Indie Bands Remember Grant Hart's Legacy

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Grant Hart photographed in London in 1992.

For one of the pre-eminent alt-rock pioneers of the '80s, Hüsker Dü remain one of the decade's most underrated bands. But indie rock as we know it today wouldn’t exist in the same way without the brilliance of the band's late co-founder Grant Hart, who died on September 14 at age 56.

Despite never reaching the stardom of some of their counterparts, Hüsker Dü reimagined the sound and message of punk, creating amazing work that still strongly resonates with younger generations. Billboard spoke to several modern indie rock bands to discuss the legacy of Hüsker Dü and Grant Hart. Here are their recollections, in their own words.

Jarrett Dougherty, drummer of Screaming Females

I grew up in a suburban town, in North Jersey, and there were no punks in my town at all. I knew about Rancid, Green Day, The Clash, and Sex Pistols, and all these bands, so I knew what punk was, but I didn't understand the kind of legacy of DIY American punk music, and how it was still continuing.

Right around the same time, I remember I was real avid reader of Spin, and they had a list of I think it was the top 100 albums that've come out in the time period that Spin has been around. I'm looking through that list and then in the top ten, it was Notorious BIG and Tribe Called Quest, and The Strokes, and Nirvana, and then mixed in there was Hüsker Dü's New Day Rising. I was just like, "I feel like I've seen this band name before, but how the hell did they make it to No. 6 on this last?" I remember circling it in the magazine. I have this vivid memory of circling it with a marker. 

Not long after that, in that same timeframe, is when I first started playing music with Mike [Abbate, bassist] and Marissa [Paternoster, frontwoman/guitarist] and the Screaming Females. The summer that we started playing, I read Michael Azerrad's ['80s indie rock history] Our Band Could Be Your Life and I had this crazy thing where my elbow got all messed up and I couldn't play. I was really depressed because it was the first time I was ever really in a band, with Mike and Marissa, for the beginning of Screaming Females, and I felt like it was gonna fall apart immediately, because I could barely play...I was depressed and I quit my job, and I spent all the money I'd ever saved getting drunk all the time. I sat around and read Our Band Could Be Your Life and I saw Hüsker Dü there again, and I remembered seeing New Day Rising on this list of records. 

When I would read, and I saw images of Hüsker Dü, they didn't look like punk rockers. A couple of the members were queer, and all these features that seemed to completely stand out from the image of Henry Rollins in his gym shorts flexing, which was what I didn't ... even though I think Black Flag’s cool, I was like, "That's not something I can feel like I can attach to." So when I would read about Grant Hart showing up to a show with a crazy necklace on and some crazy paisley shirt on to go play in one of the most innovative, important hardcore bands ever, amongst all these other dudes who tried to look tough -- tried to look like Henry Rollins or whatever -- I was like, "That's something that I can relate to."

It's not trying to be a band that looked and sounded like Minor Threat. It's trying to be Hüsker Dü, where you're gonna be like, “First, we're gonna be the gnarliest hardcore band anyone's ever heard in this area of the country, and then we're gonna turn into a pop band, and then we're gonna look different than everybody else, and we're just gonna release records incessantly.” Their whole thing was just rioting against prevailing winds. I think that that image of Grant looking different than the crowd -- and then just getting up there and blowing them all away -- was a visual style representation of what I was hoping to do with my life.

Jen Twynn Payne, drummer/lead vocalist of The Courtneys

As a singing drummer, Grant Hart is one of my biggest influences. He had a pop sensibility that made his Hüsker Dü songs some of my favorites. I remember watching the video for [1986's] "Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely," and feeling this sense of identity -- like someone had finally confirmed that not only can you be the drummer in a punk band and sing, but sing songs about love and heartbreak. I just hadn't seen that before." 

