“SONG FOR EWE” & INTERVIEW
with BOB MOULD
“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day.
Today it’s one of my all-time personal heroes and bona fide rock royalty. I’ve been lucky enough to spend an hour with the good man at the “Coach & Horses” pub in Soho and he’s kindly agreed to choose a “song for ewe” and gave me a great interview. Founder and writer of American punk legends Husker Du, whose song “Too Far Down” has got me out of some dark places, leader of the band Sugar whose album “Copper Blue” was a landmark record in the world and in my house still, and a singer-songwriter who shoots out the dark with finger picked folk.
He’s also had a full-on disco DJ phase and is now on the verge of releasing the third in a triptych of fantastic albums with his new trio featuring Jason Narducy of Split Single and Jon Wurster of Superchunk. It’s called “Patch The Sky” on Merge Records, I’ve been lucky enough to have it for a couple of weeks and I cannot stop playing it. I strongly urge you to get it this Friday, but before you do please read this, one of the highlights of the reborn Velvet Sheep fanzine so far, it’s the unmistakeable, unbeatable Bob Mould!
I had a brilliant time going through Bob’s favourite 13 records for the Quietus and I was mustard keen for him to choose a “song for ewe” as I know that Bob is a great music fan with an open-mind and an ear for a catchy tune or a dark tale. When I found out I would be able to interview him on skype and have a proper chat with one of rock’s great raconteurs I tried to second guess what he might pick, but it was impossible. He did not disappoint, and rather than hear me wax lyrical about a man going through a renaissance and wearing the mantle of a punk grandee and eminence grise, I say let’s hurtle headlong into Bob’s beaster of a “song for ewe” choice, an obscure-ish record that Bob’s enjoyed lately… so without further ado it’s over to Bob...
“I go through Jimmy Webb phases. A song that I’m always amazed at and I guess it’s not obscure (well it will be obscure to people not familiar with 60s pop music or Jimmy Webb but) the song is called “Carpet Man” and the song that he wrote was performed by the Fifth Dimension who were a pretty great band back in the day and it’s one of those just amazing little pop songs.
You know Jimmy Webb was just one of these guys who in the 60s had a real gift for walking the very simple catchy melodies but these really ornate arrangements and all these modulations and key towards end of songs. For me with “Carpet Man” it has all those elements but the story it tells and the metaphors he uses is just so great. The pay-off of the song, the chorus is “she walks all over you because she can. She knows she can. You’re the Carpet Man. You’re the Carpet Man”. You think it’s more like “You’re the Carpet comma Man” is how I feel about it when I read it.
It’s got lyrics like “you take such care to keep that girls feet clean like she’s some kind of figurine. The world’s so far below from her it’s not her scene, so she uses you to stand between”! The stylistics, the metaphors are amazing and the pay-off of it is “she’ll say to herself some sunny day she’ll say come to my wedding and of course you do and the groom and her will have a dance on you”.
It’s sort of weird, maybe historically it’s the bridge between big band pop song writing that was before that, where songs were written in these clever narratives but maybe it’s the next step on the way to what became a more direct, simpler kind of pop music as time went on.
NICK/VELVET SHEEP: It reminds me of Nancy Sinatra “Boots” but subtler – did it predate that?
I wonder if it was before ” Boots” – it was 66/67 so guess its right around that same period. It’s a really really fun song and the intro of it is such a classic 60s pop intro, its almost like “Cherry Cherry” by Neil Diamond, simple three chords but as the song builds it starts adding all these different elements, there’s a little waltzy little 6-8 bridge that turns up and then you get the modulations. It’s got all the great hallmarks of a great 60s pop song.
VS: It doesn’t surprise me you’ve chosen something like that, I know you’re a big fan of The Byrds so I was thinking I wonder what Bob’s going to choose? It’s different when you’re picking one song you’ve got everything to choose from rather than albums. I couldn’t second guess it…
The Byrds would’ve been a great choice as well- anything off “Younger Than Yesterday”.
All the Jimmy Webb songs for The Fifth Dimension there’s a lot of gems in there. He’s got another called “Paper Cup” which is a song with the idea of someone living inside of a paper cup.
VS: Your music is very hooky it’s got that 60s pop sensibility in it, how much of it has rubbed off on you in terms of song-writing, lyrically?
Not as much with the lyrics. I think with the melody and arrangements and song structure everything. Lyrically I think I write from a different place for the most part. A song like “Hoover Dam” might fit into this motif where I’m using this giant structure as a metaphor for walking a precarious spot. To me I love the bright melodies of the 60s but I like marrying those melodies with more introspective, recently darker lyrics and I like that contrast, that’s where I start with a lot of stuff recently in my works. Definitely influenced by the arrangements but my lyrical stories are different perhaps.
VS: You’ve said your new record “Patch The Sky” is light and shade…
To me a short read of the album, right away when “The Voices In My Head” comes in by the end of the first verse I’m imagining people have run for the headphones already.
They can tell its a more singular, introspective kind of record. The first side’s got more brightness for sure the stories are dark but the melodies are very bright until at the end of side one “Pray For Rain” there’s the little signal to turn the record over and we get into the back side where the flavour of it changes a lot. To me the basic motif is a lot more of a 70s hard rock record with real down lyrics where the image is imagine it all burning and then rising up – see the ash rise up, that’s the picture. Whatever it is that burns is going to rise and then eventually fall.
