Bob Mold talks about reviving punk rock and reclaiming his rebel streak
Looking back on his decades-long career, Bob Mold can’t believe the extent of his influence.
In 1979, the musician accidentally got into a relationship with future Husker Du bandmates Grant Hart and Greg Norton while attending a small liberal arts college in the Twin Cities. Together, the power trio navigated the underground punk scene, making waves on college airways before eventually breaking into the mainstream. The group may have broken up in 1988, but they continue to leave a lasting impact – cited as an influence for artists such as Dave Grohl and Billie Joe Armstrong.
“We spent eight wonderful years challenging the system and following our own crazy way of seeing the world and how we felt about things,” Mold said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “The fact that someone understood this and carried it over into the rest of the time is just wonderful.”
Today, Mold remains a mainstay of the punk rock scene. His time in Husker Du and Sugar is long over, he is now recording and performing as a solo artist. In his latest album, blue hearts, however, he returns to the early days of his career, clinging to searing melodies with an overtly political bite.
“Being a not-out gay man in the early ’80s was really crazy and tough and sad and tough,” Mold said. “The Reagan years weren’t good for me and not good for a lot of my friends who didn’t survive the 80s. Fall 2019 felt like 1981 or 1983 again. It brought me back to that place and I started thinking about what it was like back then.
During “Siberian Butterfly,” a 2020 record track, Mold paints the skies with rainbow butterflies and unabashed pride, delivering poetic lyricism in an unrelenting scream. The song buzzes with titillating intricacies, a passionate expression of identity that roars over the punk instrumentation.
“Two different stories are happening. One is the old adage about metamorphosis. We grow in ourselves over time,” Mold said. “On the other side of the story, it suggests a character who is a butterfly collector – a wealthy hobbyist who validates himself by collecting rare artifacts.”
Over the years, Mold has become its identity. After coming out in the 90s, he became more comfortable talking about his experiences and concerns for the LGBTQ+ community. Especially in the current political environment, he refuses to remain silent.
“Two years ago, I really had a lot of concerns for the trans community, especially young trans people. And of course now I see those concerns happening again,” Mr. Mold said. “How could I not speak this time?” Things that maybe I should have emphasized more in the 80s – I’m not going to sit down then and say anything.
Released in 2020, the calendar of blue hearts almost feels strange. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and presidential election, the American landscape was plagued by the very issues Mold addresses in his music.
“I remember Donald Trump and his family doing the bible walk and gassing people in Washington Park in DC, where I used to live,” Mold said. “I was like, ‘Oh great, in 36 hours I have this song called ‘American Crisis’ coming out and this is all on fire right now.’ Whether life imitates art or art imitates life, or both are the same, I’m never really sure.
Two years after the release of the album, Mold is on its way to promote blue hearts and Distortion in an electric solo tour. While his set will cover much of his new music, he won’t shy away from flipping through the pages of his four-decade-spanning songbook, digging into the archives and bringing the Husker Du era to life.
“These are really fun shows,” Mr. Mold said, referring to the performances on the tour. “They mean a lot to me. They’re a bit more flexible in terms of set list and dynamic approaches than when I’m playing with the band.
Mold may be a solo artist, but he’s not one to shy away from the spirit of collaboration. He notably has a close relationship with Fred Armisen of “Saturday Night Live”. and “Portlandia,” with the pair performing together for the 2021 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Although an unexpected match, the two come together in effortless harmony.
“Fred is one of the coolest people I know. He’s a great musician. I mean, he learned a whole set of my stuff like nothing,” Mold said with ease. friends, we just like to hang out. We’re having a good time.”
Like a Siberian butterfly, Mold resists confinement in a single box, instead embracing the beautiful multiplicities of art, identity and life. With his unwavering charisma and penchant for punk, he’s sure to keep rocking into the future.
Lauren Harvey covers the music. Contact her at [email protected].