Bob Mould talks about 'American Crisis'

The Local Show's Andrea Swensson interviews Bob Mould on June 3, 2020. (MPR Video)

Bob Mould released a new single "American Crisis," on Wednesday, June 3. NPR's Ann Powers describes the song as "Pure punk fury, from a man who's been through a few battles before."

"American Crisis" just happened to be released as the nation experiences a new awakening to Civil Rights in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a city that Bob Mould called home for a long time. In an interview with The Local Show's Andrea Swensson, Mould talks about the need for civic transformation through his perspective as a gay man who understands what it feels like to be marginalized.

Mould's next album, Blue Hearts, releases Sept. 25, 2020, on Merge Records. Watch Bob Mould's interview with Andrea Swensson in the video above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

ANDREA SWENSSON: Hey, everybody, Andrea Swensson here, host of The Local Show, and I am so excited to be connecting, for his first virtual interview I think ever, maybe, via computer, Bob Mould is joining me from San Francisco. Bob, thank you so much for being here.

BOB MOULD: Thank you for having me. Hope everything is safe and good there.

It's been a very intense week and a half. I can go more into detail about what's been happening here in the Twin Cities, but I'm curious to know, as someone that is so rooted in this city but is witnessing from afar, how has this week-and-a-half been for you? How are you receiving all of these events?

The senseless injustice in the murder of George Floyd is hard to watch. Watching it from afar, it's sort of crazy because, to personalize it a little bit, you know, I used to live two blocks from the Third Precinct, and when I see all of the streets that I spent 11 years of my life on, and you know, I mean, it's really amazing to see people out and, you know, in the midst of a pandemic and all of this unrest, to see people getting out and speaking their minds with peaceful protests, that's really, really — that's what we need to be doing, but yeah, the whole thing is pretty surreal.

And also watching Washington D.C., where I lived for seven years, and watching New York City, where I lived for a number of years, and just watching everything everywhere around the country, these are places, you know, these neighborhoods and these places that, you know, people are congregating to make themselves known, I mean, these are all the neighborhoods where artists and musicians and the clubs, the nightclubs, are.

This is all new to me, and this being my first interview about anything I've been up to lately. Excuse me if I seem a little askew; I've been sort of hunkered down for months.

Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to connect. So the reason that we're connecting is because you have a new album coming out, and we just debuted a couple new songs on The Current this morning that feel extremely timely in this moment, including the song "American Crisis," and I was really curious about, you know, you write in some of the words that you sent over about this work that you're seeing a lot of parallels between what's happened in the past and what's happening right now. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you man about that?

Yeah. There's a new album, and the song that we're talking about is called "American Crisis," and the genesis of the song is a little over two years ago. I was writing material for a previous album called Sunshine Rock, and it was supposed to be sort of a happy record, and "American Crisis" was supposed to be the second-to-last song on that album, right before "Western Sunset."

I thought it was a little heavy at the time. I didn't think it fit with the sort of uplifting motif of being in Berlin and everything that that record was, so you know, I tabled those words and music, and when Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy and my engineer Beau Sorenson, the four of us got together in early February in Chicago to make what is this album coming up, and this song, "American Crisis," like I said, it's been around for a while. It really inspired the way that I've been looking at things the past nine months.

I think it was probably in late summer of last year, when I was in Berlin, I just started playing a lot of guitar and thinking about that song, and thinking about things that we three in the band had talked about, wouldn't it be great to make like a real raw, sort of punk-rock record because, you know, at the end of the day, that's how I tell stories. So I had "American Crisis" and I started writing around that song.

But in doing so, in September of last year, I started reflecting back and the way things were in late 1983, who was I then? You know, I was this 22-year-old kid in Minnesota, and I was in this punk-rock band called Hüsker Dü, and we traveled around the country spreading our message to people.

