Bob Mould doesn’t mince his words when describing his previous two solo albums – 2014’s “Beauty & Ruin” and 2016’s “Patch the Sky” — as being lyrically “darker than normal records” due to challenging life circumstances. Both albums were influenced by loss —his father died before the release of the former, and his mother before the release of the latter.
In 2017, the former Husker Dü and Sugar frontman decided it was time for a change of scenery, moving to Berlin, where he would reside for the better part of two years. The experiences there helped inspire a brighter and more optimistic outlook. That feeling crept in as he wrote the song “Sunshine Rock,” which references experiences he had in Berlin such as watching fireworks and going on “crazy” taxi rides. “This is a good place to start,” he told himself, as he started work on what would become his 2019 album Sunshine Rock.
Bob Mould Band When: 8 p.m. Feb. 22-23 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: $31-$36 Info: metrochicago.com
“Across the twelve songs, I did my best to keep it as upbeat as possible,” Mould says. “Act two, specifically songs 5 through 9, take a bit of a dip and take you to a darker interior. But generally, it’s a sunny outdoor record to me.”
When he showed “Sunshine Rock” to two of his friends — a journalist and musician — they first thought he was being ironic with the song’s title. “Oh, this is going to be something. He’s being ironic and this is the darkest thing ever,” they said at first glance. But when they heard the song, they reversed course.
“It could not be more truthful or child-like or more innocent than what I’m telling you it is. It’s as optimistic as I can be,” says Mould. “It’s literally all there in the lyrics. It couldn’t be more observational and to the point.”
Berlin is a city that’s fascinated Mould for many years. As a touring musician, he had performed in the city many times over the years. He also has many friends in the music and art world who make their home in the German capital.
“As far as the beauty, you can’t really miss it, if you like European and not terribly built up cities,” he says. “If you like cities with open views and wide sidewalks and lots of parks and trees, lots of history, lots of museums and arts and culture, you can’t really beat it.”
Mould recently shared a mini-documentary showing fans what living in Berlin is like. The most impactful moments turned out to be the small details of daily living.
For example, he learned that he shouldn’t jaywalk in Berlin. He lives in a residential part of town where a lot of families live. One day he decided to jaywalk, and immediately regretted it.
“If you come to a street and there’s a walk/don’t walk [sign] and there’s no traffic around, you or I or the average American might think, ‘Oh, I’ll cross the street,’ not thinking of the mother with the small child across the street,” Mould says.
“In doing so, you’ve set a bad example for the child, and the first time I did that, I was made an example of by the mother, who pointed at me and told the child ‘don’t ever do like that man did’ or whatever she said. So, I was like ‘Oh, I guess we don’t jaywalk here.’”
“It’s the little transactions like that on a daily basis that introduce you to a foreign culture and how to navigate through it.”
While “Sunshine Rock” has an overall optimistic and upbeat tone, songs such as “Lost Faith” blurs the line.
“One part is the person who is down, and the second part is the person that comes to lift them out of it,” Mould says. “The verses are very melancholic, and the choruses are very inspirational. I used the trick of using a double time chorus. The beat picks up and you feel the gallop, you feel good, you feel the uplift. And everything drops out and you’re back down again. And then it lifts you back up one more time. It’s pretty much songwriting 101. That was a February song, go figure.”
Mould recorded the album in Oakland with longtime collaborators Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster. When it came time to sing on a cover of “Send Me a Postcard” by Shocking Blue, Mould decided to sing live in the room instead of stacking lead vocal tracks in a similar fashion to sound like vocals on Sugar records.
“Everyone was like, ‘my god, this is great!’ And you’re like, ‘oh, noted. Maybe I’ll sing the whole record like this,’” he says. “I’ll sing it a bunch of times and somewhere in that bunch of times there will be a vocal that we can use. It’s very visceral, immediate kind of vocal approach.”
Mould also sought out the Prague TV Orchestra to get the songs added texture.
“To me, strings occupy the same emotional and melodic space, textural space, as vocals do,” Mould says. “There’s a juxtaposition of the raw, visceral vocals against these strict, controlled string arrangements. They’re competing in the same emotional and sonic space on this record.”
Joshua Miller is a local freelance writer.