SHEER HART ATTACK
Almost two years after the end of Husker Du, GRANT HART is still a bitter and resentful man. Now free of a destructive drug habit, hes starting over with his own group.
Story by NICK GRIFFITHS Photos by ED SIRRS
In January 1988, following a widely publicised period of heroin addiction, Grant Hart quit the US most influential and revered hardcore band, Hüsker Dü. The band split.
Formed at the beginning of the 80s in Minneapolis, the Huskers were a powerhouse trio: Bob Mould (guitar/vocals), Hart (drums/vocals) and Greg Norton (bass/backing vocals). From 1981s live Land Speed Record, a frenetic blur of unfettered thrash, they developed their style in a further six albums, culminating in the introspective and hook-loaded Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987).
Both Mould and Hart have since gone solo. And Greg Norton? The waxed-mustachioed bass player now runs a donut stand on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
The demise of the band was inevitable. Bob Mould and Grant Hart were joint leaders of the outfit, but Mould had gradually been curtailing Harts creative input by giving him less songwriting space on each album. The final straw came when Mould autocratically cancelled the last date of the 'Warehouse' tour. The tension that had prevailed for some time snapped.
The vicious war of innuendo that ensued between Hart and Mould is now legendary.
Mould released his solo 'Workbook' LP on Virgin America in July '89, followed by this year's 'Black Sheets Of Rain'; Hart released 'Intolerance' on Hüsker Dü's old label SST in November '89 and played UK dates with his new band, Nova Mob, in the early summer.
The records garnered lavish critical praise, and both men departed from the harsh fuzztones and obligatory guitar solos that characterised Hüsker Dü.
With 'Workbook' and 'Intolerance', both intense albums, Mould and Hart had reached a low ebb in their lives following an illustrious ten-year career in Hüsker Dü, and both sets of lyrics contain subtle sniping references to the other.
Musically, Mould's 'Workbook' is a beautifully restrained piece of guitar work; 'Intolerance' has a higher feel to it, retracing Hart's '60s childhood influences with swirling organs and beguiling psychedelia.
But Grant Hart - songwriter, musician, painter, poet, environmentalist - is a man of anomalies. His keyring says "F*** You" and his appearance suggests aggression, but his conversation is mannered and considered. He can be affable, humorous and unpretentious. Not to mention embittered and mistrustful...
To Grant, the memory of the split is still painful.
"It totally destroyed my network. I was left with a bad reputation, and everything else had been taken by the others. I came back after quitting the band and they'd gone through the entire office. Only things that were my direct possessions they'd left. But the computers, all the files, all of that has been out of my reach. So I have to re-establish the network, which is good because it's going to be an up-to-date one."
"In terms of' different agents, mailing lists. So it's like, I was blackballed and then silenced because I couldn't get in touch with anyone."
At present Nova Mob do not have a record deal either here or in the States. Though Rough Trade look interested in the UK, things in America are a different matter. Grant is not considering renewing the contract with SST. He's critical of their accounting procedures and their overseas effectiveness.
"It's like they're almost afraid to sell records in Europe. And they have many people wanting to do pressing and distribution with them but they say (Grant adopts an uppity accent), Well those records won't sell because people want to have the original issue.
"Plus they're paranoid as hell about anybody getting their fingers into the SST pie.
"I love the people working at SST dearly. But it's like loving an old, crippled dog - he can't chase a rabbit."
He minces words no less when asked whether Warner Bros, the label for the final two Hüsker Dü LPs, 'Candy Apple Grey' (1986) and 'Warehouse', might be interested.
"Warners aren't out of the picture. One problem I do have with Warners - and you can print this - is the first day that the Warners office was open after Hüsker Dü broke up, I was given reassurances by a person in that company that they would work with me in the future and that they had always wanted to see what I could do on my own.
"And then, two weeks later, 1 got a very official letter in the mail that unless Hüsker Dü get back together then any ties that the individuals may have to Warner Brothers would be severed. And I think some other people formerly in the group had something to do with that."
