Saturday Night All the Time | Bob Mould and Richard Morel start a dance party with Blowoff

[The audience] is a lot of people who love indie rock and love house music, but didn’t like the gay club scene as much, or maybe didn’t feel as comfortable in it. And we gave them a place where rock was OK.

The guitar has been very good to Bob Mould. Though he made his name as the alt-rock king of the 6- and 12-string, Mould surprised fans in 2002 when he returned from a four-year hiatus with a pair of electronica albums, his patented guitar sound was buried deep in the mix. While last year’s Body of Song was somewhat of a return to form, Mould was redirecting his newfound penchant for dance music into Blowoff, a project that pairs the singer/songwriter with famed producer/house DJ Richard Morel, whose 2002 solo debut, Queen of the Highway, left quite an impression on Mould.

"I met Rich and we just hit it off right away," Mould remembers. "When I ended up in D.C. four years ago, we started to hang out, and decided to start writing music together. And over the last three years, we did a lot of writing, and just messing around with sounds. So this is the result of three years of procrastinating," he concludes, laughing.

Blowoff began life as a small, intimate DJ set-"Literally, I went to Kinko’s and made up flyers on business cards and would hand them out to people that I’d want to invite to my party," Mould recalls-first in a monthly set at Washington, D.C.’s Velvet Lounge and, as word spread and demand increased, a weekly set in the basement of the 9:30 Club.

From their humble beginnings, Blowoff gigs grew into must-see events in the DC club scene, appealing especially to what Mould refers to as "the disenfranchised gay community." "From the beginning," he explains, "it was friends and people who we wanted to party with: it’s predominantly gay, predominantly men, predominantly in the 25 to 50 age range. Having said that, we get a lot of gals that come to it, a lot of straight people. I think it’s a tough call because we’ve always seen it as a music thing, first and foremost. [The audience] is a lot of people who love indie rock and love house music, but didn’t like the gay club scene as much, or maybe didn’t feel as comfortable in it. And we gave them a place where rock was OK.

"One of the reasons it’s been so successful," Mould theorizes, "is because Rich and I have a vision of what we want it to be, and we’ve actually made it that. We did exactly what we wanted to do: We took the idea to people that we thought would be approachable and would enjoy it and would feel like they could be a part of it, and that’s what happened. We made something out of scratch. We didn’t try to create an event that catered to a specific audience."

Fairly or not, Mould has been categorized in the past as a control freak. His first band, the 1980s punk trio Hüsker Dü, famously imploded over a power struggle between Mould and the band’s other songwriter, drummer Grant Hart. Later, Mould’s power-pop threesome Sugar would perform a handful of songs by bassist David Barbe, but there was little doubt that Mould was running the show. Which makes it all the more surprising that, for the first time since Hüsker Dü’s debut Land Speed Record 25 years ago, Mould and his collaborator share all songwriting credits. "There’s no singular vision driving this thing," Mould explains. "It’s a unique situation. Working with Rich, it’s been a lot of fun because we both have things that we specialize in, and I think we just have very complementary approaches to songwriting."

The best example of the reciprocal nature of Blowoff is "Hormone Love," the first single from the self-titled debut album. The song splits the difference between the two musicians’ skills perfectly, as Morel’s dispassionate vocals and skittering drumbeat rides Mould’s trademark: a punchy, Sugar-y guitar riff. How was the song chosen as the first single? "Because it’s the best song," Mould jokes. "Always good to go with the best foot forward. I think that one’s a really good example of what happens when we both put our minds to making a song good."

Both rock fans and house heads will find plenty to like on Blowoff’s debut, from the driving guitars on "Here and Now" to the Daft Punk-style dance-funk of "Saturday Night All the Time." Even though Mould and Morel approach the music from different directions, Blowoff never once feels disjointed, likely because of the deepness of the collaboration: Both writers’ fingerprints are all over every song, and fans from either side may find themselves surprised by how much they like the songs from the other camp.

Rock music still has a place in Mould’s heart, with another solo album and a live DVD of his recent full-band tour planned for the coming months. Between Blowoff and his solo material, Mould has found a way to scratch all of his musical itches. "As I get older, my forms of expression get broader," Mould concludes. "I’m just really lucky to have something like this in my life right now, and I think Rich feels the same way. For both of us, it’s a real gift to have a night once a month in D.C.-or more often now that we’re going to start touring with this thing-that we can get people who like music together, get a room full of cute guys, and have a party. That’s about as fun as it gets."

Continue to the next page to read our complete interview with Bob Mould

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Bob Mould: The Complete Interview (conducted by Jason Green)

When we talked last, you were just about to head out on your first full band tour in quite a few years. What are your impressions of it now that the tour’s over?

