Bob Mould couldn’t sound happier about the glowing reception for the miserable album he just put out.
Another hard blast of blue-flame guitar work and boiling-over lyricism, “Patch the Sky” dropped March 25 with the kind of widespread praise that has accompanied each of the ex-Minnesotan rock legend’s past three albums — all issued in a quick 3½-year span that we can officially declare another renaissance period in Mould’s 35-year career.
The reviews have especially been strong for this one. Rolling Stone, for instance, said it “conjures the ecstatic rage of his earlier bands for a grim new era.” Helping him once again was his steady band of the past seven years, with bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, the same trio lineup returning to First Avenue for two shows Friday and Saturday.
And it’s not just critics reacting favorably. The new album also landed Mould his first-ever No. 1 ranking in Billboard, albeit on the vinyl sales chart, proving there’s continued reverence for the former Hüsker Dü and Sugar singer/guitarist among die-hard musicheads.
“I had no idea that was even a possibility,” Mould, 55, said by phone from his home in San Francisco two weeks ago, the day after the chart came out. “It really meant a lot to me. I’m a vinyl guy, too.
“All of the reaction to this record is really a nice surprise, because I was sort of nervous about this one. I guess that’s what happens when you spend too much time with yourself, and too much time on the music.”
“Patch the Sky” was a tough one to make. It followed the death of Mould’s mother as well as a self-described “personal breakdown,” which cast him into isolation mode for six months. It was a hermetic scenario much like the period after Hüsker Dü broke up in 1988, out of which came his celebrated solo debut “Workbook.” Except this time Mould holed up in one of the biggest cities in America instead of a farm near Pine City, Minn.
Q: How did this solitary-confinement approach in San Francisco compare with working out at the farm on “Workbook”? Is it possible to feel isolated in a city like that?
A: I’m right in the center of town here. I don’t have a car. I walk down the hill to go to the gym, get some groceries. That’s pretty much all I did for six months other than sitting with my thoughts and words and music and trying to make myself feel better. It wasn’t as completely isolated as “Workbook,” but I really didn’t get out and do anything socially. No big revelry or partying. I just put the world on hold and tried to figure a few things out, how to get past a lot of loss and not turn into a complete recluse or prick.
In hindsight, it’s a great luxury, really. To say it to people now: “What? You just spent six months working on music? That sounds pretty nice.” Yeah, pretty much.
Q: Do you know going into one of these isolated periods what you’re going to write about, and what comes at the end of the tunnel?
A: This time, my goal really was to just write as many songs as I could. I wanted to have 50 songs. As far as any specific narrative, there’s no plan other than trying to write about what I’ve been through and trying to write my way out of it. The stories reveal themselves along the way. I wait for the melody that sticks in my head for 72 hours, and I know I have to go with that. Or when 12 hours go by and I don’t even realize it, I know it’s a good song then.
Q: Is it still cathartic for you when you write like this?
A: The good part is when I get to go out to play these songs for people, and hopefully they connect with them. Whatever dark mess might go into the songs, it’s always good to go out and play them for people.
Q: Is “Voices in My Head” (the album’s single and opening track) literally about hearing voices and mental health issues?
A: For me, it’s about the search for truth and clarity in my own head. It could be about post-traumatic stress disorder to someone else, though. It could be about bipolar behaviors, or schizophrenia. There’s a lot of direct imagery to that kind of thinking. When that song first made itself known to me and I put it all together, I was about 80 percent done with it and I thought, “Thank God! I finally have an opener for the record.” It’s like, “OK, folks, here it comes: introspective record.”
Q: A lot has been made of you putting out these three strong, heavy-hitting albums in fast succession at this point in your career. How do you explain it?
A: Physically, I’m holding up really well. This is a point or an age in a lot of my peers’ lives they maybe lose interest, or they’re losing their stamina. I’ve talked a lot about getting to the gym every day, eating right and really taking care of myself. It’s kind of just little, practical stuff that probably sounds weird coming from a musician, but it’s the same for an athlete: Keep your tools sharp and in good shape so they’re ready when it’s time to use them.
Q: You’ve had some new tools — power tools! — in your belt of late in the form of Jason and Jon. How have you guys evolved as a band now that you’ve played together over three albums?
A: It just gets easier and easier, because they know all the different languages I speak. They know the Hüskers language. They know the “Workbook” language. The Sugar language is especially easy for them. And the language I work with now is sort of an amalgamation of all those other languages, plus what they bring to it with their own chemistry and talent. Jon is a completely different drummer than anyone I’ve worked with before, and that’s saying something. I’ve actually been very blessed working with all great drummers in my career.
All those components together, it’s just so easy. At this point in my career, they’ve made it so easy to go out and play, and people are responding as good as they ever have. I’m a lucky man.