Hüsker Dü 1984 Interview

Music Features
Hüsker Dü 1984 Interview
By Peter Davis
Feb 1, 1985, 20:28

photos courtesy of Daniel Corrigan ©

The following interview was conducted with the cooperation of Bob Mould back in November, 1984 and was published shortly thereafter in Your Flesh double issue #8/9 which was published February, 1985 (back issues are out of print).

YOUR FLESH: For posterity, who's in the band?

BOB MOULD: Well, I play guitar, Greg plays bass, Grant plays drums and I guess Terry does sound.

Why does Terry Katzman (local free-lance journalist, sound man and all around vinyl fanatic) do sound?

Oh, I don't know. Terry was one of the people who originally liked the band. It was funny. I mean you were down at The Longhorn in the early days, when we were pretty much hated by every body. But it is funny how we got hooked-up with Terry. Pete Jesperson [manager of The Replacements and an original co-founder of Twin/Tone Records] took a liking to us for one reason or another and told Terry, “there's this band I think you'll like” and Terry saw us and liked us and I guess he decided he wanted to work with us. He was just getting into sound at the time se he was about as bas as we were. That was an interesting period when we first started, down at the old Longhorn 'cause we were really out of place at the time. A lot of people thought we were a Suicide Commandos rip-off, which to some degree we were for the first six months.

Why? What do you think the parallel was?

Well, we're a 3-piece and the Commandos did a lot of covers, which we never did. But I think just the fast and loud stuff. The scene in '79, I don't know, The Suburbs were progressing at that time. There were a lot of pseudo-complex bands; sort of post-new wave bands… there was a lot of 'em up here.

Since Terry and Pete were both real involved with the scene do you think it had any bearing as to what eventually happened for you?

Yeah, Pete was pretty supportive of the band till he saw The Replacements, then he sort of liked them better and the rest is history on that angle. It's pretty funny, looking back on those days, and a lot of people I'd like to kill. Terry always stuck with us, and then The Entry opened and we started playing there. I guess around that time Twin/Tone Records started getting interested in us. Which was strange. We did a demo for them which had three songs and the three people involved, which were Pete Jesperson, Paul Stark and Charlie Hallman all liked a different song out of the three, so they didn't want to do the record. I still can't figure that one out. So at that point we decided to take it and do it ourselves, so “Writer's Cramp” and “Lets Go Die” were two of the 3, the other one being “Statues.” We sort of didn't like “Writer's Cramp” and “Let's Go Die” after they were done, so we did “Statues” and recorded “Amusement” live at Duffy's in October of 1980 and took a loan out of the bank so that we could put the record out.

I thought that there was an attitude involved about releasing those two tracks. Do you think that it was mirroring what the band was going through at that time personally?

Yeah, to a degree. I think at that point it was really confusing in '80. We all started getting a lot of different influences, we started out playing real, real fast, and then we slowed it down, and then we sped it back up again after that single came out. We've always been different live than we are on record, but it always changes. We had the single out which spins it up to '81, we were playing out a lot, like 10 times a month, either at The Longhorn, the Entry or a party.

What was the motivation behind releasing a live record, such as Land Speed Record?

We did the shows in March '81. That was the first time we went out of town. We ran into Black Flag and they were interested in working with us. We went out and did the Land Speed Tour, well actually it was the Children's Crusade Tour. That was like '81. That was before bands learned to scam on everybody elses shows. We sort of wrote the book on it.

And what's that all about?

We sort of came to Seattle and had a whole week to do stuff, and we ended up playing every night. Weird stuff where we ended up doing just the weirdest shit. Getting on shows with the [Dead] Kennedys.

What inspired you guys to tour in the first place?

Just the chance to get out. We felt we had something we could do well. And the only way to do it was to go out on the road. And we felt that if we didn't do it, nobody else was going to help us do it. And that ties in with the Land Speed thing. We'd been out for two months on the road, really shoestring the whole time. And we came back and we had this big gig. So we decided , “what the hell, let's record it,” and we did. The tour was a lot of drugs and a lot of alcohol, not much food.