He measures his words carefully, weighing up each sentence before he airs it, but the insinuation's clear - he was stabbed in the back.
The word "Bob" crops up with alarming regularity, rarely in amicable circumstances. After two and a half years, the distrust is as rampant as ever. There's none of this, Oh well meet over a pint one day and have a drink and a laugh about it. It's more...
"There's a little part of me that wants our T-shirts to be a dollar cheaper than his."
He blames Hüsker Dü ssplit not on his heroin addiction but on not being able to trust the people he was working with. Would things have been different had he not been on drugs?
"No. Things would have been different about the drugs if I hadn't been in the band."
Was it pressure from Bob or Greg that forced him to come off the heroin?
"No, it was myself. Bob and Gregory acted like, This was something we never knew about before," he mimics, adopting an air of wide-eyed incredulity.
Grant weaned himself off the drugs with the help of a doctor who treated him as an out-patient, so that he could keep his mind off the rehabilitation by working. Much of 'Intolerance' was written during this period.
"I can see 'Intolerance' as being a very reactionary record. It's relating to things that had been said. I wanted to surprise people by doing this album myself because I had been branded as someone who had been unable to do anything but shoot heroin. I wanted to disprove or at least cause some of these things to be examined."
Given the markedly different style of 'Intolerance' compared to any Hüsker LP, was he being compromised in Hüsker Dü?
And is that the sort of music he'd rather make?
"Not necessarily rather, but I would like to have had a little more subtlety when subtlety was called for. There's some instances where Hüsker Dü takes a lullaby and turns it into a song for strippers. Every song had to have the required guitar solo. It's kind of like burying a sparrow with a bulldozer."
Grant is now working on the first Nova Mob LP, 'The Last Days Of Pompeii', loosely termed a rock opera. He had worked with various bands after the demise of Hüsker, from Yanomanos and the Strange Men to The Swallows, but, not mentally ready for the band scenario, he made 'Intolerance' alone.
With Nova Mob, he's far more at home. Bassist Tom is an old friend from high school and Mark, the drummer, who played with Tom in Harvest House, completes the trio with Grant on guitar and vocals.
He compares 'Pompeii' to The Who's 'Quadrophenia'. It will not be played by a host of stars, but by Nova Mob alone. The story itself is somewhat complicated.
"It starts out narrated by Pliny the Younger from Pompeii, OK?" He pauses, grinning. As the story becomes more abstract, so his grin widens.
"He pretty much gives the general synopsis. The story starts with the fall of Nazi Germany, and Wernher Von Braun doesn't wanna be captured. So he conjures up Wotan, the Nordic God of War, and asks him, like, How the hell do I get out of this mess?"
Von Braun then escapes back in time in a V2 rocket, meets Pliny the Elder who takes him to Pompeii, and ends up with King Pompedible (from the illustrated book, The Knave of Hearts) trying to control his mind, much as Hitler had done before.
Grant takes up the bizarre story again...
"He slowly comes to the realisation that he's going to be manipulated, no matter what he does. He leaves again, but it's not altogether clear how. It's more or less a transcendental thing involving the eruption (of Vesuvius) - the eruption wakes him up from a sodium pentathol -induced dream."
Weird - but different. Where does the concept come from?
"The theme of control, where he is being manipulated and controlled while being the smartest person around."
Whatever has gone before seems to have strengthened his determination not to compromise. To say the least.
"We have no intentions of just chasing that golden parrot. I'd rather make 20 records that sell 100,000 copies each than one record that makes two million dollars and destroys my reputation - destroys our reputation.
"When it comes down to it, your physical body, your energy and your reputation are the only things that you have to preserve, because you could be flat broke but, y'know, play a gig and people will come and see it and you're not flat broke."
Does money worry him?
"No. I mean, it would be nice to be doing this interview while shopping or getting a massage, but looking at my life it's not so f***ing bad without that much money. I have things in my life that Bob will never be able to afford with his money."
That "Bob" word again...
Reproduced from Select, November 1990.
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