Beasts of burden 

Grant Hart talks about Hüsker Dü, Milton and the song that's not about Montana

If you were a person remotely interested in underground music in the 1990s, it was impossible to not know the Twin Cities punk group Hüsker Dü. Typically, some hacky combination of "seminal," "'80s hardcore legends" and "SST Records'" preceded the words "Hüsker Dü" back then. Spin magazine likely had to spell-check the band's name approximately 36.8 times per issue. By the mid-'90s, "Hüsker Dü" had become more adjective than noun and downright unavoidable as a rock writer's reference point.

It's a fascinating band for a number of reasons, the first being the enduring quality of its catalog. The songs just blaze like nothing else, played at breakneck speed and somehow as aggressive as they were melodic. Fights between members of Hüsker Dü were legendary and public, as was their drug/drink intake. But the band had an amazing dynamic, with two strong vocalists—Bob Mould and Grant Hart—and a distinct sound that still stands out.

Hart, the man behind the drums and roughly half the band's songs (plus all the excellent album and poster art), is the subject of a new documentary, Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart. The persisting story about Hüsker Dü's 1987 breakup has always been blamed by Mould and others on Hart's drug use, and the film lets Hart address that sore spot. But it also gives Hart a platform to spin stories about the old days as well as talk about current music projects. The film screens Saturday, Feb. 22, as part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and is followed by a live performance by Hart. We caught up with him in advance of his night in Missoula.

So this new film Every Everything is out. Are you noticing some new folks learning about you and your art?

Grant Hart: Well, the number of requests I've gotten for film-festival-related shows is—there's nothing to compare it to because this [is] the first real action that I've gotten because of film. There's no measuring stick for that. Especially since I also released the double [LP, The Argument] this year, which got a lot of interest going as well. I think between the film and the double album, one hand has scrubbed the other one pretty well.

It's a little awkward, getting used to being the fellow on the easel, rather than the fellow behind the easel. I tell people that this is not my creative output. It is about me, but I am the subject. But Gorman [Bechard, director of Every Everything] is the auteur here. It's about my life, my creative output, whatever. I don't want to become Grant Hart in the documentary. I want to be the Grant Hart that goes beyond the documentary and still continues to do what I do to thrive.

You've always been transparent about your life, and have had this unguarded sense about what's on your mind, what you are about, what you have done.

GH: If I was a machinist or a pattern maker I wouldn't be in the public eye, and I would probably have a different relationship toward privacy and what that meant. I would probably just keep mum about everything. But since there is that terrible amount of speculation [about Hüsker Dü]the best example would be to go on YouTube and read the comments. Say if there's a piece of Hüsker Dü footage there. The viciousness and the authority that people bring to something so stupid as the comments section on YouTube is what makes me want to be transparent. I'd rather have them hear it from my mouth, and have them have the responsibility of figuring it out, like "Does this sound logical?" "Well I guess it is." Rather than having some goofball make up things out of whole cloth and just slander you.

click to enlarge Grant Hart, drummer for legendary hardcore band Hüsker Dü, is the subject of a new film that screens as part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
  • Grant Hart, drummer for legendary hardcore band Hüsker Dü, is the subject of a new film that screens as part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

And I think with the Hüsker Dü breakup everybody's got an opinion and—

GH: Well, that's the thing. I mean, I was hatcheted when the band broke up. I mean, people were like "Is he alive? Is he dead?" It's like, "no." "Katy, bar the door! It's a guy in a rock band who's been exposed for taking drugs."

And that drum has been beaten by [Bob Mould], who years later talks about his own addictions. Well, after that, the attention has been shifted from the art to the personal lifestyle. And this is talking about back then. I love and respect Bob, but he's a bit of a sociopath.

Tell me about some of the process that went into The Argument, which is based on Milton's Paradise Lost.

GH: There's so much of Paradise Lost that deals with earth and the heavens, and everything coming out of chaos. And essentially the Big Bang. Milton himself was a friend of Galileo. And all this time that I'm constructing The Argument, I'm trying to channel Milton, more than, "Okay, so I need a song that represents the angels rising up from the lake of fire..." If I took this thing on linearly it would have been a 10-record set. What I decided to do was to start at both ends [of the story] and work toward the middle, filling little pieces in as inspiration comes. Under the guideline that every song that's folded into the big project needs to be able to stand on its own as a pop song—and as an A-side. I did not want to put it in such a way that the listeners would have to go out and read Paradise Lost in order to know what was going on with the record.

Was that a precondition the label put on it?

GH: [laughs] Yeah! A number of people have [read the book], as a result of it. That makes me feel good, as the son of a teacher.

Okay. I have a Montana-related question to tie this into the local audience

GH: It was Bob who wrote the song "Big Sky" [from the album Land Speed].

Bob wrote it? Probably not about Montana?

GH: Um, "Big sky, black and white... shove that tape deck up your ass?" Does that sound like Montana to you? It doesn't sound like it to me.

You've talked about a Hüsker Dü reunion only if the band wasn't paid, and avoided doing old material in favor of a new set.

GH: I'm heavily influenced philosophically by Marcel Duchamp. I like the idea of always doing something that is not expected. Give people more than they expect, but give them what they don't expect.

Would you consider those your terms for a reunion show?

GH: I find it to be so unlikely that I can make flip statements like "as long as we weren't paid..." The fact of the matter is that there are two members of the band that don't share those sentiments. And if it was actually going to be happening in front of me, I think I would shift my weight between two feet, and put my hands in front of me, and bow my head and say, "All right, I'll take some money for it." Hearing lately about how much [money] The Replacements are turning down from people, it's amazing what the potential is out there. If some good can come out of it, without any bad coming out of it, then... but I know the nature of the beast. And I enjoy my freedom and my independence.

Every Everything screens at the Wilma Sat., Feb. 22, at 8:30 PM followed by a performance from Grant Hart. Go to bigskyfilmfest.org for more info.

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