As he talked about living in Berlin and the unusually upbeat new album he wrote there, Bob Mould painted a picture that might sound familiar to fans of his old Twin Cities band Hüsker Dü.
For that matter, it might ring a bell with basically everyone in Minnesota.
“The winters in Berlin get really [bleeping] dark and grimy, and then the summers are just bright, enlightening and warm, and everybody comes out of their shell,” he said. “The positive experiences on this record are directly influenced by a couple summers over there.”
It’s been nearly 30 years since Mould left Minnesota, where he first wrote about a dramatic change of seasons in one of Hüsker Dü’s best-loved songs, “Celebrated Summer.” The 58-year-old indie-rock vet has remained on the move professionally and personally since then.
An upstate New York native who came to the Twin Cities to attend Macalester College, Mould bounced from New York to Austin, Texas, in the early 1990s, when the alt-rock wave — led by Nirvana but heavily inspired by Hüsker Dü — brought him MTV and radio stardom as frontman for the trio Sugar.
He started the 2000s in Washington, D.C., during an experimental solo period that found him dabbling in electronic music and even swearing off loud guitar rock at one point.
Neither idea lasted very long. By the 2010s, Mould was living in San Francisco and rocking with renewed gusto as he formed a ballistic new trio with longtime bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer John Wurster. With that lineup cemented, he recorded three of the most acclaimed albums of his career in just a 3½-year span, starting with 2012’s “The Silver Age.”
As he wrapped touring in 2016 for the third of those records, “Patch the Sky” — written after his mother’s death and the end of another relationship — Mould hit the pause and reset buttons again.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be on the road much for at least a year or two, and I had to take some time to heal myself and recuperate,” he said.
“Of all the cities throughout Europe I’ve played in over the decades, Amsterdam and Berlin were the ones that fascinated me the most. And I had a lot of friends in Berlin, so it seemed like the logical place to go.”
Once there, he relished the experience of living abroad and the downtime away from the music business — which of course led him back to his usual business of writing songs.
Enter “Sunshine Rock,” his fourth album with the Narducy/Wurster combo and, as its title suggests, the happiest of Mould’s 38-year recording career. Not that there’s a lot of competition from a guy whose album titles include “Black Sheets of Rain” and the 1989-93 compilation “Poison Years.”
“My troubles, they are ending / My sorrows, they are few / If I write a sunny love song every day / I can shine so bright on you,” he sings in “Sunny Love Song,” one of the record’s many loud and hyper-rocking but melodic and lyrically laid-back tunes.
Others include the album-opening title track, the steamrolling gem “Thirty Dozen Roses” and an amped-up version of “Send Me a Postcard” by late-’60s Swedish psychedelic pop band the Shocking Blue.
The latter is one of just a handful of cover songs in the Mould canon since Hüsker Dü recorded the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” theme “Love Is All Around” as a companion piece to the 1985 single “Makes No Sense at All.” Calling from San Francisco earlier this week — he still splits his time between the Bay Area and Germany’s capital city — Mould made it clear that his selection wasn’t at all ironic, as had been the case in 1985.
He’s returning to his hometown of that era for a trio of appearances starting with an in-store at the Electric Fetus on Thursday, and ending with an old-fashioned throwdown at the Turf Club on Sunday. In between, he has a big gig Saturday at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, 40 years to the day since Hüsker Dü played its very first show a couple of miles away at Ron’s Randolph Inn.
We had a lot to cover.
On his appreciation for Berlin: “There’s a pretty amazing history there, and culturally it’s so rich. There’s never a dull moment going to museums and galleries. The club scene is great for both electronic and rock music. And it’s fascinating there right now because it’s booming. A lot of people are moving there, whether because of Brexit or migration. That’s made the paperwork a little crazy for trying to get my resident’s permit [visa] renewed, but after these run of dates I hope to go back and get it approved.”
On how his semi-frequent changes of scenery affect his songwriting: “It plays a big role on pretty much all my albums. This one especially, because it came with some unique challenges. I can understand and read German fairly well, but I’m not good with speaking it. So simple things like just getting from Point A to Point B presents new neuro challenges, as does simply learning a new culture and new routines. That sort of stuff was jarring in a good way. It made me more aware of my surroundings and almost hyper-observant about everything.”
On the musical influences for this new record: “I’d always dig back into my ’60s-single selection, an influence you can even see on the album cover. Those are the songs I always fall back on, that take me back to being a kid and loving music without knowing how to play it.
“That’s where a lot of the string arrangements on this record come from: all those Left Banke records, the stuff George Martin brought to the Beatles, and what Al De Lory brought to those Glen Campbell records. Especially in the title track, you can hear De Lory. I brought in a little Phil Spector, too, but I don’t know if we can mention his name anymore.”
On whether these “sunny” songs have also brightened things up on tour: “Yes, definitely. We’re laughing a lot more on stage. I think it’s just opened up the shows a bit more. We’re still totally on point musically and know the job we have to do to put on a good show. But now, there’s more playfulness and a bit of a carefree element. We all play a little bit more with the music in the songs. It’s more relaxed, which also comes from playing with Jon and Jason as long as I have now [10-plus years] and having such a good rapport with them musically and personally.”
On the sad circumstances when his band last played in town, at First Avenue the night after Prince’s death: “We played Madison the night before. Driving to Minneapolis, we got to that spot around Eau Claire where you lose cell service, and when the service came back on Jon immediately said, ‘Prince died!’ I thought, ‘Oh wow, here we go.’ I mean, it was terrible to hear, and I also knew it was going to be a lot to contend with when we got there.“Seeing it all in real time how this tragedy played out in that city was very surreal. Going to the club that next day, it was swarmed with reporters from around the world looking for anybody to say anything. It was obviously unlike any other time we’ve played there. But we did what we do.”
On making amends with Hüsker Dü bandmate Grant Hart before his death from cancer in 2017: “That was another tragedy and big loss. All of us in and around the group who were working on that Numero box set [‘Savage Young Dü,’ a compilation of early Hüsker recordings] knew he was having health problems. Everyone was working to get the box set done and see it through, but things rather quickly took a turn for the worse. I got the call in Berlin. I spent some time with him after that.
“It was a lot to process when you have the history we had; this very intense experience in the eight years of the band followed by decades of — whatever all that was afterward, the good, the bad, the misunderstandings. The gravity of the loss is real tough. I feel for the people who were around him. It sounded like he had been in really good hands and was well taken care of.”
On inviting his other ex-Hüsker Dü bandmate, Greg Norton, to open Saturday’s show with his new band Porcupine: “These shows are personally my 40th anniversary in the business, and of course Grant and Greg are both key to it happening in the first place. I put a marker on these shows a long time ago, and left the support spot open. I knew he and the band had been out on the road with the Flesh Eaters, and it seemed like a nice time to ask. It’s that simple. Whether it was the occasion of marking those dates or not, they’re a good band, so I thought it’d be a lot of fun having them.”
About that 40th anniversary: “I think keeping it to just one weekend is the right approach. There are so many 40th or 25th anniversary tours now — that gets to be a bit much. This is just a quick, localized thing to acknowledge where it all started, and how long it’s been since I first had the balls to get on stage and play guitar and sing for people. I’m grateful I got to do it. As far as the journey from there to here, I remember pretty strongly believing I wasn’t going to keep doing this 30 years on, let alone 40. So there’s an extra sense of gratitude in that. It’s as much about saying thanks as it is honoring the past.”