Thursday, 14 March 2013

J Mascis

J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. isn't rude, and he isn't necessarily very shy. It's more that he only speaks when he needs to - when he does it's a semi-whisper - he doesn't like speaking about himself and he rarely gives interviews. Having known this since I first became aware of the band in my early teens, I was pretty excited when I was granted an interview with him just before Dinosaur Jr.'s recent Glasgow show.
I meet J as he lifts an adidas shoebox from a bag bearing the name of a popular high street footwear/fashionwear chain. He begins lacing up the black-and-purple Spezial trainers when I notice the bright green tracksuit top he's wearing is also by the German footwear manufacturer. I learn that yes, he is able to call a friend at adidas and have the clothes he wants sent to him, but that - of course - this isn't a favour he can reply upon whilst touring around the world. There was something reassuring about knowing that J likes to buy new trainers when he's in a new city, like it made me realise how ordinary J is, despite his status as some mysterious underground legend. With his new trainers laced and on his feet, J moves on to eating a bag of fruit and a low-fat yoghurt, and I start recording.

Dinosaur Jr. was my first show, when I was a little kid. Chances are that tonight will be somebody's first show too. Do you think there's a significance to being the first band a person sees live?
I saw Ian Hunter the other day, in a radio station. I told him he was the first show I saw. He was psyched. Jane Fonda was also at the radio station. It was this serious radio station in New York. All this stuff was going on there, people wandering around. But it's awesome because a lot of original fans probably don't go to shows any more.
Have you ever thought that an album you make could be the first album somebody owns?
No. I don't think about it like that. I don't know why. I always think people hear, like, The Beatles or something first.

Sort of! Hehe!

Your new record is out on Jagjaguwar, and they've also re-issued Bug and You're Living All Over Me. Was that a deal-breaker?
We worked with them on the last record, Farm.

Oh. That wasn't out on Jagjaguwar in the UK.
The CDs are out on Merge, so that's weird too. Like, at the the time we re-issued You're Living All Over Me and Bug they didn't want to do vinyl, and I did vinyl on my own. And now, a few years later, vinyl's coming back so I licensed it to Jagjaguwar. I think. Maybe Merge wasn't happy about that. It's weird that they have the CDs and Jagjaguwar has the vinyl.

Do you think the death of high street music stores will affect the concept of albums?
Probably not. Not for me. I still think of albums, I still think that way. I'm not sure. I guess it's different in the States. We've got a lot of independent record shops. There's still a lot of record stores in the States. That's weirder. But HMV didn't sell much stuff (music), did it? Somebody said that you couldn't even buy our last album in HMV.

They'd probably have had one copy in each shop. Just one of everything. It was still where the man in the street would go to buy his music, but that's been taken away now.
Yeah, that's pretty strange. I guess it's records that are more the focus in the States. CDs seem to be dying out, but there are still record shops. More records are being made.

How did your relationship with Alien Workshop come about? I know you've been friends with Neil Blender for a long time...
Yeah, I was friends with Neil Blender, and he went with these guys to form Alien Workshop and move to Ohio, but he didn't want to be a partner in it. I don't know why, but he still moved there with them, and was involved, but he was always the outsider. He worked there and stuff, but he wasn't a partner in it, and he just kinda left. It's strange. He didn't want to commit.

And now it's Rob Dyrdek who's in charge.
Yeah. I remember when we played down there when they first started, and he was so young. He was a skater there and he came to our show with those guys.

Alien still put out Dinosaur Jr. boards, don't they? Sometimes?
The last board of ours they put out had pictures on my new Squire guitar on it. That was pretty cool.

You put out a live album, Chocomel Daze, recently. It's a show from 1987 - why did you put out a show from then?
I think Merge wanted to do something from the You're Living All Over Me period, because we did this anniversary show. That was pretty cool. We had a lot of people guest-play with us. Johnny Marr...

Yeah, Johnny Marr - you played How Soon Is Now, one of his songs. How did that happen?
I asked him if he wanted to play, and then later asked him what song he wanted to play, and he mentioned that because he knew I had covered it before. And then we played The Wagon.

Which has got a David Bowie cover on the B-side. What's your favourite cover you've done?

