Call it a comeback if you want. Bob Mould just calls it work.
With this year's Patch the Sky, the veteran punk songwriter is three albums into what many consider a creative resurgence, one that's found him tapping back into the signatures of his angry youth spent fronting the most ambitious band in the '80s indie-rock underground, Hüsker Dü. But at age 55, with almost four decades of touring and recording behind him, Mould has gone through the music industry's cycle of irrelevance and rediscovery before. As far as he's concerned, he's just doing what he's always done, seizing upon whatever inspiration happens to strike him at any given period. It's up to everyone else if they want to pay attention.
"I've been doing this my whole life, and there are times when your stock is down, so to speak, when people maybe take you for granted," he says by phone from a tour stop in Toronto. "People don't notice what I'm doing, but I still keep doing my work."
As much as he may brush it off, though, Mould's current renaissance doesn't seem like a fleeting moment of revival: It feels like a confirmation of his legacy. A good many of his peers—Dinosaur Jr., Meat Puppets, Mike Watt and Mould's rival from the old Minneapolis days, Paul Westerberg—are still out there, on the road and in the studio, but they aren't getting profiled on CBS This Morning, or having tribute concerts thrown in their honor. It's a testament to the lasting power of the records he made decades ago, but it's an even greater statement on the vitality of what he's doing now. In the past five years, Mould has emerged as his generation of indie rock's most visible elder statesman, a role he's accepted, even if he doesn't quite know why it fell to him. It's simple, really: People want to hear him talk because he still has something to say.
It is true, though, that for a while, most had stopped listening, mostly because Mould tired of giving them what they wanted to hear. After Hüsker Dü flamed out in a blaze of acrimony that has yet to fully extinguish—it remains one of the few significant acts of its era not to hit the reunion circuit—and after two albums of masterful power pop with Sugar, in the late '90s Mould abandoned the loud-fast-melodic dynamic he made his name on. "It really wasn't where my heart was at," he says. Absorbing club culture in New York as a recently out gay man, he took up DJing, and briefly detoured into electronica with 2002's Modulate. In hindsight, he was years ahead of the cultural curve, but at the time, it confused and alienated his core constituency. "That may have been a spot where a lot of people jumped off," he says.
But Mould just kept working, drifting into softer, folkier territory on a string of albums he says he's still proud of. He admits, however, that to a certain degree, he was denying his own strengths. "In our business, there's a tendency for people to want to explore and make a crazy jazz record or a crazy folk record or blues record," he says. "They feel like, 'I've done all this other stuff, so I want to stretch out stylistically.'" Mould began to reconnect with his past in 2011, writing a memoir touching on the days of the burgeoning American indie scene that he helped create. But it took a tribute concert, orchestrated by Dave Grohl, to convince him that plugging his guitar back in would not mean conceding to nostalgia. "When your peers are getting together for a tribute show and singing your praises and singing your words, it's like, 'Oh, I guess this stuff was good,'" he says. "It affected all these people, and it's OK for me to do what I do."
Invigorated, in part, by his own history, Mould wrote 2012's Silver Age in one month. It's been an ongoing blitz ever since. Although each was written under different circumstances, the three albums he's put out in the past five years feel almost like an unofficial trilogy. Part of that has to do with his band: In eight years of touring, the rhythm section of bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster has developed a buzzsaw rush on par with any of the storied power trios from Mould's past. But the albums are also unified by a sense of sorrow and loss. In between Silver Age and 2014's Beauty & Ruin, Mould's father passed away; in the process of making Patch the Sky, he lost his mother. As a result, each is filled with reflections on aging and death, while simultaneously being shocked full of life by the speedy aggression of the music and Mould's soaring melodies.
"I've been super-busy the last five years doing this one singular sound, because things are good and everybody's having a great time, and everything always ends," he says. "It'd be nice to do as much of this as physically and emotionally possible before things end."
If that sounds like someone who's spent some time mulling over his own mortality, well, it's hard not to when you're a musician these days. With the death of someone like Prince—who came up in Minneapolis at the same time, and whose career ebbs and flows paralleled Mould's, albeit on a drastically different scale—it's inevitable that Mould would start to think about an end which, right now, seems awfully far off. Not that it's going to make him work any harder or faster. He doesn't need the extra motivation.
"I'm pretty driven with or without the clock ticking," he says. "I just think sometimes, when the clock chimes, I become more aware that the hands never stop moving."
SEE IT: Bob Mould plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Mike Kroll, on Wednesday, May 11. 7:30 pm. $22 advance, $25 day of show. All ages.