Three Years Gone: Remembering Grant Hart

Read an interview with the sorely missed Hüsker Dü drummer from 2009

Grant Hart (Art: Ron Hart)

You knew Grant Hart, first, as one-third of the Minneapolis hardcore and more trio Hüsker Dü.

He was, by no means, just the drummer: He shared the singer-songwriter role with guitarist Bob Mould, as the band moved from the indie world of Reflex and SST to the giant that was Warner Bros. for Candy Apple Grey in 1986 and the double-disc Warehouse: Songs and Stories the following year. The bassist was Greg Norton.

The breakup in 1987 was not a pleasant one. Hüsker Dü fans felt similar to Clash fans when Joe Strummer booted Mick Jones. 

These days, if you mention Hüsker Dü, most fans immediately think of Mould, who has carved out a prolific career post-Huskers, first with Sugar and then on his own. 

Less so, Hart, who died three years ago on September 13 from liver cancer and hepatitis C. Hart made six studio solo CDs or EPs and two CDs with the band Nova Mob. Check out 1991’s The Last Days of Pompeii, a resounding and mostly forgotten concept album. (I saw Nova Mob shortly after that release play the hell out of it at a small club in Cambridge, Massachusetts.) But there was drug abuse – and sobriety – and a decade-long gap between releases, which ended in 2009 with a terrific psychedelic-garage-pop disc, Hot Wax.

Hart was on tour – back at another Cambridge venue – when we spoke back then. He was doing a solo show, just voice and guitar.

AUDIO: Nova Mob The Last Days of Pompeii (full album)

That was a long stretch between albums. People wondered where you were.

I’ve played Cambridge at least once every 18 months. But I started sneaking things into my life that I sacrificed very early on. It was the idea of having a hobby that fed the other side of my brain. When you live off your creativity, every day you wake up with a blank canvass. To balance it out, I took on some projects where there was one specific way something had to be put together in order for it to operate. Much of my time has been spent with automotive restoration. I wanted to be able to let my hands do the work, instead of my mind and a dictating machine.

It’s unusual for someone to step off the music industry merry-go-round like that. 

It’s something that’s not going to be co-opted into my pop life. I was learning to leave the house with a destination that wasn’t career related. To this day, I have difficulty traveling over 100 miles without there being a gig at the other end.

Is there a connection between your life as a musician and your non-musical life? 

I still find ways to incorporate friction and tension into about everything I do. I’m an iconoclast by nature. But I try to be a gentleman.

 

AUDIO: Grant Hart Hot Wax (full album)

There’s the general consensus, that with you and Bob sharing Hüsker Dü songwriting, you provided the more melodic pop end. True?

Oh yeah. Basically, my consciousness of music is if it doesn’t have a melody, maybe it’s something less than a song. I’ve always experimented with more atonal, un-melodic things, but as far as something that I’m recording, I’m always doing singles.

And on the new record, Hot Wax, you’ve got organ, trumpet and strings. The band Godspeed You! Black Emperor help out, too. But live, it’s just you.

The songs have origins in me with one instrument. Everything else embellishes it. There’s a lot of costumes in my trunk. In the studio I can be painstakingly looking for a precise blend of instruments. Live, it’s stripped-down and pumped-up. 

You and Bob had a pretty noisy, acrimonious fallout. With all the reunions of ‘80s bands going on, is there any possibility of that with Hüsker Dü?

It’s such a complicated issue. I’m fairly paranoid. I already went through one breakup of Hüsker Dü and from the way that worked out, it’s not something I would embrace repeating. There’s a perception that I’ve re-entered music again and people think the drum roll is already sounding for that event. But, where people think the biggest hurdle would be getting Grant and Bob together in the same room, another relationship that’s not being put into the math is Greg. Greg has distanced himself from music. I love the guy, but I don’t think there’s much he’s done in the last 20 years that would make him deserving of being involved in a reunion. And there’s something to be said for the bands that don’t.

VIDEO: Grant Hart Live In Cambridge, MA January 2010

Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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