Revisit Our 1989 Interview With Grant Hart on the Breakup of Hüsker Dü: “After the Fall”
Hüsker Dü. Sounded strange. Meant "do you remember?" in Swedish. Do you remember the Hüskers' crystal crunch pop songs? Do you remember how sad you were when America's best underground rock band broke up? Did you blame it on Grant Hart? You shouldn't have.
Grant Hart—drummer, songwriter, and vocalist in Hüsker Dü—passed away on Sept. 14, 2017. In light of that, we are republishing an interview with Hart from the Feb. 1989 issue of SPIN, following the breakup of the band.
In the year since Hüsker Dü dissolved amid a flurry of internal squabbles and rumored drug abuse, the blame for the band’s demise has fallen squarely on the shoulders of songwriter/drummer Grant Hart.
“I can see why,” Hart says, having recently released the EP 2541, the first post-Hüsker effort of anyone in the band. “Because I quit the band.” Hüsker was scheduled to play a benefit concert in Manhattan the day after they broke up, but Hart went anyway. “And by the time I got to New York,” he says, “here’s all these accusations that I’d been fired because of my heroin addiction.”
Hart’s long-time flirtation with heroin had become an addiction by the release of Hüsker’s Candy Apple Grey in 1986. “The whole thing with the drugs,” he qualified, “was kind of a symptom of what the disease was that was going on in my life—as far as how much control of it I had in the first place. And I wasn’t able to quit smack until I had quit Hüsker Dü.”
To hear Hart tell it, creative differences had been dividing the group long before their December ’87 split, and he takes exception to having been subsequently labelled “unreliable.”
“Y’know, if unreliable meant not showing up at the office, not writing songs, not playing extremely well, then no, I was not unreliable. If unreliable meant having dissatisfaction with the way that the label wanted to push us, in the commercial goals of [guitarist] Bob Mould and his outfitting of Greg Norton as an equal third member as far as songwriting was concerned, then yes, I guess I was unreliable, because I couldn’t be depended on to assist with other people’s goals.”
Having co-founded Hüsker with bassist Norton, Hart says that a “dictum” determined by Mould prohibiting Hart from ever writing more than 50% of the material on any release “was a pretty weird thing to have decreed on me. And I lived with that for the release of Warehouse, which is why it’s like 45% me, 55% Bob.”
Mould, according to Hart, had final say over which songs Hüsker would record, though it was never officially designed that way. “It just became that it was easier to be around Bob if you were playing a part of Bob’s game. And my visual arts, non-music things, stuff that the band liked, and wanted to use, was used under the name Fake Name Graphix. And anything else I did was never acknowledged. It was just frustrating all around to have such a big hose and such a narrow nozzle.” When the band stated that Hart’s outside songwriting and gigging activities would have to stop, his sense of confinement within the band became more acute. “It became such a hypocritical thing, because Hüsker weren’t getting together to jam either, and I had no ground for my outlay.”
Differences in songwriting philosophy emerged after Hüsker jumped from indie-label SST Records to Warner Brothers in 1985, and Hart found himself unable to get behind Mould’s new songs. “It was like they sounded—I hate to say it—they were square! And in some sense, it might have broadened us with the R.E.M. crowd, or whatever crowd, as far as—when you’re on a major—getting that appeal. But it did nothing for me.”
Warner contributed as well to Hart’s frustration, making him feel a severe loss of individuality, something he’d expected, but not to such an extent. “Less was expected of me, and therefore, less room was given to me. It was like, I was the drummer in Hüsker Dü; so, Bob’s obviously the songwriter, because he sings and plays guitar. Once Warner had to saddle us with a producer for the third Warner album that never was—it began to be painfully obvious that we weren’t gonna be considered serious by them unless we kinda let our strings be pulled.”
Hart’s disillusionment over Hüsker Dü found an outlet in the acoustic-tinged 2541, a record which he calls, “a looking back on bitterness, almost.”
“2541,” a relationship song from 1985 that Hüsker Dü had decided against recording, takes its title from an address Hart shared with an ex-lover. 2541 is also a street address in Minneapolis where Hüsker once had office space, a fact Hart realized only after recording the track.
“There’s a dual poignancy with that. I wrote the song while I was waiting for the truck to move me out of this apartment where me and this person had just split up. And there were so many parallels with the dissolvment of [Hüsker’s] office and our being a band.”
In Minneapolis within miles of his East St. Paul home, Grant Hart wrote and played everything on 2541. “It was more important to me to actually play songs on the instrument that I wrote ‘em on. I think I’m a better songwriter than I am a drummer, a better vocalist. I got my own style on drums, but I can always do that. Right now it’s more important to get myself away from where I’ve been buried the last nine years.”
Hart enlisted three friends to sing backups on the EP’s raucous finale, “Let Go,” which features a jumbled mix of lyrics concerning dope, suicide, and vanilla wafers. “On the last verse, there’s an extra set of background vocals that sing, ‘Keep haaangin’ on…’ from Flip Your Wig. It came to me and the engineer that it would be nice psychological countering to, ‘Let go….'”
As he works on a full-length album for SST, Hart attempts to put the whole existence of Hüsker Dü “completely in retrospect.” “I think Greg’s probably incurred less frustration doing what makes him happy than doing what Bob and I need to do. It’s kind of in a state right now where Bob and I might be trying to show each other up here for a few years. No matter what kind of bitter monster it turned into, there were some very satisfying moments. I can’t think of anything else I would have been better doing off for that amount of time.”