Posts Tagged ‘Grant Hart’

Hüsker Dü

If there’s one word that describes Hüsker Dü it’s speed, whether that’s found in the ferocity of their earliest songs, the amphetamines charging through their veins, or the fact that their whole body of work including seven albums from the live freakout Land Speed Record through to their swansong Warehouse: Songs and Stories – was released between 1981 and 1987.

But amid this breakneck charge, one flex perhaps best sums up their power as a group: “New Day Rising” emerging blinking into the light in January 1985, only six months after Zen Arcade had blown hardcore up from the inside.

Zen Arcade was an album with a sense of scope that bled beyond its borders, a blockbuster nightmarescape that pushed Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton as artists—not just punk kids out of the Twin Cities across four sides of vinyl. Shifting perspective again, New Day Rising was about refinement, and drilling down into the melodic smarts that allow us to view Hüsker Dü as a cornerstone of modern indie-rock. “I’m really glad New Day Rising was done and dusted before Zen Arcade really started to resonate,” guitarist-vocalist Mould wrote in his autobiography. “Can you imagine if we hadn’t had another record ready? We’d have been sitting around with the earth shaking underneath us, trying to get settled and centred enough to make another strong album but instead we struck while the iron is hot.”

Hüsker Dü’s music was always driven by tension – between Mould and drummer-vocalist Hart as songwriters, between the band and their label, SST Records, between the band and their hardcore purist fans, who were always one step away from crying sellout – and New Day Rising was no different.

With a power struggle ongoing between the trio, who sought to self-produce the LP, and SST’s in-house engineer Spot, who was forced upon them by the cash-conscious label, that tension is welded to the presentation of the songs. They’re scratchy and raw, washed out at times. They’re imperfect, just as Mould and Hart began to reach for pop-punk perfection with cast-iron classics such as “I Apologize” and “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”.

“They were kind of working from within a classic pop structure,” Spot told Michael Azerrad in Our Band Could Be Your Life. “And doing something else with it. Kind of like they broke into it with a coat hanger and got the keys out and went on a joy ride. And then wore the tires out.”

It’s entirely thrilling to see Mould, in particular, figure out what he’s capable of almost in real time. Celebrated Summer, from its coruscating, infinitely catchy riff through to its runaway train of a hook and pensive acoustic break, is close to a perfect encapsulation of the elements that would sustain a 40-year career. But Hart’sTerms of Psychic Warfare” – a wonderfully wonky, quasi-Stones styled pop-rocker – is just around the bend and shows him in lockstep with his bandmate.

The garbled jangle of Perfect Example is Mould finding the willingness to take his foot off the pedal, and also a snapshot of the drinking habit he carried throughout recording. “I was coming to the end of my drinking time and was realising I wasn’t the easiest person to be around at times,” . “I could be a fully functioning yet contrary alcoholic at 23 or 24. So songs like “I Apologize” are clearly me feeling like a bad young man, like I should apologise globally for something I probably did but was not fully aware of because I was drunk a lot.”

At this point Mould was playing Ibanez Flying Vs, with his graduation to Fender Strats still a few years down the road at the start of his solo career. A relic from this era also turned up on his searing 13th solo record Blue Hearts: a reissue ‘65 silverface Fender Deluxe. “That adds a lot of the constant, upper-mid saturation that you’re hearing on the record,” he told us last autumn.

New Day Rising was another outsider hit, and a line in the sand for Hüsker Dü. They’d put out three more records in their last two years together, with the (finally) self-produced Flip Your Wig released in September ’85. An almost faultless missive from the nascent indie-rock scene, it pushed the melodic envelope even further and set the table for their divisive decision to jump to a major for 1986’s Candy Apple Grey.

Eventually, addiction and infighting swallowed Hüsker Dü whole and they folded with more acrimony than ceremony in 1987. Mould got into acoustic writing with Workbook and ignited a power-pop renaissance with his band Sugar as the 80s ticked over into the 90s.  In 1994, he came out as gay in a article. “The army’s credo was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” he told the Guardian last year. “In hardcore, it was ‘don’t advertise, don’t worry.’ I had a handful of casual encounters with guys on the road. But it was a community of misfits, and mostly no one cared what you did behind closed doors. 

Grant Hart and Norton also pursued their own careers, with Hart’s 1988 2541 EP tracing its roots back to writing sessions for New Day Rising. He’d later play with the underrated Nova Mob and release a run of solo records. After years of animosity and backbiting, Hüsker Dü’s three members patched things up long enough to work on the exceptional early years archive release Savage Young Dü, which was released only weeks after Hart’s death from liver cancer in September 2017.

