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July 17, 2001 at 6:03 pm #43624
That was our original concept as a band. To play ear-bleedin’ country. – J
Straggle-haired priest of the wailing solo or just a normal geezer who plays a mean Fender? With Dinosaur Jr’s new album signalling a definite return to form, Mike Goldsmith talks to main man J Mascis to find out what’s what.
Try these for size: " I’m a beginner on guitar. What are some methods to become a great guitarist?" or "No matter what happens, never stop soloing…" Taken from a recent Internet chat, The Idol’s reply to The Disciple is just about perfect. Getting the piss taken out of you by your Jungle-loving mates? Keep soloing. Can’t manage that tricky arpeggio from your favourite album? Keep soloing. Want to end up playing the Enormodome before the next millennium? Keep soloing. This Idol, this font of six-string wisdom, is a great man indeed…
Yes and no. In real life, The Idol is a quietly-spoken man who, to the amusement of his entourage, bumbles around his dressing room complaining about the overstocks of Orangina on his rider. The stuff of guitar legend? Hardly, but then Joseph Donald Mascis Jr is hardly an ordinary guitar player. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Joseph was turned onto all sorts of music in high school, from Deep Purple and Traffic to the hardcore-punk that would see him pick up sticks for his first band, the fragrantly-named High Speed Vomit.
Mascis drummed for ’80s post-punkers, Deep Wound, until he picked up his Fender Jazzmaster, recruited bassist Lou Barlow (now in lo-fi popsters, Sebadoh) and drummer Patrick ‘Murph’ Murphy and recorded Dinosaur. One name change later (a ’60s band had already laid claim the Dinosaur tag) and Dinosaur Jr was born Â and now as ever, born to wail.
Some 12 years later, not much has changed. Noise-pop and grunge-rawk tags have come and gone (as have band members), yet The Idol remains. Why such a tag for a man whose rock ‘n’ roll excesses amount to a round of golf and maybe a bit of skiing when he can fit it in?
Because to alternative music fans, Mascis is still the only guitar hero worth bothering with. While others cover up sloppy riffing in layers of distortion, Mascis crams at least two classic (in every sense of the word) solos into every track, each dripping with the emotive and anthemic qualities that have rightly brought the Neil Young comparisons out of the closet on more than one occasion.
But this is 1997 and aficionados apart, what can Dinosaur Jr possibly offer the 18-year-old in a world of Prodigys, Oasises and (shudder) Bushes? party animal
"A rock ‘n’ roll party!"
Which unless discussing the amount of Big Muffs crammed into his rack or the his latest guitar purchase, is about animated as J Mascis gets in an interview. A high-pitched giggle here, a drawn-out silence there, ask J Mascis what he thinks about his role as alterna-rock guitar hero and he’ll just shrug, smirk and deadpan, "It doesn’t really have an affect on my day-to-day life," straight back at your hungry dictaphone. And he does. Good God, but he does. Another tack then. The new album, Hand It Over: a mix-and-match blend of hook-laden garage-rock, sludge-pop and of course, HUGE! solos from the planet
Arguably his best since 1988’s breakthrough Bug (and the apocryphal pop blast of Freak Scene contained therein), Hand It Over is a revelation for even the most ardent Dinofreak. Although as lyrically dour as ever, musically it’s a far more upbeat album than 1994’s Feel The Pain. "Really?" muses Mascis, preparing to display his guitar collection to a eager photographer. "They’re just different songs recorded at home. This time, I just had a lot longer to screw around.
I’ve got my shit together and I’m happiest just working. I haven’t had a home for a long time what with touring for years and finally, I got a house."
It’s this new home base (as recently featured in a Homes And Gardens spoof by Select magazine) that’s seen a few additions to the Mascis instrumental range. Namely, the mellotron as featured on the ultraheavy Alone. "I’ve been into mellotrons since Green Mind and now I’ve got a house to put it in, I finally got the opportunity to buy one."
So the Idol sells out his King of the guitar Solo crown?! The purists will be up in arms! "I didn’t say I know how to play it," chuckles The Idol, also credited with playing "a bunch of crap" on his new album. "I’ve got a piano and a Moog but mostly, it’s just drums and guitars." And guitars it is. Mascis’ collection is both diversifying (his latest purchase is a 12-string Rickenbacker) and escalating ("35 or something…") and the array for tonight’s sold-out show at London Astoria is treasured indeed. Mascis almost eagerly leads Total Guitar through the Fender collection and it’s a blur of spangly paint jobs, stickers still hanging on from mid-’80s gigs and obvious devotion. my drug buddy
"The ’58 Jazzmaster is one of my favourites," coos Mascis, support band Snowpony beginning their soundcheck while he whispers. "I play it a lot on my records and this one (points to a glittered creature that will figure much tonight) I bought from a studio guy in Boston who said, "I could never sell that."
