Over a near three decade career on the alt side of country and at the business end of a pedal rack that would put most metal players to shame, Dinosaur Jr‘s J Mascis has remained a reticent and slightly mysterious figure. Whether he’s playing solo acoustic, thrashing it out in the day job or, most notoriously, confronted by something that makes him as uncomfortable and unhappy as can be – an interview – he’s remained a “music speaks for itself” kinda guy. Legend, and indeed various Youtube clips, will try to tell you that Mascis is a silent, monosyllabic Grinch of a man who, despite being heralded for his evident talents, is no friend of the inquisition. With some trepidation, on the eve of release of his band’s return to form album I Bet On Sky (17 September) Q caught up with Mascis. Yes, the pauses were long, the drawl was as slow as you’d expect and it sounded like he was either washing up or building a shed during our chat on the phone, yet we found a warm, funny guy who just happens to be choice about his words.
How the devil are you?
“Alright.” [Noises of kids and dogs in background]
Sounds like you’re having a busy day today?
“Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”
So, Dinosaur Jr’s new record I Bet The Sky is out next month. How are you feeling about it? Have you got particular expectations for it?
“I don’t know. Hoping for the best…yeah.”
Was your intention for the album to be as accessible as it is? It’s a good record but also really commercial?
“Uh, no. I just kinda let the songs dictate where the thing is going.”
Do you ever start a record thinking, This should have a particular feel to it?
“Sometimes, you know like on my acoustic record [2011’s Several Shades Of Why] I just wanted to be acoustic so that was [long pause] …erm…I had to keep that in mind the whole time. But this one I didn’t really have any idea. It goes out in a lot of different directions. Whatever was appropriate for the songs.”
Are you happy with this record?
“Oh, sure. Yeah… am I happy with the record? Yeah. Why not?”
The track Stick A Toe In harks back to tracks like Thumb and Get Me from 1993’s Where You Been a bit. Do you enjoy moving away from the faster, heavier stuff into more delicate territory like that?
“Yeah. Yeah. I just… it depends on what song comes out at that moment… I just go with it.”
This is your tenth record as Dinosaur Jr name, did you imagine yourself being in music for this length of time when you started Deep Wound?
“I didn’t really imagine being alive this long, I guess!”
“[Laughs] Yeah, it’s true.”
Sticking with the early days, You’re Living All Over Me was a big breakthrough for you. Did you find it a strange experience going from being an unknown band to touring with Sonic Youth and getting signed to the influential SST label?
“We really, really wanted to be on SST. That was our big goal. That was cool when that happened. [Long pause] Yeah… that was when we started looking out front of house and we started to have some fans… You know, like, more of them. I remember playing shows when the soundman was throwing bottles at us. That stopped.”
Well your live shows over the years have been crushingly loud. Are you intent on having it as loud as is humanly possible?
“Well… Yeah. It’s loud enough so that it sounds right. We’re not just trying to be loud.”
Bug followed You’re Living All Over Me and a lot of Dinosaur Jr fans peg that as their favourite of your albums. You’ve been quoted as saying you don’t like it in the past, though you played it in full in London last summer at an ATP show, so do you feel the same way about it now?
“It was interesting. I probably… I definitely like it better now! Before it reminded me of a bad time but now we’re just trying to make new memories I guess.”
It was while you were making Bug that things started going wrong with the original line-up, for example Lou Barlow left to concentrate on Sebadoh?
“Yeah, but it was before. So the recording of Bug was pretty hard. We weren’t speaking, so most of the album I did by myself except for a few days.”
It must have been a really tough time for you emotionally?
“Yeah. It’s weird. It was weird.”
What do you remember of the Rollercoaster tour with Jesus And Mary Chain, Blur and My Bloody Valentine tour that you were on as well around that time? Did you hang out with the other bands?
“That was fun , definitely. Jesus and Mary Chain were the most anti-social people. I thought we were bad until I saw those guys! [Laughs] They really couldn’t deal with people at all. I guess Blur was the most friendly and having the best time. They were having fun and they were the most sociable. Everyone else was a bit socially maladjusted.”
A bit of weird question now, but in the film Sonic Youth: 1992, The Year Punk Broke, there’s a surreal exchange with you and Kim Gordon where you say “Some guy set himself on fire since Uma’s been gone”. What was that about?
“Oh well… in Amhurst [the band’s home town in Massachusetts] some kid lit himself on fire on the town common in protest… to protest the war or something? That’s just sad and bizarre…”
So it was something that actually happened?
“Yeah. I remember driving through town and there being yellow tape up on the common. A lot of crazy stuff happened there. Another kid, a friend’s brother, killed himself on college TV. Made his own cyanide. Then he drank it on TV on one of the college TV shows. Everyone thought he was joking so they left him there, everybody left him on the ground. They didn’t realise he was dead.”
You’ve always done things outside Dinosaur Jr – your solo album, instrumental band Heavy Blanket, soundtracks, etc – will that continue?
“Oh yeah. Probably.”
Anything in mind?
“Not right now… I have an Oi! Band in the works.”
Really?! Who with?
“[ long pause] Oh. Just some friends.”
Well apart from that, what’s been your favourite project outside Dinosaur Jr?
“I like Upsidedown Cross [the 1991 self-titled debut album by his doom metal band] that I played drums on. That’s my favourite thing I’ve been involved in.”
So when Dinosaur Jr’s original line-up, you Lou, Barlow and Murph, reunited in 2005 was it a Disney homecoming or a bit awkward?
“It was probably more awkward.”
But apparently the recording this new album was easier than previous ones?
“Yeah. It seemed the others were a little harder… I don’t know about better…”
Do you feel like you’ve still got things to express after all this time?
“Yeah. As long as you’re alive you’re going to want to express yourself somehow.”
Do you have any ideas on a long term future for the band?
“I just play it by ear. We go day to day. We’ve got this tour planned and we’ll do that…”
Michael James Hall@michaeljamesh
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