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  • #48336
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    Smallstone
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    Hey there – not sure if this has been posted before – sorry if it has. From Guitar Magazine Volume 5 #8 Aug 1995.

    As a disciple of Deep Purple and purveyor of some of the most OTT guitar ever recorded, Dinosaurs Jr’s J Mascis remains an unlikely alternative here. Danny Eccleston hears him come clean: ‘A lot of people don’t like guitar solos. I’m not one of those people.’

    Backstage at London’s Camden Underworld club, J Mascis is grazing with bovine languor on a bunch of grapes. Contemplating the agricultural effect, the Mascis lower jaw moves from side to side, as if to annihilate all that troublesome cellulose for later digestion by one of his five stomachs. As befits one of the noisiest guitar players on the planet, and in understandably muffled tones, he’s simultaneously holding forth on a subject close to his heart – amplification.
    ‘My theory with vintage amps is that once you’ve blown ‘em up ten or 20 times you finally work the kinks out of ‘em’ he drawls sleepily. ‘That way you weed out the shitty components people have put into them over the years. God knows where they’ve been but…they definitely blow up real regular when you first get ‘em. After that they are generally okay.’
    This J Mascis we know, the apostle of the 68 Marshall Plexi, of the 71 Super Lead, the Mascis who likes his amps purple and his tone shot to fuzzbuggery. It’s the Mascis of the phenomenal Bug and You’re Living All Over Me – milestones of underground guitar rock that Brit groups like Swervedriver, Teenage Fanclub and The Boo Radleys have only recently found the strength to crawl from under.
    ‘The Boo Radleys used to sound like us?’ he hoots incredulously. ‘But their last single sounded like a car commercial!’
    This is the Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. of the spluttering solo-fest that was last years Without A Sound LP, and for some strange reason he’s in Britain undertaking a solo acoustic tour. J Mascis unplugged? Has the world turned upside down?
    ‘I think a lot of my friends are into the acoustic shows and aren’t that interested in guitar solos necessarily – which I like to play’ he says smiling at the understatement. ‘A lot of people prefer it since it’s just the song and, um, not quite as loud. In this set I only play one solo’.
    J’s live performances under the Dinosaur Jr banner, sporadically chaotic and lacklustre since a draining stint on ‘93s Lollapalooza jaunt, couldn’t have a starker contrast in his solo acoustic show. Occasionally aided by support act and Dinosaur collaborator Kurt Fedora, the set highlights Mascis the songwriter, recalling the more muted textures of 91s Green Mind album and breathing new life into the high octane material that graced the last brace of Dinosaur discs. His kinship with Neil Young – vocal vulnerability included – is thrown into even sharper relief, and damn our eyes if Porno For Pyros’ Perry Farrell wasn’t so bowled over he leapt out of the audience at Js second British show to duet. Shedding the big rock trousers and big touring responsibilities of the full-on Dinosaur package must have been a huge relief….
    ‘Everything else about it is much easier – no equipment or people, not much to deal with. But on stage I’ve been much more nervous than I have been in a long time. There’s no one else to take the pressure off and there’s no noise. Playing an electric guitar, you can fluff a note and no one will really notice – acoustic, well that’s a lot different. Kurt Fedora’s a much more technically proficient guitarist, so watching him always inspires me to pull it together.’
    This time around there’s no product to support, no promotional obligations barring a chat with TGM. In fact the whole tour seems unusually self-starting for someone who’s been labelled Mr Lazybones.
    ‘Well, you can’t really fight that kind of thing. People can think whatever they want. I’ve just got some records to buy; that’s why I’m here.

