If gay modern rock legend Bob Mold isn’t the hardest-working man in music, he certainly is. To prove the point, he wasted no time in following up 2019’s hit single “Sunshine Rock” with the slightly bluer “Blue Hearts (Merge)”. The album is blue in terms of sexual content (check out ‘Leather Dreams’) as well as the liberal political message of songs such as ‘American Crisis’, ‘Next Generation’ and ‘Heart on my Sleeve’.
As always, the songs are delivered in his crisp, flamboyant rock guitar style, with Mold backed by longtime bandmates Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster on drums. I had the pleasure of talking with Bob about Blue Hearts and Distortion box sets.
BLADE: Blue Hearts opens with “Heart on my Sleeve,” which begins with the lines, appropriately enough for the moment, “The left rib is covered in ash and flame / keeps denying the winds of climate change.” The song was written and recorded long before the disastrous wildfire season. How do you feel when you listen to or perform this song now?
BOB MOLD: You can’t write this stuff [laughs]. When I started gathering ideas for this record, it was with the idea of being more of a journalist. Trying to get my thoughts out, these are the things that came up. Specifically, on this line, we’ve had years of fires here. Now it’s so much worse. They tried to tell people it could happen, but I guess it wasn’t that important for the government to think about climate change before it was too late. So here we are.
BLADE: Has living in California made you aware of the dire state of environmental issues and how do you hope to have an impact?
MOULD: For most of the last four years I was in Berlin, Germany, where we like to think of Germany and Europe as way more progressive. But even in Germany, coal is such a motivation there, and the car industry is so important. They have problems with the Nord Stream 2 (gas pipeline) with the Russians at the moment. I guess having been back in California since November 2019, I think I have a heightened awareness across the board, not only of how climate change is affecting the west coast, but also of how the Mainstream sensationalist media, news as entertainment, has affected the country’s psyche and created such a great division. For me, the juxtaposition is that in Germany, news is essentially news. It’s not exciting. There’s nothing titillating about it. It’s just news, what news should be. Back here I think the over-amplification of things here has created beyond an echo chamber almost canceling out the truth which is crazy to think about eight in the morning when I can’t even breathe outside.
BLADE: “Next Generation,” which follows “Heart on my Sleeve,” is also prescient, with the lines “Please be careful / Take to the streets for your rights,” especially in light of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder. of George Floyd and others. Would you agree that the timing of the release of “Blue Hearts” is extraordinary?
MOULD: It was a little annoying. In life and, for lack of a better term, in entertainment and the arts, timing is everything. When I started writing the record, it was just a general feeling, talking about 59 years on this planet and seeing what we as people really have to do. Like turning away from the gluttonous media and talking to our neighbours, taking to the streets, protesting. Being in Germany, I don’t think a single week has gone by that I haven’t come across an organized protest taking over the main streets of certain parts of Berlin. It was accepted behavior. To take years of that and come back here, writing those words was kind of a reminder to people that that’s what we were doing in America in the ’60s. It’s not a bunch of radical left-wing extremists going plunder Bergdorf Goodman. This is not the intention when people take to the streets to assert their rights. What I just described is actually looting, which is different [laughs].
BLADE: It’s ironic, don’t you think, that some of the people who were protesting in the streets in the 60s have now, in their drivel, become so conservative, even going so far as to support Trump?
MOULD: It certainly looks like that might be the case. I don’t have hard evidence, but I would say you might be right [laughs].
BLADE: It’s scary, because it’s the original hippies who are unhappy with the protests.
MOULD: I think people protest when they feel like they’ve lost their voice or have no way. That means they don’t own a big share of the stock market, which the president is talking about when he says, “I didn’t want to cause panic. Meaning panic on Wall Street. I worry because my job is to observe the world through my oddly shaped glasses [laughs] and just reporting what I remember being a 21, 22 year old kid who had absolutely nothing but a band and a guitar and an amp to do stuff with. Maybe these people who demonstrated when they had nothing, once people have the means, once people are invested, maybe they lose sight of the fate of ordinary mortals.
BLADE: When I interviewed gay writer David Leavitt about his novel “Shelter in Place”, we talked about the parallels for gay men when it comes to the AIDS crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the similarities, including ruling Republicans and the undue influence of evangelicals. “American Crisis,” the scorching debut single from “Blue Hearts,” shares a similar sentiment. Do you think homosexuals could teach the rest of the world how to survive a plague, both viral and extremist?
MOULD: I think David illuminates what I think is a historical parallel, which you just can’t deny. I don’t know if America is ready to listen to older gay people beyond the TV cartoons. If they are, there are things we can tell them. For me personally as a young gay man in the 80s it sort of crushed my development but I realized I had to protect others so I had to do certain things for 35 years until what PrEP happens. Why that hasn’t been an issue for me all these years, yet when you ask someone why they don’t wear a mask, it’s because it’s their freedom. What if I had been that rider?
BLADE: Law. It was such a simple thing for us to realize that to save our own lives, and the lives of others, you put on a condom, you relearn how to have sex. There is simply no comparison to wearing a mask.
MOULD: Yeah, because it’s just something everyone does to their face. When you ask people to make emotional sacrifices in moments of intimacy, I think that’s a little heavier than having a mask on your doorknob so you put it on your face when you leave your accommodation [laughs].
BLADE: The militant aspect of the album is reflected in the fact that you donated proceeds from the single “American Crisis” to OutFront Minnesota and Black Visions Collective when it was released a few months ago. Why were these two organizations chosen?
MOULD: It was a shared choice. I chose the LGBT band from Minnesota because a lot of the record, as you’ve seen, is from the perspective of an older gay man. Merge Records has donated its half to the Black Lives Matter situation unfolding in Minnesota. We’ve told each other that it covers all the things we’re trying to say.
BLADE: “Leather Dreams,” which essentially rolls off the speakers like a freeball stallion, manages to be both erotic and thoughtful, with its reference to “Tops and Their Lows, Condoms, and PrEP.” It’s also the sound of sexual liberation, so was it as liberating to write as it sounds?
MOULD: Yeah! I had a three day sleepless streak in January right before I hit the road and then straight into the studio with these songs. I had the house all to myself. I was writing like crazy. This one fell out of nowhere. It was so hilarious because these are clearly someone’s experiences [laughs]. This is really disgusting. I don’t think I’ve ever been so far ahead. There were moments on Modulate, in 2002, but nothing quite as overt. I think it’s downright hilarious. Who is this guy? who has this life [laughs]?
BLADE: In addition to “Blue Hearts,” there are the huge CD and LP box sets Distortion: 1989-2019 and Distortion: 1989-1995, respectively. What does it mean to you to have these extensive retrospectives available and why was now the time to publish them?
MOULD: I had spoken with Demon Music Group about this project for five years on and off. It was very much a matter of timing. In 2016 Patch The Sky was out and I was touring a lot and kept that record alive for almost two years and then went straight to Sunshine Rock (in 2019). Thought after Sunshine Rock descent I was going to take a longer break. I may take a few years. It would be a good time to have the box. It will be something between Sunshine Rock and the sequel. Then my head started burning with all this new music. Then I was faced with this interesting dilemma of having an ongoing project and a retrospective at the same time. It’s weird because the current record sounds like the music before the box set [laughs]. This really aggressive simplistic style of writing. But the box is really great. Every time I put out a record, people say, “Is this your 14th solo album?” and I can never remember it; now they are all in one place.