Born in 1961 in Malone, NY; parents operated a grocery store. Education: Attended college in St. Paul, MN. Addresses: Record company--Yep Roc Records, P.O. Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, website: http://www.yeproc.com. Website--Bob Mould Official Website: http://www.bobmould.com.
An artist renowned for his intensely introspective lyrics and explosively loud guitar playing, Bob Mould has established himself as an icon of the alternative rock movement whose body of work continues to inspire countless other bands. As a cofounding member of the thrash band Hüsker Dü for much of the 1980s, Mould blazed a sonic trail that volume-obsessed young guitarists still follow.
Along with underground colleagues the Replacements and R.E.M., Hüsker Dü helped to lead the rebirth of American guitar rock in the early 1980s. All three bands enjoyed tremendous popularity with the college radio crowd in the mid-1980s, but unlike R.E.M., which rode its college popularity crest to commercial success in the latter half of the decade, Hüsker Dü self-destructed in 1988, with the Replacements doing the same a couple of years later. After the breakup Mould went solo, releasing two albums, 1989's reflective Workbook, and 1990's searing Black Sheets of Rain. In 1992 Mould returned to the security of a band, debuting his new group, Sugar, on the LP Copper Blue.
Mould was born in Malone, New York, a farming community near Lake Placid. His parents ran a mom-and-pop grocery store, where he worked, learning the value of a dollar and developing the business skills that would later enable him to take over his own management duties. In a 1989 promotional interview with Virgin Records, Mould said he learned to love music at an early age, thanks largely to his father's extensive collection of old jukebox singles, and he memorized record labels like other kids memorized baseball card statistics. Though Mould didn't learn the guitar till the age of 16, he'd begun writing songs when he was nine. "I even had a name for my publishing company," he said. "But I forget what it was."
Mould attended college in St. Paul, Minnesota. Still musically inclined, he became enamored with the early punk sounds of the Patti Smith Group, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, and especially the Buzzcocks. He teamed up with another Buzzcocks fan, drummer Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton, to form Hüsker Dü in 1979. The band quickly gained local attention in Minneapolis as one of the town's loudest, fastest underground bands.
A Powerful Debut
Land Speed Record, Hüsker Dü's 1981 debut on the independent label SST Records, captured the band's raw power and sheer velocity in 17 songs in 26 minutes. Many speed metal/thrash bands were Hüsker Dü contemporaries in the early 1980s, and still more arrived closely on the trio's heels, but few had material to match the emotional wallop of Hüsker Dü's work. "Neither Mould nor Hart, the band's principal songwriters," wrote David Fricke in Rolling Stone, "settled for cheap punk sentiment. ... Instead, they wrote narratives and meditations on real life and real love, little pleasures and daily pain."
The band's creative peak came with the 1984 concept album Zen Arcade. The album "picked hardcore punk up out of its monotonous rut and drop-kicked it into the future," said Rolling Stone, adding that "structurally, Zen Arcade is defiantly anti-punk---a double album with an operatic narrative and unorthodox segments of acoustic folk, backward tape effects and psychedelicized guitar a la the Beatles' White Album."
After two SST follow-ups, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig, Hüsker Dü signed with Warner Bros. Records and released its major label debut in 1986, Candy Apple Grey. The Wilson Library Bulletin described the LP as "depicting the typical emotional trajectory of the average, anonymous, moody adolescent as a series of jangled screeches on the electric guitar," telling of characters "balanced on a seesaw of elation and despair, with elation being, more precisely, just the absence of despair." Mould's contributions to the album included a pair of quiet but gut-wrenching songs, "Hardly Getting Over It" and "Too Far Down."
Hüsker Dü Broke Up
By the time Hüsker Dü hit the road to support its 1987 follow-up, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, the traditional rock and roll demons of drug use and musical dissension were beginning to take their toll. On the eve of the U.S. tour, the band's manager, David Savoy, committed suicide. Subsequent shows on the tour proved erratic. Hart's purported heroin use was wreaking havoc within the band, and Mould felt increasingly constrained by Hüsker Dü's thunderous sound, which he characterized as claustrophobic. On January 25, 1988, the group broke up. As reported by Fricke in Rolling Stone, "Hüsker Dü---the Minneapolis trio of punk idealists whose transformation of standard-issue thrash into a 3-D roar of power and eloquence brought them unprecedented mainstream recognition---broke up."