    Mascis’ afternoon trawl around Camden’s second hand record shops has resulted in a weird and occasionally ugly catch. There are Ruts and Sham 69 singles. There’s Spinal Tap’s Bitch and a purple vinyl copy of Sabbath’s Symptom of The Universe, all 50p apiece. And then – bloody hell – there’s Cinderella…
    ‘Ooh yeah… Cinderella. I reckon they’re kinda Stonesy and the lead guys got some cool Juniors and Esquire. I suppose they’re pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as most people are concerned – and my guitar tech’s disgusted with me – but I kinda like to scout around the fringes of bad taste. And I picked up this Suede single’ Mascis adds, waving a dog-eared coy of Metal Mickey ‘Bernard Butler is, like, the riffmaster. Some of the tones are outrageously trebly, but kinda cool, too.’
    He may express a bizarre prediction for Sham 69, but it’s pretty clear who J Mascis’ favourite band is. It’s Deep Purple. Grunge and the more radical, no-nonsense elements of current hard rock may have revived Black Sabbath’s particular brand of brutal detuned chunk, but Mascis might have his work cut out if he means to engineer a hip rehabilitation of Purps’ twiddly 70s baroque’n’roll. After all, theirs was the blueprint that led us to Yngwie.
    But then Mascis know how it feels to be ostracised. Possibly the most precocious and OTT guitar soloist of his peer group, his perceived arrogance, laziness, insensitivity to the world around him, the alleged reactionary-rock leanings of Dinosaur Jr’s recent albums and the fact that he’s just taken up golf have all drawn comment. In TGM vol 4 no 8 Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow, a former Mascis collaborator, described him as a ‘sell-out’ and concluded that ‘now he’s just another fuckin’ guitar player’, whilst a German journalist recently accused him of being a ‘relic from a dead era’.
    ‘A lot of people hated us’ states J. ‘A lot of people still don’t like guitar solos. I’m not one of those people. Like , on the Mike Watt album, Ball Hog Or Tugboat, where I play that Maggot Brain cover, it’s practically a 12-minute long solo. People asked me, “How do you play a solo for 12 minutes at a stretch?� The answer is pretty easily, heh, heh!’
    Mascis barely recognises the notion of ‘playing too much guitar’ – Get Me boasted three guitar solos, Feel The Pain three of them at once – and if there is a parallel between himself and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore maybe that’s it….
    ‘But to me, in a way, Blackmore is the weak link in Purple,’ Mascis reflects with brow furrowed. ‘I mean, he’s cool…it’s like, I played drums when I was younger and Ian Paice was my idol. I wasn’t really listening to the guitars at all. And recently I’ve been struck by the revelations that Ian Gillan was the best singer ever. Mind you Blackmore is the only one who actually seems to have gotten better, and on that reunion album they did a coupla years ago they all sucked except Blackmore. But possibly the best thing about Purple is that they are hilarious. You have to get that video Heavy Metal Pioneers; the things they say are unbelievable – so much better than Spinal Tap because it’s real.’
    So what does the soi distant Purps buff think of Steve Morse taking over the Blackmore gig? Is there incredulity – jealousy perhaps?
    ‘It seems completely bizarre, but I’m psyched to check it out. I was psyched for Satriani to be involved, because I think he’s actually pretty good – better than Blackmore. It seems off the wall though I do think Rod Morgenstein drummed a lot like Ian Paice when he was in the Dixie Dregs with Morse – so there’s a link. I’ve wondered what it would be like having Ian Paice playing drums in Dinosaur Jr, but I don’t want to be disillusioned, either personally or professionally, heh heh…’
    That J Mascis appears more comfortable talking about drummers than guitarists seems initially strange – but loses some of it’s mystery when you learn that he began his musical life as a drummer in the revoltingly named Deep Wound. With the departure of on and off Dinosaur sticksman Murph, Mascis played all the tubs on Without A Sound, repeating the multi-instrumental role he adopted on Green Mind. He’s also manned the traps for hardcore punk band Upsidedown Cross and on Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan’s Whiskey For The Holy Ghost album. Does he think the way he plays he drums influences the way he plays guitar, and vice versa?
    ‘Oh sure. Playing guitar makes you much more sensitive to the songs as a drummer, and drums makes you more rhythmic on the guitar. Recently I’ve realised. He more I’ve played with other people, how percussive my guitar style is. Other people seem to wash through the chords, but I think I can hear the drum influence in what I do – the way I hit a chord is more definite.’
    Applied liberally with margarine, introduced to a crowbar, and with his arm ever so slightly twisted, Mascis mumbles a list of those he considers to be the best contemporary players of guitar solos. Marc Ford of the Black Crowes is mentioned, as is Chris John from maudlin Stateside indie types Come. ‘Satriani seems a lot better than Steve Vai or Kirk Hammet or the people he gave lessons to,’ he adds. ‘though I saw Vai on the first David Lee Roth tour and he was the best guitar showman I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t seem to have a great deal of soul. But his moves are awesome.’
    The one guitar player that prompts J’s jaw to drop floorwards however is our own Richard Thompson. An inveterate contributor to tribute albums, having had a version of Lotta Love released on The Bridge Neil Young tribute and a crazed rendering of Feel A Whole Lot Better on the Byrds tribute Time Between, Dinosaur Jrs most recent recorded cap-doffing was a fine, squalling cover of I Misunderstood on Thompson collection Beat The Retreat.
    ‘He’s so good!’ marvels J. ‘It’s like, all the stuff I could never imagine playing. It seems insane. His live acoustic performing is just awesome, and that’s inspired me to do this – ‘cos the best shows I’ve seen over the last couple of years have been his live acoustic things. When I last played in LA, he came to the show. I was very flattered. His son came too, and he’s like 20 or something. Mike our bass player said to him “I’m such a big fan of your Dad� and his son said, “Yeah, so am I.� Which I thought was really cool.’
    Of course, this wasn’t J’s only recent brush with idolatrous awe, having been asked – along with a bizarre bevy of other ‘alternative’ stars to appear on the evergreen crooner Tony Bennett’s famed MTV Unplugged slot. If anyone had the lingering impression that the likes of Evan Dando had turned up to merely revel in the comic kitsch factor, they should think again…
    ‘Yeah,’ J recalls uneasily. ‘Tony Bennett’s like a serious star. So I was really flipped out – the most nervous I’ve ever been. We were playing this pretty simple blues standard – St. James Infirmary – and I was meant to be doin’ some solos but foolishly hadn’t even practised. So it comes to the solo and he goes: “Play the blues, man!� I guess I just looked at him and thought �FUUUCK!� It appeared….insane.
    You might assume that all the minstrelling about Europe with a Martin New Yorker strapped to his back would be fuelling an almost volcanic desire to get back home, plug into an enormous stack and cause maximum mayhem, but Mascis claims that just isn’t the case. The only amp he uses at his Amherst, Massachusetts abode is a Fender Super Champ, and there are no plans to record or even write any new Dinosaur Jr material – not tomorrow, not next week, not even next year. Instead the immediate plans are to play drums on Dinosaur bassist Mike Johnson’s solo album, and guitar on Mark Lanegan’s forthcoming tour: because he’s supporting Johnny Cash.
    J Mascis plays guitar like a shark at a feeding frenzy; could we reasonably expect him to have energy left for anything else?
    ‘I’m in no hurry,’ he shrugs, still grazing. ‘Kinda like the Cure I guess’

    #112029
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    AGAP
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    Great article, thanks for posting it!

    #112030
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    stanner
    Participant

    does anybody have that video J talks of: "MTV Unplugged w/ TonyBennet & J Mascis"?
    s 8)

    #112031
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    jon
    Participant

    i believe j was edited out… >:(

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