THE TIME LORDS
David Fricke is mightily impressed with speed-trio HUSKER DU, and hes not alone - their Zen Arcade double LP has sold over 20,000 and New Day Rising is hot on its heels. Read on before they vanish.
"When we go into record, we always say This is going to be a record, one way or the other".
Bob Mould, the bulky singer-guitarist with US thrash giants, Husker Du, is on-line from Minneapolis. Even accounting for the eroding qualities of long-distance static, his voice is very straightforward and matter-of-fact, a surprising Joe Average sound - "Hi, howya doin, sorry I missed you the other day, I was outside shovelling snow, didnt hear the phone" - compared to the holocaust wail with which he renders his songs.
"We dont go in and do demos. If we go into record, its a keeper, no matter what it comes out like. I always felt records should really be snapshots of what you did at the time, for better or worse."
Except Husker Dus greatest hit to date, the frenzied panoramic 1984 double album "Zen Arcade", is no mere hardcore Polaroid. A dizzying, brutally colourful, viciously engaging portrait of one young mans rites and wrongs of passage in scrapyard America, "Zen Arcade" is a wall-to-wall mural that defies even the rigid conditions under which it was made. Like most Husker Du records, it was cut almost completely live in superhuman time (45 hours) and mixed in less, a display of studio impatience typical of the hardcore punk process.
Yet for all his talk of snapshots, Mould is the first to admit that "Zen Arcade" was written not as a graphic update of the "Tommy" story but as their declaration of independence from the no-future strangle of unwritten hardcore law. In a genre that equates brevity with truth, "Zen Arcade" was eloquent in its furious strength.
"Because we dont want to be part of that hardcore thing. Frankly, I dont think we ever were. Our music may have been inspirational for some people that like that kind of stuff, but we werent doing it to placate them.
"Zen Arcade - its a hard thing to explain. We had that story together with all the characters. We knew it was going to be a double album, so it made sense to make the music a little more varied. It just hit us over the head one day that we were really growing and that "Zen Arcade" was going to be something special. It broke a lot of rules people thought we were following."
Mould expects "New Day Rising", Husker Dus unexpectedly quick follow up (it was recorded before "Zen Arcade" was even released) to further stoke the fires of confusion. Fifteen songs packed onto a single disc, it packs all of the double albums serrated intensity and 180-degree mood swings into knockout punches of optimistic aggression. "Zen Arcade" was remarkable because of the highly charged context of its naked confessional tone. "New Day Rising" is not only confessional, it shares with its predecessor a sense of striving and fighting for something.
"These albums," declares Mould, "are an admission of humanity. Many of the incidents in "Zen Arcade" were very personal. Those songs could well be all three of our autobiographies set to music. Some of us come from broken homes, some of us have had friends die, stuff like that.
"But you still have to get up, get on with it. You cant scream and holler all of your life. You have to step back and say yeah, I am f****d. Ive got to try and change it or everything else is going to stay that way."
Mould, 24, made that decision when he heard the first Ramones album, quickly taking up guitar. When he arrived in Minneapolis to attend college, he met drummer Grant Hart working in a record store. "We smoked a lot of pot and he told me he played drums and I told him I played guitar. We called each others bluff and found we really could play. So we started a band."
Their immediate influences were the brothers Ramone, the Heartbreakers, the New York Dolls and selected Brit-punk. "We werent aware that there was anything called hardcore in 1978. Our thing when we started out was Lets play as fast as we can and maybe people will notice us. We didnt give people a chance to clap between songs. Everything was just a blur."
The aptly titled "Land Speed Record", recorded live in 1981 shortly after the release of their local debut single "Statues", best illustrates Husker Dus early attack. Songs like "Youre Na´ve" and "Guns At My School" didnt even top the one minute mark. Mould, Hart and bassist Greg Norton (who looks like a dapper truckdriver in his baseball cap and jet-black handlebar moustache) whipped and bawled through their songs with such ferocity that, well, blink and you missed it.
At that time, power pop, skinny ties, crisp Rickenbacker guitars and names like the Wow/the Now/the Pow were all the rage in Minneapolis. By turning up the punk heat to hellish new levels, by choosing a nonsense Swedish name ("do you remember") taken from a popular childrens board game of the Sixties, Husker Du was just asking for trouble.
The way Husker Du is now falling out with the more militaristic factions of hardcore America because of their defiant non-conformity has elements of deja vu about it. "Zen Arcade", (preceded by two atomic EPs "Everything Falls Apart" and "Metal Circus", came at the peak of Husker Dus frustration with both what they were playing and what their public expected them to play.
"We started out as a punk band, no two ways about it. We wanted our songs to be presented well, but wed get so puffed up that a song that was generally mid-tempo would go on full-throttle and we wouldnt have a whole lot of control over it. We had to learn to control that.
"But then the crowds would start to complain, "Why are you doing these couple of slow songs? Why arent you playing Land Speed Record all the time? Sometimes people begrudge you if they catch up on late to your music - Ive never seen you do Land Speed Record. Why dont you do it, for me? It shouldnt be a for-me, for-me thing. They should be interested in watching the band grow seeing their natural evolution as opposed to trying to control them so the band stays in the one thing they like."
To Mould, "Zen Arcade" is just the most visible dissatisfaction with the discrepancy between what hardcore was supposed to stand for and what it really represents. "Either that or its part of a movement where people have learned to elaborate on their emotions - besides screaming."
The strangest side effect of Husker Dus emotional and musical self-discovery is the rabid sniffing of major label A&R men at the bands doorstep. The avalanche of press in the bands favour last year and the astonishing 20,000 plus sales of "Zen Arcade" (for a double LP on a small indie label, SST, that actually let the album mistakenly go out of print for over a month) have caught the corporate scouts unawares, or at least left them wondering if theyre missing out on a Next Big Thing.
Mould is blithely unconcerned. He has been handling the bands business affairs from the beginning and 1985 is already shaping up to be a manic year. A double live album and accompanying video is already in the can. He and Hart, the groups principal songwriters, also have another albums worth of new material ready to cut. What he is wondering about is the effect "Zen Arcade" will have on punk generations to come. Its an album, that, in his slightly biased opinion, will last. I know few people who would disagree.
"It was a pretty important record - it was certainly important to me. I think people will look back in five or 10 years and say Yeah, that was something different. That opened a lot of doors. Fine. Im happy with that.
"But we havent reached out peak. In our minds, were just starting."
Reproduced from Melody Maker, 11th May 1985.
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