Saturday, 3 March 2012

Grant Hart

From his role as drummer and co-vocalist/songwriter in legendary 1980s US hardcore genre-definers Hüsker Dü, to his time at the front of critically acclaimed post-hardcore outfit Nova Mob, to his solo albums, to being the man behind a bewildering musical interpretation of Milton's epic story-of-creation Paradise Lost, Grant Hart is anything but unfocused. Since winning a battle with heroin while simultaneously losing (a moral) one with his Hüsker Dü counterpart Bob Mould, he's been writing and touring like a maniac. As we await the release of his take on Milton's 17th-century masterpiece, we stopped him at a recent show for a few words...

Grant Hart. Photograph by Hanna Pribitzer.

What's happening tonight?
Tonight people are going to hear a wide variety of things. From old favourites to stuff from my soon-to-be-released album which I've called 'The Argument'. It's based on Paradise Lost by John Milton, but I've decided to avoid the title, because if you Google 'Paradise Lost' you're gonna find all manner of odd stuff. Whether it's heavy metal or whatever. It's a very loaded pair of words.

How do you even begin to approach this? It's a massive piece of writing.
Well, I decided very early that I was going to make no attempt to compose in order of things occurring in the Milton. By hopping around a bit I was able to make chunks of it coagulate, and then you link the chunks together. Along the line you notice when you have to become more interested in the greater work. You're gonna write what appeals the most to you, and the thing that I have noticed about other people's adaptations of Paradise Lost was that it was very concentrated in the early books of it, and then all of a sudden Adam and Eve are getting kicked out of the garden. It goes straight from the gates of hell to eating the apple from the tree.

The edited highlights.
Yeah. Of course these are interesting bits. There's a lot of material in the original that can be found elsewhere, so I didn't put a lot of emphasis on 're-writing the Old Testament'.

Are there any parallels in what Paradise Lost is about to the sentiment behind (Nova Mob's) Last Days Of Pompeii?
(Long pause) They've very climactic stories. I never really gave it a great deal of thought, but... Last Days Of Pompeii doesn't really take in any elements of jealousy and forgiveness, or vindication or vengeance. Y'know? This is more emotional. Did you have to read it in school?

No, never. I only properly came to know it when I saw an illustrated version of it. Do you consider this a Grant Hart solo album?
I'm working with a couple of extra musicians, but they're more or less playing what I've chosen for them to play. It's one of the closest relationships between me and an engineer that I've ever had. I'm working with Mike Wisti who did three quarters of (Grant's previous solo album) Hot Wax.

Is that relationship a result of the success you had with Hot Wax?
 A lot of times a person's actions can be compared to sleepwalking. You steer away from disasters and you don't even think of following a path that works. When you walk into a room you know where the light switch is, so you throw your hand up at that particular time. It's only when the light doesn't come on that you really give it much consideration. To draw conclusion from that, you continue doing things that work for you - you change it according to the ideas that you have, and if you have an idea to fine-tune whatever, you polish that up. Sometimes success is - and I don't mean financial success, I mean artistic success - can be defined by the absence of failure.

There aren't that many musical takes of poetry.
Pop music has got very dull. It's just a repetitive process. I was playing this for a friend of mine as we were driving up to London from Brighton and we were kind of, like, strapped for what to call it. It's not an opera, the closest thing we could define it as would be a musical. That was part of the inception of it. Something that could be staged as an entire work. I made the decision early on that I was going to avoid writing stuff that couldn't stand independently of the project, so a lot of the major songs in it have meanings elsewhere in the world, and not just in the context of the greater work.

So because the basis for the work already exists, in the form of the poem, and it's a poem that you're obviously a fan of...
Well, I - like you, and anybody that's read it in the last hundred years - was attracted to the Gustave Doré illustrations, which are very dramatic, very cataclysmic. It gives you an idea of what has been drummed into people's heads. It's up to me if I repeat it or resist it.

So which is it?

A lot of bands reform these days to play their 'best' album live. 18 year-old kids have seen Sonic Youth and the Melvins play their old songs now. What do you make of that?
There's a lot of things going on with the heads of those people. I'm disinclined to move in that direction. I could see conditions being imaginable that would make somebody want to go for that. I have new ideas that I want to give and chance, and give some time to. Not necessarily in the case of Sonic Youth or the Melvins, but there's a lot of bands out there who feel that Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins, any of those early-to-mid nineties 'super punk' acts got all the glory that everybody worked for throughout the eighties. Y'know? I don't look at it the same, I think that there's a price that you pay for being ahead of the ballgame. Not cashing in is the result of that.

Do any of the bands who cite Hüsker Dü as an influence impress you?
The event of me hearing a song that I didn't write, and thinking to myself, "Man, I wish I would've written that one" is the closest to that that is gonna happen. When somebody says they're influenced by me, or influenced by Hüsker Dü, I shouldn't be able to hear the influence. I should just be able to hear it and go "Oh, nice song!"

Can you hear your own influence in any of Bob Mould's post-Hüsker Dü stuff? He's been quite unkind in the press.
In Bob's repertoire there are a couple of songs where I think, "Man, that's a great song", almost to the point where I wish I wrote it. I doesn't happen that frequently, but it's not impossible. What people have to realise, is that neither Bob nor I have worked with anybody for as long as we worked with each other. I think when you have a situation like that you can't really determine what people are saying when they're reflecting back on that.

Are there songs of yours you think he wishes he'd written?
Given the same conditions, it would stand to reason that it'd be possible, y'know? With Bob's psyche, and with Bob's apparent emotional injury by me, it would be the biggest surprise in the world to ever hear him admit something like that. Bob is a very sensitive writer. He explores the depths of his pain with his music, and I wish that he could put it into the words that explain to me what it is that I did to hurt him so badly.

Do you think about that much?
I'm answering questions in an interview, y'know? But that's not to say I'm not concerned with his well being. He is a very important person in my life, and I would assume that any conflict between us will eventually become meaningless to either both of us or one of us.

Do you have a release date for this record?
We're still sorting out some things. It's hard to believe that there is no UK label that will take a 'risk' on England's greatest epic poem. I'll find someone before I'm done with London!

What are your plans beyond this record?
Having experienced the situation before, where you release something that you think is pretty major, and you have to follow that with something, I've given some thought-time to the old "How am I going to follow this?" There's a few ideas that I'm investigating, but I have no need. I'm not going to be disappointed if the next record is just going to be an ordinary record. They can't all be Paradise Lost, right?

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