November 9, 2004 at 2:35 pm #47410
pretty interesting little interview/article, cool stuff on J’s remastering of the reissues, the new band, Dinosaur Jr tattoos
REPTILIAN ROCKER ROLLS ON: Dinosaur Jr. frontman brings The Fog to town
IF YOU GO
J Mascis + the Fog with Garage DeLuxe and The Sunshine Fix
WHEN: 10 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Blue Cat’s, 125 E. Jackson Ave., Knoxville’s Old City
HOW MUCH: $15
ON THE WEB: http://www.jmascis.com ( and FreakScene.net )
By Steve Wildsmith
of The Daily Times Staff
The guy on the other end of the phone sounds nothing like the legendary J Mascis, the guy who led Dinosaur Jr. for 12 years, influenced everyone from Nirvana to Green Day and continues to collaborate with like-minded geniuses such as Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools and Mike Watt of The Minutemen.
The studio version of Mascis is the modern-day equivalent of a guitar god. Sure, that’s a term loosely tossed around these days, when heavy bands in the nu-metal movement can create a wall of noise reminiscent of the London Blitz.
But J Mascis led Dinosaur Jr. to indie rock glory in the mid- to late-1980s, when punk merged with New Wave to spawn hair metal bands whose repertoire was pretty much limited to three-chord rock anthems and sappy power ballads. With albums like 1985’s “Dinosaur,” (self-titled at the time; a late ’80s hippie band filed suit and forced Mascis to add the “Jr.”) and its three follow-ups — “You’re Living All Over Me,” “Bug” and “Green Mind” — Mascis redefined what it meant to play indie guitar rock.
Along with Sonic Youth and The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. cleared the trees along the route that would later be paved over by the grunge movement, but Mascis didn’t stop there — his mid-1990s works, particularly 1993’s “Where You Been?” and 1994’s “Without a Sound,” rank right up there with the best alternative had to offer.
The band was clear Mascis’s brainchild, turning on his wailing guitar hooks that sounded like Neil Young and Crazy Horse on speed and his nasal-pitched, shambling vocals that always teetered on the verge of breaking. He could scream over the loudest guitar solo and croon softly to the accompaniment of an acoustic six-string, and he seemed to always have something to say.
But this guy — the 2004 version of J Mascis, calling last week for a phone interview to promote Thursday’s show at Blue Cat’s — sounds like a distant relative of the man fans have come to know through a prolific body of work. (After Dinosaur Jr. called it quits in 1997, Mascis immediately formed the group he fronts today, J Mascis + The Fog.)
He’s detached. Distant. Distracted.
What gives? Does the guitar transform him into a music medium, the ghosts of a thousand songs erupting from his throat? Does the amplifier supercharge him, sending electricity through his fingers that he deflects back into his guitar, spewing the crowd with sonic sparks of mind-blowing hooks and rock goodness?
Who knows. Mascis certainly doesn’t, and he doesn’t sound particularly interested in figuring it out.
“It’s me in there somewhere, I guess,” he said of his live performances and studio efforts. “Playing live, it just transforms you. I can’t say that I’m especially a different person when I play, though. It’s just a good place to express myself, I guess.”
Perhaps it’s his only way of expressing himself. If so, it’s no wonder he never took a break from recording and touring after Dinosaur Jr. broke up. Shortly thereafter, J Mascis + The Fog released “More Light,” followed by an acoustic set — “Martin and Me” — and 2002’s “Free So Free.” In 2001, he suffered back injuries during a van wreck while The Fog toured Europe, but it didn’t stop him from skydiving shortly thereafter, a hobby that provided a bulk of the inspiration for “Free So Free.”
These days, he’s remastering the first three Dinosaur Jr. albums for re-release early next year and touring with a revamped Fog lineup, which includes Dave Schools of Widespread Panic and Stockholm Syndrome and Kyle Spence of The Tom Collins. In fact, the revolving door lineup of The Fog has been a sort of creative experiment, giving Mascis the opportunity to work with old friends and collaborators. The 2001 lineup, which fueled the creative juices that fired up his guitar rock tendencies on “Free So Free,” included Watt, Ron Asheton of The Stooges, Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine.
“Right now, I’m playing with the best lineup I’ve had,” he said. “We’ve got a certain energy that people seem to like, and I like playing with them. We’ve been friends for a long time. When we play live, we have a combination of songs from all different periods and stuff.
“We try to do a cross-section, and there’s some stuff we do that those guys like that they wanted to play.”
Which he doesn’t seem to mind. Perhaps going through all those old Dinosaur Jr. recordings in preparation for the March re-issues has him in a nostalgic mood.
“Going back through those old recordings, it’s interesting just listening to everything,” he said. “Some of the CDs sounded so great, but they were mastered at the beginning of this whole technology thing, so there are some things they screwed up I get to fix. [For example], on `You’re Living All Over Me,’ they put a space between two songs that were connected on the album.
“I get to take the space out and put it back the way it was. And we re-mastered the first album off of vinyl, because I don’t know where the tapes ended up. But I thought that sounded pretty cool. Plus, we put a B-side from the first album as the first song, since that was kind of like our song that defined us the best and what we liked most about it when we recorded it.”
He’s also working on getting together new material and preparing to go back into the studio at the first of the year. He’s non-committal, however, on when fans might be able to expect a new album.
“That’s what I’m doing right now is trying to get some stuff together,” he said. “I’m working on it now, but I don’t know how long that’ll take. The new stuff is all, you know, just different. Some of it is turning out pretty good, but it’s hard to say what it’ll sound like until some of the stuff is done.”
What might be inspiring the new material? Mascis thought for a minute before mentioning a show he recently attended. Although the music must have been good, it’s not what he remembers most about the show.
“Dead Moon just played here, and that was pretty inspirational, because everybody who went seemed to be really into it,” he said. “It was just the best show for a while. Even one girl I know decided to get a Dead Moon tattoo after the show.”
What about Dinosaur Jr. tattoos? Mascis has seen a few on die-hard fans over the years, but it doesn’t strike him as particularly endearing.
“I’ve seen some, and it scares me,” he said, chuckling. (He shows emotion at last!) “I’m scared of tattoos in general, but I think that’s especially scary. Someone tattooing some of my stuff on them just freaks me out.”
He delivers that last statement without a hint of irony or sarcasm, in such a deadpan tone he might just as easily have been commenting on how zombies prowling his neighborhood at night freak him out.
That’s OK, though. Dry wit or no, aloof attitude or not, as long as he continues to freak fans out on stage with those magic hands and plaintive vocals, all else can be waved aside. Because with both modern and indie rock fractured into so many different sub-genres and bands, it’s nice to know there are still a few dinosaurs walking the land, rare though they may be.November 9, 2004 at 5:44 pm #105868
Hey CG, nice find (…and the skydiving myth is still alive, it seems… )November 9, 2004 at 10:24 pm #105869
Funny how that hangs around…
Love the description of the new stuff he’s writing…
the new stuff is all, you know, just different :aliensmile: :aliensmile:November 14, 2004 at 3:24 pm #105870
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