If they ever make a punk rock hall of fame, Greg Norton will get top honors. He’s an alternative icon, both for his years playing bass in the legendary hardcore punk band Hüsker Dü and his signature mustache. While he maintains the mustache, his work with the indie rock trio Porcupine shows that Norton’s anything but stuck in the past.
Porcupine has been performing since 2006. Their debut LP The Trouble With You came out in 2009 and they’ve been releasing music ever since. It wasn’t until 2016 that Norton joined—even though it sounds like he would have become a part of the band years earlier if given the chance.
“About eight or nine years ago I saw Porcupine for the first time when they were opening up for The Meat Puppets,” Norton said. At the show, Norton hit it off with Porcupine frontman Casey Virock. The bond tightened after Norton’s instrumental group Con Queso and Porcupine played shows together. Norton was impressed by Virock’s musical talent.
Porcupine, “Dead Mint Club” (2010)
“I remember playing a show with them [and] thinking, ‘man, I wish I could find a guitar player who could sing like this,’” Norton said.
After Con Queso broke up, Norton lost touch with Porcupine for a few years. One day he saw a Facebook post from Porcupine announcing they had a new bassist. Norton wondered why they didn’t ask him, but quickly forgot about it. However, the next day Virock called saying the new bassist wasn’t working out. Norton played his first show with them quickly after. Today, the lineup features Norton on bass, Virock on guitar and vocals and Ian Prince on drums.
“The whole creative process has been very rejuvenating,” he says. “I definitely hear a huge difference in the material [between Porcupine and Hüsker Dü], but I feel just as good and strongly with what Porcupine is doing and what we could do as I did in the early days of Hüsker.”
This year, Porcupine released What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real, an EP filled with dreamy melodies riding over pounding drums and fuzzed-out guitar. It’s edgy but a far cry from Hüsker Dü’s raw speed, with intricate indie guitar riffs and songs that flow slower and softer than Norton’s legendary band.
“Casey’s guitar sound and style is definitely different than Bob [Mould’s],” Norton says. “The rhythm section in Porcupine is really a driving factor in the music. Casey writes music that allows the rhythm section to be the driving force. Hüsker could be directly in your face.”
While his work with Porcupine is distinct from Norton’s previous power trio, they pay homage to Norton’s Hüsker Dü past. The last song on What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real is a live performance of the Hüsker song “Exit 180.” It was added to the album as tribute to the late Hüsker drummer Grant Hart, who died of liver cancer and Hepatitis C at the young age of 56 in late 2017.
Porcupine Live @ The Replay Lounge (Lawrence, KS)
“We were asked to do a [surprise] tribute show for Grant back in 2017,” Norton says. “A bunch of his friends played his music and he was very surprised by it and got emotional, but that’s the first time I had played Hüsker Dü live [for a while]. We decided to keep ‘Standing By The Sea’ in the set and the next time we played it live was a week after Grants passing—it was a pretty emotional night [and] I think Grant would be pretty happy with what we did with that song.”
Listen to What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real in its entirety on this week’s The Music Meetup along with the entire interview with Porcupine (and Hüsker Dü’s) Greg Norton.