Bob Mould talks Sugar, Hüsker Dü, ‘Distortion,’ and ‘Blue Hearts’

Photo courtesy Merge Records.


Bob Mould is on the road for this “Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts Tour.” Before playing at City Winery on October 12, Mould took a few minutes to talk about returning to life in America after spending some time in Berlin, experiencing socio-political deja vu, and to reflect on his years with Sugar and Hüsker Dü.

Your current tour is titled the “Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts,” which sounds pretty straight forward. Are you playing a pretty comprehensive setlist?

Blue Hearts was the fifth album for Merge Records that was recorded with the same rhythm section—Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster on drums—and with the same engineer, Beau Sorenson. Blue Hearts came out in September 2020. Obviously nobody was touring at that point. 

In October of 2020, the Distortion box sets started coming out on Demon Records in the UK. It was a 30-year career retrospective that took from the first solo album, Workbook, all the way through Sunshine Rock, which was the fourth solo album with Merge. In the fall of 2021, myself, Jon, and Jason did a pretty quick North American tour. Since then, I’ve mostly been doing solo electric stuff, touching on everything from Hüsker Dü and Sugar and the solo albums up to Blue Hearts.

The expense of touring is pretty high right now, and tours are still getting canceled left and right because people are getting sick. So for the time being, the solo electric thing is the easiest way for me to tour.

Most of the press that Blue Hearts has received hangs on it being about your return to the States after living in Berlin for a few years, and getting an eyeful of how much things had changed in a very short time.

The first half of Blue Hearts feels like a return to Hüsker Dü songwriting form.

Yeah, I felt like the fall of 2019 was a lot like the fall of 1983. The country was pretty unhinged, and sadly it seems to have gotten worse.

Staying in the fall of 2019, I’d been spending a lot of time in Germany. I was aware of what was happening in America, but when you come back to the US and you’re surrounded by 24-hour news cycles, and just all of the insanity that is America when things get like this, it felt very similar to my state of mind and my state of being, and how I saw the world back in 1983. It made me think about what I was doing back then, what the environment was like at the time. Most importantly, I was thinking about how I approached my work and the messages at that time, and how little resources a band like Hüsker Dü had in 1983.

The songs on Blue Hearts are more influenced by the reflection of those times and how it seemed like it was deja vu all over again. 

The songwriting was pretty direct, pretty political, pretty economical. The record is pretty fast and furious, so it got me thinking about how limited resources in 1983 led me to write and record—making it brief. Not dragging it out, not hiring an orchestra from Prague. Just the three of us in a room banging this stuff out? 

So 1983 was the Ronald Reagan era and 2020 was the Trump era. What differentiates these times? 

Social media. 

Through the ‘80s, we saw the ascent of Reagan, the Hollywood celebrity but, unlike Trump, Reagan was the governor of California. He had knowledge of how the political system worked. But televangelism was huge then—the moral majority. It was the beginning of HIV/AIDS, the cutting of mental health services in cities. That specific … Tony Fauci at NIH. It’s frightening to me some of the callbacks, whether it’s COVID or evangelicals, and all the sway that they hold over the Republican party. These are all things that I’ve seen before. It didn’t go well last time, and we’ve lost a million people to COVID in America. 

At my advanced age, I did not think I would have to go through this yet one more time. 

Did these songs come out of you pretty quickly? 

Yeah. When I settled back in at the end of 2019, it did not take a lot of effort to look around and write what I know, write what I see. The song “American Crisis” had been kicking around for a couple years. That was the first track anybody heard off the album, but I actually wrote the music and the words for that in Berlin. Those lyrics took five minutes to write. There’s nothing sophisticated about it at all.


The remainder of the record; some of the music had been written in Berlin, but a lot of the words, and most of the music was written pretty quickly at the end of 2019. I went out and did about three weeks of solo touring at the beginning of 2020, tried out a bunch of the songs, and then we recorded the album in February of 2020, and had it wrapped up by the middle of March. That was when everything shut down.

“American Crisis” is the first song that you wrote for this album? 

Yeah, that’s the North Star of the record. I had that one already put together in Berlin, probably later in 2018, and I just sort of followed the motif. The rest of the stuff came pretty easily. 

“Next Generation” sounds like classic Bob Mold to me. Of course, I see what sets it apart from some of your other eras of songwriting.In terms of the strength of the song, though, I want to place it alongside something like Hüsker Dü’s “Sorry Somehow,” or maybe even “Hoover Dam” by Sugar. When you’re putting demos together, do you have a sense of when you’ve got a hit on your hands?

To me, that one falls closer to the mid-to-late ‘80s stuff I was writing. As a writer, I sort of look at it and go, “Oh, that would’ve been a Flip Your Wig song.”

When I’m working on stuff, I sort of know. I mean, I have x number of ways and x number of styles in which I write. I sort of know when a song is coming in that first 15 minutes if it’s going to either be a type A or a type X song. Then, it’s just a matter of wrapping it up and tucking in all the corners. I’ve got different styles of pop songs, punk songs, folk songs, songs with strings, songs that lean more on keyboards. 

It’s sort of like, you get a couple free throws, you’ve rehearsed your free throws. You know how many dribbles you have, and where you’re gonna toss the ball.

Does it feel like there’s an uptick in interest in your songwriting right now?

I think people are still interested in what I do, both the work that I’ve done and the work I’m doing now. There are a lot of people that won’t be there in the future when another album comes out. In terms of politically charged punk music right now, a lot of the things that are coming out of the UK—a band like Idles being the main one that most people know, or Fontaines DC and stuff like that.

I’ve been a bit surprised that art in America hasn’t been as reactive as I thought it would be. Perhaps I’m not seeing it. Maybe it’s further underground than where I hang out, but for music specifically, it feels like more stuff has come out of the UK lately that is addressing the socio-political divisions we’re going through. 

Maybe it’s because I’m in Georgia, but Mercyland recently released their long lost record, We Never Lost A Single Game. That’s been the subject of many conversations recently, and I’ve had more people talk with me about Sugar and Hüsker Dü this year than maybe ever before. Maybe that’s because people are talking about Mercyland’s record, which brings Sugar, Bob Mould, and Hüsker Dü into the conversation. Also, September was the 30th anniversary of Copper Blue

That’s right! Hopefully I get to spend some time with David [Barbe] while I’m in town.

I think Copper Blue is just such a very disciplined, but really exciting pop record. I’m always happy that people have good things to say about it, and that every now and then it takes on a new life.

It’s tight and concise in ways that were very different from Hüsker Dü. 

Oh … Hüsker Do was like a bunch of planes trying to take off the same way all at once. That was a completely different beast. Hüsker Dü was so loose and constantly rushing forward in the tempo. That was what people loved about that band. For me, discipline came my way when I started working with my recently deceased colleague Anton Fier, who played drums on both Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain. Working with Anton was where I learned how to study things. He was an amazing drummer. He was a real stickler for time and keeping things pretty strict. Sugar was the next iteration of the rhythm section, and we brought that discipline to the studio. Live, sugar was pretty wild. 

What really set Hüsker Dü apart from many of the other bands of the era, like Black Flag, T.S.O.L., X, etc. was the savage tone of the guitar. 

It was. And with Hüsker, with Sugar, and with Jon and Jason, it’s the power trio. The guitar tone has to cover a lot of ground and fill in a lot of spaces. That’s something that Pete Townsend had to do with the Who, and something Hendrix had to do. It’s a certain style of playing where you have to be a really good rhythm player, but also be able to sneak lead guitar in there as well, and as you said, it was a unique tone that was necessary given that it was the only guitar. The tone that I’ll be using on these solo shows is not very far away from that tone. So calling it the Distortion and Blue Hearts tour is a pretty literal description of what’s on tour right now.

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The Cheifs: Liner notes for the group’s final 7-inch


I was honored to write the liner notes for the new and final 7-inch by the Cheifs.

Bob Glassley was a man out of time. He was a hardcore sleeper cell who reawakened in 2016 with the uncompromising spirit and forgotten insights of Los Angeles’ early ‘80s punk snarl…in Atlanta. And he arrived like a thief in the night.

James Joyce called me that summer to ask if I remembered or knew anything about an old punk band from California called the Cheifs. He explained to me that he had been tapped to play drums with a new version of the group and wanted to know if I was interested in doing a piece on them for Creative Loafing. It wasn’t long after that we were all gathered around a table at Manuel’s Tavern discussing the legend of the band, and listening to Bob’s stories about his involvement in the early West Coast hardcore punk scene. Absorbing so much Cheifs history and lore was like discovering another great band that had been there all along, albeit buried by the sands of time, now uncovered and brought into full view.