Things back then were tough. I was a closeted, gay young man. I was sort of living in this new world for a couple years with this gay cancer called "grid" and then called AIDS, and you know, sort of having a hard time figuring out my sexuality and if there was a community for me to fit into and if I felt comfortable in that community, alongside a lot of televangelists and people on the right, you know, sort of the Reagan backers at the time, telling me I'm less than, telling me this is God's punishment for who I am and how I live.

All of that kind of feeling marginalized, of feeling less than, I was feeling that coming back during this current administration. It seems as if this person was chosen to be the spokesperson for a pretty far branch of evangelism.

That's what got the ball rolling, was all of those things. I don't know if any of that makes sense, but that's sort of where all the strings led, and then I sort of had this, you know, pond that became an ocean of ideas.

With "American Crisis," it's crazy because those words fell out two years ago, and they just fell out on the page and I looked at them and I'm like, "I'm not touching these." These are the words, just the way they are, and to jump up to today as we're talking and things are happening in real time, it's not something I'd wanted to see, I certainly don't take any joy in having foreseen the country going in this direction. I wish that this was not happening, but here we are.

Well, it must be very — I don't even know the right word to describe it, but — it must be quite the experience, then, to have written these songs and then to see the events that have unfolded here in your hometown, and to have this song debut on the radio this morning, I mean: What is it like for you to put this out in the world in this moment?

I've been really nervous for weeks, and especially in the last week; everything has taken a turn that none of us, you know, none of us could have seen, and now that we've seen it, we have to do something about it.

It's mind boggling, you know? I watched the coverage and I watch the leaders: I watched Mayor Carter, Mayor Frey, Tim Walz, Keith Ellison. And that feels like the Minnesota that I know, not the Minnesota that needs somebody telling them that they need the military. That is not the Minnesota I know.

I know Minnesota well enough to know that everybody will get this sorted out, and there will be justice, and then we can start moving forward with the really hard work: undoing centuries of discrimination and racism and injustice. For the black community and for all of us; we need to be able to express ourselves, and this is a real test for that expression.

So something I've been thinking about a lot over this past week is just how this reflects on our music scene in Minnesota and the voices that have been amplified and the voices that haven't. I'm wondering, punk rock has changed a lot over the years, and some ways it hasn't. What is the role of a white punk artist in his moment? What do you feel like you can contribute to the conversation?

Well, as an older, white, gay male who plays in a punk-rock band right now and has played in a punk-rock band my whole life, I see it. I see it and it's similar to any kind of Civil Rights struggle, but it's very, very unique because it's very specifically American. It is baked into our identity as a country. So much work was done in the '60s to try to remedy the injustice. I guess if I take a cursory look back, you know, it's ebbed and flowed, the progress.

I mean, from January 2009 to January 2017, I think we had a leader who was very much in tune with trying to forward Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter and all of the things that we need to be learning about if we don't know the details of it, and I'll be the first to say I am listening and learning constantly right now.

My role in this [as a punk-rock musician]? I don't know. Like I said, I did not foresee the specifics of this when my head was on fire from October of last year until early March when mastering was finished, and I signed off on the record. We went right into the pandemic after that, and it's been three months of being cooped up. My role is to share what my heart tells me and to share the water that I catch when it rains, and it's just to try to express myself.

My specific role? I don't know. If anybody has ideas for what I can do to help, I'm all ears. I mean, other than, you know, just my two minutes of belligerence; apparently, I gave birth to an unlucky baby or something today.

Well, that song just came blasting out; it was really something to behold at nine in the morning. We're going to be playing it for sure again throughout the day on The Current. You can go look the song up right now, Bob Mould with "American Crisis."

You know, I'm curious for you as well as an artist, who isn't able to perform live right now, or go on tour or use that kind of to spread your messages and your feelings. What is the plan for putting out this record? And what is this experience like for you to release music in that way when everyone is not able to congregate in person?

