:: Dinosaur Jr. ::
:: Fox Theatre :: April 14 and 15::
By Tim Dwenger
The original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. flew apart in true rock and roll fashion: name calling, explosions to the media, and there are even rumors that J Mascis hit Barlow on the head with a guitar during a show. It was a meltdown that lived up to the deafening music that the trio had generated over the course of five years and three albums together.
“It was an extremely well publicized break-up and I was really pissed off when they kicked me out of the band. It pretty much ended up with me calling J [Mascis] an ‘asshole’ and J saying some pretty awful stuff to me,” bassist Lou Barlow told The Marquee on the eve of Dinosaur Jr.’s recent tour of Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
Given the situation and the hard feelings that festered for 15 years, a reunion seemed about as unlikely as anything in music. Both Barlow and Mascis had gone on with their careers, Mascis continuing to record under the Dinosaur Jr. name, and Barlow focusing on side projects Sebadoh and founding Folk Implosion. The pair hardly saw each other between 1989 and 2002, and when they did it was not pretty. “J would show up at Sebadoh shows in the mid-90s, and I actually chased him out of one,” Barlow admitted. “I was just like ‘get the fuck out of here,’ and I just kept yelling at him ’til he left.”
The real turning point came in 2002, when both Barlow and Mascis were working in London at the same time. Barlow recalled the moment that he faced Mascis for the first time in all those years. “A mutual friend of ours, who is the sound guy for Dinosaur and was working with J at the time, said ‘Lou, you gotta come to this show that J is doing here.’ I reluctantly agreed and was like ‘O.K., this is it, I am going to face J.’ The first thing I said was ‘I apologize for chasing you out of that show and whatever else I’ve done to make you feel uncomfortable over the years.’ It took a minute but it kinda registered with him and he was like ‘Yeah, ok, that was a bit harsh.’ Then I met his wife, who is totally awesome, and got to know about everything that J was doing.”
It was shortly after this meeting that Barlow’s mom, who works with the families of children who suffer from autism in western Massachusetts, was putting together a benefit concert. “A woman who my mother works closely with is really good friends with J and his wife, so they asked J to play, my mother told me I was going to play and then they asked Sonic Youth, who also live in the area, if they would play. It was this big benefit show with the three of us as the final three acts of the night.”
Toward the end of the night Barlow, Mascis and two of their friends from their first band, Deep Wound, ended up on stage together running through an old hardcore song that Deep Wound used to do back in the early ’80s.
“The whole weekend of this event, my mom kept saying that we should have a Dinosaur reunion,” Barlow said. “I told her it wasn’t going to happen, as we didn’t even know where Murph was. However, the whole situation put the idea of a reunion into the mind of J’s manager, Brian Schwartz, who does business out of Boulder. He really was not entirely aware of the whole situation surrounding our break-up and the can of worms that he could potentially be opening by doing this. He ran the idea by the two of us and we said ‘O.K., if you can pull it together, we’ll give it a shot’ and he ran with it. Almost immediately he found Murph, who was living at his Mom’s house, and he made things happen,” said Barlow.
Though rumors had been circulating through the industry for months, Barlow officially announced the reunion during his solo set at SXSW in March of 2005. By April the band had appeared on national television and was hitting the road for its first run of shows since 1989.
Though Dinosaur Jr. had morphed through many line-up changes before fading out in the late ’90s as essentially a pseudonym for Mascis’s solo projects, the original line-up was never equaled.
Notoriously withdrawn and self-described as a weird kid, Joseph “J” Mascis grew up in Amherst, Mass., stewing himself in classic rock riffage ’til he discovered the ways of hardcore punk in the late ’70s. In the band Deep Wound, J found a friend in guitarist Lou Barlow from nearby Westfield, and along with himself on drums, singer Charlie Nakajima and bassist Scott Helland, the four-piece buzz-sawed their way out of the western Massachusetts hardcore punk scene in the early ’80s. They officially became Dinosaur after they dropped the other members; Mascis switched to guitar, Barlow moved over to bass and Barlow’s friend Emmett Jefferson “Murph” Murphy III, joined them on drums. (They eventually added the “Jr.” when a band of actual dinosaur rockers laid claim to the name.)
It was UMASS Amherst student Gerard Cosloy (of Matador Records fame) who first recognized that Dino were laying down a unique confabulation of sound in the Massachusetts’s wilds. Claiming they were the best band he’d ever seen, he tipped them to his friend Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who eventually asked Dinosaur Jr. on tour.
Some of the loudest, most aurally assaulting music to ever fill a rock club was generated by this historic trio. Their heavy brand of guitar rock paved the way for bands like Nirvana and the grunge movement that swept through music in the 90’s. A power trio in the true sense of the word, Dinosaur Jr. shows were often heralded as the loudest in the business.
“One of the first practices we ever had, Murph and I went over to J’s house, and J is sitting there with this new really high wattage amp that he had just bought. He was just sitting there and all of a sudden he just laid on his ‘Big Muff’ and we were like ‘OH MY FUCKING GOD!’ He literally had construction blast earmuffs on and Murph and I were scrambling around the house shoving toilet paper, or whatever we could find, into our ears,” Barlow recalled through bouts of laughter.
Twenty two years later the band hasn’t toned things down a bit. “We are probably louder than we were back in the ’80s. The stuff sounds better, the quality of the tones is better, though you can’t really tell because it is so fucking loud. We are all just much better players at this point and it feels really good to me,” said Barlow.
The first few shows in 2005 found the band on very solid footing. Things were falling into place nicely and what was originally intended to be a short spring reunion tour ended up stretching through till the end of the summer with dates on both sides of the Atlantic.
As if this wasn’t already more than anyone ever thought would happen, the three began entertaining thoughts of entering a studio together to lay down some tracks. Early this year it happened. Mascis, Barlow and Murph got together at Mascis’s house with tape rolling.
After a very relaxed month of work, the reunited Dinosaur Jr. is well on their way to their fourth studio album. “We’ve got eight songs with bass and drums on them,” Barlow said. “They are J’s songs so he has tons of guitar ideas and each song has a big solo section. I think he’s got his work cut out for him between shows over the next couple of months.”
The sessions were very similar to what Barlow remembered when the band recorded such albums as Bug and You’re Living All Over Me in the 80’s. J and Murph worked on the rhythms for hours and the volume was cranked all the way up. “J came in after I had done the last of my bass overdubs and said ‘That’s really fucking loud, I can hear it all the way down the street.’ And it was, it was so loud you had to wear hearing protection to even enter the room where I was doing it,” said Barlow.
Barlow seems very positive about the material they have recorded together, retaining the energy and aggression of the ’80s albums while incorporating all of the experience and maturity they have gained over the years of being apart. With any luck, the new album could show the unlocked potential of one of pre-grunge grunge rock’s greatest bands.
While Barlow admitted he doesn’t know when the album will hit the stores, since the band is taking on the project all themselves without label assistance, he said they were aiming for a release date before the end of the year. “We didn’t want to deal with a label on this one,” said Barlow. “We wanted to do it our way, at our pace, so I think J will be releasing it on his own label.”
:: Dinosaur Jr. ::
:: Fox Theatre :: April 14 and 15::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Sonic Youth