Mould has said he left Hüsker Dü for the safety and sanity of all involved, but expressed no regrets about being a part of the groundbreaking outfit. "Some hateful stuff went on, some wonderful stuff went on," he recalled to Rolling Stone. "But it's over and all that remains are the records. For me personally, it's time to let the music do the talking. And that's what this record is all about," he said of his first solo effort, Workbook, an introspective masterpiece that he used as a vehicle to purge his spirit of Hüsker Dü's emotional baggage.
Released Confessional Workbook
After spending much of 1988 cloistered away on his farm in Minnesota, Mould emerged with a crop of songs that marked a pleasant departure from the roar of Hüsker Dü. His trademark intensity still intact, Mould transferred his rage and self-doubt to the acoustic guitar, which laid a foundation for most of Workbook, accompanied by a rich instrumental mix. Workbook documented the perils of Mould's transition from a kid in a garage band to a man setting out on his own against the world's harsh realities. Rolling Stone declared that Workbook produced "a genuine feeling of catharsis ... by Mould's one-two punch of confessional honesty and guitar euphoria."
Workbook marked a musical change for Mould. "The album features acoustic guitars, electric guitars at relatively sensible volumes, a cello, and a fighting chance to hear what Bob Mould's voice sounds like--strong, full, agile, with a hard cutting edge," described Newsweek.
Mould toured to support the album with Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone and Golden Palominos drummer Anton Fier. The three re-formed in the studio in 1990 to record Mould's second solo outing, Black Sheets of Rain, a hard-driving companion to its softer predecessor. The guitar-heavy and feedback-laden album "contains none of Workbook's pensive acoustic eloquence or diligent guitar orchestration," said Rolling Stone. "This is the kind of high-volume torment and emotional open-heart surgery that hurts so good."
Formed Power Trio Sugar
In 1992 Mould recruited bassist David Barbe of the Georgia-based band Mercyland, and drummer Malcolm Travis from the Boston group Zulus. Together they formed Sugar, a power trio that rivaled the intensity and drive of the best alternative bands. The release of Sugar's debut album, Copper Blue, met with tremendous critical acclaim. The album was an electrifying fusion of melody and noise, resulting in a newer, more confident, accessible sound that still echoed with Mould's dark and brooding cynicism.
Reviewers were lavish in their praise of Copper Blue. Spin called the album "effective proof of Mould's continuing vitality," and Rolling Stone proclaimed it to be "as thundering as it is tuneful." Even mainstream People declared it "altogether satisfying." For weeks Copper Blue dominated the charts on college and alternative radio stations across the country, edging out more established artists like Sonic Youth, Suzanne Vega, Morrissey, and the Ramones. It was voted album of the year by the New Musical Express and turned up on the top ten list of every significant music publication, including Billboard.
The trio's second release, Beaster, was conceived as a theme album---a bizarre, biblical epic about martyrs and traitors. Despite public anticipation and heavy promotion by Rykodisc, the album sold poorly. A few reviewers found it to their liking, but most agreed it was a disappointing follow-up to its predecessor. Critics in general gave Beaster the cold shoulder, dismissing it as unfocused and relentlessly chaotic.
Though he has assaulted them with sonic pyrotechnics and snarled his throat-maiming vocals at them regularly over the years, Mould has developed an honest rapport with his fans. He believes that the honesty of his live performances draws his audience closer to him. When he's in a bad mood, he told Musician, his performance may reflect that. "That's the cool thing about live music---I've got you now, and it's not necessarily going to be entertaining."
Mould remained committed to Sugar in 1993-94, writing material for a second album and starting recording sessions in the spring of 1994. He was dissatisfied with the results, however, and erased the tapes. The band returned to the studio once again in late spring, and released File Under: Easy Listening in the fall. The album received a warm critical reception, but by the beginning of 1995, Sugar had disbanded. In the spring of 1996 Mould released his third solo album, a self-titled effort recorded on a four-track recorder. "Mould sounds revitalized throughout the album," wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine in All Music Guide.