What's different about touring now?

It's a lot easier now. We make more money and we play every night now. We're not ashamed of it, we're proud of it. Y' know, we make a lot of money, we play every night. We still don't stay in hotels 'cause we've got friends around the country to stay with. I don't think we've changed that much except now we know how much we're worth. After fifteen tours you start finding out.

If you had to critique each record you have released what would you have to say about each one?

 “Statues,” that's what it was at the time. It was a real depressing time for us. It could have been a real dead end.

Land Speed Record was hell on wheels, y'know? That was our tour jammed into twenty-six minutes.

“In A Free Land” was what we thought was a sophisticated step ahead. Studio single, 24- track [recording].

Everything Falls Apart we were sort of really happy to work with someone like Spot. At the time he was easily the best guy doing it. Everything Falls Apart I think was easily the best record out of the first four; we knew the record would do something.

Metal Circus was sort of a step sideways in retrospect. I used to think it was real good, now I think it really didn't go anywhere.

“Eight Miles High” and Zen Arcade are both the same thing—the same session. We knew “Eight Miles High” was the sucker-punch for everybody. It was a classic song that no one had really done well for years.

Who's tried?

Golden Earring. The Db's might have tried. That was when we were getting more into pop. Getting away from the hardcore. I think Metal Circus was about all we had to say about it. The flip of “Eight Miles High” was a real throwback to “Statues,” the real muddy b-side. And than Zen Arcade. I don't listen to it anymore. That one I lost interest in quicker than any of 'em.

Why?

[Because] it was such a long process. That was a lot of songs that had been stockpiled for a year. That was a real trying recording session. That was the first time we started having second thoughts about the sound we were coming up with, or at least what we thought we were coming up with.

Before I say anymore, Spot is a great engineer—he's a great producer, he's a great guy, we love Spot—but at this point I think we're locked into another thing than he's into. I'm not slagging Spot at all. It's just that we've got another idea now that we can't translate through him. We just have to do it ourselves. That's part of the Zen Arcade thing. It got a little whacky which was really good; it got real experimental. Some of it was spontaneous but we had a notion before we went in there, we were going to expand on things and try to tie them together a little better.

How did the whole concept idea come up to begin with?

We were sitting around, and the whole idea was down before we went in and did it. We had to write a couple of songs to tie it together. But it was all there. We sat down, we did the writing, the storyline—I think I have the notebook at home with all the characters and names.

Have all the names and characters, etc been changed in the process of making the record?

Yeah, I mean “Pink Turns To Blue” was one of the ones that sorta came up after the concept… because the guy had all these girlfriends. And one of their names was Pinky. She bit the dust.

So, are you going to tell us what the whole storyline really is?

Well it's just this story about this kid, say he grows up respectfully in say, Rochester, this small town. His dad is a doctor, and his mom just sorta did the home thing. His dad is like a surgeon, he's real high-strung, has a real high-tension job. And it's a regular bad situation at home. And the kid one day decides that he's going to pack up and move to the big city. And that's where a lot of the situations like the Hare Krishna thing occurs, running into the cult people, like the backward thing on “Dreams Reoccurring,” “Indecision Time.” Y‘know, running and joining the service, you gotta do something. He gets involved in different things and eventually, what the storyline is, he got into a band, and he got too possessed by the band, and he freaked everybody out and they all quit on him. He had gotten to the point where he was this person that people looked on as a Henry Rollins type of person in the sort of icon of. And he got real intense behind it and blew everybody's minds, y'know and freaked out. Alienated everyone around him, his girlfriend dies, and he wishes he had something more, and he ends up getting into the drug thing… the contemplative thing. This is the part that didn't come out in the record. He ended up in detox and starts getting rehabilitation. There was foreshadowing in our minds where the kid was into computers and video games. So he was real bright, when he goes into the inpatient program he ran into this guy who had this computer company and he ended up working for them, designing games and stuff. And one day he falls asleep on the job, and somebody was doing the “wake up, wake up, wake up” thing. And that's where the twist in the story is because the whole thing was a dream. He went to bed one night and the whole thing was a dream, and at the end of side three is where he woke up, and his dad was waking him up to go to school… the next day.

Would you say it is modeled after some one specifically in the band?

I think it was parts of all three of us actually, and it wasn't modeled after any one specific person. I think we just stepped back and took a look at things that had happened to us or that could happen to anybody, at that age, whose fairly bright and gets upset with home life.

So what's behind the New Day Rising stuff coming out?

It's a lot more personal stuff. I don't know, taking a look at your self more than taking a look at a story. They are all little stories in themselves, rather than one big story with different parts. It's personal: just personal problems; personal happiness; personal gains. All the stuff that's on there is pretty much firsthand, firsthand “me” songs. Like “me” in the sense that this is my song… This is about me, instead of this is about someone else… They're all real, real personal and I think it's gonna make it a lot harder of a record for people to take. If they thought Zen Arcade was a tough record, when they get the lyrics to this one they're really going to sit down and think about things in a whole different way.

So are you incorporating the concept that you can make people think for themselves without coming right out and saying, “think for yourselves”?

Yeah, I think if you just tell them what goes on they can go, “Yeah, that could be me,” and what I would do about it. The thing that got real disheartening for me in hardcore was the increasing set of rules. And there was, there was a real pressure to be like other bands, there was a real pressure to say good things about other bands. There was a real pressure toward just general conformity. Everyone was a non-conforming conformist. Not everybody. We just said, “fuck, we're just three people.”

Don't you think that just has something to do with the way people twist things for their own convenience in general?

Yeah, I don't think a band like Monor Threat set out to start a whole revolution of straight edge. That was a perfect example of getting things completely twisted around; people actually taking Black Flag songs literally.

How could you take a Black Flag song literally? Their songs lyrically are so silly...simple, so near-illiterate.

I think that's why they got so popular. They really got at the lowest possible denominator. They got people, y'know like “Six Pack,” “My Rules,” “I've Heard It Before.” Real easy things to toss out, but when you looked at the lyrics it was like y'know, “fuck you,” I've got my life. Y'know, everybody has their lives, and everybody has my war and my head and my pain and my butt. Y'know, every body has all of these things. A lot of the bands sorta want you to wallow in a real bad self-pity trip. They sorta get this anger going: don't' evaluate it, just accept it.

[At this point in the interview we start discussing punk clothing and hair-dos]

In my opinion, I think that was a real defense mechanism for some people and I think a lot of those people were disillusioned with having long hair and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. So they chopped it. And they don't know why they're doing it. They say it is different and it shocks people. The kids who hang out at McDonald's [in The Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis the McDonald's there is the big punk social gathering spot] and kids that do that thing. Whatever it is now.

Well, it's just hanging out, don't you think?

That's so far away from it. It's like the old hanging out. Like in the romantic sense of hanging out… You hung out on the street, you looked tough, but you have a heart of gold. Now it's like these kids hanging out on the street looking tough and they've got no heart at all. In the definition of a traditional street gang—which it basically comes down to—in a way sort of like a specialized gang thing. It's got to be nationwide and worldwide.

Does Greg have any material on the new record that he wrote?

No.

How about backing vocals?

Yeah, a couple of back-ups.

What happened? He used to write stuff quite a bit.

I don't know. I wish I knew. I'm not sure y'know 'cause Grant and I have been churning out so much. Damn, I really don't know what it is. Both Grant and I have been busting ass on a lot of real good songs lately. I don't know, most bands I think don't have three songwriters. How many bands have drummers that write? Well, Greg came up with a new thing recently. He's coming up with ideas from time to time. But he really doesn't go through with the whole execution. It's something that we never really talked about between us. I'm not really sure what's going on with his trip. Greg is sort of mysterious in a way. I think Greg's existence is a different one. He's chosen a different way to go. I mean he's got a lot of friends; he works part-time. He lives at home. He doesn't come into town a lot. He's had the same girlfriend for five or six years. He's got other friends and goes and plays cards, goes to respectable nightclubs; goes to like jazz clubs and he hangs out with a different crowd.