The Band:

  • Bob Mould – vocals, guitar
  • Grant Hart – vocals, drums
  • Greg Norton – bass
Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising

American punk band Hüsker Dü’s early music is being remastered from the original analogue tapes, and released on vinyl in a new retrospective called Savage Young Dü.

Experience the punishing sonic origins of a punk icon. Collected here for the first time, and skillfully remastered from original board tapes, demos, and session masters, this collection is an authoritative chronicling of the wellspring and maturation of Grant Hart, Greg Norton and Bob Mould—three St. Paul teenagers who’d go on to become the most heralded trio of the American punk underground. Follow the Hüskers to their earliest gigs in 1979, through extensive road dog touring, and to the start of their partnership with West Coast tastemaker SST in 1983.

This primitive stage in the fabled career of Hüsker Dü is presented as a deluxe box set and packaged with a hardbound book crammed full of never before seen photos, flyers, and a sprawling essay with participation from the band. Spread across four LPs 47 of the 69 songs compiled here are previously unissued. Also included are Statues/Amusement, In A Free Land, Everything Falls Apart, and an alternate recording of the Land Speed Record set.

Among his best-loved (and best) solo statement was “2541,” a ballad from 1989. Grant Hart chronicles the gritty details of moving apartments after a breakup – picking up the keys, putting the names on the mailbox, hoping this time will be different. The end is devastating in a casually quotidian way: “I’d say the situation’s reversed/And it’s probably not the last time I’ll have to be out by the first.” It’s a song that sums up everything that made Grant Hart one of a kind – and a song that sums up why he is mourned and celebrated today. Rest in peace, Grant Hart.

From the Intolerance CD-SST Records 1989.

Image result for grant hart

Bob Mould, Hüsker Dü’s chief songwriter, singer and de facto leader would no doubt delight in the knowledge that for many, the band’s name is synonymous with his own. But to ignore the part played by his band mates, particularly drummer and co-founder Grant Hart, is to ignore a huge part of the band’s legacy – including everything from their first single to their biggest hit. Though healthy competition between the two ultimately spiralled into bitter infighting which would tear the band apart, these inter-band tensions helped, for a while, to create some of the band’s best ever music as Hart and Mould entered into a game of musical one-upmanship. And so we present the best Hüsker Dü songs written by Grant Hart.

There weren’t a lot of girls in hardcore songs – but there was only one Grant Hart, and in his songs, he turned himself into a lens and noticed things nobody else did. When you saw Hüsker Dü live in the Eighties, you saw three earnest young men – Hart, Mould, bassist Greg Norton burn through their songs, as Mould and Hart traded off lead vocals without a pause in between. Mould was all wary scowl and no-bullshit guitar fuzz; Hart was one big flippant grin. You could get mesmerized by Hart’s manic drumming, a blur of hair and elbows, and the audibly giddy slobber of his voice.

They produced seven albums together, before an acrimonious split in 1988 at the peak of their popularity. Grant Hart changed the emotional vocabulary of punk rock. As the long-haired barefoot drummer of Hüsker Dü, he was the cheeriest-looking guy anyone had seen in a hardcore band, and despite all the turmoil he brought to their songs, he also brought his skewed pop smile. His songs ran the spectrum – the rage of “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” the affection of “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill,” the grief of “Pink Turns to Blue.” Hüsker Dü’s emotional realness made them a life-changing band for so many of us, and that’s why Hart, who died last night in Minneapolis at 56, was a life-changing presence.

BOOKS ABOUT UFO’S (Hart, 1985)

Check the glorious racket of his finest Hüsker Dü song, “Books About UFOs,” from their 1985 classic New Day Rising: a demented Brian Wilson–style melody, drenched in Bob Mould’s guitar feedback. Hart bangs on a piano and yelps about a stargazing girl who hangs at the library, “checking out the latest books about outer space.” She sits on her roof, reading and eating oranges. There’s an utterly unironic “wooooo!” into the guitar solo, before Hart crows the breathless final lines: “Her life revolves around all of the planets! And she is constantly aware of all the changes that occur! I’m going to turn into a lens and focus all my attention and I’m finding a new planet and naming it … right after herrrr!”

TURN ON THE NEWS (Hart, 1984)

Their 1985 album, Zen Arcade, was praised by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the greatest albums of the 1980s and one the best punk albums ever. Hart’s contribution, “Turn on the News” has been listed on the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hart, who later went on to form the group Nova Mob, was also cited as an influence on Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl.

