Grant Hart, former drummer of the storied post-punk trio Hüsker Dü, recently released his second full-length solo album, Good News for Modern Man, but is finding it's not easy living up to a legend.
"I got spoiled at one time," Hart said from his home outside of St. Paul, Minn. "Instead of the words 'financially successful,' people used words like 'influential' to describe [my Hüsker Dü] stuff." Having been dropped by Restless Records who refused to release any of his material in the mid-'90s, Hart said that the music industry was now more interested in finance over influence.
Thirteen rocky years following Hüsker Dü's split, Hart has returned with the first addition to his discography since 1994, when his short-lived band Nova Mob issued their second and last album.
Good News for Modern Man was three years in the making, with Hart recording and re-recording tracks, weaving layers of melody, samples and sounds into a thick, lush whole. Hart went into the studio in mid-1996, playing all of the instruments himself (except for one guitar solo) as he had on his 1989 LP, Intolerance, and began work on what would become Good News for Modern Man.
"It would have been easy to call up a lead guitar player," Hart said. "Instead, we dealt with the absence of that more creatively. We covered the ground with different instruments or different voicings of the same instrument."
The finished product proves Hart is still equally adept at subtle melodicism "You Don't Have To Tell Me Now" (RealAudio excerpt) as he is at straight-ahead rock ("Think It Over").
"Think It Over" (RealAudio excerpt) is an inviting lead track, boasting an insistent and instantly catchy chorus. But the balance of the disc is knottier, with keyboards, various percussion, multitracked vocals and unexpected samples and studio effects augmenting the guitar-bass-drums core. The oddly titled "Let Rosemary Rock Him, Laura-Louise" is the most extreme example of Hart's purposefully artful approach. Apart from the plodding drums and meandering guitar, most of the sounds are unidentifiable; the only lyrics ("The steps of Saint Peter's/ Is crowded with beggars") are so distorted and buried that they're indecipherable.
The album is as thematically hefty as it is sonically dense. Hart's lyrics deal with isolation ("In a Cold House"), separation ("You Don't Have To Tell Me Now"), and discontent ("Little Nemo"). But the likes of "A Letter From Anne Marie" and "Run Run Run to the Centre Pompidou" lighten the mood. The former is an ode to the joys of written correspondence, the latter about a too-brief visit to Paris, but both songs swirl with pop hooks and harmonies.
Good News was released regionally around Minneapolis late last year but didn't gain national distribution until May, when Hart hit the road in support of Patti Smith's Gung Ho tour. They became friends after meeting at the 1997 funeral of Beat poet William S. Burroughs, and Smith invited Hart to play keyboards on a song ("Persuasion") during the Gung Ho sessions.
Hart has assembled a band and is planning a national headlining tour, but not because it will enable him to gain exposure that could help sell records.
"The most commercial success that my music is going to have is in the hands of other people covering it," Hart said. "I'm very poor at self-exploitation. I only need to make one copy of the record to do what my job is."
Group Launched A Thousand Bands
Hart formed Hüsker Dü with guitarist Bob Mould and bassist Greg Norton in Minneapolis in 1979. Over the course of a career that spanned nearly a decade, the trio helped to define the Minneapolis sound, along with bands such as the Replacements and Soul Asylum.
Though Hüsker Dü’s popularity was largely limited to the underground, few groups were more influential in the 1980s U.S. indie-rock scene. Only R.E.M. had more singles reach #1 on the college radio charts. One of Hüsker Dü’s singles, the Hart-written "Turn on the News" (from the 1984 double-album Zen Arcade), was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the 500 greatest rock songs.
Mould and Hart shared Hüsker Dü's songwriting. Their contrasting styles Mould scrawled gut-wrenching rockers while Hart tended more toward tuneful fare set the band apart but also led to competition between the two. In the wake of the 1987 suicide of David Savoy, Hüsker Dü's tour manager, Hart descended into heroin addiction (he has been clean, however, since 1993) and his clashes with Mould worsened.
"I spent nine years out of [my first] 26 working just as devotedly to [Mould] or more as he did to me," Hart said. "You don't spend a third of your life doing something unless you love it, so I wouldn't convince anybody by saying, 'Oh, Hüsker Dü was such a hell for me.' It was just certain things about it."
Hüsker Dü broke up in the winter of 198788, and though the acrimony has faded enough to allow Hart and Mould to mend fences, the old wounds still ache.
"This might sound like it has some resentments attached to it," Hart said when he recounted the reasons for his unhappiness during Hüsker Dü's latter days. "I can't say that it really doesn't."
The trio's legacy was frequently invoked by bands such as the Pixies and Nirvana, who took the Hüsker sound to the masses. But Hart remains skeptical about the sincerity of these self-proclaimed inheritors.
"That became an easy thing for some people to do to sound cool: 'I used to listen to Hüsker Dü I have street cred,' " Hart said.
After Hüsker Dü, Hart struck out on his own, releasing the EP 2541 in 1988 and then Intolerance. He set the solo act aside later that year, sticking solely to the guitar in Nova Mob. That group released the EP Admiral of the Sea (1991) and two LPs, 1991's The Last Days of Pompeii and 1994's Nova Mob, before disbanding.