Bob Mould is pleasantly shocked. Reached in his St. Louis hotel room, the former Hüsker Dü/Sugar frontman ó and current one-man band ó confesses to an agreeable stupefaction that his techno-saturated new album, not to mention the experimental multimedia live show heís devised to showcase it, is going over so well with his potentially hidebound indie-rock fan base. "The first part of the show confuses the hell out of íem," he explains. "And then it gets really familiar. Then it gets confusing again."
But Mould discovered pretty quickly that audiences could dig his new direction: "They love it. Itís like theyíre watching a low-rent Madonna HBO special or something."
His "Carnival of Light and Sound" tour finds him playing guitar accompanied by a preprogrammed backing track of loops, blips, and sundry other electronic sound snatches; itís all framed by two nine-by-12-foot screens splattered with ever-changing imagistic films. "Some of them are beautiful hand-done illustrated narratives, some of them are slightly adult in content. Some are just ambient color fields."
"Ambient" could just as easily describe many of the songs on Mouldís new Modulate. Itís a big change from his previous work: his stock-in-trade of layered, distortion-corroded guitars is embellished with washes of gurgling electronic babble, and his bluntly personal lyrics are shrouded in a vocoderís warble. Whereas some songs merely betray the influence of, say, Radiohead or Stereolab, others wouldnít be too out of place in an Ecstasy-flooded Ibiza club.
"I wanted a break from the guitar," he allows. "Iíd been playing for 20-odd years, and Iíd kind of hit the wall with it. I also started to hear different artists who were, in my mind, approximating the kind of sound that Iíd always tried to get, albeit with different instruments. I started to think that maybe I should learn how to do this."
Modulate is the first album released on Mouldís own newly formed label, Granary Music, and the first of three he plans to put out this year. The second, titled Long-Playing Grooves and recorded under the pseudonym LoudBomb, finds him diving even deeper into his electronica idée fixe. Itís currently available at his live shows and on the Granary Music Web site (www.granarymusic.com). The third, slated for September, finds him returning to more traditional guitar-based territory. "For lack of a better term, itís Workbook revisited," he says, referring to his landmark acoustic solo album.
So is this third disc meant to be a sop to his more reactionary fans? "Yeah," laughs the once-paunchy erstwhile cynic. "I might also have to put on a sweater, put some weight back on, and get depressed again."
Not that this is all Mouldís been up to lately. He recently finished a stint as creative consultant to World Championship Wrestling, for which the long-time fan "sat in on all the writing meetings where we try to figure out which talent is gonna get showcased and which needs to have a rest. Toward the end, I started to get a little more freedom to spearhead specific projects." Heís especially proud of one mentoring project: "this Canadian kid with dreads and tats. He was a punk-rocker and played bass and had a really checkered past. I sort of convinced my boss, the head writer, to make him a babyface." Thatís a good guy, Mould clues me in, as opposed to a "heel." Before long, he concludes, "the kid was rubbing shoulders with Hulk Hogan."
So has Mould ever considered adding a nightly steel-cage match to the "Carnival" tour? "Nope. Wrestling is wrestling. Music is music. Two different things."