At the end of 1982 in a set of circumstances singular to Bob’s life, he stepped away from punk and playing music altogether. He traded his bass for a computer and never looked back. As a result, his knowledge and familiarity with punk was a perfectly preserved time capsule. It also fostered a beautiful state of arrested development; he knew West Coast punk circa 1978-1982, but nothing beyond that. However, he understood the art of the outsider, the art of being an individual driven by righteousness, and the self-reliance of punk before fashion and hairstyles eclipsed the lifestyle, and before mainstream attention introduced the elements of violence and intolerance that ultimately pulled the scene apart.

Bob’s return to music was a reaction to right-wing influences gaining a stranglehold on America. He took a no-bullshit political stance –– he was outspoken with his opinions, and punk gave him direction and purpose in the shadow of the Trump presidency. But Bob also projected a raw, down-to-earth wisdom, and a forgotten knowledge and etiquette that affected everyone with whom he crossed paths, from his bandmates to the faces in the crowd. While loading out after playing shows at The Earl and 529 in East Atlanta, he connected with homeless people who were asking for spare change. He treated everyone with dignity and respect.

With the new Cheifs lineup in place, the group gigged hard in Atlanta and eventually the Los Angeles area. Bob seemed to know, maybe subconsciously, that he didn’t have much time left on earth. Not wasting any time, the group played and recorded as quickly and as often as possible. Whenever Bob took the stage wearing a “We the People” T-shirt (brandishing an image of the Constitution of the United States), he embraced the audience, reveling in the moment and screaming defiantly into the void of mortality.

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, Bob unexpectedly died of complications related to liver cancer. He had been diagnosed with the disease a mere two weeks prior. He was 58. The following Saturday the Cheifs were set to play a sold-out show at the Masquerade supporting the Descendents, a big coup for the new lineup. Just four nights after his death, the Descendents opened the show by unleashing the most powerfully cathartic blast of “Everything Sux” the group had ever performed.

During the encore, James, Brad, and Scott joined Milo and Karl on stage for one last send-off, playing four final Cheifs songs as a dedication to Bob, and to all that the new lineup had worked to create.

The four songs captured here are bookends to the Cheifs legacy. Both “1988” and “Heart In Chains” were originally written and performed by Bob’s pre-Cheifs band, Portland, Oregon’s Rubbers. On the B-side, “Alienated” is a new jam that Bob penned. Loosely based on a forgotten early Cheifs song, “Mechanical Man” was partially reconstructed from memory, and hammered into a new form by the current lineup.

The 7” single you now hold in your hands stamps in time the one-year period of intense creativity and rediscovery that Bob and the reignited Cheifs unleashed. The distillation of ’80s punk songwriting and hardcore’s graceful, physical melodies, filtered through a lens of contemporary production, is filled with a new fire and spirit, channeled into a lifetime of fierce, empowering, and truly timeless songs. Fuck cancer. Cheif Out! — Chad Radford

Dinosaur Jr. plays The Masquerade November 13

Photo by Cara Totman.

Dinosaur Jr. plays Heaven at The Masquerade. Saturday, November 13. $31 (adv). 7 p.m. (doors). 75 Martin Luther King JR Dr. SW. 404-577-8178. www.masqueradeatlanta.com.

Pre-sale for seated tickets begins Thurs., March 11 at 12 p.m. Eastern.
Venue pre-sale begins Wed., March 17 at 10 a.m. Eastern.
Tickets go on sale for general public on Fri., March 19 at 10 a.m. Eastern.

J., Lou, and Murph are back with a new album, titled Sweep It Into Space, due out April 23. Click here to pre-order a copy.


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‘Flagpole’ feature: With Mike Vallely on Vocals, Black Flag Flies Again in

BLACK FLAG: Greg Ginn (left) and Mike Vallely. Photo by Rob Wallace.

Mike Vallely was just 14 years old the first time he saw Black Flag play live. It was October 1984, at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ. The group was in the midst of a particularly creative year that yielded three bedrock West Coast hardcore punk albums—Slip It InMy WarFamily Man—and a blistering live tape, Live ’84.