Of the band tour? It went great. I had a really good time with that. We did 25 shows, in, you know in like a six week period in Europe and North America, and it was really, really fun. Great band, great guys to travel with, a fixed length of time, which made it sort of exciting because I knew it would be over at some point. [laughs] The shows went great and actually, we’re putting the finishing touches on the live DVD I’ve been working with Brendan [Canty, Fugazi drummer and Mould’s touring bandmate] on now, and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to get it out.

When do you expect that will come out?

Well, it’ll be ready for production in, I would say, three weeks, so I don’t know, maybe by the end of the year, I’m hoping.

Do you think you’ll ever tour with a band again? Or was that kind of a one-off deal?

No, I think the four of us had a great time. We’re actually playing a show next Sunday, just a one-off, we’re going to bring Jason [Narducy, ex-Verbow, Mould’s touring bassist] in from Chicago and rehearse for a day and then we’re going up on [July] 16th next Sunday to Philadelphia to play in an outdoor festival with The Flaming Lips.

Okay, on to your new project Blowoff. How did you and Richard Morel actually meet? I remember seeing on your website, that you were a big fan of his albums before you ever started collaborating.

Well, when I was living up in New York, I had some friends that turned me onto his music—I think it was the Queen of the Highway album, when it came out in early ’02. Rich came into town and had a record release party, and I met Rich and we just hit it off right away; just sort of kindred spirits, similar backgrounds, and you know, just big music heads. And then when I ended up in DC four years ago, we started to hang out, and decided to start writing music together. And over the last three years, we did a lot of writing, and just messing around with sounds… So this is the result of three years of procrastinating. [laughs] We get together and we just goof around with music, and we have stray ideas and get together and collaborate. We finally got around to finishing it up over the past four or five months, I suppose. And once I got back from the road, and Rich had a little bit of time between all of his remixing and his own stuff, so we were able to get it finished.

What is the songwriting process like when you write the songs? How much of it is done with you two sitting in a room together and how much is bringing in your own separate ideas?

Usually we come up with like, chunks of a song, you know, like choruses or verses or grooves and then we just get together and say, "Here’s a bunch of the stuff I got, is any of this working for you?" Sometimes Rich would have the sketch of a song laid out completely and I would hear it and go, "That’s great, you know, what about doing this this and this to it?" You know, it’s a just a real back and forth sort of process. There’s a couple songs that are a little bit, a little bit more focused individual tracks. Like, "Overload" is sort of a real, focused, individual track of mine. "Man Keeps Winning," like, the whole back half of it, Rich had pretty realized before I got in. "Ballad of Mark Dirt" is really sort of more of a focused Rich track, but at the end of the day, both of us are pushing the songs around, pushing ideas back and forth.

Now in your previous bands, the songwriting credits were always pretty much divided, always attributed to one person. What is it about the Blowoff material that it’s all accredited to the two of you? Why is it this project and not the other ones?

Well, cause it really is, you know. There was no…there’s no singular vision, you know, driving this thing. I don’t know, to me it just feels like we’re completely collaborating…probably because we are. [laughs] I don’t know. It’s a unique situation. I mean I’ve tried, I’ve tried collaborating with people, you know back when I was living in Minneapolis, I guess with the Hüsker [Dü] stuff there were moments where there were co-writes, where a song was half finished and somebody else would pick up the other half and make a song of it. There was stuff…there was a period…you know, a real brief period where I tried doing stuff with [Paul] Westerberg and you know, that didn’t really go anywhere. But working with Rich, it’s been a lot of fun because we both have things that we specialize in and I think we just have very complementary approaches to songwriting. Very similar approaches too, which is…it’s sort of a cool thing.

Now the material on the record, there is a lot of the more rock-oriented stuff and a lot of it is more dance-oriented. Why was a more rocking song in "Hormone Love" picked as the first single?

Uhh…because it’s the best song. [laughs] Always good to go with the best foot forward. It’s the lead track off the album and…I don’t know, I think that one’s a really good example of what happens when we both put our minds to making a song good. Rich…I remember the day that Rich played me…you know, the verse-chorus structure that he had for it, and I got really excited because the temperament of the songwriting…you know it reminded me of the stuff that I had written before, and I just said, "Here, let me have at this for about two hours." And I remember just putting down all these guitars, and putting the vocal harmonies in where I thought they were appropriate, and you know, helping to build up the back end of the song, just keep adding more elements at the end until it got so big and then the song ends. And we just tore through that thing in a day, and I thought, "Wow, that’s…you know, I wish we had more of these!" [laughs] Good tune.

Yeah, it’s a really good song. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Blowoff because you know, I read about them all the time on your blog, but you know, without getting to go to DC and see your live show, I didn’t really know what to expect until that song came out.

Well you know, with a live performance, it’s two guitars and vocals with backing tracks. So the material is presented with electric guitars, that’s the focus of it. Having said that, you’ve heard the record, I mean it runs a pretty wide gamut of styles.

Now one of the big surprises about the record is that there’s actually a remix of one of your older songs on there, "Lost Zoloft" from Modulate. What made you decide to kind of retool that song and slip it back on the new record?

