Bob Mould remembers the time another musician tweeted, “I just went and saw Bob Mould, and for two hours he played one giant song.” The comment stopped him cold. “I was a little offended,” the singer/guitarist and alt-rock pioneer admits. “And I took another breath and I thought, ‘That’s absolutely right.’”
Mould has blended punk fury and pop melody into bristly, billowing walls of sound since he co-launched Hüsker Dü at the dawn of the ’80s. He’s largely mined and refined that formula as a songwriter ever since, through his ’90s power trio Sugar and a dozen solo albums topped by his Feb. 8 release, Sunshine Rock. In turn, he’s grown increasingly comfortable pulling from that multi-band songbook in concert.
“The good songs carry forward,” says Mould, 58, who returns to Paradise Rock Club on Feb. 16 with bassist/singer Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, touring in support of their fourth album together. “We sort of own [Hüsker Dü and Sugar] songs as the band we are now.”
Sunshine Rock particularly echoes the fast, bracing bent of Hüsker Dü in tracks like “I Fought” and “Send Me a Postcard,” a Shocking Blue cover recorded in one take—including Mould’s vocals—as a warmup for the sessions. It set the template for the album’s more stripped down, spontaneous nature.
“Every record has that elemental punk-rock energy,” Mould says from his base in San Francisco, though he’s lived in Berlin the past few years. “I’m not the angry 20-year-old anymore, but there’s a lot to be to be angry about these days, and I don’t have to address all of that directly, but there’s a lot of fuel for a fast ride.”
On the other hand, in contrast to previous albums that were informed by the loss of his parents, Sunshine Rock also bursts with hope and optimism. “It’s a concept record in the sense that once I had that [title] song, I was like, ‘Let’s go bright with this one,’ ” says Mould, who used variations on the term “sun” across several tracks.
“Camp Sunshine”—which Mould recorded the final day in an Oakland studio after his bandmates had gone home—even gets reflective and vulnerable in tone, an homage to the joy of making a record. “I’ve got to be grateful,” says Mould, who also produces his own albums. “In this day and age, when ‘Rock is dead’ and everything’s on a laptop and everybody has Pro Tools in their bedroom closet and they’re making masterpieces, there’s something to be said for the communal moments when three people get into the room and make this racket and there’s another guy behind the glass trying to keep it all straight.”
In this case, that guy was Mould’s longtime engineer Beau Sorenson, who needed to keep track of more than three players. In addition to playing some keyboards, Mould decided to add melodies from the six cellos, six violas and six violins of the Prague TV Orchestra, sending the scores and basic tracks to Prague for recording. The strings add subtle layers amid the guitar clamor, including opener “Sunshine Rock,” an arrangement that Mould calls “a tribute to Al De Lory, who did all the Glen Campbell stuff, that soaring ’60s pop string arrangement.”
For someone who forged his path on the hardcore scene, Mould was weaned on classic rock and pop, from the Beatles and the Byrds to discarded singles his dad bought from a jukebox vendor in the family’s upstate New York town. But since Mould began performing with Hüsker Dü as a college student in St. Paul, the common denominator for his bands remained the trio format—with lean and lashing instrumentation that drove other key influences from the Who to the Ramones.
“We can do doughnuts really fast,” the guitarist says of his current band. “When you try to make a hard right turn with six people, you’re going to crash the car. We’re up there, and I can throw a hand signal or shoot a look or yell a word in the air, and everything changes. And that’s the flexibility that a three-piece gives. It’s sort of my natural state.” ◆
Bob Mould Band plays the Paradise Rock Club on Feb. 16.
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