J Mascis-frontman, guitar hero and overlord of indie-rock giants Dinosaur Jr-was never a good communicator. In fact, rumor has it he was so shitty that he stonewalled bassist and occasional singer Lou Barlow out of the band Barlow helped found. Of course, it's possible Barlow was a little too good at communicating his frustration.
But like all bands with unresolved issues and cash-flow problems, Dinosaur Jr reunited in 2005 and this week released the excellent Beyond (a reunion album that frankly out-rocks The Stooges' attempt to be this year's underground-rock comeback). Never a big talker, Mascis decided to kinda-sorta reveal to CityBeat how Barlow and drummer Murph reconciled their creative differences.
CityBeat: Lou Barlow told us that most of the band's internal friction came from being young and immature. Is that how you see it?
J Mascis: I guess Lou was really angry for a long time, and I guess he finally kinda got over it or something.
What do you think of Lou's contributions to the new album?
I guess they sound more rocking than the stuff he's been doing lately [with Sebadoh, which also recently reunited]. I'm just glad he finally pulled something out of his, uh... struggle.
Has time and age made you a better communicator?
Well. [Pause.] We never were good at communicating. But we just started playing together again and things were easier. Now, we all have managers and people and go-betweens and stuff, and that helps us to communicate.
Do the shows feel the same as they did in the '80s?
It's hard to remember what it felt like in the past, but the range seems smaller. Things seem more consistent now. There are pros and cons. The general level of the shows is better, but not as many crazy things happen.
Do you still write songs coming from the same place you did 20 years ago? Do you still write from a dark place?
Yes and no. I guess they're still about relationships and dealing with people. I guess I'm older so I'm not as desperate as I was when I was a kid.... People tend to correlate someone's best work with when they were most miserable-like being miserable makes for more intense music. I definitely don't like happy music, but it's hard to say what mood makes my best work.
If you're not as miserable as you used to be, and if the band is getting along, is it hard to re-create what made the band unique?
I guess with the band we realized that without all the personal turmoil and trauma, there was still an energy between us. That's kind of what I think the [new] album proves. Even though we're no longer miserable, even though we're still not fighting, there's still that energy. It proves our music wasn't all about interpersonal tension. There's something still there.
Even with all the mess you create, you seem like a perfectionist. And because you played guitar, bass and drums on Dinosaur Jr albums after Lou and Murph were gone, is it hard to let go and let the other guys control their parts?
I still tell Murph what to play. I guess some guys who don't play drums write songs and think of the drums as just a beat to a song. But when I'm writing, I hear the drums as part of the song linked with guitar and the melody. On the other hand, I don't hear the bass at all when I'm writing songs, so Lou can play anything.
I guess that's good for keeping down the conflict.
Yeah. [Pause.] I guess.
Dinosaur Jr plays with Anders and Woods and Spouse at The Casbah on Thursday, May 10. The show is sold out. www.myspace.com/dinosaurjr.
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