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7 factual outtakes from Bob Mould's "Workbook"

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider under Music, Minnesota musicians Updated: March 4, 2014 - 10:08 AM

While he continues to roll on with fiery new albums – he and his trio have already recorded a follow-up to 2012’s well-received “Silver Age” – Bob Mould also seems more comfortable revisiting the records of his past. After playing his old band Sugar’s “Copper Blue” album in its entirety on tour in 2012 to mark its 20th anniversary, Mould is doing a short semi-acoustic tour this month timed to the 25th anniversary of his first solo album, “Workbook,” still one of his most celebrated works.

Originally released by Virgin Records -- with whom Mould would have a tenuous relationship -- the album was reissued last week by Omnivore Recordings as a double-disc set, rounded out by outtakes (“All Those People Know” was always a fan-loved deep cut) and a 1989 live recording from the Metro in Chicago.

“Workbook” helped Mould (then a mere 29) rise out of the shadow Hüsker Dü after the band broke up in early 1988. It would be his last record as a Minnesota resident. Aside from the thundering closer “Whichever Way the Wind Blows,” the music eschewed the distorted noise of the Hüskers albums and instead offered tangled layers of acoustic guitar and cello (this was way before strings became a common thing in indie-rock). Several of the songs, including “Wishing Well” and the MTV-rotated “See A Little Light,” would remain staples of his live sets in the coming decades. The more epic tracks such as “Brasilia Crossed with Trenton” and “Poison Years” – a bit too dark and burdensome for him to keep playing from night to night – also still stand up as some of his best work.

Mould’s faithful ex-hometown audience will have the chance to hear those songs again tonight when he performs at the Woman’s Club Theater in Minneapolis (tickets sold out almost immediately). To add to the intrigue of the show, here are seven lesser-known facts about “Workbook,” most taken from Mould’s 2011 autobiography “See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody.”  

1. After he called off Hüsker Dü, Mould almost went to work for Minnesota DNR instead of Virgin Records. As is well-known in “Workbook” lore, he retreated to a farm in Pine City an hour north of Minneapolis, where he got a little lost. “I started losing my mind a little bit,” he says in his book. “I even applied for a day job at a nearby state park working at the gift shop and giving guided tours.” He couldn’t remember which park when I asked in a 2011 interview (presumably William O’Brien or Interstate on the St. Croix).  

2. While “Poison Years” and other songs were long interpreted to be directed at his Hüsker Dü bandmates, the only song at the time that actually addressed his old band was “If You’re True,” which didn’t even make the album but is featured as a live track on the new reissue. Lyrics include, “No more friends that lie and hide / No more games to play to get to know the answer.”

3. In a Star Tribune interview about “Workbook” in 1989, Mould told Jon Bream, “The record is about me after the band. If I've got a message for anybody I used to work with, I'll tell them to their face. I honestly don't have any bad feelings toward the people I used to work with.”

Mould and his baby (blue) at last summer's Rock the Garden. / Leslie Plesser

Mould and his baby (blue) at last summer's Rock the Garden. / Photo by Leslie Plesser

4. The record owes a Forest Lake music store a big thanks. Shortly before diving into the making of “Workbook,” Mould stopped off on a whim at the (presumably now-defunct) instrument shop and wound up buying a light-blue Fender Stratocaster that would fuel "Workbook" -- and which remains his primary electric guitar to this day. He got it for $750. “At the time, that was a lot of money for me,” he writes in the book, but then concedes. “It was the beginning of a whole new sound.”

5. The title “Workbook” and back-cover photo of Mould were inspired by a 1961 by country guitar guru Chet Atkins, “Workshop.” Liner notes for the album read, “This is the lonely man’s room, and Atkins when he is working is a lonely man.” Said Mould in his book, “I sure could relate to that.”

6. Touring for the record was less than profitable. Mould’s outings for “Workbook” and the follow-up “Black Sheets of Rain” -- with reputable vets Anton Fier (drums) and Tony Maimone (bass) for his bandmates -- were the most expensive outings of his career, and he called off a European tour for “Black Sheets” when he realized the costs. “Everybody I was employing was making more money than me,” he says in the book.

7. The cello parts on the album were played by Jane Scarpantoni, who had just performed on R.E.M.’s “Green” album and would later be featured on several Lou Reed discs and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.” (Tonight’s show will feature cellist Alison Chesley, who used to peform with Mould’s longtime bassist Jason Narducy in his prior band, Verbow.)

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