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New Day Rising: Almost 40 Years After Joining His First Band, S.F. Resident Bob Mould Is Still Churning Out New Albums 

Wednesday, Mar 23 2016
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"Walls of sound that keep the sky from falling down," sings Bob Mould on the closing track of his upcoming solo record, Patch The Sky (out March 25). The line references the last few years of Mould's life, which have been rough, to say the least. Both his parents passed away, as well as a few friends. But through his loss, his walls of sound — built from the loud distorted electric guitars that he famously strummed as the frontman of both Husker Dü and Sugar in the '80s and '90s, respectively — kept him alive. During that five-year period, the 55-year-old was impelled by a need to create; an urge to produce so as to make sense of everything else going on in his life.

As a result, he churned out three albums, published an autobiography (See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, co-written with Michael Azerrad), collaborated on the Foo Fighters' 2011 album Wasting Light, and was the subject of a tribute show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, featuring Dave Grohl and Ryan Adams.

Patch the Sky, his twelfth solo effort, represents this period of dichotomy in Mould's life. The new album is a product of these ups and downs: instrumentally uplifting, with dark undertones. "I wish I could say it ends on a bright note like other records have," he said in a recent Skype interview. "But I'm not sure it does — and I'm OK with that."

Mould rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as the guitarist/vocalist for Husker Dü, a pioneering punk band that later ushered in a new era of more melodic alternative acts. Never commercially successful, the St. Paul, Minnesota band paved the way for verse-chorus-verse bands like the Pixies and Nirvana. Fans and bands alike still bemoan the fact that they never made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Following Husker Dü's breakup in 1987, Mould went on to form Sugar, one of the main bands responsible for creating what is now known as alternative rock. Since the band's final show in 1995, Mould has been releasing solo records at a steady pace, even as he moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., and then, in 2009, to San Francisco.

For years, Mould had wanted to relocate to the Bay. Now a resident of Corona Heights above the Castro, Mould said he finally feels at home, especially after becoming fed up with life in Washington, D.C. ("I had been having little bits of conflict with my time there," he said). Though he admitted, "it's not the San Francisco that I moved to and it's certainly not the San Francisco that I remember from the summer of '81," Mould maintained that he's enjoying his time here — especially when he attends his neighborhood association meetings. "I don't go out as much as I used to, but I try to be active in the community," he said. "That's the kind of stuff that's important for me."

Living in the city, he said, has influenced his music, both tangentially and directly. His last three records were mixed at the Mission's famed, five-decade-old studio, Different Fur, and there are subtle references to living in California — mentions of Interstate 5 and the drought — sprinkled throughout the new album. Despite this, he said he shies away from being too geographically specific; rather, he tries to "write from a personal perspective that has global application."

Mould is now entering what he calls the third chapter of his career. He's releasing solo records at an unprecedented rate — three in the last four years — and the quality of the albums hasn't wavered a bit. Paint the Sky ranks as one of his strongest efforts to date, a collection of 12 fast-paced, high energy alternative rock tracks. It's also one of his best sounding efforts. Recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago, Mould said that he decided to "let things breathe a bit more" in the album, which he achieved by using ambient mics and at times, eight guitar tracks at once.

He's enjoying himself too, finally stepping back and realizing how grateful he is to be still making music at this point in his life. "When the shows are great, it's as amazing as always," he said. "I don't recover as fast and some days are more of a struggle and there's not as much of an unconditional thrill, but what a great place to come to work to every day."

Thirty-three years after Husker Dü's debut Everything Falls Apart, Mould remains as vital of an artist as ever before. His more recent solo albums have kept him in the public eye, inspiring a new generation of fast-paced punk-rock bands. He's managed to evolve and grow with each release, never becoming a caricature of his former self.

Mould ends his upcoming nationwide tour at the Independent on May 14 and 15, serving as a homecoming for the relatively new San Franciscan. Though he may not be as wild as he once was — you're more likely to catch him taking a survey for his local neighborhood association than at a Brick & Mortar punk show — the spirit of his earlier bands is still present in his newest releases.


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Steven Edelstone


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