SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Dirk Sonniksen | March 23, 2010
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with musician Bob Mould during the SXSW Film Festival to discuss his part in Malcolm Ingram’s latest documentary Bear Nation, a film that chronicles a rather unique sub-culture within the gay community. From fronting the iconic punk trio Hüsker Dü, to the alternative sounds of Sugar, and over a decade of solo work (check out The Last Dog & Pony Show), Bob Mould has created a unique stamp on rock music that is still going strong. Below is my brief but enlightening chat with Bob.
DS: How did you get involved in Bear Nation and how did you meet Malcolm Ingram?
BM: If I remember correctly, the folks at Art & Crafts Records in Toronto, who I think might be putting out the soundtrack, got in touch with my management company in San Francisco and said that Malcolm’s making this movie called Bear Nation and he was wondering if he could get in touch with me, so that was how it started up. I was on tour with my rock band last October, and we actually started our tour in Toronto, where Malcolm was, so he came down to the sound check, and after sound check we sat and did the interview which is part of the movie now.
DS: I was wondering how involved you are with the Bear sub-culture within the gay community. What does all this mean?
BM: It was sort of a happy accident. I moved from New York City to Washington DC in the summer of ‘02, and started DJing in DC in early 2003. I started up a party with a friend of mine, and the party is called Blowoff. As time went on and I started meeting people and getting out, I started seeing this trend of people who were really heavily into newer music and sort of edgier music, and everybody was more masculine and sort of furry and not so body-conscious, and I was like, I heard about this bear thing, but is this what it is? I guess my entry-point was about six years ago, coming to understand the bear culture and getting embraced by it a little bit. It’s really funny, because it’s just sort of a natural fit for me. And as time went on and Blowoff became more of a thing, and we started going to other cities and gathering sort of a bear following, then all the music guys started coming out of the woodwork, and all these guys in their thirties and forties would come up to me when I was on break when I was DJing and say, “I saw Sugar at the International Ballroom in Atlanta in 93,” and I was like, what? I didn’t know you people were out there in the audience back then. So it’s this sort of crazy full-circle thing that I didn’t see coming.
DS: You officially came out in the 90s. Was your being gay a secret to your fans, or was your sexuality a fairly well-known thing?
BM: I think it was pretty much an open secret. Yeah people knew. I never really felt like it was an important part of the music. I felt like I’m a musician and this is what I do, these are the stories I tell. My unique perspective was in there, but yeah, in ‘94 Spin Magazine made a big hullaballoo about me being gay, and that was that. Sixteen years later, I look back and laugh about the whole thing. Sort of an uncomfortable public coming out.
DS: Did the music change at all after that public coming out?
BM: I think with the Modulate record in ‘02 and beyond, there are songs that are definitely same sex informed, very clearly and overtly, as opposed to being gender-neutral or non-gender-specific. As time has gone on, I think the top has probably dialed into the homosexual topic a little bit more, but it’s still music. I don’t think about it when I’m doing it.
DS: You spoke about DJing. With the kind of music that initially got you going, with Hüsker Dü and Sugar, electronica seems like such a big departure. How did that first begin to interest you?
BM: Well, in the late ‘90s when I was living in New York City, that was the music that was around everywhere, and I started really getting more into the gay life, and into club music. That was the era of the big clubs in New York City as well, like Twilo and Roxy and stuff like that. So by osmosis it became my daily soundtrack and I started writing electronic music in ‘99 and worked on that for a handful of years with mixed results and mixed response from my core audience. Yeah, it’s a weird dichotomy, but music is music, and now especially with the DJing, it’s fun, and if it’s not mine, I’m sort of curating. I have all day to sit and listen to music, and curate and filter things for people, and come up with a fun party.
DS: Can you talk about the autobiography you’ve been working on?
BM: Yeah, the next big thing on tap is the autobiography. I signed a book deal about eighteen months ago with Little, Brown. I’ve been working on that and am just getting ready to turn in the last tiny details on the manuscript. I’ve been collaborating with Michael Azerrad who is a music writer out of New York City. He wrote Our Band Could Be Your Life and he also wrote Come As You Are, the Nirvana book. He was helping me with the clean up language and getting things organized, and that was an interesting eighteen months that I’ll never do again. The autobiography will be out about a year from now. That’s usually the turn around from turning it in to putting it out. So that’s the main thing, and in that eighteen months, not only have I not updated my blog, but I haven’t written any music because I’ve been focusing on the book. I just moved to San Francisco in October of ‘09, so I’m just getting settled in out there now, but the cycle is finishing and I’m looking for a place to live full-time. Once I do that I’ll start writing another record, and what it will be I haven’t got a clue.
DS: Going solo I take it?
BM: Yeah. The great thing about San Francisco is that there is a really strong music community out there, especially with the bears and I’ve been meeting a lot of people out there, and I’m not sure if there will be any collaborations, you know, maybe a different configuration, some kind of band thing, but I haven’t really gotten there yet. Once I get my studio out of storage and set back up, I’ll know.
For more information on Bob Mould, check out the following links: