July 8, 2005 at 7:50 pm #48130
Really great interview with J…
The Return of Ear-bleeding Country
-Interviewed by Matt Kanable-
In the late 80’s, J. Mascis broke up the short-lived Mogo to form a new band with Lou Barlow [Bass] & Emmett Jefferson Murphy III (Murph) [Drums]. This allows him to sidestep the actual process of firing friend Charlie Nakajima – who had been with Mascis since his first band Deep Wound. The trio dubs themselves Dinosaur & begins jamming on what would become their first L.P. The self-titled ‘Dinosaur’ hit the shelves on New York City’s Homestead Records thanks to (ex-Deep Wound manager) Gerald Cosley & Dinosaur hits the road. Often misinterpreted or ignored due to their extreme volumes, Dinosaur catches the ear of many listeners who had grown tired of ‘hard-core’ & starts roping in the fans – including Thurston Moore from NYC’s beloved art-rockers, Sonic Youth. Their amazingly original tunes start with the distorted guitars of ‘hard-core’, but to that Mascis adds a Neil Young-esque voice & some beautiful guitar work – including the unthinkable re-emergence of the guitar solo.
As Cosley anxiously awaits Dinosaur’s second release, he learns that they have left him to fulfill the adolescent dream of recording for California’s influential SST Records (Home of Sonic Youth, Black Flag, The Minutemen & many of hard-core’s most well known & important acts). ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ finds the trio at the top of their game, "[It’s] our best one," Mascis states, "Everything was really coming together – it was kind of our peak." As Dinosaur hits the road in support of ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ the road begins to take its toll & the trio become more withdrawn from one another. They pull together for one last SST release & the resulting ‘Bug’ hits on all cylinders. Although not as raw or ethereal as the previous albums, ‘Bug’ still finds Mascis writing wonderfully & playing as fiercely as ever. If one listens closely, you might actually hear the band falling apart – quite vividly really, as Lou screams "Why don’t you like me?!" on the album’s closer "Don’t". After it became apparent that the trio could no longer exist in its current state, J. & Murph stop by Barlow’s place to discuss the future of the band. Allegedly, after hours of discussion, Barlow is left to believe that the band has broken up, when in fact, he has been fired. J. & Murph go on to record a handful of albums (as Dinosaur Jr – due to some legal issues) & eventually part ways – leaving Mascis to record on his own as The Fog – Barlow goes on to record & tour as Sebadoh.
This behavior [breaking up bands to avoid firing personnel; allowing members to believe the band is over, whilst moving on; leaving a friend’s label without notice or a word] seems to all just be a part of J’s personality – noncommittal, withdrawn & unimpressed. It also seems to plague the conversation I attempt to have with him one early summer evening. His personality may be apparent to his friends & acquaintances, but you would certainly be hard-pressed to find a flaw with any of Dinosaur’s first three releases. Collectively ‘Dinosaur’, ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ & ‘Bug’ have inspired many – with their mixture of loud post-hardcore metal, lazily serene vocals & awesomely inventive guitar solos, it’s quite possible that Dinosaur Jr invented what is commonly referred to as Alternative Music. Their formula of quiet verse/loud chorus can be heard constantly across the alterna-rock dial. "I don’t really think about it too much. It’s hard to really take credit for anything." J. states humbly, "I’m glad when anybody was into us. I’ve definitely heard something now & again on the radio (just little parts), that seem like a rip-off. I guess I only notice it if I don’t like the song – actually if it was a good band, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it [at all]."
His indifference seems to suggest that Mascis could care less about his band’s importance, its legacy & what may come in the future. Nonetheless, he has taken on the process of re-mastering the previously mentioned masterpieces & as you read this, ‘Dinosaur’, ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ & ‘Bug’ (after years of unavailability) can be obtained as "special edition" re-mastered re-releases from Merge Records. J. mentions that the label had come to him & expressed interest in releasing the trio of albums – "I had been trying to get the rights back for many years & I finally got them all together, [so] I wanted to put them out. Well, you know, [Merge] were around & I knew they were fans of all the records, I knew that Lou liked them too, because his new record is on their [label], so it seemed like a good kind of neutral place." The actual task of the re-mastering was assumed by Mascis himself & "this guy from Cambridge" as he puts it. "The first album we re-mastered from the vinyl, which was pretty cool. That was somehow more satisfying than the other ones – which were [re-mastered] from tapes. I would recommend anyone to master their stuff from records – it sounds pretty cool." All three albums have their original artwork, but the liner notes have been extended quite extensively – including interviews from (SST Label-mates) Thurston Moore & Mike Watt as well as a plethora of photos from that era of Dinosaur history. Each album also include bonus material including videos for "Little Fury Things", "Just Like Heaven", "Freak Scene" and a recently discovered video for "No Bones".
