Talking to Dinosaur Jr. front man J Mascis is as hard as carrying on a conversation with, say, a WWII vet who might not be all there, or a 5-year-old child. Maybe harder. Its not because hes lost or that hes an idiot. Hardly. Its because hes not very good at communicating. But that defense isnt entirely accurate, given the profound impact early Dinosaur Jr. had on rock n roll. Mascis made more than his share of wide-eyed suburban youth want to put the (wah) pedal to the metal. And what he lacked in social skills he made up for in songs like Freak Scene, which bottlenecked teen emotions and frustrations just before (and after) it landed back in 1988. The band single-handedly kicked down the doors for the commercial acceptance of alternative rock.
To coincide with the bands reunion this year, we got the notoriously interview-shy Mascis on the phone from his home in western Massachusetts to do a bit of communicating about the bands early days, getting their record deal with It punk label SST, and the 2005 reissues of the bands first three albums.
Metro Times: Whats it like revisiting the old stuff live?
J Mascis: Its pretty cool. Its not that different, because a lot of the songs Ive played for years. It is nice to play the ones I havent. Plus we sound a lot better together now
MT: Better than before? So what was it like back then?
Mascis: Oh, we basically just formed and made a record. People didnt understand that, and said, You cant just put an album out. But we did. We didnt have time to shape our sound. That didnt come until the second album.
MT: I read somewhere that Mike Watt said your goal at the time was to get a record out on SST. Is that true?
Mascis: Yeah, it was our main goal.
Mascis: We loved the bands on the label, and what they were doing.
MT: How did it feel to reach that goal?
Mascis: Great. It allowed us to give up on being a hardcore band. It helped inspire us, and I think we got a lot better.
MT: Its good to see the music back in print.
Mascis: Yeah, its cool
MT: There were a lot of sound quality issues that plagued the original records when they got transferred to CD. Did you fix those on the new reissues?
Mascis: Yeah, they sounded bad before. They sound better, and are a lot louder. Bulbs of Passion always sounded off, but its much better now.
MT: Do you have any fond memories of recording these records?
Mascis: Oh, yeah, when we were recording the first record [Dinosaur], the guy didnt know what the hell he was doing, which became apparent. And we didnt know how to get what we wanted to sound like across, and it became a battle. But I also think that it made the album sound interesting.
MT: Do you have any not-so-fond memories?
Mascis: Oh, yeah, [recording] Bug wasnt so much fun, there was a lot of tension.
MT: Do you think that tension is reflected in the music?
Mascis: No, but its reflected to me when I listen to it.
MT: How has it been playing together again with Lou Barlow and Murph?
Mascis: Its going pretty well. We can appreciate playing together more, and now that weve all done so much, there are plenty of people we can hate more than each other. After all these years, in the grand scheme, Lous not that bad.
Monday, Nov. 28, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First, Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555. With the Scars. 18 & up.
by Luke Allen Hackney
Review of Dinosaur, Your’re All Over Me and Bug