Mould followed with The Last Dog and Pony Show in 1998, and announced that the supporting tour would be his last with a full electric band. Mould later released Live Dog 98: The Forum, London UK, an album documenting the tour. Four years elapsed before Mould followed with Modulate in 2002, an album of electronic and dance music. "I keep trying to find different ways to say the same things," Mould told Chris Morris in Billboard. "I think that's what my life is destined to be." Critics, however, were baffled by his change in direction, and gave the album a lukewarm reception. In 2005, however, Mould returned to critical favor with Body of Song, an album that revisited vigorous, full-band rock.
In the mid-1990s, Mould began expressing reservations about the rock-n-roll lifestyle. "As you get older, you need your independence," he told Evan Smith in Texas Monthly. "You need to be focused on your own life." He also struggled when the music press revealed in the mid-1990s that he was a homosexual. "I never denied it, but was never asked about it until around 1994 when the music press was making a lot more of an issue of it," he told Jonathan Padget in Metro Weekly. "It wasn't perhaps the most graceful coming out. But I felt much better when I did." Although Mould would become involved as an activist for gay rights and even write scripts for the World Federation of Wrestling, he remained committed to his music. "As I get older, it gets very simple," he told Padget. "This is my life's work. I don't have anything else I do, really. I've been fortunate to be pretty good at what I do, and I work real hard, and people seem to appreciate it. That's what leads to the 'icon' status."
by John Cortez and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr
Bob Mould's Career
Co-founding member of Hüsker Dü, with Grant Hart (drums) and Greg Norton (bass), 1979; group released debut album, Land Speed Record, SST, 1981; disbanded, 1988; signed with Virgin Records and released solo album Workbook, 1989; formed Sugar with David Barbe (bass) and Malcolm Travis (drums) and released Copper Blue, Rykodisc, 1992; released File Under: Easy Listening with Sugar, 1994; disbanded Sugar, 1995; issued Bob Mould, 1996, and The Last Dog and Pony Show, 1998; released Live Dog 98: The Forum, London UK and Modulate, 2002; signed to Yep Roc and released Body of Song, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Solo albums
- Workbook Virgin, 1989
- Black Sheets of Rain Virgin, 1990.
- Poison Years Virgin, 1994.
- Bob Mould Rykodisc, 1996.
- The Last Dog and Pony Show Rykodisc, 1998.
- Live Dog 98: The Forum, London UK Granary Music, 2002.
- Modulate Granary Music, 2002.
- Body of Song Yep Rock, 2005.
- With Hüsker Dü
- Land Speed Record SST, 1981.
- Metal Circus SST, 1982.
- Zen Arcade SST, 1984.
- New Day Rising SST, 1985.
- Flip Your Wig SST, 1985.
- Candy Apple Grey Warner Bros., 1986.
- Warehouse: Songs and Stories Warner Bros., 1987.
- Everything Falls Apart and More Rhino, 1993.
- With Sugar
- Copper Blue Rykodisc, 1992.
- Beaster Rykodisc, 1993.
- File Under: Easy Listening Rykodisc, 1994.
- Besides Rykodisc, 1995.
- Billboard, March 9, 2002.
- Down Beat, April 1987.
- Entertainment Weekly, September 4, 1992; June 6, 1993.
- Guitar Player, October 1992.
- High Fidelity, August 1986.
- Musician, February 1992; October 1992.
- Magnet, July-August 2005.
- Newsweek, June 19, 1989.
- Pulse!, October 1992.
- Rolling Stone, May 18, 1989; June 15, 1989; November 16, 1989; December 14, 1989; September 20, 1990; August 20, 1992; October 29, 1992; January 7, 1993.
- Spin, May 1992; November 1992.
- Stereo Review, September 1989; November 1990.
- Texas Monthly, October 1994.
- Wilson Library Bulletin, October 1986.
- "Bob Mould," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (September 10, 2005).
- "Bob Mould," Metro Weekly, http://www.metroweekly.com/ (September 10, 2005).
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Virgin Records promotional interview, 1989, and Rykodisc press materials, 1993.