That we've recorded? I guess Just Like Heaven came out the best, maybe. We still play that. I also like this Richard Thopmson cover we did. That's maybe my favourite one. It was for a Richard Thompson tribute album. It's called I Misunderstood, and he said he liked it the best on the album. I liked it the best on that album too, because I really wanted to do that song. I'd heard him play it live, acoustic, and then when the record came out it sounded a lot different. It was a lot softer and wimpier sounding than when he played acoustic, so I kinda a more of a heavier version, like the first time I heard it.

To whom did the cuddly cow on the sleeves and t-shirts belong?
Me. I bought it, and that gorilla, from the same company. I can't find the cow any more, but I still have the gorilla.

How does what you listened to when you started out compare with what you listen to now?
I mean, it's a lot of the same stuff but then you're always discovering different music that you like. There was a Love album that was unreleased that just came out, I've been listening to that. That was pretty cool. I've been actually listening to Belle and Sebastian a lot lately, speaking of Glasgow! I don't know why. Hehe!

There's a Dinosaur Jr. Nike SB shoe. How did that come about?
It was awesome. I did two different shoes. They were pretty cool. I liked the silver ones. Ace Frehley was my inspiration, I tried to make Ace Frehley boots. I just designed some other kind of shoes recently, for this company Keep. Those come out pretty cool. They're kinda suede, sorta like desert boots. They're fake suede anyway. It's an LA company. I don't think they're quite out yet. The girl's boyfriend is a skateboarder, they're kinda in the skateboard scene in LA.

You recently played Bug live, from start to finish. Why that album? Is it your favourite?

No, that's my least favourite. You're Living All Over Me is my favourite. We've done that also. We just got an offer from ATP to play that album, they like that album. We decided to do some other shows if we were going to bother to learn the whole album.

Are you sick of playing Freak Scene?
No, it was just a bad time when we made it, so it reminds me of that. But playing it definitely helped me like it better, when we learned all these songs we haven't played. It was pretty cool. Henry Rollins interviewed us on stage before we played, and that was pretty funny too.

Are you friends with Henry anyway?
Yeah. I knew he would talk if we didn't.

Did you and Lou listen to each other's music when he stopped being in Dinosaur?
Not much. I would go see Sebadoh, but I didn't really listen to his records. I don't think he would listen to my stuff. He wouldn't go to any of my shows.

You played in GG Allin's band in the 1980s. Did he ever have 'off' nights?
I don't think he really has off nights. He's pretty over the top, but only on stage, like, off stage he's pretty normal. He'd take Ex-Lax, so he would be shitting, and I don't know what kind of drugs he was taking. I remember the whole crowd would be at the back wall of the club, no-one wanted to get near the stage. They ran to the back.

Was he a nice guy?

Oh yeah. He was cool. He just really transformed on stage, he got really prepared.

Who's your favourite person you've played music with?
I hired a bunch of studio musicians in LA, when we did the soundtrack for this movie Grace of My Heart, and I was really impressed with the banjo player. I can't remember his name, but he instantly played exactly what I thought it would sound like. He was just really awesome.

Have you got your golf clubs with you, since you're here in Scotland?

No, I played golf in Scotland once and it was miserable. It was really strange, I thought. Everyone on the course seemed really mad and pissed off. It was a weird vibe there, nobody seemed like they were having fun. It just seemed like the goal was just to play as fast as possible. Even these old guys, were just like, mean. It was a weird vibe. It wasn't fun at all. I was shocked by the whole scene. Everyone was really obsessed with how fast they could play. They didn't wanna wait for anyone. Where I'm from it's really mellow, it's like the town course, and anybody can play. People play in work boots. There's no dress code or anything.

It's expensive to play golf here.
When I was golfing a lot it was $200 to play as many times as you want for the year.

I read somewhere that you were into skydiving...

I've never done that. That was a lie. That was on a press release for a solo album I did. The whole press release was absurd. Most people took it word-for-word, but if you read the whole thing it's just absurd. It's weird that nobody was entertained by it. Because it also said I was skydiving with my dog.

1 comment:

  1. That's an awesome interview Neil! I like the "angry golf" story the most... Just not what you imagine golfers would be like at all...

    The wee video of them covering Just Like Heaven is really good. I love what they've done with the OTT tremolo on the guitar.