Mould's latest CD was written and recorded in Austin during the fall of 1995, and in its cutting grooves he probes for the deep veins in ways that are bracing, funny and, as always, bittersweet. Mould has always been the loud, sensitive type, but here he breaks out a shade of honesty so brilliant it stings like an eclipse viewed through Coke-bottle lenses.
"This one's a lot more blunt," says Mould. "Last year was not a bad year for me, but for a lot of people around me, it wasn't so good. I just saw a lot of people going through a lot of life-changing experiences. Some of that's reflected in there; some of it's my fears about things that could happen."
It would be hard not to take lines such as "The next time you leave / I'm burning everything you own" and song titles such as "Roll Over and Die" personally if you happen to be on the outs with Mould. He says he's aware that people are picking apart Bob Mould for clues about his personal relationships (he discreetly revealed his homosexuality a few years back), as well as the demise of Sugar.
"Yeah, I've gotten used to that," he laughs. "It's inevitable: Inquiring minds need to wonder. I don't really have an alter-ego as far as Bob the entertainer versus Bob the person. If one were to read the songs, you'd get a pretty good idea of what kind of person I am."
As a band leader, Mould's sometimes accused of not playing nice, but in the case of Sugar, he says, the unraveling stemmed from a feeling of selling out that came with the ceaseless promoting and touring behind 1994's File Under Easy Listening. "There was a decision made between myself and Rykodisc [Mould's label] that was like, 'Okay, we're gonna go for it, and we're gonna go for it now.' And we did, and it wore me down. It took a lot of the fun out of that band, and it was one of the main reasons I personally wanted to get out of it."
Solo acoustic touring is what Mould takes pleasure in lately. Texas bassist Andrew Duplantis started the current tour as Mould's sideman, but he's been dropped -- though he will play Friday's Urban Art Bar show as an opening act. Mould originally tried touring on his own at the end of 1991, after his second solo release, Black Sheets of Rain. At that point, he had left Virgin Records, fired his management and was heavily in debt. So faced with the struggle of art and commerce (and, in this case, food and shelter), he improvised.
"I had one thing I could think of to do," Mould recalls, which was "to put the guitars in the trunk of the car and just go out and start playing."
Mould had been down the poverty road with Husker Du, which didn't make any money for its members until 1985, and he credits some of his perseverance as a solo artist to the dues he paid early on. "Paying $40 a month rent to store my stuff in somebody's basement with a mattress that I might sleep on three months a year, getting paid 12 bucks to play in San Francisco: I went through six years of nothing to finally get to where Flip Your Wig came out and we had a little bit of money," he says.
It may sound a bit hackneyed and suspicious in the era of corporatized angst and fabricated authenticity, but Mould values the power of music to change and restore lives. "People coming up and saying, 'This record changed my life' or 'This record saved my marriage' or 'This record helped me through a really tough period,' that's a really different statement to me than, 'Wow, you made me pick up a guitar and wanna play,' " Mould says. Eliciting such life-affirming responses was Mould's intention when HYsker DY started. As for the rest of the post-punk legend stuff that came later, that, he says, was just a fluke.
"Sometimes it almost makes me feel like, 'God, it sounds like I planned all this.' We [Husker Du] were just sick of everything we were hearing and wanted to make really fast pop songs," Mould says. "All the other stuff, I don't know. I'm pretty comfortable with who I am. I sometimes get uncomfortable with [my] musical influence or the fact that I'm gay. I should be some kind of figurehead for that. If I'm doing something right, I'd rather just keep doing it instead of giving sermons on it. If I have a charmed life, I'll just take it."
Bob Mould performs Friday, November 8, at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12, 1820; $14, 21 and up. The Jinkies and Andrew Duplantis open. For info, call 225-0500.