Greg's the oldest in the band?

Yeah, he's 25. And Grant, y'know… well I hear everybody knows Grant. I have trouble talking about Grant 'cause I'm very opinionated 'cause we're both pretty close. I have a lot of strong feelings both ways about him. Lately, I've been real cloistered since I've just been at home working a lot. Just thinking a lot about a lot of things. Just sitting down, trying to figure out what it all means. It's really getting to the point where I start to question a lot.

What's bringing that on?

It's like the band is at a point where we can, not consciously but unconsciously make the appearance of turning our backs on everything we once were. We're at the verge where we could sign with a booking agent. We could be doing all the big rock shows. Y'know, it's a lot of soul-searching. Just trying to sit down and figure… I don't think we're going to do it.

What would signing to a major label or booking agency do for you guys right now?

Distribution, more exposure. It wouldn't change our music. But what would they do to us? The thing is, we are a real self-contained unit. We have the idea of how it should be presented, how often we should tour, where we should tour and what we should do. We work real hard on the road now. We got our typical day: usually about two in the afternoon we'll do an in-store; four in the afternoon we'll do a radio show; at six we do our sound check and after that we eat and start doing interviews, play at eleven, get done by one, have a couple of beers and then start driving. That's what a typical day on the road is now. It's really gotten busy.

We were in Boston for two days and we did eleven interviews, eleven college radio interviews. We did Boston Rock (now U.S. Rock), Boston Phoenix, Boston Globe, Boston Herald; we got full saturation. We got the cover of the Boston Phoenix—which is their Reader/City Pages thing. We got the full-page thing in Boston Rock, the thing in the Boston Herald—which is about the same thing as the New York Daily News. That's the point where we're at right now. People think, “Oh, they're fucking rock stars, that's why they do so many interviews,' but it's just the opposite. Rock stars don't talk to people: we do every interview we're asked to do. We don't turn people down ever, no matter how big or small their paper is, or how small the station is, or anything. If they're interested in the band we'll always talk to 'em. The only people we blew off were a couple of booking agents. Bob Singerman came and then ATI—Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Benetar, etc… Their guy came to the door and Grant told him to fuck off 'cause he wasn't on the guest-list. We also met like the people from Geffen Records and Capitol.

Why do you think the labels are suddenly interested?

They read the trades, they see CMJ, they see Rockpool, they see that we're one of the biggest selling independent bands in the country. I think they're afraid that if they don't sign us, somebody else will. And then we'll be successful on somebody else's label. I don't think it is so much they're interested in us. They're just interested in keeping us from being someone else. We don't want that. We're pretty adamant about not wanting it. Grant would really like that, and there's a part of me that says I would really like that too, but I know what happens with that. You have to get a management company; somebody who does your marketing, somebody who does your bookkeeping. All that stuff, and you lose touch of it. Who're you supposed to talk to about how many records you've sold, blah, blah, blah? You get a tour manager that puts you in a hotel every night. You get people that surround you, and they're all living on $20 a day of your money. We're very capable of carrying our own equipment, and setting up our own tours and setting up our own interviews, finding a floor to fall down on at the end of the night, or else just drive. We don't need that yet, and when we do there will be ways around it. We'll train somebody to do the job. When it gets to the point that we need somebody to book all our stuff for us we will find someone who can do it.

Isn't there a way you can have your cake and eat it too?

