Bob Mould: soundtrack of my life

The solo artist and Hüsker Dü founder finds inspiration in sublime 60s pop – and tells us about a Scrabble challenge with Richard Thompson

Bob Mould was born in Malone, New York, in 1960. At college in Minneapolis-St Paul he met Grant Hart and Greg Norton. They formed alt-rock trio Hüsker Dü in 1979 with Mould, on guitar, sharing vocals and songwriting with Hart. After six albums, including the classic Zen Arcade, the band split acrimoniously in 1988. Mould released his first solo album, Workbook, a year later, followed by two albums with a new three-piece, Sugar. He returned to solo work and other projects, including a successful sideline as a dance music DJ. His 11th solo album, Beauty & Ruin, is released on 3 June.


Tomorrow Never Knows by the Beatles (1966)
The first music I remember consciously hearing, aged three or four, was the soundtrack to Around the World in 80 Days. I don't remember what the music sounds like, just the artwork – the cover had these green and yellow pop-art balloons heading towards the sky. As for a specific song that has stuck with me, it would probably be Tomorrow Never Knows. My grandmother used to take me to buy records at the drugstore in the small farming town where I grew up in northern New York state. I remember getting Revolver when I was six or seven and being fascinated. I was very fortunate that I had good taste at such a young age – it only got worse from then on!


Windy by the Association (1967)
My parents lived in a house with a grocery store attached to it, and us three kids would stock the shelves and work the register. The people who sold alcohol to the store also stocked the jukebox and my dad used to buy the used singles. They became my toys. I still have all those records – about 400 of them. They sit front and centre in my studio. Whenever I get stuck on a song – when I want to throw some ornamentation on that third chorus or something – I'll pull out Windy, or On a Carousel by the Hollies, or any of those great pop songs, and they give me the inspiration I need.


Ramones by Ramones (1976)
I started writing songs when I was nine or 10. In high school, I got a little side-tracked because I got into sports. I was listening to all the things my friends were listening to – Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, stuff like that. But then for my 16th birthday I got the first Ramones album. That was the record that showed me that making music was do-able. Compared with Fleetwood Mac, their music was very transparent and easy to learn. Their image was equally important. To see a photo spread in a magazine of the Ramones trying to haul a PA to a gig somewhere, I was like, that looks a lot more fun than getting on that private jet with all that cocaine.


Make a Record by the Suicide Commandos (1977)
When I was 18, I moved out to Minneapolis and got together with Grant Hart and Greg Norton. Two years after that, we started Hüsker Dü. My first weekend in college, I got a phoney ID card so that I could get into bars to see the local punk bands. One band in particular, the Suicide Commandos, I would see every weekend. They were a three-piece with guitar, bass and drums, very like Hüsker Dü, and their album was a pretty solid blueprint for the things we went on to do. We eventually became friends with these bands, and when Hüsker Dü started, they were instrumental in finding us gigs and getting us up and running.


Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson (1982)
1988 was a pretty crazy year for me. It marked the end of Hüsker Dü, and all the sadness, relief and confusion that came with it. I had just purchased a farm up in northern Minnesota and was pretty much left to my own devices for that entire year. Somebody at Folkways [a record label associated with the Smithsonian Institute] sent me a box of records and I was listening to a lot of Appalachian folk songs – coal-miner music from the Depression era, with mandolins and dulcimers, telling very simple tales of loss. It was so different to anything I was used to.

That tonal palette got into my head and I started messing around with a lot of alternate tunings on the guitar. I wanted to come up with a new language for my music. But then a friend of mine came up from Minneapolis and listened to the songs I'd been working on for eight months, and said: have you ever heard this guy Richard Thompson? I was like, no, who's that? So I listened to Shoot Out the Lights [with Linda Thompson] and some stuff by Fairport Convention, and I was shocked and kind of embarrassed by how much it anticipated what I'd been writing.

Since then, I've met Richard and spent a little bit of time with him. He's a wonderful gentleman and a pretty awe-inspiring guitarist, but we mostly talked about Scrabble. We have an outstanding date to play Scrabble at some point in the future.


Face to Face by Daft Punk (2001)
I started DJing 11 years ago when I was living in Washington DC. I started a party called Blowoff with another DJ [Richard Morel], and we've taken it all over the country. These days I play a lot of French house – Daft Punk and friends. This is a record that I can always throw on early in the night. I can use it as a launch pad to go in a lot of different directions.

Old Hüsker Dü fans sometimes turn up at our nights and get a bit confused. They still have a good time because they see how much I'm enjoying it. But then shirts start coming off and there are sweaty bears everywhere and they get a little more confused and leave. But at least they enjoy it for a while.


Crazy for You by Best Coast (2010)
I put this on when I just want to listen to great music and not think about too much. What a great record. Bethany [Cosentino] is such a cool girl. I love her voice, and I love what Bobb [Bruno] does with the guitars. It's just a great throwback to very simple pop music – so stripped back. It's fun to go see them play too.


Lost in the Dream by the War on Drugs (2014)
I want to spend more time with this album. It struck me as a strong record straight away but it definitely needs more listens. It's pretty expansive, which is nice. It's a good sign that people are thinking in long form and trying to pace a story across a whole album – especially in this day and age when everything is so abbreviated. Listening to music every day, sometimes we can be too quick to dismiss. I've learned that if I hear something new by an artist I trust and it takes a little while, that's OK – just stick with it. I try to remember that.

Bob Mould's Beauty and Ruin is out on Merge on 3 June


Interview by Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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