Does Rock ‘n’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Bob Mould

Oh, this? It's NME's legendary, long-running feature Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells, in which we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: noise-rock/alt-rock/indie-rock legend Bob Mould, of Hüsker Dü and Sugar fame

1: Who invented the board game that Hüsker Dü is named after?

“It was a 1970s board game and its tagline was: ‘where a child can outwit an adult’. A funny piece of trivia is that in 1987, when the band performed in Colorado, Warner Bros. Records set up a meeting between the members of Hüsker Dü and the creator of the board game – we played against the creator and got our asses kicked! I can’t remember the person’s name.”

WRONG. It’s Ann M Jackson. Hüsker Dü’s fourth album ‘Flip Your Wig’ takes its name from The Beatles’ board game, and you originally wanted George Martin to produce it. What would it have sounded like if he had?

“Ideally, it would have sounded like ‘Revolver’. It was The Beatles touring board game which was laid out like Monopoly, and you’d move the different Beatles heads around to win a recording session or a van to tour in. It was a lot of fun. George Martin was a daring ask, but hopefully it would have sounded like ‘Rubber Soul’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’s….’. We were offered [Beatles engineer] Geoff Emerick as a possibility, and at that point decided to continue self-producing”.

2: In Dennis Cooper’s novel ‘Try’, what is the fanzine written by the Hüskerhead protagonist Ziggy called?

“I read the book but cannot for the life of me remember.”

WRONG. It’s I Apologize

“Very nice! Dennis is a great guy and a fine writer. If the next eight questions are that level, I will fail miserably (Laughs).”

William Burroughs used to make you throw knives when he’d smoke weed. What was it like being part of that artistic community?

“It felt great. In the mid-‘80s, there was a renaissance and a light was being shone back on the beat poets at the time. John Giorno, Allen Ginsberg, Jim Carroll, Timothy Leary, and Keith Haring were part of that scene – it was like sitting under the learning tree. You’re not trying to impress them, just learn from them.”

3: Hüsker Dü appeared on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers in 1987. Who were her other guests?

“I cannot recall for the life of me. Who was it?”

WRONG. You were on alongside Ian McKellen and an 85-year-old marathon winner.

“Oh my gosh – that’s great! (Laughs) What I do remember is they had decorated the performance area in a style similar to the Warehouse: Songs and Stories’ cover which was our final album – and the one we were promoting on the show. That was a really great experience and it lives on in the cloud and people love to go back and watch it.”

4: Who once asked you to enter his house through the window instead of the door?

“Is that Michael Stipe?”

CORRECT

“(Laughs) Funny guy, Michael! He had some people from New York coming and he was trying to get an art show. I don’t know if he was trying to impress them by having people enter the window or if it was just some peculiarity of the moment – maybe the contractors were late! We run into each other from time to time and still get on well. Michael’s a good guy.”

5: The retro designs that make up the packaging for the Sugar album ‘File Under: Easy Listening’ were originally created for a clothing line for which actor?

“River Phoenix”

CORRECT

“That was for the ‘FU:EL’ campaign in ’94 – a friend in Athens, Georgia, was a real good artist and it seemed a shame they weren’t used for that purpose, but it was nice they ended up being used for a lot of the Sugar packaging.”

6: In 2009, you played with No Age at All Tomorrow’s Parties. Who joined you for a cover of ‘Chinese Rocks’ by The Heartbreakers?

“Oh, Bradford [Cox] from Deerhunter.”

CORRECT

“The back story is I’d got together with No Age, who I love, to learn these songs. About 10 minutes before the show, one of my guitar’s tuning pegs gave way. So Deerhunter’s tour manager said, ‘Oh I’ll just get one of Bradford’s guitars’ – then Bradford came up for the encore. It was a real fun evening.”

So many younger artists have been influenced by you. Any surprised you?

“At Coachella in 2007, a typical rock dude started walking towards me – he was wearing a Night Ranger T-shirt. Moments into talking, I realise it’s actually Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk. He leant in and said: ‘Do you know, I listened to [Sugar debut album] ‘Copper Blue’ every day for six months’. I was stunned, because Daft Punk are my Beatles for electronica. The day after the 2014 Grammys where they won everything for ‘Random Access Memories’, there was a photo of him at LAX, which was headlined ‘Daft Punk Unmasked’ or something. It was Thomas in his sunglasses wearing a Hüsker Dü ‘New Day Rising’ T-shirt. I was like: ‘Well, there you go – still at it’”.

