The former Hüsker Dü and Sugar front man is back with a new album inspired by his childhood trauma, sexuality, and current state of America.
Bob Mould has been spending the past few weeks quarantined in his sealed San Francisco home as toxic smoke fills the California air, which is just one of the many thematic elements that makes up his new album, Blue Hearts; which literally opens up with the line “the left coast is covered in ash and flames.”
Mould told the media recently that the album is meant to be his own response to the Trump presidency and the many failings of America within the past few years. The album discusses things like climate change, civil war tensions, racial injustices, religion, and the overall divide that’s occurring in the US right now.
When discussing one of the singles from the album, ‘American Crisis’, Mould recounted when he was a member of the 1980’s hardcore band Hüsker Dü, claiming that he “never thought [he’d] see this bulls**t again.” He thought about the parallels between Trump and Reagan and the idea of Hollywood celebrities being brought into power and being powerless as it all unfolded.
“The terrible division in this country right now comes from the top, from our leader. This is trickle-down racism.”
Mould is an out and proud gay man, and recalled what the political climate felt like in the 1980’s when Reagan was in power during the Aids crisis. He reflected on the mobs of his supporters telling the LGBT+ community that the Aids virus was God’s punishment for their sexual preferences/ways of identifying themselves.
“I didn’t understand how to advance my community’s cause. But things are so bad now that no reasonable artist can keep their mouth shut. And the words on this album are blunt. This is no time to be oblique or allegorical.” To Mould, writing this album felt like something he had no control over, and had to do. He claims that as a kid, all the Beatles records and vinyls his dad would buy would act as his main source of distraction from the chaos of American politics.
“Music was the only thing that could drown out all the chaos I grew up around. I still believe music can change the world – I watched the Beatles do it.” That’s the same attitude he carried into Hüsker Dü, the band he began with two record store employees. Over time the group began making relationship-based songs that weren’t gender-specific; meaning the lyrics can be applied to any sort of relationship. At the time, heteronormative pronouns in music were always expected, especially from hardcore rock groups.
“The army’s credo was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’; in hardcore, it was ‘don’t advertise, don’t worry’. I had a handful of casual encounters with guys on the road. But it was a community of misfits, and mostly no one cared what you did behind closed doors.”
After the band broke up after an 18-months together, Mould released his own solo folk rock album. His label went on to drop him after a less-successful follow up album, but a few years later he would release Copper Blue, the debut album from his new band Sugar which went on to give Mould the greatest commercial success of his career.
In 1994 after an interview with Spin Magazine that Mould claimed was organized as an attempt to out his sexuality, he was left traumatized when it came to his identity and the industry he worked in. It wasn’t until he moved to Chelsea, New York in 1998 that he would fully “become part of the scene, finally.”
“I decided, ‘I’m gonna be gay, get pretty, go to the gym and pick up a new lifestyle.’ It was a blast, hanging out with porn stars, going to wild parties on Fire Island, working out with Sandra Bernhard. Electronic music was the soundtrack to it all: Sasha and Digweed, Madonna, Cher… Here comes the vocoder!”
At this point in his life Mould began experimenting with his music and adding in some of those electronic elements he was picking up on the club scene. After a while he didn’t even recognize the music he was creating but in his eyes he didn’t care because of how comfortable and free he felt making that music within his community.
In 2005 he returned more to his classical rock sound and in 2011 he released a memoir that revealed a lot about his past experiences with sexuality and childhood trauma. Now, Mould is quarantining in San Francisco and receiving high praise for Blue Hearts; which he fully intends on touring when the world is safe enough again.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.