“Henry Rollins was fronting the band then, and seeing them play that show was a life-affirming moment for me,” Vallely says. “It changed my life, but more so, I say it was life-affirming, because it made me feel like, ‘OK, I can continue on my own path. I can do what I want to do in this life… Rollins, as the frontman of the band, really embodied that spirit.” Read the full story at Flagpole.

A Bl’ast! from the past: ‘Blood!’ sheds new light on William DuVall’s secret history

Bl’ast! Blood! Photo courtesy Southern Lord.

In September of 1986, just six months after guitarist, singer, and songwriter William DuVall had moved away from his home in Atlanta, effectively disbanding the city’s seminal hardcore group Neon Christ, he turned up in sunny Santa Cruz, Calif. It was there amid the late ’80s flashpoint, when thriving surfing, skateboarding, and punk scenes had all converged, that DuVall joined the ranks of local hardcore outfit Bl’ast! Alongside his new bandmates, Mike Neider (guitar), Clifford Dinsmore (vocals), Dave Cooper (bass), and Bill Torgerson (drums), DuVall’s second guitar brought strength and focus to the group’s already snarling melodies.

With DuVall in town, and now functioning as a five-piece, Bl’ast! spent countless chaotic, and oftentimes bloody, nights on stages hammering out songs that would go down in history as the group’s crowning achievement — culminating with the 1987 LP, It’s in My Blood (SST Records).

The album arrived as a powerful step up from the terse but clumsy songwriting that Bl’ast! had delivered three years earlier with its debut, The Power of Expression. Nailing the high-speed tempos of songs such as “Only Time Will Tell,” “Something Beyond,” and the album’s title track became an audacious testament to the band’s physical and mental dexterity.

“They were pissed-off Reagan-era California kids who all knew each other since junior high,” DuVall says. “Then, much like what happened to Neon Christ on the opposite coast, one gets a little older and the music gets more sophisticated—it develops a different kind of swag.”

Although DuVall parted ways with Bl’ast! in March of 1987, less than a year after he’d joined the group, he co-wrote and recorded the early versions of the songs that would later be re-cut without his parts for It’s in My Blood. For more than 25 years, the only real document of the time he’d spent playing with Bl’ast! has been a few grainy live shots flashing across the screen in the “Surf and Destroy” video. But a recently unearthed cache of the original It’s in My Blood recordings, featuring DuVall’s guitar parts, reveals the significant role he played in the group’s evolution.

Released in August of 2013 via Southern Lord, and re-titled simply as Blood!, the re-released album compiles a more hard-hitting version of the group’s songwriting of the era in all of its teeth-gnashing glory. From the thundering bass and charged air of anguish that rushes in with the album’s opener, “Only Time Will Tell,” Blood takes aim at anything and anyone that gets in its way.

In the American music press, Bl’ast! was often saddled with Black Flag comparisons, and rightfully so. The visceral intensity and real-time emotional confrontation playing out in such songs as “Ssshhh,” “Winding Down,” and “Your Eyes” bear an unmistakable mark of Black Flag’s influence. But Bl’ast! adhered to a fiery and baroque dynamic. Stylistically, Blood! personifies the late ’80s era when punk and metal found common ground with a dark balance of catharsis and experimentation. The bombast of each of the album’s 11 songs builds both attitude and tension in the subtle interplay between Neider and DuVall’s guitar attacks, particularly throughout the songs “Sequel” and “Poison.” The music for the former was written by DuVall, as were most of the lyrics for the latter number.

Ultimately, this is the lineup that wrote and arranged these songs. As such, there’s a breadth and intensity here that the original release just doesn’t capture. Of course, mixing the album on the Sound City board at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 gives the songs a thickness that the originals never projected. The members of the band worked alongside Grohl, Southern Lord’s Greg Anderson, and John “Lou” Lousteau — the latter of whom did some engineering work with Duvall for Alice in Chains’ 2009 album, Black Gives Way to Blue — to flesh out the sound. The lo-fi grit of the original release is lost, but it’s a small price to pay when setting such a powerful record straight. “The important thing for me is that with Blood!, the world finally gets to hear a more accurate version of what we were doing,” DuVall says.


Credibility aside, Blood! is a richly detailed redux that’s far more solid than anything else from Bl’ast!’s catalogue, making it an excellent artifact from a chapter in DuVall’s career that until now has remained lost in time.

A version of this story originally appeared in CL Atlanta.