Well they [Elektra] tried that with X, they signed X under that premise. They could do anything they wanted to with their records, their artwork and stuff. Just so long as they did this or that. And X haven't sold that many records. A major label isn't into a band unless they can sell at least half a million records. Labels are not into artist at all anymore. There are only four labels: CBS; Warner Brothers; MCA and Capitol. Everybody else falls under the big ones. It's not like the days when there was a Motown, or labels that tried to stimulate the artists, and let them go at their own pace. Now it's like you come flying out with eight or you do nothing at all. They talk about artists, they can all say, “well, look what we've done for Billy Idol'—that whole life, I don't think that's for us. I think we're going to be a bee in everybody's bonnet for a long time, instead of being one big storm that comes through just once. Bands like the Chili Peppers, I feel real bad for 'em, 'cause what's going to happen to those guys?

So what have you heard in the way of current music lately that's put you off?

MTV in general sort of peeved me off a little bit. I think what's going on with that is really weird. I think there's a lot more to it than people understand. They're mixing a lot of symbolism. They're mixing Satan and Christ real heavily every other video. It's a jerk off show for thirteen year-old kids is what it really comes down to.

People that have put me off, I can't think of any local bands that have done that. I sort of feel bad for The Suburbs in a way. It seems like they were on Mercury Records and then they were off of Mercury, [just] like that. A lot of promises were made to them, none of them kept.

I don't really like a lot of the new metal stuff that's on TV. It's like real bad. I think the underground metal, California metal, the real fast stuff is good because if for no other reason, it's bridging the gap between hardcore and straight rock.

What about the bands and stuff you do like?

The Church, a band you didn't like live, I do like their records. A lot of the bands are interpreting the mid-60's thing in a real positive way. Some bands get real trapped in psychedelic images and stuff like that. I don't really like a whole lot of it, because they're trying to relive something they were too young to be around in. I think the bands that take that music, I think the sensibility is kinda reworking itself into a new thing—The DBs, REM. I really don't like a lot of the country rockabilly. western punk sort of stuff that has popped up. The Gun Club started it, and then everyone sort of went in that area. I didn't really get into it. The doom stuff I don't like, but Nick Cave...

What about Dark Carnival? They're into the spooky thing.

I don't think they're doing that. I think they just like it. I think they just like to look that way. I look at their music, they're a good band. I wish they hadn't told people they were going to be on Reflex, and that I was going to go in and do their demo tape for them. That was a weird thing. I mean, I still like that band a whole lot. All that stuff aside, Joe brought the tape over to my house. I listened to it. I thought it was real good. I said, “yeah, some time I'd be interested” in working with them. Now all that stuff started to come back at me, that they said they were on Reflex and I got real turned off. I said, “aw, man,” now I can't work with them 'cause I won't enjoy it. I think it was better that I didn't work with them 'cause I think they'll find out enough stuff about how it goes.

So what has attracted you to the bands that you have chosen to work with?

I usually have to see them live. Almost all the bands I genuinely like I see live at least once. Usually live is what tells it, that's what I look for in a band. Not if they have a real good tape, or if they can make a real good record. It's if they hit you live. Y'know, you can watch someone play guitar, and you can go, “he's a really good guitar player, but he doesn't know how to use the thing.” And that'll turn me off, or you could go, “he's a real proficient drummer, but all he is, is a timekeeper.” You can tell it when you see the band, like Articles of Faith. They've got that little bit of sloppiness that makes it seem right. And they're real compassionate about it.

What attracted you to Ground Zero?

They seemed so weird. Terry is so off the wall. I was making fun of him one night, but I was really complimenting him, and he thought I was making fun of him. I was saying something like, “yeah, Terry's got everybody fooled,” because everybody thinks Terry is really weird, 'cause he writes really weird lyrics. But he sucks you in with all these hooks on the guitar, and catchy melodies, than he's telling you all these weird stories about weird shit. I think that's a really cool quality of the band, their off-the-wall-ness.

Man Sized Action also, that was the natural thing. They were the only people that supported us; it was one time where we just thought, well these guys are our friends and we're gonna help them whether they were a great band or not. I thought that was the band that always had something cool about 'em. They really let their guard down every time they played. Pat really had a good command of the stage with that band, a real good stage presence. They weren't the best musicians but they managed to pull it together.

