Bold rocker finds his ‘Body of Song’

Nostalgia has a nasty way of hooking rockers into reliving their early years, producing a predictable flush of stale-on-arrival songs. But the influential American guitarist and singer-songwriter Bob Mould, who performs his first-ever shows in Greece this weekend with former Velvet Underground member John Cale, has never lived in the past, even if it still wants to haunt him. In his 25-plus year career, Mould has evolved beyond the seminal post-punk sound he helped create as a college student in the trio Husker Du to embrace Nick Drake-like acoustic melancholy, Beatlesque power pop, and even groovy electronica. His latest album, «Body of Song,» released last summer by the independent label Yep Roc Records, freshly blends all of his musical explorations into one of his strongest – and most joyous – works to date. «I noticed the optimism after the record was finished,» said Mould, a well-known pessimist, in a recent telephone interview from his home in Washington DC. He laughed as he considered his late-blooming sunniness. «Maybe I’m allowing myself to have that now.» And why not? Mould has had one of rock music’s steadiest careers, releasing 10 albums since Husker Du imploded in acrimony in January 1988 and touring almost every year. He looks healthier and more youthful at 45 than he did as a robust 20-year-old, even with less hair, thanks to daily workouts and two decades of sobriety. And he stays so busy – often juggling several projects – that he has no time to marinate in the past. «I suppose there will be a time in my life when I will sit and say, ‘I remember when,’ but it’s not now,» Mould says. «There’s just way too much to do.» Indeed, Mould has a vigorous year ahead of him. He is enjoying some of the best reviews of his career with «Body of Song» and is touring extensively to support it. After his double billing with Cale in Thessaloniki and Athens, where he will play Husker Du songs as well as his solo work, he will perform at several European venues before resuming his US tour. But though his solo work is keeping him both busy and adored, in some ways his past still defines him. Even his tiny hometown of Malone, a river hamlet in upstate New York known mainly for its thicket of prisons, lists Mould as «the former Husker Du frontman» in its two-person compilation of its famous natives. (The other is a long-dead US vice president.) Husker Du, named after a 1950s Danish board game which means «Do you remember?», was formed in Minneapolis in 1979 by Mould, drummer and vocalist Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton. Mould was studying urban planning at a liberal arts college and working at a record store, where he met Hart and Norton. They practiced in Norton’s basement and were soon performing around town, attracting a strong local following. Their high-velocity sonic slashing would lead a musical revolution. Husker Du combined the battering guitars of early Ramones with melodic pop structures to create a rousing, fresh sound that would greatly influence the Nirvana-led alternative rock scene of the 1990s. As the group’s main songwriters, Hart and Mould seemed like the perfect balance: While Hart wrote caffeinated love songs, Mould exploded with dark lyrics and enraged melodies. The band would release seven albums in eight years before calling it quits after a disastrous concert in 1988. The breakup hurt both fans and critics: The previous year, the influential rock magazine Rolling Stone had called the group the most vital band in America. Officially, the split was politely attributed to creative differences. Unofficially, it was blamed on Hart’s alleged substance abuse (which he has vehemently denied) and on Mould’s increasing power in the band. Hart has stayed in music, releasing some well-received albums, while Norton got out of the business and became a successful gourmet chef. Mould, emotional about the band’s disintegration, also considered leaving music. He secluded himself on a 10-acre farm for a year, writing and tending chickens, before he dipped back into songwriting. In 1989, he re-emerged with «Workbook,» a deeply reflective acoustic record that would establish him as a solo artist and showcase some of his most affecting songs, such as the hope-brimmed ballad «See A Little Light.» «That was a real special record for me,» he says. «In the wake of Husker Du and the importance of that band, to step away and come back with a record that was so different from what I had done before, that really helped me. Had I come out with something haphazard, thrown-together or reconstituted, I would have been gone by now.» After «Workbook,» Mould released another, darker solo album, «Black Sheets of Rain,» in 1990 before forming Sugar, a grunge power-pop trio which joined the very alternative rock scene kindled by Husker Du. Sugar’s 1992 debut album, «Copper Blue,» became Mould’s commercially successful project to date and several of the album’s tracks became rock radio favorites. Sugar released an EP and a second full-length album before Mould returned to solo work with another pensive album, «Bob Mould» in 1996 and a more rousing one, «The Last Dog and Pony Show,» in 1998. The name implied, correctly, that Mould was burned out on his hard-rock persona and wanted to retire it. He would not release an album for another four years. He took strange paths, such as working for six months in the management of a professional wrestling organization. He explored his identity as a gay man and got to know the community, after an uncomfortable outing by a music magazine in 1994. And he started listening to electronica and working with remix producer and keyboardist Richard Morel. By 2002, he had a new – and controversial – sound, as heard on the albums «Modulate» and LoudBomb’s «Long Playing Grooves» (LoudBomb is an anagram of his name). Mould’s muscled guitars were muted in favor of keyboards and tape loops, while his bruisingly imperfect voice was smoothed by a pitch-correcting device (causing one writer to invoke «charges of Cher-ism»). He also planned to release «Body of Song» in 2002, but, suffering from writer’s block, continued to work on it. The album, released last year, assimilates his new interest in electronic dance music with his traditional roots in guitar-based rock. One of the most uplifting tracks, «(Shine Your Light) Love Hope,» sounds like Husker Du channeling Kraftwerk. Mould does not apologize for his creative departure. The way he sees it, musicians cannot evolve if they don’t challenge themselves. The same old sound is boring, he says, and to stay solvent in today’s highly competitive music world, artists must work especially hard to win over new fans while keeping the old ones. To do just that, Mould also started a blog – «Boblog: A Quiet and Uninteresting Life» – at It features his musings on everything from politics to his shows and has links to his albums. «I think it surprises people that, you know, I am as candid as I am on it,» he says. «But it demystifies me. In this day and age, it’s probably better to share rather than be too mysterious.» Besides, Mould says, he has nothing to hide. He made peace with the past a long time ago. Today, he talks about Husker Du without regret. In 2004, he even reunited with Hart – albeit uncomfortably, since the two have barely spoken in 17 years – for a two-song set in Minneapolis as part of a benefit concert for Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller. (Mueller died of cancer last June.) «For years, I pretended like it wasn’t there, and Husker Du was this big white elephant,» he says. «But it’s part of my history. Yeah, it was my first band, it went for eight years, and I don’t happen to care for either of the two people I used to work with. I got on with my life in January 1988. I’ve had a prosperous career that is still going. What more can you ask for?» Bob Mould and John Cale, Friday, 10.30 p.m. at the Mylos Arts Complex at 56 Andreou Georgiou in Thessaloniki (tel 2310.525.968/551.838) and Saturday, 9.30 p.m. at Gagarin 205 in Athens, 205 Liosion (210.854.7600). Tickets cost 30 euros and can be purchased at Ticket House (42 Panepistimiou), Metropolis music stores or online at

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