I gave him my number and said if he ever wanted to sell it, just call me up. Being as I knew he was a junkie, I just thought he’d want to sell it eventually. A few months later, he called up…" The roll-call continues: ’58 and ’54 Jazzmasters ("Back-up for the ’58"), an Esquire ("Bought from a music store in New Hampshire") Â but despite his recent unplugged solo shows in the States and the mellower strains to be found throughout his back catalogue, no room for acoustic guitars in the live set-up. A good thing considering the sonic overload that is Dinosaur live.
"I don’t switch between amps," Mascis explains, as Total Guitar lusts after the twin walls of Marshalls that tower stage right and left. "I just have them all on. The pedals can be confusing, but this rack makes it a whole lot easier. All the pedals are crammed in a case Â the Big Muffs, etc. I do trade out pedals from time to time but this thing is getting so full…"
Truly, the Idol’s case is overspilling with every vintage effects pedal imaginable, all linked up to the biggest rack you’ve seen in your life. These are not foot-driven distorters of noise, these are his babies. "His babies?" chuckles Mascis’ guitar roadie, somehow making a clear motorway out of the wire spaghetti junction that was before. "It’s his life…" Respect. hard as nails "I had my pants cleaned for, like, five pounds back at the hotel," reveals Mascis to his amused bass player, explaining his late arrival this afternoon. "And they still smell the same." With details as humdrum and household as this, it’s no revelation that Mascis has been with bassist Mike Johnson for a long time now.
Although Dinosaur Jr is still very much perceived as a solo act, touring and the studio means a degree of collaboration you wouldn’t expect sits comfortably with The Idol. "I like playing with people." But you’ve been through half of the alternative rock nation! "People say that to me but it really doesn’t seem that way to me," he explains, slightly bemused. "I’ve had two drummers and two bass players basically, but on an album, you can have anybody playing. It doesn’t have anything to do with playing live." And live is where it’s still at for Mascis and colleagues.
The vast European festival circuit now beckons for Dinosaur Jr entourage, no doubt promising many more hassles for his guitar roadie to fret over while The Idol quietly retreats behind his omnipresent shades. broken and busted "We have shit breaking every day," Mascis laments, as his manager sends a runner out into the streets of London for an emery board nailfile with which Mike Johnson’s bass can Â somewhat mystically Â be repaired. "At Lollapalooza, all of my gear broke once or twice every set.
At one particular show, the box between the PA and speakers was set up completely wrong and the bass came through my guitar speakers, the guitar was coming out through Mike’s bass speakers… We never bother with monitors at festivals now because the sound is so awful. You just get to play out your ultimate stadium rock fantasy." So the monitor might not work but your foot’s going to be on it? "Totally true!" admits the affable bassist with a wry smile, as Mascis dissolves into an amazing fit of giggles that could surely only be picked up by Central London’s canine community.
Tonight’s show beckons and as the Orangina fiasco comes and goes ("Don’t contaminate the other drinks," giggles Mascis at Satan’s soft drink. "Get that out of here. I don’t want to look at it. Put it in with the chicks’ drinks…"), and there is but one word to say. Banjos. "That’s the oldest song I had," explains Mascis about Gettin Rough, Hand It Over’s country-flecked setting for his latest guitar exploration. "I had the track for the last album but I couldn’t play it.
I just didn’t have the finger-pickin’ abilities so I practiced for a few years, bought a six-string banjo from the ’20s and just threw it down." What?! Could this be The Idol mellowing after 12 long years of worshipping at the Temple of The Solo? The mighty Dinosaur Jr finally living up to their name and settling into country-rock blandness? "I thought they were all country rock," he retorts indignantly. "That was our original concept as a band. To play ear-bleedin’ country." That’d make a fine epitaph for your headstone.
"Um, I don’t know," he deadpans. "I have no idea." "There you go," laughs Mike Johnson at The Idol’s ultra-reserved response. "There’s your last line." Not quite. There’s the small matter of the breathtaking show Dinosaur play a few hours later. Sweat drips from the ceiling, Mudhoney t-shirts are openly sported and onstage is one J Mascis Â flailing away at his favourite Fender, delivering ten minute solos of power and passion, distortion and delicacy that drop the collective jaw of the audience, transport the entire Astoria back to 1992 Â and rock like an utter bastard. The Idol has looked out at his audience, and just as he’s always done, taken his own advice. "No matter what happens, never stop soloing…"
Another un-dino-related article that I found pretty cool there – MC5 Vs The Damned http://www.totalguitar.co.uk/article.asp?ID=3771&type=ARTJuly 17, 2001 at 6:32 pm #57438
I just read the total guitar article,the other one I`ll read later.I like the "ear bleedin country" tag,I guess that`s why some of the alt country bands were very influenced by J,the 2nd Uncle Tupelo record was produced by Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie who worked with J before,I think they wanted a J type sound for that record.Jeff Tweedy also mentioned Bug as one of his fav albums.
Thanks Jeremiah!July 17, 2001 at 8:05 pm #57439
Very cool articles, not only Mascis but 2 of my other guitar heroes…too cool.
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