In support of these albums hitting the shelf once again, the original trio has set aside their differences & has decided to hit the road. Mascis admits that it was mainly his manager’s idea, but he also sees it as a good chance to "try & see if we can get any other people to listen to the old records – maybe they haven’t heard them." As J explains it, he was really the last to come around & although Lou left the band on pretty bad terms, he has "always been psyched for a reunion."
This reunion first came to fruition on CBS’ Late Late Show, followed by an appearance at Hollywood’s Spaceland. J. says of their performance "It was pretty good; I think Murph needs a little stamina, that’s about it. We practiced like three days for [those performances]. It’s the most I have practiced in like 20 years." One can expect an onslaught of material from the trio’s celebrated re-releases, but as Mascis states, "We have so many songs [with those three albums] – enough for two different sets. I guess nobody is opposed to playing other songs, but I am not sure why we would, either. I’m sure we will play "Just Like Heaven". You know, we’re still kind of learning the old songs still – we’re not sick of them yet."
As far as preparations for the ensuing tour, "We are going to practice a couple more days before we play in Holland, but I mean, I guess it’s up to everybody to get their own shit together more. I feel like I’m ready." And all self-respecting music fans should be prepared as well, as Dinosaur Jr plans to bring their "ear-bleeding country" sound through some of America’s finest theatres and clubs. Starting on July 7th at the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida, the tour will make stops throughout the South including the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. The band will then work their way up the East Coast including a show Washington D.C.’s famed 9:30 club & a show at NYC’s Central Park SummerStage. Dinosaur Jr will then head towards the Midwest & their tour will end in Chicago’s Grant Park, as part of the revitalized Lollapalooza.
Just in case you have been stranded in the desert or something & didn’t know, Lollapalooza has regrouped (after last summer’s doomed tour) & taken note from successful festivals like Bonnaroo & Coachella, making the decision to forego the tour & opt for a two-day gathering in Chicago. This massive event is sure to be the highlight of the summer as it includes 5 stages & upwards of 70 of today’s best bands, blended with a few of the Lollapalooza set’s heavy-hitters – including The Redwalls, The Warlocks, M83, Ambulance LTD., …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Liz Phair, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Primus, The Walkmen, Digable Planets, Soulive, The Dandy Warhols, STS9, Widespread Panic, Pixies, Weezer & Dinosaur Jr’s triumphant return to Chicago! I asked J. if he was joining the Lollapalooza line-up as nostalgia for their 1993 summer Lollapalooza excursion (where the band experienced low levels of attendance due to their time slot & an overall lack of enthusiasm from crowds), "Not really." He laughs, "It wasn’t so fun the first time around. Hopefully it will be better, since it’s only one day." Of the change in format from a tour to a festival, J. says "It works for me. I don’t know what it will be like, but I’m psyched to check it out." He genuinely seems excited about the event, stating "I’ve never seen Widespread Panic. If I get the chance to see them – that would be funny" – having played with their bassist, Dave Schools in an incarnation of The Fog. We discussed the inclusion of The Brian Jonestown Massacre & The Dandy Warhols & enjoyed a laugh over a mutual admiration for the amazing documentary ‘Dig!’ – which stars the two bands, while documenting their trials, tribulations & odd relationship. "I always like seeing the Brian Jonestown Massacre; I heard that the Dandy Warhols cancelled – can’t take the heat." No worries though; the Dandy’s have jumped back aboard & the Lollapalooza site claims it’s for good.
This summer will surely be quite exciting. The U.S. has been blessed with the chance to catch the genius of Dinosaur Jr live & rekindle our love for them through their amazing re-releases. And to cap it all off, they will make history once again as part of the revitalization of America’s most important live music experience – Lollapalooza. J. Mascis’ impact on popular music through his work with Dinosaur Jr has truly been monumental & this summer gives those that never had the chance to witness their amazing live shows (and those fortunate to have in the past) the opportunity to step back into the golden era of Indie Rock & the birth of Alternative music to experience what will surely be a mind-blowing onslaught of deafening musical genius. As J. puts it, "It’s kind of scary, wondering what will happen, [but we’re] ready to give it a try." Do not miss this legendary group.
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