By Brian F. Johnson
In his video “Every Morning” J Mascis appears as a robe-wearing cult leader administering Dixie cups of electric Kool-Aid to his followers “The Space Children of the Forest,” who oddly idolize chicken eggs before eventually running off to start a computer company with the cult-leader’s nemesis played by SNL/Portlandia’s Fred Armisen.
Seeing Mascis as a cult-leader isn’t that far of a stretch. As the lead guitarist for the seminal alt-rock band Dinosaur Jr., Mascis has been heralded as a guitar God. He was ranked number 86 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” and in 2012, he was ranked fifth in Spin’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” His extensive use of feedback and distortion and his notorious Fender Jazzmaster guitar and Marshall stacks have bludgeoned ears for nearly three decades.
But the inevitable consequence of playing loud rock and roll for 30 years has finally given way to Mascis exploring other material and in August the guitar legend, who back in the grunge heyday was twice asked to join Nirvana, released his second solo acoustic album Tied To A Star — the follow up to his 2011 solo acoustic endeavor Several Shades of Why.
For a musician who has built a career on playing heavily-distorted rock, Tied To A Star and its predecessor showcase an entirely different side of Mascis. The latest album starts with an almost John Denver-like melody on “Me Again,” with a bridge that finds the guitarist repeatedly singing “sentimental me,” in his high falsetto.
Mascis said that while the acoustic left-turn might have been inevitable, a lot of it was fueled by the encouragement of Sub Pop Records executive vice-president Megan Jasper. “I started playing some acoustic shows and my friend Megan from Sub Pop was at some and really liked them and she thought I should make a record like that and it all came from there. This is kind of the sequel to the last one,” he said. “I was sort of planning on going in that direction, but then Dino got back together and I’m not sure if I would have gone through with it if Megan wouldn’t have had the offer to do it.”
But even more than Jasper’s encouragement, Mascis said that the biggest reason to go acoustic for a few albums was to keep things fresh, not only in the minds of fans, but in his own mind as well. “This is so I don’t get sick of me,” said the notoriously soft-spoken, dry-humored Mascis. “I have sat on a stage by myself quite a few times. I have more fun doing loud band stuff, it’s what I prefer, but it’s good to mix it up a bit.”
Mascis started working on Tied To A Star shortly after the release of Dinosaur Jr.’s last album 2012’s I Bet On Sky. While the sound is certainly stripped down — almost stark, compared to Mascis’ Dino material, the album isn’t just J and his acoustic guitars.
He is joined by guests Ken Maiuri the pianist from Young@Heart Chorus, guitarist Pall Jenkins from Black Heart Procession, Miracle Legion guitarist Mark Mulcahy and the vocals of Chan Marshall (Cat Power) on the track “Wide Awake.” “I thought she’d sound good on that song and luckily it worked out,” he said.
In addition to the guests, Mascis changes his guitars and his sounds on the record, giving the album more balance than if it were just an acoustic guitar and a microphone. “I tried to switch up the guitars for different songs,” Mascis said. “But it was mostly Martins, a few Gibsons, and an Epiphone. I have a lot of guitars.”
Mascis pushed those instruments, at times, like on the solo of “Trailing Off” through a Dope Priest pedal – a frequency sustainer based on the 1970’s Big Muff fuzz pedal to give the songs an added depth, and to make the solos stand out from the acoustic strumming and subdued accompaniment.
On both the album and for the upcoming live shows though, his signature, deafening Marshall stacks are out of the picture. “I’m going more naked, you know,” he said. “I lean on my amps, figuratively and literally.”
With his aloof personality it’s not surprising that Mascis doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on his work once it’s done, and for the Charlie Manson-like video for “Every Morning” he said he didn’t give any input. “[Funny or Die director] Danny Jelinek wrote it, and I just kind of trusted him that it’d be alright,” Mascis said. “I’ve already been through the stage of strangling everything, and then you realize it’s exhausting, and giving up control isn’t so bad after all.”
|J Mascis |
| Larimer Lounge |
| November 21 and 22 |
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• Dinosaur Jr.
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