STATUES (Hart, 1981)
The band’s first single, Statues was released at a time when Hüsker Dü were struggling to pin down their sound. Though it shows an interest in experimentation that would follow the band through each stage of their career, the almost nine minutes-worth of Krautrock inspired, Keith Levine-esque guitar is far removed from the boisterous hardcore that followed in its wake. Borrowing heavily from Neu! and PiL, it hints at Hart’s aptitude for a scribbling out a catchy tune – an ability that would later help to shape the band’s signature brand of melodic punk rock.

Arguably Hüsker Dü’s biggest hit, that this was the most popular song from the band’s major label debut would have significantly rankled Bob Mould, not least as it was released as an increasingly destructive creative partnership between the two developed. A sophisticated pop punk masterpiece, this song laid a blueprint for hundreds of aspiring punk rockers to follow – including future millionaires Green Day, Foo Fighters and Blink 182.

By the time Hüsker Dü released Zen Arcade, Hart’s credentials as an accomplished pop songwriter were already solid. Here, his ability to marry the dark subject matter of a young woman suffering a fatal overdose with sweet but melancholic melodies provides a sobering counterpoint to his whimsical, 60s-influenced love songs. Foreshadowing Hart’s own struggles with substance abuse, the song isn’t without its own sense of tragic irony.

GREEN EYES (Hart, 1985)
While Hart and Mould both developed a taste for bitter break up songs and damning shuns, it was Hart who truly nailed the wide-eyed love songs. This innocent account of Hart just being super into his companion shimmers under its lush, 60s-inspired harmonies, and includes some of his most sweetly heartfelt lyrics: What makes them sparkle/What makes them shine/What makes those eyes of yours look into mine?

Zen Arcade was Hüsker Dü’s magnum opus, an experimental melting pot of hardcore, folk, psychedelia and pop that spanned 70 minutes and four sides of vinyl. These two minutes of fast-paced acoustic strumming, nestled between two angst-ridden Mould tracks, might have seemed out of place, but this concise, stripped-back statement of intent works as a cheeky counterpoint which will trip you up and out of those epic proceedings, before swallowing you back into them on the other side.

DIANE (Hart, 1983)
Covered by Therapy? in 1995 (their version made it to No.26 in the UK charts, far outstripping the success of the original), Diane was an early college radio stand out track. Its rumbling, haunting punk rock caught the attention of campus DJs and students across America, solidifying Hüsker Dü’s place in the emerging college rock alumni. Detailing the brutal 1980 murder of Minnesota waitress Diane Edwards, its sinister subject matter was at odds with Hart’s hippy reputation.

New Day Rising is the record on which Hart and Mould began in earnest to develop distinct sounds, and Girl Who... is an excellent example of this divide, with its glorious pop punk standing slightly at odds with Mould’s emerging alt.rock leanings. While it’s widely considered to be a straightforward love song, considering that Heaven Hill was a brand of bourbon popular at the time, many have insisted it should instead be read as Hart’s lament to his own tumultuous relationship with alcohol.

Embracing his hippy reputation with full force, Hart uses this track to indulge in obscure instrumentation (wood blocks and wind pipes on a punk song?) and whimsical tales set against a psychedelic backdrop. Warehouse: Songs And Stories contained more of Hart’s songs than any other (9 in total), though Mould commanded the lion’s share. Unfortunately Warehouse... would mark the end of the band’s recording career together, as personal struggles gripped Hart while his relationship with Mould disintegrated entirely.

SOMEWHERE (Hart/Mould, 1984)
Though technically Mould did write this song, he didn’t do it alone, and it bears mention as a Hart/Mould co-write is a relative rarity in the Hüsker Dü back catalogue. Taken from 1984’s Zen Arcade – and a time when the pair were still amicable enough to share writing credits (this wouldn’t last for much longer) – this short but sweet slice of energetic punk rock ends with backward tape loops of guitar, mimicking the earlier psychedelic techniques used in Dreams Reoccurring.

As their brotherly rivalry threatened to tip over into something more sinister, Hart and Mould’s songwriting styles flourished as they competed to outdo one another track by track. While it ultimately wrecked their relationship, Flip Your Wig is the album that really bore the fruits of this conflict – and is considered by Mould to be the band’s best. Hart’s wistful, melancholic brooding on this track marks it as one of Flip Your Wig’s stand outs tracks.

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