Our musician and artist Grant Hart has embarked on varied and various artistic endeavors in the 30 years since starting the seminal punk/alternative-rock band Hüsker Dü. The latest of these is his recently released album “Hot Wax,” his first solo compilation since 1999’s “Good News for Modern Man.”
Hart, 48, explained the large gap of time between the two albums allowed him to focus on and explore some of his other artistic passions.
“Without going into specific details, I was kind of in pursuit of schools of thought,” he said, “just picking up things that I had put down when I was 16 or 17. I was revisiting the things in my life that gave me pleasure and finding satisfaction in ways that I hadn’t allowed myself to for a long time — a lot of the satisfaction that comes with taking on a difficult task, performing it and having something work perfectly after you take it apart and put it back together; hobby stuff.”
One of those hobbies included restoring classic automobiles.
“About 15 years ago, I started fucking around with Studebakers,” he said. “A couple years after getting into that, I zeroed on the idea that if I was to have one perfect Studebaker, what would it be? I pursued it and did everything by hand myself without resorting to eBay for a single part. Totally human-to-human networking for odd bits and pieces that were needed, if not fabricated by me and a couple of friends. I’ve enjoyed being a gear-head.”
Hart, who produced all the artwork for Hüsker Dü’s records, also took that span of time to get back to creating visual art.
“I spent a lot of time doing visual, two- and three-dimensional art and enjoyed the hell out of it,” he said. “I continued to tour throughout, but a lot of my time that would normally go to recording and such I applied to regaining all of the elements of my catalog, regaining control of them and putting a system in place with MDV Records where I can re-release them and be in control of my own destiny.”
For an artist who likes control of his own destiny, it’s no surprise Hart prefers being a solo artist to being in a group. But he did admit that group settings, when done right, usually make for better songwriting.
“There is a reality in playing with other people. It’s a different discipline. There’s more give than take. When that works to the benefit of all, that can be very rewarding. When you’re working by yourself, for yourself, with yourself, you end up following the path of least resistance. You tend to do things that you do well instead of challenging yourself to do something differently and becoming proficient in doing things that way. The compromises that come with playing in a band with other people, the results are very powerful, but if they’re not giving as much as you’re giving, it’s got a limited shelf life.
“It’s simple to feel rewarded doing things for yourself because you’re always doing it for yourself if you’re working alone — every note that you hit, every city that you decide to play. But maybe if you’re in a situation where you’re playing some little town because somebody in the band has a cousin that lives there, well, that gives you an opportunity to discover a place that you’ve never been to before. It’s kind of two different worlds.”
The group situation to which Hart refers is, of course, Hüsker Dü, rather than anything that came after. Throughout the band’s tenure, Hart, who played drums and co-wrote songs often clashed with out guitarist Bob Mould over creative and personal differences. Hüsker Dü broke up in 1987, after which both Hart (who then moved to playing guitar) and Mould started and fronted new bands (Nova Mob and Sugar, respectively) before forging ahead as solo artists.
The Minneapolis-based band’s influence grew after the band broke up: Many credit the group for paving the way for future alt-rock/punk superstars like Nirvana and Green Day.
Hart said his former band gets far more attention now than when it was active.
“Look at how much attention the Abominable Snowman gets and nobody has seen that in years either. Nowadays, I hear people qualifying themselves by whether or not they had a chance to see the band live, and I guess that really does mean something because you would almost have to witness those times to be fully aware of what it was like.”
Speaking of what it was like, we had to ask Hart what it was like for both him and Mould to be gay members of a band that was, at first, lumped into the hardcore-punk scene, which is long on youthful male aggression and a little short on political correctness and tolerance.
Hart explained the hardcore scene was a different animal back then.
“There wasn’t a lot of [the early] hardcore [scene] that was preserved. We went out West for our first U.S. tour and when we came back, we were flying the hardcore flag as high as we could. We moved away from it partially because we existed for so long after we set down that mantle. It came to look as if it was a passing fancy and I guess it was a fancy that passed.”
So,the fact that he and Mould were gay was rarely an issue.
“There were times we would be around people where we would hear comments,” he said. “Mind you, we weren’t broadcasting the fact that we were homosexuals. At a personal level, if we met somebody that we liked and the opportunity allowed it to become something more than a quick hello, we were like anybody else. I think the whole focus was different. We didn’t have to be in a band to be. We were doing that to be satisfied beyond sexual satisfaction. It’s almost like we didn’t need to consider ourselves as homosexual musicians because we were fucking punk rockers. That was the thing we wanted to be most beyond anything in the world. That encompassed everything else that we were and wanted to express. The term ‘punk rocker’ covered it. You could be gay if you wanted to. You could express yourself with clothing in many different ways. It wasn’t as tightly restrictive as it became later on. That’s probably why we were so happy to move away from it. We knew the other gay people in town and as it applied to our daily lives, it’s nothing we ever denied. I’d like to think we were beyond it being an issue.”
Their sexuality became an issue after the demise of Hüsker Dü.
“The thing that kind of throws a hook in the whole thing is, after the band broke up, it seemed like all the focus was on the individuals rather than the band. I know that Bob was plagued with so many people that wanted him to make a statement or endorsement and I know that it troubled him. I didn’t even give it a consideration. I had male lovers that traveled with me and went out in public with me. There was no denial of it. In Minneapolis, when the band was together, Bob was comfortable. When the focus changed, he seemed to retreat a little bit, and I think I would lay a little bit of that on his friendship with [queer R.E.M. singer] Michael Stipe. Maybe Stipe’s ambiguity inspired Bob to be more private about it. As far as difficulties on the road, we already mastered the art of living discreetly. We didn’t use it to attract attention to ourselves. We took the opportunity to lend our popularity to the AIDS crisis, working with other bands. I’m sure there were episodes and incidents, but to me it was smooth sailing.”
Listening to “Hot Wax,” his solo work, is smooth sailing as well. It’s a pleasantly upbeat and almost-celebratory-sounding rock record overflowing with 1960s pop and wall-of-sound sensibilities.
“There’s a lot of that influence there,” Hart said. “On this album, I took the approach where each song is an individual song rather than the component of an album. Each song is the A-side of a two-sided single. That’s pop. That’s the glory of production but not over-production — take it as far as you can go without overdoing it.”
Grant Hart performs at 9 p.m. Dec. 17 at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. For more information, visit www.granthart.com or call (215) 222-1400.