7: You appeared on Fucked Up’s 2010 ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ cover. Who sings your lines in the original and who gets Bono’s lines on Fucked Up’s version?

“Oh my God, I have no idea”.

WRONG. Boy George sang your lines on the 1984 Band Aid original…

“Whoo-hoo!”

…And comedian David Cross sings Bono’s lines on Fucked Up’s version.

“Damien [Abraham] wanted me to do it. When I’m on tour, my voice gets ragged and I have to use it sparingly so the shows are the best they can be. That night in Toronto, I was torn whether to do it before or after the show. To be safe, I chose after and my voice was so fucked – he had this little portable DAT machine, where I was listening to the track in mono whilst singing into an earpiece somebody had. (Laughs) It was pretty slapdash, but fun. Wow, Boy George? That’s good company! I first met him amid a brawl in Scandinavia in ’89. We were in Stockholm waiting to get in a club and a fight started – people were getting maced – and a security guard grabbed my hand, through the club past all this chaos, up a flight of stairs into a quiet room there. When I turned round, Boy George was sitting there, like ‘Oh hi’.”

8: You appear in the 2010 documentary Bear Nation. In bear slang, what is a lesbian bear called?

“(Laughs) I don’t know.”

WRONG. Apparently it’s an Ursula.

“I’ve never heard that. That one went right by me. Well…there you have it. (Laughs) I have no comment beyond ‘there you have it’.”

What was the craziest thing you ever witnessed at Blowoff, the Washington DC-based bear party you hosted for 11 years?
“At its peak, the party was attracting 15,000 people so it was a big concert-type event. The funniest thing I can remember is around 2009, there was a change in law to do with the military and the LGBT community, so a lot of people were coming down to DC that weekend – one of them was Lady Gaga, who asked to come down to our party. She asked if she could play a new song she’d just finished, and sent a security guard to put the CD-R in the player and guard it so nobody could get this ‘Bad Romance’ song she was debuting (Laughs). She was up in the balcony like Eva Perón waving at everyone – people were looking blankly confused at her, like ‘Who’s that? She’s not a bear!’”

9: You guested on the Foo Fighters album ‘Wasted Light’. How many countries did it reach number one in?

“I’m going to guess 10?”

WRONG. Close – it was 12.

“Very cool! Great times. Last year we played some crazy shows together in the kind of cities you drive through – like Casper, Wyoming and Salt Lake City – so it was great to catch up with them. The first time I brushed up with the Nirvana guys was the summer of ’91 – the whole Year Punk Broke stuff – where we ended up on a lot of shows with them, The Sonics, Dinosaur Jr , but I didn’t get to talk to any of them properly until Dave [Grohl] in ’09.”

You were on the shortlist to produce ‘Nevermind’. What would your version have sounded like?

“I don’t think it would have turned out like it did. It wouldn’t have been the worldwide smash and genre-altering record that it became, so I’m really glad Butch Vig did it. Nirvana and other bands at that time helped to level the playing field for people like me who were running up against obstacles in music. The fact I didn’t do it – and Butch did – meant it turned out huge and made room for me, whether in Sugar or otherwise. It turned out good for everybody.”

10: When you were a creative consultant at the World Championship Wrestling in 1999, you wrote for Hulk Hogan. What was the name of diss track Macho Man Randy Savage aimed at him in 2003?

“Oh my God, I remember it was that weird type of rapping awfulness, but I can’t remember the name.”

WRONG. It was ‘Be A Man’.

“Brother! (Laughs) That period was sheer insanity. It was like seven months of running with PT Barnum and the Ringling Bros circus. There were a lot of crazy personalities. It was a closed society at the time, it wasn’t like pro wrestling now where everyone’s like ‘(Claps) Yay! It’s performance art and look, everyone gets a trophy’. It was a nuts, secretive business that had a lot of weird components to it. There was still a lot of drug use and odd behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in this day and age.”

The verdict: 3/10

“Excellent! (Laughs) That’s not bad for 8.30 in the morning.”