Interview: J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.
Some indie rock veterans are elitist, aloof and mistrusting. They’ll give entire interviews that don’t warrant a single pull-quote, just to be difficult or hipper than thou.
Many writers mistake J Mascis as being an archetype of this character. He rarely speaks full sentences when a few words will do, never tells funny stories and doesn’t reveal anything about himself - ever.
What makes Mascis different from, say, Lou Reed, is he’s not willfully difficult, he’s just uncomfortable talking to people and unintentionally awkward.
Fortunately, when he picks up a guitar, he’s capable of sublime articulation, playing extended angular blues-based leads and emotionally volcanic rhythms as easily as he flips a switch and cranks his amps to full volume. Mascis is best known for his work with Dinosaur Jr., the band he formed in 1984 with bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph.
Since their 1985 debut Dinosaur, Dinosaur Jr. have released nine albums, each with its own artful, sometimes whimsical perspective on melancholy, desperation and hopelessness. Such heavy-handed content isn’t something Mascis – who refers to his songs as “pretty much excuses just to solo” is willing or even capable of discussing, but it’s all there in the skewed metallic folk melodies and deafening walls of fuzz.
Few of the band’s albums express such chaos with as much potency as 1988’s Bug, a turbulent, schizophrenic disc that see-saws between brain-frazzling noise and wistful reflection, balancing for a few minutes with the poppy and expressive “Freak Scene.”
On Monday, June 20, Dinosaur Jr. launched an eight-date U.S. tour, on which they are playing Bug in full. The June 25 show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., will be filmed for the second installment of the DVD series “In the Hands of the Fans.” Six winners the “In the Hands of the Fans” contest will shoot the show along with director Dave Markey.
Each of the winners submitted short, high-definition video segments with either interview questions for Mascis or a monologue explaining why they should be a part of the June 25 video crew. Last September, MVD Entertainment Group conducted a similar contest for Iggy Pop.
In addition to “In The Hands of the Fans,” Dinosaur Jr. just released a cassette re-release of Bug through Joyful Noise.
Guitar World talked to Mascis about “In the Hands of the Fans,” why he chose to tour with Bug, effects, gear he’ll lug along on tour and what he’s working on outside of the Dinosaur camp.
How did you get involved with the “In the Hands of the Fans” series?
Somebody contacted us about it and we thought it was a good idea. At least you don’t have some pushy camera man blocking a fan. I don’t really know that much about it. I think it’ll be like 30 or 60 [people shooting]. I’m not sure.
Are you looking forward to playing Bug in its entirety?
Yeah, some of the songs have never been played before, so it will be interesting to see if I can remember they go. The first time I heard of someone playing one of their albums in concert it was Cheap Trick quite a few years ago. They were playing their first album, and I thought it was a pretty cool idea.
Why Bug as opposed to 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me or, say, 1991’s Green Mind? Does it work better for you as a cohesive piece from beginning to end?
No, it’s my least-favorite record, so that will be interesting in a way. We did You’re Living All Over Me once. But we got asked to do Bug for All Tomorrow’s Parties in England [which takes place July 1]. I guess the organizers like that album, and we decided if we were gonna do it there then we’d try it some other places, too.
You also just re-released Bug on cassette tape; It may be the top-selling tape this week.
Yeah, you know, I’m always into cassette. At least they seem to be the longest-lasting medium we used to have. I don’t play cassettes much anymore, but I play records all the time. We’re gonna re-release the first three albums on vinyl as well this year.
Dinosaur Jr. are much louder than most live bands. Is there a particular reason you like to crank everything so high?
Yeah, definitely. It’s more fun for me to feel the sound as well as hear it. Feeling the speakers moving and hitting me in the back definitely helps for me to play and makes me more excited to play.
Do you use earplugs?
I’ve always worn earplugs, but I’m sure my hearing’s not great.
What kind of rig are you going to use for the Bug shows?
There’s a few things I was going to mess around with, like a spring reverb. “No Bones” has some reverb that I kick around. I’ll see if that lasts or if it breaks in a day.
What’s the rest of your rig consist of?
I play a Fender Jazzmaster and three stacks and a combo, two old Marshall Plexis and a Hiwatt combo and a Hiwatt combo with Marshall cabs.
You seem to prefer using vintage gear.
Yeah, definitely. I like a lot of stuff from the ‘70s. If you could make them sound good now I’d use ‘em, but the old ones always seem to sound better, still.
What’s the rest of your pedal board going to be like?
I’ll have my regular pedal board, which consists of an old [Electro-Harmonix] Big Muff, a Dr. Scientist Frazz Dazzler combined with an Overdrive and a Z.Vex Double Rock, which is two Boxes of Rock in one pedal. And I have a Realtube Overdrive and an Electric Mistress Flanger and a Custom Audio Effect Tremolo and a KR Megavibe univibe copy.
Is there any new Dinosaur Jr. material written for the follow-up to 2009’s Farm?
I might have a couple. We’ve talked about getting together soon to maybe work on a new record.
What direction would you like to take with the next record?
I don’t know. It’s too early to tell.
Are you working on any other music for soundtracks or collaborations?
Yeah, I’m gonna do the soundtrack for the new Alison Anders movie. I’m not sure what it’s called. I haven’t done anything on it yet. But I think it has gotta be done by the end of the summer.