by Britt Rizzo
This Sunday WCL welcomes the legendary Bob Mould and post-punk pioneer J. Robbins to the Music Hall for Bob Mould’s Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts! Tour.
Dubbed alt-rock’s gay icon, Mould’s punk band Hüsker Dü was a cornerstone of the 80s hardcore scene, paving the way for 90s grunge and inspiring some of the most popular rock bands including the Pixies, Nirvana, and Green Day.
A decade later, Robbins, influenced by Bob’s music, arrived on the scene, defining the 90s underground as vocalist and guitarist of indie-alt band Jawbox – and solidifying his legacy as a mover and shaker with Burning Airlines, Channels, and others.
We caught up with Bob and J. ahead of their show this Sunday to talk Philly memories, Wet Leg, and where they pull inspiration for solo work.
Tickets to see Bob Mould Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts! with J. Robbins on May 15th are available here.
Both of you’ve been playing Philly for decades – Do you have any memorable stories throughout the years from your time spent playing the city?
BM: In the 1980s, my first band Hüsker Dü played a number of shows in the basement of a row house in Philly. Each time we returned to play, the crowds would double in size. The final time we played the row house, the tenants mounted a video camera at the back of the basement, then streamed the A/V to the upstairs living room.
JR: Just in trying to answer this question I find myself taking stock of how many times I’ve played in Philly, from my days in the 80s playing bass in Government Issue up til the present time, and … it’s a LOT. I remember most recently playing at the Boot and Saddle (RIP) on tour with my French friends in the band Daria; they are a LOUD band, and their drummer’s kick foot violated that club’s infamous dB limit before the PA was even turned on for soundcheck – but somehow the show managed to go on. Over the years I remember a lot of great vegan food in Philly. And in reflecting, I’m also taking stock of how – like in my hometown Baltimore – money, and gentrification have changed things over time. Yet there still manages to be an ongoing and great creative underground.
What artists are currently influencing and inspiring your solo projects? What bands should we keep an eye out for?
BM: Not influences, but bands I enjoy: The Armed, Wet Leg (sort of hard to miss them at the moment!), Deeper.
JR: It’s going to sound facile, but the main goal for me is to just try to go forward and write better songs, and in doing that to get closer to a sort of real, elemental feeling, so honestly I’m inspired by anyone around me who is focusing their energy in that way. Of course, I can’t deny Bob Mould’s influence in that regard and I have some other touchstone artists who are always in my mind: John Cale, Andy Gill, Blixa Bargeld …
But there is a lot of great music going on in Baltimore and DC right now and it’s all quite varied. Off the top of my head, I can make a little list and it will be incomplete as hell: Manners Manners, Continuals, Andy Bopp, Quattracenta, Beauty Pill … I also do a lot of recording and production work and I gain a lot of inspiration from people I work with.
I’m finishing up a new record by (newly Baltimore-based) Moving Targets right now. Earth Exit, Heavy Seas, and Holy Circle are some bands that have come through the studio recently that made a strong impression on me. Just as a listener, I’d say Ohmme is a current favorite band (to whom I have no connection – just heard them) that’s got me excited about some different sounds and directions.
The two of you are known for fronting bands – your show at WCL will be solo performances. What is the experience of playing solo like? Can we expect to hear music spanning your careers?
BM: For me, playing Solo Electric is similar to the band shows, but with more flexibility to change the setlist on the fly. My bandmates and I reside in three different cities, so we have limited time to rehearse. Band setlists are more rigid. I typically focus on new material, and time-tested crowd favorites and I reach back to the mid-1980s in terms of song selection.
JR: Although I had written a lot of songs and been the singer/guitarist in most of my bands, in the past I had always thought of myself as a “directing band member” more than a songwriter. A lot of my bands have made music that kind of doesn’t make sense unless it’s played by a group – that specific group – of people, with interlocking parts that add up to a song but sometimes don’t seem to make sense individually. It’s been fun to find the old songs that do translate to this pared-down solo or duo format because a lot of them just don’t. I do play at least something from every band I’ve been in, but I’m more excited to move forward.
More and more I’ve wanted to make songs that could be portable, boiled down to the essence of words, melody, and rhythm – songs that don’t require a band but retain their identity with whatever instrument is at hand and much much simpler and more direct music and lyrics than what I’d typically done before. I wanted to make more of a point of communication and connection, to make it more personal and not be able to hide behind the noise of a band. Just like playing and singing unamplified, this initially terrified me but I think that was a sign that I was going somewhere I needed to go because I’ve grown to really love it.
In the spirit of going down Memory Lane, we recently asked staff members what their first concert was. We’re curious to know what yours was?
BM: Aerosmith (Rocks Tour), Montreal Forum, 1976. Rush opened.
JR: My first concert was also my first hardcore show: Government Issue, TSOL, and Marginal Man at Wilson Center in DC in 1984. That experience really did explode my world in the best way – no coming back from that. Little did I know I’d end up joining GI one year later. It’s weird how things work out.