Private Playlist: Bob Mould seeks artful inspiration from Janelle Monáe, Elliott Smith, and The Byrds

Bob Mould. Credit: Blake Little Photography.

Private Playlist is a listening session with California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. Bob Mould is one of the principal architects of American underground music. As one-third of ‘80s Minneapolis power trio Hüsker Dü, he married hardcore to psychedelia and punk to classic songcraft. He spent much of the '90s leading Sugar, an even crunchier trio whose widescreen power-pop brought him within a hair's breadth of mainstream success. His solo career launched with 1989's indelible “Workbook” and continues with the forthcoming “Blue Hearts.” In addition to his rock pedigree, he's been a writer for World Championship Wrestling; a memoirist (“See A Little Light”); and a celebrated house-music DJ.

It's funny, I had a bunch of happy pop tracks lined up for this, but all the songs we'll talk about today appear on albums that are favorites of mine. Some are classic albums that I always go back to for inspiration, while other artists are newer, and speak to me through the way they approach the art.


Alicia Bognanno, the leader of Bully, is a Minnesotan as well. She spent a lot of time working at a studio in Chicago called Electrical Audio, which is the homebase for Steve Albini and a number of other gifted recordists. She and I hit it off right away. She's such a cool soul, and her new record, "SUGAREGG," is really dense and melodic, and pretty frantic at times.


In the early 2000s, I was living in New York City. I had just put down the electric guitar after 20 years of service, and was getting very deep into electronica. I was spending a lot of time in the West Village and Chelsea in the LGBTQ community. And at that time, the soundtrack of the community was electronic music; there were the big clubs like Twilo and the Roxy.

I used to spend a couple hours every day at a place called the Factory Café, a coffee shop on Christopher Street. And one of my friends there would bring in compilation CDs for the coffee shop to play. One day he gave me a ripped copy of The Avalanches' "Since I Left You," and that record has been with me for the last 20 years. The Avalanches have come back since then, and done great stuff too, but "Since I Left You" is a must-have record.


Elliott Smith was one of the great songwriters of the late 20th century. He was able to marry fragile music, words, and emotions in a really beautiful, aching way. 

Sometimes it's just a thread of a moment of a song that gets stitched into one's brain. I remember "Waltz #2 (XO)" coming into my head a few weeks ago, and I cued it up and just played that little bit of the chorus: “I'm never gonna know you now, but I'm gonna love you anyhow.” All I needed was a moment of Elliott's voice.


I have records that have been with me most of my adult life, and The Byrds have been with me for most of my time on Earth.

I was born in 1960, and spent a lot of my childhood with used jukebox singles. As a child, I only knew the Byrds through those singles. But I remember spending time in the early ‘80s with my friend Peter Buck, who was a big Byrds fan. One night, we were really digging into the jazzier psychedelic parts of the Byrds, and I walked away having a much greater appreciation for the depth of those albums.

"Younger Than Yesterday" really speaks to me; it is surely one of my top ten albums of all time. The song that I tend to remember from that album is "Renaissance Fair": the modal, droning, chimey guitar intro, which is so much a hallmark of what the Byrds did. And the imagery, painting this idea of walking through a literal Renaissance fair and gathering up snapshots. Classic pop. It means so much to me, and it's a song I go back to quite often.


Janelle Monáe's "Dirty Computer" is a real album from a real artist with real ideas about the world. To have an album like that, which seems so fully formed and fully realized, and being a writer, I know how much goes into creating a world for people. It’s really inspirational to see what she’s done with her muse. I think “Dirty Computer” was the culmination of a lot of years of community-building with her friends, and having these visions that recur and resonate with other people. The work itself is super-funky, super-catchy. Taking ownership of oneself and one's body and sexuality and where it fits in the world, they’re really important messages. And in the world we find ourselves facing these days, that kind of empowerment is so important for artists to take hold of, and it's so important for us as listeners. And when we get to look through a window like the one "Dirty Computer" offers, those are real gifts to all of us.

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