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    Thanks to a tip from Chicago


    J Mascis
    Where He’s Been

    By Gwen Ihnat

    If you’ve ever read an interview with J Mascis before, you know that he is a man of very few words. Very few. Haiku would be pushing it for this guy, let’s put it that way.

    But who cares if he talks? Mascis is rightly revered as an indie guitar god who stormed onto the rock stage in the late ’80s with a band called Dinosaur, later dubbed Dinosaur Jr (due to a copyright conflict). An early bandmate: Lou Barlow, who, fed up with personality conflicts with Mascis, left to form his own legendary band, Sebadoh.

    Still, the prolific Dinosaur Jr plugged on. A rocked-out 1990 cover of The Cure’s "Just Like Heaven" led to some dates with Robert Smith’s outfit. Seems incredible, but Mascis, as usual is nonplussed. "Yeah, we played a few shows with them. At first [Smith] didn’t like [the cover], but some other guys in the band did and they talked him into it."

    Dinosaur Jr continued to turn out stellar releases on powerful indies like SST and Sub Pop. By 1991’s Green Mind (Warner Bros.), the pinnacle of the Dino Jr career and its major label debut, the band was pretty much all about J, although the awesome Murph still played drums (and even some drinking glasses) on that release. Mascis’ searing guitar solos, which we now know are completely unscripted ("It’s all improvised stuff" says the cryptic Mascis), in tandem with his nasal vocals and garbled lyrics turned on the indie rock crowd.

    Having scaled one major label hurdle – selling enough records right out the box – it was hard for Mascis to keep up Green Mind’s momentum, and Warners didn’t seem to know what to do with the man or his albums (what a shock). 1993’s Where You Been and 1994’s Without A Sound, although pleasing to Dino fans, failed to make much of an impact at retail or radio. Perhaps a foreshadowing, Mascis released a solo record, Martin And Me, in 1996. By 1997’s Hand It Over, Dinosaur Jr was over as well.

    So, J, where you been?

    Well, he’s about to release a new album – More Light (Ultimatum Music) – under the moniker of J Mascis & The Fog. Long time Dino fans needn’t fear the new record and band; it really doesn’t sound that different from previous Mascis albums. The guitar still soars, J still sounds like he has a cold, the lyrics still puzzle with flashes of brilliance ("That’s a lot; that’s a brainful"), and the occasional hook slithers in to make some of the songs total grabbers. A few bonuses on More Light: guest vocals from Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard and guitar and production work from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. Pollard’s voice is a particularly welcome addition, fueling standout tracks like "Sameday" and "I’m Not Fine." The melodic piano work on "Ground Me To You" slightly foreshadows what might be a tuneful turning point for Mascis, but the single "Where’d You Go" and the rocking "Can’t I Take This On" show that he’s still steeped in his old rock tradition.

    The mind reels at the thought of the chatty Pollard and somber Mascis together in the studio, but unfortunately, there was no such meeting. "I just sent him a tape," says Mascis. "He did it in an hour."

    Why Pollard?

    "I just liked his voice and his songs. I thought it might sound cool." It does. And so does the rest of More Light, although it has been sitting on the shelf for a while. "The album’s been done for a year," Mascis reports. "I wrote it in October ’98 through June ’99. I’ve even already started another record. Since then, it took a while to get [More Light] out."

    Mascis eventually signed with Ultimatum, a new label connected with the William Morris Agency. "Ultimatum didn’t seem as jaded as a lot of people I met. They’re a relatively new company. Most of the [other] people I talked to were so jaded, they wouldn’t want to try anything new. And that last record on Warners [Hand It Over], half the people I’ve talked to today [in his all-day interview media blitz] didn’t even know it was out. That’s depressing."

    Mascis not only has a new album; he has a new band. Or at least a new title of a band. What’s the difference between Dinosaur Jr and The Fog?

    "It just seemed like a good time to stop [Dino Jr]. I feel better about the difference. I don’t know what exactly is different about it though. I thought the name [The Fog] sounded cool. It was mysterious because at the time the band didn’t exist yet. It existed in the future."

    At times it seems like Mascis doesn’t even need other bandmates. He writes the songs and the lyrics himself – though he’s not crazy about the lyric part: "I only make them when I have to start singing a song. It’s not something I normally do. It’s not like I go around writing in a journal. I usually just write them the night before. It’s more like school, studying the day before a test."

    Mascis also states that his true love is drumming. "Drumming feels more like my instrument. It’s just that primal urge, pounding in the woods, totally physical. It seems more tangible somehow. Guitar is like too controlled, not as dynamic."

    Guitar hardly seems controlled when Mascis has one in hand. If you ever want to hear him totally perk up in conversation, just start talking gear. Though you might suspect that guitar manufacturers heap free samples on the man, sadly for Mascis, such is not the case.

    "They should," he maintains. "I’m always into equipment. On the new album, there are a lot of solos in guitar synth. I’m always trying new pedals that come out." His favorite new toy? "The Ringstinger [by Lovetone]. It’s like a fuzz ring modulator, with a light sensor and a theremin. It’s pretty weird."

    All this gear-mindedness makes it no surprise that Mascis is no slouch in the studio, and he has even produced other bands, like The Breeders and Firehose. As to whether he’d ever produce again, he says, "I’m not sure. It’s hard to say. I don’t like producing other people too much. But I’m thinking about trying again. The problem was that my technique was to abuse the band, so that everybody was bummed out. I was like, too sarcastic. I’d try to bend their will to mine."

    It couldn’t have been too bad, as Mascis is now touring with ex-Firehose leader Mike Watt.

    "Yeah, well, [Watt] would abuse his own band. I’d be busy trying to protect the band from Mike Watt." (A joke! From J Mascis!)

    He and Watt are now on the road, and after the States they head for Europe. About the new tour, Mascis says "I like playing, but I don’t like traveling most of the time. London, though, seems pretty cool."

    You’d bet that Mascis gets pummeled with accolades from longtime fans while on the road, but he says, "No, I don’t get it that much. And when I do, I can never really think about it. I hear people saying stuff, but it doesn’t register."

    Most likely Mascis is down on tour travel because he doesn’t like to stray from his two home bases: Amherst, Massachusetts, and New York City. "I’ll spend about five days in Amherst, two days in New York." And what does he like to do in New York? "I don’t really do much. I go to the movies." In fact, he’s off to the movies right now. So, J, what are you going to see?

    "Almost Famous."

    Somehow it seems appropriate.

    Appearing: November 3 at Metro (3730 N. Clark) in Chicago

    Original Source : http://www.illinoisentertainer.com/2000/November/Features990.shtml


    Sold my soul and all I got was this lousy T-shirt…



    very good article!

    "its better than a kick in the face with a golf shoe"

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