Amazon (2) We've been list crazy here at Noisecreep Central these past few…
- Posted on Sep 18th 2012 4:00PM by Dan Weiss
The process described to produce both Sugar albums sounded so painstaking, all those constant takes and do-overs to get right. Was that a conscious reaction to the first-take, lo-fi feel of most of the records you made with Hüsker Dü?
Hmm. No, I think it was just a natural growth pattern from the Hüskers' records, which were very loose and very live-feeling. I think when I made that jump was probably -- to the more exact recording nature -- working with [drummer] Anton Grier on the two solo records. Black Sheets of Rain, that's when we brought the click track in, at Anton's request. He's very diligent, very specific as to what kind of feel and the structures of the songs. So I learned a lot from Anton in that sense, and then going in to work with Lou [Giodarno, Copper Blue producer], we made a very conscious decision upfront to use click tracks and be very, very precise with the arrangements. I'd done a lot of demos at home that were really, really tight, really specific. When Lou heard them he was like, "If we want to make a record like this, we've gotta be really tight with everything." It wasn't a reaction to anything, it just became the way that I made records at that point: A lot of homework and a lot of attention to detail all the way through the recording.
Was there that kind of attention to detail in Hüsker albums that just got kind of buried and is waiting to be unearthed in a remaster?
Hüsker Dü went, over the course of eight years, from being a very scratchy hardcore punk band to a pretty polished-for lack of a better term at the time-alternative rock band, where about five years into those eight, Grant Hart and I started spending a lot more time on the recording, specifically Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse. Those are very polished records, very produced. There wasn't a click track and there wasn't programming and stuff going on but there's a lot of production all over it. As I got more comfortable as a producer I got better at it and started digging into the details. As far as sounding super-compressed, which Hüsker records sound really compressed to you?
Well, New Day Rising...
Yuck [laughs]. It's warped, it's out of phase, it's shrill. It's not the best-sounding record. I'm always confused when people are like "That's my favorite record!" and I'm like "really?" Sonically, it's just not as full or rich as the records that followed it. So I'm always shocked when people say they like the way that record sounds.
One thing you didn't talk about in the Sugar reissues was where the simple but effective album titles came from. Are there any interesting stories behind where any of your album titles have come from? Copper Blue, Zen Arcade and Candy Apple Gray are all particularly evocative.
[Someone] was asking me about where the title Copper Blue came from because they thought that it really summed up the sound and feel of the record. First off, what became Sugar Copper Blue was the third Bob Mould solo record. And that somehow formed into a band called Sugar that did an album called Copper Blue. Me and my ex-partner used to joke about "copper blue" like talking about the police, like they'd wear a uniform to protect the people not the band, "Copper blue gonna get you" that kind of thing.
Once it became the album title I exploited it with the marketing and the packaging, with the colors and the copper pack that we made. There was a limited edition where it was bound in two sheets of copper, it was a beautiful package, we had like 2,500 of those made. But yeah, the titles usually fall out of the sky. You read something, hear something, say something and it sticks with you. With Silver Age, the new record, I had a song called "Silver Age" and in looking for an album title I just got sort of stuck and thought "oh, wait a minute." It was sort of obvious. When it feels right, you stop and that's the album title.
Were the songs on Silver Age really intended to be for a Sugar reunion?
No, never. That was not part of the writing process with Silver Age. I knew with the 20th anniversary, two years before now I realized "Oh, I get the rights back and get to do a 20th anniversary reissue one of my favorite records" and at that point I started contemplating a band piece or a record that would be similar to, but not the same as, Copper Blue: Shorter pop songs, guitar, bass, drums, that kind of stuff. Which I've been doing for a long time but I thought, well, it might be nice to sort of focus on that. I ended up writing [See a Little Light], the book came out, I spent a lot of time talking about the book.
One of the things that ended up happening in the last couple years was all the stuff I was doing with Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl reaching out to me to work on that song on their record, which turned into me playing shows with them, which turned into me playing onstage with them. Being in that environment helped to fuel this sort of ... Another factor in this record would be sort of being the antidote to writing a book about myself [laughs]. When you spend time with the record you'll see it's not a fully edited piece of work, it's pretty spontaneous. It was written in December 2011. Just got done with the Foos and written in my head. Not editing myself and not having to go through copy editors, stuff like that. It's not meant to be a complex piece of work, a pretty visceral record. It's just meant to be played loud and enjoyed.
Sugar drummer Malcolm Travis mentions in the liner notes that reading your memoir helped him forgive and reconcile with you after the Sugar breakup. Do you know if either Greg or Grant from Hüsker have read it?
No, you'd have to ask them.
Now that the public mostly knows about the circumstances of Hüsker Dü's breakup do you get more questions about reunions or reissues?
I'm surprised at the amount of people who interview me who haven't read the book, because the book leaves no questions. I would think if someone read the book that they'd never ask me about any of this again. Because there's really no stones left unturned; I think it answers all the questions that people have had. As far as reunions or reissues with Hüsker Dü, I haven't given it any thought.
You seem busy.
Yeah, Hüsker Dü's pretty far off the grid for me these days. Great band back then. But definitely no reunions, and reissues ... are always floating around, but not really keeping tabs on it.
Prior to your sexuality being public, what kind of decision-making was there in who to address love and breakup songs to? Were they intended to be genderless or did any subtle hints creep in?
Intentional gender non-specific. And [using] gender specificity starting with the "If I Can't Change Your Mind" video. Then coming out in '94 and only was it in possibly with the Modulate record in '02 that I specifically addressed sexual relationships and problems. So that's how that goes.
Was it a difficult transition to become more specific or change your writing style?
That's just making it gender-specific. Songs are songs, people have relationships typically have the same dynamics regardless of whether they're same-sex or heterosexual. Um, there was a pretty small evolution so I didn't notice it [laughs].
Have you heard about the R&B star Frank Ocean recently coming out?
Mmhmm. Is he part of that Odd Future collective?
Yes. Do you have any thoughts on them?
Seems to be working for him. How specific has he been really about the whole thing? Do you feel like he's been transparent with it?
Well, he's kind of leaving it open-ended, but a lot of the key things seem to be stuff the public would get excited about. Like in the Tumblr post where he came out he mentioned a man as his first love, but he hasn't said what his orientation is now.
Sort of like David Bowie, huh?
Haha. R&B could use a David Bowie.
There's a very long history in pop music of leaving your sexuality open-ended. Given the community that he operates in, I think it's a good gesture. I think it's a nice story. Ultimately if the music reaches people and they like it and it enriches their lives, that's the key to it. All the other stuff is it's subdivisions of the songs. I always like to think that the songs would do the work.