Rich had taken the track and messed with it, and when I heard the results, I was just like, "Wow, you know, that sounds great," and just sort of went with it. You know, when he added the counter-vocals in on the chorus and he just really restructured it…it took on a whole new life, and I was like, "Let’s just give it a new name and put it on the record." He was down with it, so. It’s cool, you know…again, the collaborative process. You know, taking a raw idea that I had that I had released years ago and reshaping it…it became a whole new thing. And that’s what we’re doing with this, you know, with the collaboration. It’s just pushing everything around.

How do Blowoff fans typically break down? Are a lot of them previous fans of your work? Or is it just more people who discover you from the DC club scene?

The genesis of Blowoff…it was a…you know, three and a half years ago, we just started it as a DJ night. And, literally, I went to Kinko’s and made up flyers on business cards and would hand them out to people that I’d wanna invite to my party, whether it was other friends who were into music, or you know, guys in the neighborhood, we were just trying to wrangle up a bunch of fun people just to have a party. And we did that monthly for six months, and then we moved to the weekly format in the basement of the 9:30 Club and that was really taxing because just trying to find that much music each week to play was really hard. So, I don’t know, from the beginning it was like, friends, and people who we wanted to party with and now it’s predominantly…it’s predominantly gay, it’s predominantly men, predominantly in…I would say 25-50 is the age range. I think it’s…you know, having said that, we get a lot of gals that come to it, a lot of straight people that come to it…I think it’s a tough call because we’ve always seen it as a music thing, first and foremost. I definitely think it speaks to…I don’t know, the disenfranchised gay community? It’s a lot of people who love indie rock and love house music, but didn’t like the gay club scene as much, or maybe didn’t feel as comfortable in it? And we sort of gave them a place where, like, rock was okay. It’s really weird; it’s a crazy phenomenon. You know, the trick now for Rich and I is to try and figure out how to recreate this in other cities. You know, it took us long time to build it up here, you know, it’s a pretty huge thing now, here.

Do you think that the fact that you were doing this in Washington, DC, and in that particular community shaped the results in any way?

I don’t know. I think, last night I realized that one of the reasons it’s been so successful is because Rich and I have a vision of what we want it to be, and we’ve actually made it that. We didn’t come along and try to cater to a specific audience. We did exactly what we wanted to do, we took the idea to people that we thought would be approachable and would enjoy it and would feel like they could be a part of it, and that’s what happened. We made something out of scratch. We didn’t try to create an event that catered to a specific audience. We sort of created an audience for it, and that’s going to be the tough part when we take this on the road, is trying to create that similar audience. Because it’s a music thing, but it’s a "gay guys who don’t necessarily fit in" kind of thing, it’s an indie rock thing, it’s a house thing, it’s a lot of different things. If you came to DC and you saw it, you would be astonished, I think, at the love and the good fun and the music spirit that the whole thing is. It’s a pretty special night.

How do fans of your earlier material react to the new, dancier side of you? I guess you’ve been buttering them up with Modulate and some of the Body of Song stuff, but how are they reacting specifically to Blowoff?

There’s people that come that are fans of the old stuff and they want to stop and see what it’s about, and they come and say hi, and maybe they come back and maybe they don’t. A lot of people are trying it out, which I appreciate. I know it’s not for everybody, it doesn’t have a lot to do with the quieter moments of Workbook. It’s really a different thing.

As I get older, my forms of expression get broader, and I’m just really lucky to have something like this in my life right now, and I think Rich feels the same way. You know, he spends so much of his time doing remixes for people, that’s his main bread and butter. Whereas mine is going out and touring with a band or solo shows, that’s the main way I make a living. For Rich, he just sits in the studio all day and does remixes for t.A.T.u and Nelly Furtado and whoever else he’s working with. [laughs] So for both of us, I think, it’s a real gift, to have a night once a month in DC or more often now that we’re going to start touring with this thing, that we can get people who like music together, and get a room full of cute guys, and have a party. That’s about as fun as it gets.

You have a Blowoff tour coming up, and then what? Do you expect to dive right into more Blowoff stuff or explore new solo album?

The next solo album is written, I just have to finish up recording, which I’m going to try to get it finished by the end of September and get that out early next year. That’s well on its way. I could stop writing now and I’d be happy with what I’ve got. It’s a pretty strong follow-up to Body of Song just waiting to be finished.

I was combing through all the Loudbomb remixes that I’ve done for club play, combing through all the original electronic music I’ve written over the past couple of years, I’ve got a lot of stuff that I’ve got to get—between Blowoff, the DVD, my next solo record and all the other miscellaneous stuff, I’ve got so much crap to get out of my house. [laughs] Just get it out there so people can hear it.

How would you compare the songs you’ve written for the next record to Body of Song, in terms of style?

It’s a continuation of that. People who like Body of Song will probably like the new stuff. It’s working for me right now, and that’s where I’m going with it.

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