'It was sort of embarrassing': Bob Mould discusses his musical debt to Richard Thompson

For all of the musical ferocity associated with Bob Mould — both as a solo artist and as a key creative force in Husker Du and Sugar — there’s one key influence some might never have guessed: Folk legend Richard Thompson.

Mould has just released Silver Age via Merge, another blast of guitar fury recorded with Jason Narducy (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums), both of whom are members of Mould’s touring band. It’s first new full-length studio project since 2009’s Life and Times.

But the connection with Thompson, who rose to fame as a member of Fairport Convention in the late 1960s before embarking on a celebrated solo career, goes back to Mould’s post-Husker Du solo debut Workbook.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A new 2012 reissue 'Copper Blue' frames the intriguing story of how Bob Mould's short-lived band Sugar came together in the early 1990s, and then quickly unraveled.]

Released in 1989, the album found Mould trading in the muscular guitar sounds long associated with his former band for more reflective acoustic- and folk-based atmospheres. The song “See A Little Light,” a hit on Billboard’s modern rock charts, actually employed a cello courtesy of Jane Scarpantoni — about as far away as Mould could have gotten from the punky origins of Husker Du.

By 1994, Mould was recording “The Turning Of The Tide” — the lead track from Thompson’s 1988 effort Amnesia — for a tribute album to Thompson called Beat The Retreat. Mould tells Consequence of Sound that it was his way of acknowledging the musical debt, even if at first his connection with Thompson was purely unconscious.

“Once the similarities were pointed out to me, it was sort of embarrassing,” Mould said, laughing. “In ’88, when I was sort of re-inventing myself and writing what would become Workbook, I talked about getting into this Celtic folk thing with alternate tunings and drones, sort of accenting things that were already in my head. When it was pointed out to me towards the end of ’88 that it was very similar to this guy Richard Thompson, when I heard his work, I was, “Uh-oh.” But I had already gotten into that mindset, so I was like, “Whatever,” and just figured, why not just cover a Richard Thompson song? (Laughing again.) That’ll make it easy for everybody. I’ll make it clear that I’m aware there’s a similarity now, although it was an accidental one.”

Over time, this “accidental” influence, however, became a very real one. Mould now counts Richard Thompson as a wellspring of inspiration, both as a lyricist and as a guitarist.

“When I started to dig into Richard’s catalog, I was just impressed all the way around,” Mould told Consequence of Sound. “He is the best player there is. We’ll just start with that. If you’ve never seen him play … go to the show with a great guitarist. Go see Richard Thompson, and ask the great guitarist [with you] after three songs, “What’s going on?” Invariably, they’re going to say, ‘I just want to fucking get out of here, because I’m so embarrassed because the guy is so amazing.’ He’s a great wordsmith. I’ve gotten to meet him a couple times. He’s quite the gentleman’s gentleman. He’s a great force in music.”

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Bob Mould, and Richard Thompson. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

BOB MOULD – SILVER AGE (2012): This new Mould record works like a belated follow up to his old band Sugar’s Copper Blue, so unadorned is its sense of old-school propulsion, so straight forward is its will to rock, so universal are its themes. There’s even a weird symmetry to the titles: Copper Blue, with time, with experience, becomes Silver Age. When, on the title track here, Mould reminds us that he’s “never too old to contain my rage,” we can all be assured that he means it. But, perhaps more importantly, Mould has recaptured his similarly once-uncontainable sense of serrated punk-pop aggression, too.

SUGAR – COPPER BLUE; BEASTER [Deluxe Edition] (2012): That Sugar’s debut, 1992’s Copper Blue and the rest of their catalog, actually had escaped reissuing until now seems impossible. Good news, though: When it comes to the remastered reissues of Copper Blue, “mini-album” Beaster, and File Under: Easy Listening, each comes with exactly what’s needed. All the original songs, plenty of extras, and insightful commentary from a wide variety of those involved in and around Sugar at the time. What we get here in these packages is the best representation of what Sugar could be. They complete the story for those of us who felt like so much more was left to be said from this great little band.

ONE TRACK MIND: RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON, “DIMMING OF THE DAY” (1975): Richard Thompson seems to put out a live album every year and being a sucker for his clever songwriting and maximal guitar playing, I usually lap it up all the same. The former founding member of that seminal British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, Thompson has not only been a part of the history of that genre, he is the history. Very few has blended Celtic folk forms and the Beatles better, and having a witty pen, a wicked guitar picking technique and a sincere warble has all helped to make him both an enduring and endearing figure on the scene. So anyway, I was listening to one of Richard’s “official” boots the other day, and in the middle of the set he plays a classic tune of his I haven’t heard for a few years: “Dimming Of The Day.” Wow, I had to go back and listen to the original again.

HUSKER DU – EVERYTHING FALLS APART (1982): Start here, with a release that was a little more cohesive than the live debut. They chew UP Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Eleven years later, “Everything Falls Apart” was released again on CD (and this is funny) with some extras as “Everything Falls Apart … and More.” More than — everything? Cool. (P.S.: Included was a new basement tape called “Do You Remember?,” the translation of “husker du” in Norwegian.) Only after properly absorbing that, should you move on to the more mainstream “Zen Arcade,” a triple-album smart bomb from ’84 that led directly to post-hardcore. You need to hear them grinding before you hear them easing off. Still, it is here that we stumble upon the beginnings of that so-called “alternative rock” movement.

Bob Mould’s upcoming 2012 tour dates:

08/09-11 – Gothenburg, SE @ Way Out West 2012
08/11 – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso Grote Zaal
08/13 – Codroipo, IT @ Villa Mainin
08/15 – Prague, CZ @ 02 Arena
08/16, 2012 – St. Polten, AT @ Frequency Festival
08/18 – Hasselt, BE @ Pukkelpop Festival
09/07 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
09/08 – Washington DC @ 9:30 Club
09/10 – Boston, MA @ Paradise
09/11 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
09/13 – Chicago, IL @ Metro
09/15 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
09/18 – Seattle, WA – Showbox
09/19 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
09/21 – San Francisco, CA – Fillmore
09/21-23, 2012, Pensacola Beach, FL @ DeLuna Fest

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The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.