What is their new record like?

It's really powerful.

Do you think the addition of Brian Paulson on second guitar made a big difference?

Yeah, he made a big difference. I was sort of down on the whole thing when he first joined; it took a while for that to work out.

What motivated you to work with Rifle Sport?

That was more Terry Katzman's project, it's not all me. I'm pretty democratic. Terry was really into doing Rifle Sport. I had worked with them earlier; they had gotten too slick. Gerard and Jimmy got real professional and Chris and Pete wanted to stay real loose and I saw that band pulling apart day by day. It's not that Gerard and Jimmy were at fault. Right now I really don't know what they're up to.

What about Otto's Chemical Lounge?

Otto's is more Grant's thing, actually. I think they're a real good band; there's been little things I haven't liked about them, personal frictions among each other, [it's] the one thing that will hold the band back. I don't think hiding the antagonism in alcohol is the best way to keep a band together either.

What about Tom Hazelmyer [ex-Otto's bass player/vocalist/founder]? You know, I think besides quitting the band, he left not getting a lot of credit where the credit was due.

That was the weird thing 'cause Tom left the band and then they sorta said Tom did this and that and then Tom turned around and said he was making fun of psychedelic music the whole time. Was he making fun of hardcore when he was in Todlachen? Is he making fun of heavy metal in Bludgeon? You can't use what you're doing as a scapegoat for yourself. Like you're saying that the only reason you're up here is because I'm making fun of it? That's not right. Dale Nelson is real sincere, and Paul Osby is real intense about his guitar playing but I don't think any band should hide their problems in alcohol.

[Facetiously] So what do you have to say about the Minnesota Sound?

Outside people, people in New York, people in Boston, people in Chicago have this idea of the Minnesota Sound. I don't know, there's a sensibility I think lying with the bands. There's not a lot of backbiting between clubs here and there's not a lot of backbiting between people in bands; there's enough to keep it interesting. Like in San Francisco, you don't have to sign [on] with anybody out there, you [automatically] on everybody's shit-list as soon as you get there because everybody hates each other. There's not that element here. It's competitive here, but not in a cutthroat sense.

So, who's your favorite local band right now?

Mine? Ground Zero again, lately. The 800th Lifetime would be second, than Otto's would probably be third. Boiled in Lead is real good too, as always.

My favorite band in the country, outside of Minneapolis is the Ragged Bags from Kent, Ohio. They played two shows with us—they're real good. I like their sound.

Hey, what about Soul Asylum?

I completely overlooked them. I'd say they are my favorite band. They got their stuff together. Pat Morley is real organized. Pat's got it together. The rest of the guys are doing their thing too. They got a whole lot of soul. Dave Pirner has a lot of soul, and Pat's a great drummer. They're not the greatest technical band either, but they have the most soul out of anyone in town.

Don't you think Hüsker Dü is a real technical band?

We're real sloppy; we're sloppy live. Not super tight or anything; we sort of like it that way. If you practice too much it gets too slick. So we avoid practicing. We just do three-hour sound-checks and go through the set twice. The only time we've gone through old stuff for a while was before we went on tour in October. We got two cases of beer and went over to Greg's house. We sat there for about three hours chugging beer and doing the old stuff.

Is the band a living?

Oh yeah, that and everybody's got their little things they do. Greg still works occasionally and Grant work once in a while at a liquor store in St. Paul where he hangs out. I do studio stuff with other bands and do guitar lessons.

So what does the future hold for Hüsker Dü?

More tours, more songs, more records. New Day Rising will be out in January. It'll be on SST. After this I'm not sure. We've already talked about it with them; we're not sure how we feel about the way things are.

It's going on six years together [as a band], right?

Yeah, it's five-and-a-half [right now]. March 30th, 1985 will be six years in this stinking band… I say that affectionately.

***

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