I know. Well, first, it's just weird for me to be even talking about, like, a "campaign," because it's sort of way on the back burner right now compared to what we all need to do as a country. But it is what I do and it is my work, and it's how I make my living, so I'm sort of out of work right now. I'll be OK. Things will come back, but with a record like this that's very raw and very visceral and really built for the stage, it's driving me crazy that I can't present the message in the format that I was hoping to.

Having said that, I did two-and-a-half weeks of solo electric shows in January of this year, and I was test-driving a lot of these songs, and you know, I'll tell you that playing those songs with the meaning, with the original meaning, just being concerned for the country and trying to reconcile my self-hating as a young gay man and what I perceived as my inactions when my crisis in the '80s with HIV/AIDS was bubbling up, and I'll always feel like I never did enough.

I don't know. I'll figure something out, but it is odd to not have that, but I guess the understanding and the energy that I was picking up from people when I was performing these songs earlier in the year, I would go out after the show and go to meet people and do the thing, and people were just coming up with incredible stories to me. You know, just a lot of people, a lot of trans folk and people of color and people who really, you know, were as scared as I am about the way the country is going. They were very encouraging when hearing the early versions of these songs, just saying, "You do this. This is what you do."

Well, the new album is called Blue Hearts; I'm wondering if you could talk about that title a little bit.

Well, the first song, "Heart On My Sleeve," was the whole thing, just saying, "That's me." And the "Blue" part, I mean, blue as in Democrat party, and last time I had "Blue" in the title of an album during an election year, we won! So I'm going to try again; you know, the '92 with Copper Blue, and that was Clinton. I don't know; I'm like that, I'm a little kooky superstitious like that!

I did not make that connection.

Yeah, that was it.

Well, Bob, it's just so wonderful to see your face and hear your voice. I'm wondering, you know, as people are tuning in on Facebook Live, do you just have anything that you want to say to Minneapolis right now, the city that you're so connected to?

Stay safe, stay strong, stay out there and let them know that we're all incredibly upset at what has happened, and we cannot have this happening anymore.

We need to overhaul — all communities need to take a long, hard look at law enforcement, and to me, one of the key things is making sure that the police that we hire live in the communities that they serve and protect.

It's really, really important. As a gay man, we find safety in our neighborhoods. And the police who take care of our neighborhoods here in the Castro in San Francisco, they're in tune with the specific and special needs of the community that they serve and protect.

I think there are so many things that need to be done, but, you know, Keith Ellison is doing everything. Mayor Carter, Mayor Frey, Tim Walz… I think everybody is listening and learning as I intend to listen and learn as this goes on, and I will do whatever I can do to help.

I'm not worried about the Twin Cities. I know how people really are in Minnesota; I was there in '79, you know, when the Hmong resettlement started. And the Somali [community], so many communities have been welcome in Minnesota, and I think sometimes people outside of Minnesota, maybe they're looking at the mainstream media, and there are these perceptions and there's not a lot of backstory or in-fill that shows the Minnesota I knew.

You know, First Avenue and 7th Street Entry being a nexus for all the music of the early '80s: Hüsker Dü one night; Prince the next; Replacements the next; the Time the next. I mean, we all play well together.

I think I know what Minnesota is going to do with this, and I know it will be a full recovery and a full overhaul of law enforcement, and we need to make sure that our voices are heard. You know, thank God there's young, healthy people that are willing to go out to the streets every day for us. It's appreciated.

Thank you so much for being here and for talking. It's such a heavy time, but I really do appreciate you, and I appreciate you sharing your music with us. Thank you so much, Bob.

Thank you for the support. Have a great day.

External Link

Bob Mould - official site

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2 Photos

  • Bob Mould, 'Blue Hearts'
    Bob Mould's album 'Blue Hearts' releases Sept. 25, 2020. (Merge Records)
  • Bob Mould performs in The Current studio
    Bob Mould performing in The Current studio in 2019. (Mary Mathis | MPR)