know, the budget conscious solo acoustic / electric thing with backing tracks on tapes.”
The obvious question, is how do you translate what you’ve done with Modulate to an acoustic guitar?
“Ummm… I use some of the backing and play a lot of it with electric guitar, and it really does sound very different to the album. I think people will understand more of the album when they see how it works live.”
Were you stepping away from using the guitar as your primary song writing instrument?
“A little bit. With things like Pro Tools and computers for recording, it’s gotten so much cheaper to put a really good home studio together. I’ve always had a home studio. The big difference for me is that tape is a really linear way of recording and writing, and the computer lets you edit and try different arrangements. That was the really exciting part for me. The endless possibilities and the fact you have to make a decision at some point.”
How do you know when something is really finished when you’re experimenting like that?
“I think when it feels right with everything around it. I still look at albums as like a complete work. I’ve written some great songs that never made it to record, because they didn’t fit with core material.”
Does that mean sometime in the future we’re going to see a completely disjoint Bob Mould record of all the songs that didn’t make it on to your other albums?
“Probably,” he laughs. “Or at least all the hum dingers. Someday. Modulate and the Last Dog & Pony Show record are the first two of the three records that were all written simultaneously. The third record will be called Body Of Song, and it sits somewhere between Black Sheets Of Rain or Copper Blue; songs that didn’t make either of the first two records.”
Making three records at the same time seems an odd way to work.
“I was just writing in all different directions,” he affirms. “What eventually became Modulate went through three or four different versions before it was settled. There were solo acoustic tracks that were meant to start and close the record, and the got replaced with the most extreme electronic pieces I had written. It’s just how it went down.”
Do you think people just expect you to come up with a record of guitar and that’s what they want?
“I was actually starting to feel that way myself,” he chuckles. “I’d been doing that for 20 years. I think for my own enjoyment and to grow I had to step away from that and not just crank out another twelve songs that sound like the last record. I was well aware that by going down this road some people would not like the results. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the results. It’s just something I wanted to do, and I think now having put out Modulate and toured and see how people react after they see the show, now that everyone likes heading the Dirty Vegas TV commercial, things aren’t so foreign any more. I guess the trick for me is to integrate what I think are the good points of the electronic thing more fully into what I want to do with it.”