Bob Mould has never been easy to categorize.
When he fronted the trailblazing alternative band Hüsker Dü from 1979 to 1987, it wasn't exactly punk music he was making. But it was hardly pure pop either. Then when everyone thought he'd settled into a post-Hüsker Dü career of intense, introspective solo rock, he conjured up another version of himself from 1992 to 1994 through the powerhouse alternative group Sugar.
The ensuing projects as the decade wore on saw Mould initially reclaim his solo rocker guise. But with the founding of the independent label Granary Music last year in collaboration with his partner of thirteen years, Kevin O'Neill, all bets are off.
This year alone has seen the release of Mould's genre-defying album Modulate, a fearless foray into electronica that still reflects enough of his guitar roots to keep more than a few critics and fans scratching their heads, followed by more electronic music explorations compiled in the name of his creative alter ego, LoudBomb. Add to that a third release, culled from live recordings of Mould's 1998 solo tour, all the while working on still another solo album, Body of Song -- unlike either Modulate or the LoudBomb effort -- slated for a March '03 release.
Mould's personal life has been marked by a similar willingness to embrace new opportunities. He and O'Neill recently decided to make their home in Washington, D.C. after spending more than a decade based in New York. Mould is also adding a high-profile dash of gay activism to his career with his contribution to Being Out Rocks, a compilation of music by gay and gay-supportive artists, including Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright, Ani DiFranco, the B-52's, Queen, Taylor Dayne, and Kevin Aviance, that's being released to celebrate National Coming Out Day 2002 on Friday, October 11, and raise funds for the Human Rights Campaign's educational arm, the HRC Foundation.
MW: How did you get involved with Being Out Rocks?
BOB MOULD: [HRC National Coming Out Project director] Candace Gingrich had contacted Granary Music and asked if we'd like to be part of the album, and we were like, "Sure, anything we can do to help. It's time to start giving back." HRC seems like a great bunch of folks, and it's a great resource for information on ways to become politically active.
MW: Which track was chosen for the album?
MOULD: "Soundonsound" from Modulate.
MW: Will it sound completely foreign to longtime fans who haven't listened to Modulate yet?
MOULD: No, it actually has my signature writing style -- some fairly heavy guitars, and a little bit of the electronic stuff thrown in.
MW: What about new fans? How do you feel you're connecting with them these days?
MOULD: Since being more out, I'm starting to see more and more of a familiar gay male contingent at my shows, which is nice. It makes me feel good that I'm reaching them.
MW: Is it a young, alternative-style gay crowd?
MOULD: Some, but also guys in their late thirties, early forties -- my situation. It's been nice, especially when people come up after shows and say, "Oh, I've followed your work for years. Now that you're more out, it's so cool."
MW: Tell me more about your coming out in the music industry, and to the public. It sounds like it's been an evolving thing.
MOULD: My process has been more stumbling out instead of coming out. Throughout the ‘80s, a lot of people in the business knew I was gay, but I wasn't "out." I never denied it, but was never asked about it until around 1994 when the music press was making a lot more of an issue of it. It wasn't perhaps the most graceful coming out. But I felt much better when I did. That was the beginning of a process for me to become less of a self-hating homosexual and becoming a little more tolerant of the diversity of the community, as well as figuring out where I belonged in it. Since then, it's just really been out in the open. And I've seen how the industry reacts to it. It's not always favorable. There is still a healthy dose of homophobia in certain parts of the music industry.
MW: Were there other artists dealing with sexual orientation whose situations discouraged your coming out?
MOULD: I saw how occasionally it would set artists back because it would become the only thing people asked them about. k.d. lang is an acquaintance -- someone I've respected for years -- and I remember when she was becoming very outspoken. It just seemed like it overwhelmed her music. She is one of the most gifted singers of our generation, and it was confusing to me to see that people sometimes just focused on the fact that she was out.
MW: Do you know many famous musicians who are still closeted?
MOULD: There are a few people who are not out that could be. But it's less. There have been key people that have come out over the past couple of years that have made a difference, like Michael Stipe. Things have really changed over the last ten years. I get the sense among younger people I talk to that it's just not that much of an issue. That's great. If we've gotten to that point where people are a lot more tolerant, and people are coming out early, that's big progress.
MW: How has your sexuality impacted your craft?
MOULD: Up until very recently, a lot of my songs were relationship-based -- both the good and the bad, and all the different things that relationships and life bring to us. But I was very careful to be gender-neutral when writing early on. Ultimately, I'm the messenger, in a sense. Whether I'm drawing on my own experiences, or other people's experiences that I observe, songs should have a universal appeal. A love song should be able to fit any situation. A breakup song should be able to address any configuration of two people who decide to move on to other things. With the new record, I'm getting into some stuff that's very homo-specific. Now I feel more comfortable writing in that vein as well as the universal, neutral style.
MW: Does being more specific about homosexuality decrease the universality of your music?