VS: The last 3 albums are amazing. I worry about the song “The End Of Things” Is it your own mortality? Are you going to have a break. You seem like you’re on a rich vein of form and I don’t want it to stop basically…
Oh thanks no “The End of Things” is my favourite of the up songs on the record. When that one came together it was sort of the end of things, the end of everything, like the Internet of things, it just seemed like a great title and a great spot for a chorus, easy to build a story backwards off of that idea. Pictures from a scrapbook, the idea of all these celebratory things- birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and how those can go wrong and then bringing it up to not biblical but the environmental metaphors of earthquakes and floods and stuff – it was a fun story to write, to get that off my chest.
VS: It’s like the “Hoover Dam”‘s burst!
Little bit. That one’s a nice song.
Yeah the last 3 albums have been a really nice period. Been an interesting period a lot of best of times, a lot of worst of times. A lot of personal loss, but a lot of professional recognition. Great band, great shows. It’s been a lot to consider. I’m very grateful for all of it I guess there’s a part of me which wishes I could be a little more happy go lucky with it but like anyone that knows me there’s that side of my nature that always pops up, the darker side.
VS: But in a way that’s the root of your creativity, without that maybe you couldn’t write the songs you write…
Yeah and with this record specifically i spent a lot of time alone with my own thoughts. I didn’t know what the first 6 months of 2015 was going to result in and this record is what those first 6 months were like for me. A lot of time alone, a lot of writing music every day, a lot of recollection, a lot of gathering up stray thoughts that I had written down here and there and trying to piece it together in a way that would make sense for me and in a way that the three of us could present it to people on record and live.
It’s been fun to get out and play some of the stuff. It’s a great batch of songs to play live and it’s much more of a celebration when we play it live. It’s really funny what happens when you take it out of the room and you put it out in the world. It’s crazy. The process is incredible. I try not to understand it completely.
VS: It seems like the bands really settled. I’m friends with Jason and Jon on FB and it looks like they’re enjoying this moment.
We all are. You know the one thing between Jon and Jason – they’re both very optimistic guys. How they present themselves on social media very I don’t think self deprecating but have a sense of humour when I tend to be a little more matter of fact so maybe that’s a good emotional offset for what we’re doing. It creates a better balance. We’re going with it, we don’t talk about it much, we don’t think about it much.
(VS: Here’s Jason Narducy’s “song for ewe” choice, published recently)
VS: It feels like a definite fourth movement in your career, and getting better and better. I wonder if you could’ve foreseen this, going really well with another power trio for want of a better word?
I think three piece is great, people like seeing me in that format. It’s natural for me, so that works. As far as foreseeing, nah I didn’t see any of this coming, I didn’t know that writing the autobiography would lead to this. That’s where a lot of this stuff started to happen, the writing of the book, the work with the Foo Fighters and the Disney Hall show that’s the path where a lot of those stories led to. Working on that book going deep into history I didn’t know that’s what was ahead and maybe that’s the beauty of it.
Maybe it just opened up a lot of space to do things, and the Disney Hall show and the validation from other musicians and me starting to feel comfortable with borrowing from myself as opposed to what I often see in other artists who have long careers. I’ve gone through a lot of different ideas – power trio to singer/songwriter, electronic stuff. This feels pretty natural.
Maybe that Disney Hall thing taught me you can do whatever you want, you can be comfortable doing what you do naturally. I guess at this point of my life I’m grateful to be doing what I think is still pretty good work and people are enjoying it I think. Its been really fun and I think the audiences and the people who follow the work are having a great time right now, everyone’s enjoying what it is for the simplicity of it. And with all these records, when I was younger I used to have the compulsion to over explain things and take everything apart and make it seem so big and it’s funny with the song writing process I look at lifetime writers like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan but people like that just have this mastery with words I don’t have that so its been nice to settle into what I’m good at.
VS: You’re too modest! Its lovely that you’ve been canonised as the rock royalty you are and that’s allowed your renaissance
It’s really weird. It’s taken some getting used to. I’m stumbling into it. It’s funny I’ll go out and circulate sometimes I have to resist the urge to colour something with “let me tell you a story about when I met Donovan…” it’s like “oh no!” but people seem to like it so I guess I’ll get used to it.
VS: When you’re at the Retirement home telling people about Burroughs…
Yeah! Throwing knives with Burroughs! Then the converse is also true. The other night I got called at the last minute on Monday to do a show at SXSW and after I played the set I found out that these guys from a band from Philadelphia called Beach Slang were there and they’re very rooted in that very American punk rock sound and I got turned onto them a couple of months ago and it’s very familiar sounding to me what they do so I think I understand what they’re trying to do. I chatted to those guys about music and get with them to say “I hear what you’re doing!” do there’s that too. It’s not just reminiscence of that it’s hanging out with current musicians. Just really grateful for everything that’s happening right now, didn’t see it coming…didn’t see the bonus round coming!”
THANKS SO MUCH TO BOB, AN ABSOLUTE HERO. AND TO SARAH LOWE FROM FIFTH AVENUE PR. ALSO A LEGEND.
“PATCH THE SKY” IS OUT THIS FRIDAY, 25 MARCH ON MERGE RECORDS AND AVAILABLE VIA ALL THE USUAL OUTLETS.
MORE DEETS HERE: