Getting Argumentative With Grant Hart

On Hüsker Dü and Henry Rollins...

Having risen to prominence as the drummer for one of the most influential and genre-bending punk bands of the ‘80s, Grart Hart has barely sat still for 30 years.

Hart, alongside frontman Bob Mould (with whom he’s had an often-prickly relationship, to say the least), wrote a vast number of songs across Hüsker Dü’s six-studio-records existence. He has also penned eight solo albums, and a handful as part of Nova Mob.

Hart’s work spills across four decades and his new Domino-released double LP, ‘The Argument’, is his most ambitious release to date. Clash spoke to Hart about the story behind the new record, how Henry Rollins turned punk sour, and the likelihood of a Hüsker Dü reunion…

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The concept for this album is about as ambitious as it gets. Could you explain a little about it?

‘The Argument’ is my take on Paradise Lost. It’s pretty much a re-telling of the story using music. I had several criteria in the production of it so that, to the greatest extent possible, every song would be its own encapsulation and that it wouldn’t depend on the storyline of the poem to make sense. With only a couple of very necessary exceptions, I succeeded in that.

So was developing that story, and fitting it into a double LP, a lengthy process?

It’s been a few years. In 2008 I was visiting someone who used to be William S. Burroughs’ secretary. He had found some unpublished manuscripts, and was looking for them to be converted into music, kind of like ‘The Black Rider’ by Tom Waits. He was discussing this project with me, and talking about different songwriters that he was thinking about brining into it. The manuscript was a very short adaptation of pretty much the first three books of Paradise Lost, and as I’m sitting there looking over it I’m thinking that this could be a project I could sink my teeth into. By the time the time the conversation ended, I was spinning the gears around.

But you did have to leave some parts out, to keep things concise?

The fact that it had to result in a marketable format was always in my mind, because otherwise it could have easily been a five-disc thing.

On paper it’s arguably your most ambitious concept album, even alongside the mammoth (1984 Hüsker Dü double album) ‘Zen Arcade’. Was that something you realised as you started developing ‘The Argument’?

I would have to say that the time put into it correlates with that theory, yes. From the outset, knowing it was a mighty piece of work made it more challenging. It wasn’t until last year that I could even see a light at the end of the tunnel. I guess I took on something and finished it up the best way, according to my knowledge and resources at the time.

And there are no collaborators on there, to lighten the load?

Outside of the engineer and I, no. I guess that it’s easier for me to have an idea and execute it, rather than explaining that idea to other people.

Having shared stages with the likes of Black Flag and Minor Threat, what’s your relationship with hardcore punk now?

I’ve always thought of it as a piece of the essential puzzle, but just a piece. I don’t think I ever embraced its limitations. It was nice to have a set of rules to violate, and it was great fun to be in Hüsker Dü while we violated those rules. Being in the position where we were taking hardcore and subverting that in a pop way, like, taking it in the pop direction and just watching the reaction: that was good sport. It just came with so many negative connotations: things always coming unplugged, and people feeling that we were background noise to their trampoline show. Could we have gotten away with saying, you know, “Get the fuck off of our stage, asshole”? Could we have gotten away with that?

It seems like a lot of early hardcore bands got tired of that atmosphere after a while.

Yeah. The first time I was ever on a balcony at a hardcore show, and I saw the ballet of what was going on, it was very beautiful. But I’ve seen it result in some ugliness that nobody was ever held responsible for. I would have to say that after a certain point in time, after the popularity of a certain vocalist, it opened the door to a lot of dickhead, violent jocks, essentially making it a dangerous place.

You mean Henry Rollins?

Yeah. There was nothing dangerous at all about punk rock until you started getting these Californian jocks coming to shows. Because they were so thick, they thought it was about hurting people and shit like that. Artistically the guy has taken a lot of credit – he’s the media face of hardcore. Like, National Geographic pay for him to travel around the world, taking photographs. Except everything he does looks like a still from a television show. There’s no composition – everything’s right down the middle, like a newscast. I see very little sensitivity and no major artistry. But, that’s pop!

Finally, what’s more likely: a Hüsker Dü reunion or a Bob Mould and Grant Hart collaboration album?

Well, the first one is intriguing, but not so likely. I like what Bob does, but sometimes two people have had such an impact on each other’s lives that they need 20 years to really stand back and be able to appreciate that. The third member of Hüsker Dü, Greg Norton, has in the past demonstrated a lack of respect for our time, and dare I say our talents. There were times when Bob and myself would show up at the office at 10, while Greg would turn up at the golf course at 11. We both had musical and artistic goals, whereas he had this band that contributed to his lifestyle, rather than the opposite way round. There were two possibilities for the bass-playing job when we started Hüsker Dü. Greg was technically the better choice, but it may have resulted a whole lot differently if Bob and I hadn’t had to share the frustration of working with him.

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‘The Argument’ is released via Domino on July 22nd. Find Grant Hart online here

Words: Charlie Wood

Photos: Vic Lentaigne

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