March 22, 2004 at 1:08 pm #46848
MARCH 22 – 28, 2001 — UPCOMING SHOWS
In a Fog
J Mascis’ music is ferocious and significant, but you’d never know that from talking to him
J Mascis and the Fog
Performing Mar. 24 at 328 Performance Hall
Interviewing J Mascis isn’t exactly a plum assignment. Even when he was fronting the struggling proto-grunge act Dinosaur Jr. in the late ’80s, Mascis tended to let his guitar do the talking; and after several permutations of Dinosaur have come and gone and Mascis has "gone solo," he’s still an incurable mumbler whose idea of self-promotion is to speak very slowly and shrug off questions with a sleepy "I dunno." Reached by phone nearly two weeks before his upcoming Nashville show–Saturday at 328 Performance Hall, with a backing band that includes legendary alt-rock showman Mike Watt on bass–Mascis spends the bulk of the 20-minute conversation eating a candy bar and qualifying every brief answer with a tacked-on "or something."
Take, for example, his response to why he prefers playing drums to guitar: "I dunno…the guitar’s…not very dynamic…," he says. "It wasn’t as loud…wasn’t as satisfying…or something…. Drums are like…more immediate gratification…I’m more at home with it…I guess."
Even though he may not feel much like chatting (ever), Mascis does have some interesting things to share if he can be coaxed into acknowledging his life story. He wrote most of the songs and played lead guitar for one of the most influential cult bands of the past two decades, and fused punk noise with classic-rock riffing for years before the sound spread to Seattle and became a sensation. During the pop chart’s flirtation with grunge, Dinosaur Jr. even scored a few minor hits, and moved far more copies of their records than would’ve seemed possible in their early days as lugubrious window rattlers in suburban Massachusetts.
Other highlights of Mascis’ career: He was involved in a classic rock ‘n’ roll internal squabble to rival John and Paul (or at least Bob and Grant) when he kicked founding Dinosaur bassist Lou Barlow out of the band, only to see Barlow achieve great acclaim and modest financial success as the leader of Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. Mascis has worked with filmmaker Allison Anders on a couple of her pictures, and provided the musical voice for the Brian Wilson-inspired character in her Grace of My Heart. Mascis has also worked with the legends of rock’s avant-garde, including Sonic Youth, reclusive My Bloody Valentine guitarist Kevin Shields, and The Stooges’ Ron Asheton, with whom Mascis will have just finished jamming at SXSW before he makes his way to Nashville.
Most of all, the reticent axman is noteworthy for the ferocity with which he plays his guitar. Mascis’ singing is a barely adequate, throaty whine, and his songs tend to be simple, hook-driven pounders (with wittier lyrics than is usually acknowledged); without the achingly lovely cries of his distortion-soaked guitar, neither the three or four incarnations of Dinosaur Jr. nor the name J Mascis would linger in the annals of rock history. Yet that ferocity retreats well below the surface when the musician is asked for his thoughts on any number of topics.
Mascis on recording guitar solos: "I’ll do the song maybe four times…then I’ll come back the next day…do it another four times maybe…. Sometimes I’ll start on the same note…. When I first learned guitar…I only played solos…not interested in chords…or something."
Mascis on his guitar heroes: "I liked The Birthday Party…they were the main post-hardcore band…after hardcore was dead…. I dunno…. Greg Sage from The Wipers…Mick Taylor…Keith Richards…Ron Asheton."
On playing with Ron Asheton: "We jammed with him last month…. We were psyched…. He said he was psyched…. I dunno…. We’ll definitely do some Stooges [at SXSW]…with Mike Watt as Dave Alexander…and Iggy Pop."
On touring with Mike Watt on one of his biannual spring/fall jaunts: "That’s his thing…. He doesn’t want to tour where there might be snow…or something."
On whether he knows if Kevin Shields is ever going to finish the 10-years-in-the-making My Blood Valentine record: "I dunno…. Kind of a pointless question…. If you ask him it’ll give him an excuse…put stuff off another 10 years."
On providing the music for Matt Dillon’s crackpot ’60s rock genius character in Grace of My Heart: "It didn’t seem weird to me…but he has more of a Bruce Springsteen look about him."
On whether he’d ever try to modify his own distinctive croak: "Like through surgery? I dunno…. I’m always tryin’."
On why he changed the name of his band to "the Fog," when the only consistent member of Dinosaur Jr. has been himself: "It’s always been like…replacing people one at a time…not really getting a bunch of different people…. It all seemed like one band to me…. I decided to break it up."
On the positive critical reaction to his most recent album, More Light, compared to his work immediately preceding: "I’d prefer people to…hell…like ’em all…. I just keep doing ’em anyway."
Me on Mascis: After a mediocre final release as Dinosaur Jr. and a near-unlistenable acoustic solo album, J Mascis and the Fog’s debut restores the veteran’s rep in a big way. Mascis’ most recent work is crunchy and dreamy, and he’s returned to using his limited vocal range to express an emotion other than indifference. Best of all, his guitar playing is louder and more forceful than ever, with solos and riffs that hop nimbly across the back of concrete-solid songs that bear timeless "why can’t we get it together?" subject matter. With the puckish Mike Watt by his side at 328, it’ll be worth listening to whatever Mascis has to say…even if his hands and fingers do most of the talking…or something.
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