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Mike Bruno, bassist of Iron Chic

I started listening to Hüsker Dü sometime in my early 20s... digging through Minneapolis' great punk history, I've found some of my favorite bands of all time (The Replacements, Soul Asylum, etc.), that have stuck with me to this very day. Hüsker Dü is one of the first bands that showed me punk could be urgent, aggressive, & ear-splitting, all while being beautifully melodic at the very same time, or at the very next turn. A truly underrated band that will go down in history as one of punk's most important of all time, and a sad day for punks indeed.

Sam Cook-Parrott, frontman of Radiator Hospital

I wish that I was alive when [Hüsker Dü] existed as an actual band so I could’ve seen them live because it sounds like they’re just such an amazing live band. It seems like Grant Hart was just like such a crazy drummer to watch. I mean, seeing videos of them play is crazy. He was such a wild drummer, and obviously such an incredible songwriter too. 

I don’t know when I got into Hüsker Dü, but I do love them. I definitely feel like their guitar sound and ideas about melody and what kind of stuff you can sing about -- the emotions that you can express in a song or in music -- that’s definitely in line with what I’m trying to do with my music. I feel so inspired by what they did, and the ways they pushed music in that way. 

So many bands today —maybe they don’t know that they are, but they’re following the lineage of Hüsker Dü. They absolutely fucking are. There’s a world that Hüsker Dü started in sound. The world of punk that I come from… Hüsker Dü is definitely such a huge influence. I don’t know the kinds of bands that get talked about in the mainstream aren’t waving the history flag, but I like punk music, and I spent my life looking for people who like Hüsker Dü and other bands [who are influenced by them]. That’s a common thread with a lot of people I know.

Also, I think that they’re on par with The Ramones as far as being one of the most influential American punk bands. To me, the things that they were doing and saying in the time that they were, you know, hardcore and punk was such a macho, rules-following thing and here’s this band that just went against all of that. Grant Hart in particular, he was this long-haired barefoot queer, weird dude. That’s the most punk shit ever, just being completely like, "We’re just going to do whatever we want on our own terms.’"

Honestly, it was so sad when he died. I knew that he was sick, but I didn’t know that he was that sick. I had the day off and I listened to all of their records and it was so nice. I mean, they’re a band that because they existed in the time that they did and were touring so much, you can find their records, or at least they were easy to find when I first started buying records. It just feels so good to be like, "I’m just going to listen to this body of work that these people created that is so inspiring." There are so many great records that they left behind and also Grant Hart made this record called Intolerance from 1989, it was his first solo record. It’s one of my favorite records of all time.

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Daniel Cundiff, drummer of Eternal Summers 

When you grow up in some small town, you don't have many choices, unless music is your savior. In music you can see what a loser can become. You see what passion can inspire. You find and hear who can bring you out of the doldrums of a complacent, self-conscious state. I heard that in Hüsker Dü. I heard that in Grant Hart. I heard speed in Grant and I heard a punk who was into the '60s. Or maybe I heard a hippie who was a punk.

When Eternal Summers played early on in our career, we played fast. Our slow was the opening band’s fast. Sometimes, I would hear "Slow down!" or "We're playing this too fast." We would play a song and I'd see the look, "This is too fast!" I never felt bad, because of Grant. Because of Hüsker Dü. I guess sometimes it was speed for speed’s sake. Amphetamines or not.

I wish I could say I'm sorry somehow, but I wasn't a real drummer. I was a guitarist, lending a song or two to our albums like Grant. We both played drums in a trio and also wrote songs in some sort of noise speed pop band. But they were a thousand times better and faster.

Every musician that you see is more than that. The bassist in that band you like also writes melodic ambient music. The guitarist also cooks and writes quiet pop songs and is tired of the same questions. The drummer, she plays sax in a free jazz ensemble and makes collages. This was Grant, too. He was more than just the drummer for Hüsker Dü. He was a songwriter, an artist, an influential musician, someone who struggled to be be seen for more than what they were known for. To me, that sounds like a lot of us.