MOULD: Perhaps with those particular songs. The thing I've gleaned from fan feedback this year is that they feel like they're being let in on something that they don't particularly understand, because maybe they don't have any exposure to it in their own lives -- like the idea that same-sex spouse abuse happens. I'm guessing a lot of straight people never consider that -- it's just not a topic that comes across the dinner table very often. Some of the fans are like, "This is great that you're taking us on this journey that we wouldn't normally go on, and we feel confident in you to take us there."
MW: What are some of the parallels in the music you've been drawn to as a listener that speaks to you in a similarly powerful way?
MOULD: I've been consciously listening to pop music and taking it apart since I was like six years old. When I heard punk rock for the first time -- the Sex Pistols and the Ramones -- I immediately identified with that, whether that's because it was rebellious, or that it was so different than what everybody else was listening to. I was well aware of my differences from my friends very early on. Maybe because that music was outside my friends' world, and outside the mainstream, I was just drawn to it -- the aggression, the politicizing, people feeling disenfranchised, like they weren't part of the world at large. I built on that in my own career through the '80s, especially through the Reagan years, which was a horrifying period, and which we're right back in.
MW: Can you recall the first time your sexuality was affirmed by music you listened to?
MOULD: Music has always been such a life-affirming experience all the way around for me. It wasn't like I heard a gay artist sing a gay song that resonated so deeply that I felt completely affirmed. That happens every week with music I hear and I'm like, "Oh my god, this person is so right-on." They think the way I think, or I'm feeling what they feel.
MW: You're widely considered to be an icon of alternative music. What is that like?
MOULD: As I get older, it gets very simple. This is my life's work. I don't have anything else I do, really. I've been fortunate to be pretty good at what I do, and I work real hard, and people seem to appreciate it. That's what leads to the "icon" status.
MW: What other names do you hear bandied about when people talk about you at that level?
MOULD: Lou Reed, Neil Young -- people who have really long careers and are still going at it. In terms of my contemporaries, maybe Kurt Cobain. And people like Morrissey and Boy George are still around. I just wish Boy George would stop talking about Eminem. I'm like, "Stop already. It's not worth the energy." Just read between the lines. It's maybe not what we all think it is.
MW: Do you think that hate language in music such as Eminem's is as dangerous as some critics like to portray it?
MOULD: We live in a time where people make extreme statements merely to try and stand out from the rest of the pack. Young, uneducated musicians say offensive things because they are so desperate to stand out. What the effect of it is overall, I really don't know yet -- whether kids are walking away from people who use a lot of fag baiting or fag bashing in their music and feeling like they need to emulate that stuff. Hopefully there's enough peer pressure that counters that, where they realize it's not acceptable behavior -- that there are still enough kids who aren't getting sucked into that kind of music who just won't put up with it.
Things have a way of balancing themselves out. But I do think it's important for people to know that there are artists who are saying some pretty hateful things, and just be aware of it. I don't think it's fair to censor, but I think it's very important to point it out. I can say, "Hey, this guy's an asshole for saying these things." And people can either say, "Yeah, you're right," or they can say, "Well, I think differently." It's an awareness thing. Ultimately people will make their own decisions.
MW: How did you feel about Eminem when all of that controversy was flaring up? Do you think he's an asshole?
MOULD: Just sort of uneducated. I feel bad for the guy. He's clearly fucked-up. He's had a fucked-up life, and he hangs it out there on display. He's not the first person in the creative arts to air his psychoses so violently. Maybe he had a traumatic experience. Maybe he was molested at a young age or something -- I don't know. It could be a number of things. Maybe it's complicated, or maybe it's as simple as he's just doing it to sell records. Ultimately I think it's just making people aware that the guy is saying some hateful things. Do you want your kids listening to this? What do you want to do with it? You be the judge. I don't buy his records. I'm making my statement. I don't support anything he supports. I don't support the people that support him. That's all I can do.
MW: Since Being Out Rocks is tied directly to National Coming Out Day, is there a special coming out message you'd like to share with everyone?
MOULD: There's no right way to do it. People can coach you, you can look to other people for ideas or inspiration, but ultimately, my personal experience is that once I reconciled the notion of being gay with myself, it was so easy to reconcile with other people. Everything starts to change once you do that. When the time is right for you to make that step, just be prepared for a lot of change. That's what it's about. But it's worth it.
On National Coming Out Day, Friday, October 11, Bob Mould will sign copies of Being Out Rocks from noon to 2 p.m. at Melody Records, 1623 Connecticut Avenue NW, and from 6 to 8 p.m. at the HRC Action Center & Store, 1629 Connecticut Avenue NW. Mould performs at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria on November 3. Visit www.hrc.org and www.bobmould.com.
Big Blowoff - Bob Mould and Rich Morel's Blowoff moves upstairs and takes center stage at the 9:30 club (1/12/2006)
Bob Mould: Independent Spirit - Rocker Bob Mould talks about his new album, popular blog and hit gay DC party, Blowoff (7/28/2005)
Rock It Man - Local alterna-rocker Bob Mould prepares to appear at his very first Capital Pride (6/9/2005)
Big Blowoff - An album and concert grows from Bob Mould and Richard Morel's music-driven party (11/18/2004)