The person whose job it is to get musicians to say interesting things over the phone already faces something of a challenge when interviewing J Mascis, singer-guitarist of Dinosaur Jr., and O.G. slacker of legendary proportions. Since the '80s, Mascis has been known for giving short, vague, almost totally apathetic answers in interviews. So imagine our horror when Mascis answered the phone -- his inert croak of a voice crackling through a bad connection -- and informed us that he was sick with a cold. We feared the worst: that Mascis' responses would be reduced to single words, or perhaps just coughs sort of resembling words. And we were really hoping to talk about the album Bug, which Dinosaur Jr. will be performing in its entirety this Thursday at the Fillmore.
But while our interview with Mascis was short and punctuated by coughing, it was not a total disaster. Mascis told us what he really thinks about the band's third album -- which was recorded in an acrimonious period right before the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup split -- how it is that the leader of this epically loud rock outfit can still hear anything, and about his bad run-in with S.F. hippies in the late '80s. Read on for reasonably cogent thoughts from the man who brought the guitar solo back into indie rock.
What made you want to do Bug as a live show?
We got an offer to do it with All Tomorrow's Parties in England, so then we just figured that if we bothered to learn it, we might as well do some more shows.
As a fan, the album I would have requested for for Dinosaur to play would be You're Living All Over Me more than Bug.
We did that already. He asked before if we want to do Bug, and we said, 'Why don't we do You're Living All Over Me?' And we did that. But then he still came back and asked for Bug. For the English it's more kind of the first album they heard, they're more into it.
Which album do you like better?
You're Living All Over Me I think is a lot better.
I wonder, when you're playing an older album all the way through, do you have to revisit who you were when you made it? Bug was a rough time for the three of you.
Yeah, the album definitely reminds you of the time. But, yeah, at least from playing it now we get a better spin on it. We already did one tour doing it, and it made the memories of the album a little better.
Are you surprised at this interest in getting bands playing older albums now? What's your take on that?
I mean, I like it as a fan. I think I first heard of somebody doing that like in the '90s -- Cheap Trick did their first three albums, and I saw the first album in New York and I thought it was pretty cool, because they don't play a lot of those songs anymore. And if you really like a certain album, it's really cool.
If you were doing a regular Dinosaur Jr. show, how much of Bug would you play, just working it into a normal set?
Uh, probably get one, maybe two songs.
You have Henry Rollins coming out on the road to interview you before these shows. Was that part of the ATP thing, too, or did you add that for these dates?
We did an East Coast tour with Henry. His idea was, if people hadn't been there the first time around, kind of give them a idea what was going on back then, like the atmosphere.
So is it a different conversation every night? How does it turn out?
I think Henry refined his questions every night, so by the end it got a lot better. So we'll see what happens, it should be cool.
Are you listening to much new music these days? If so, what?
Yeah, I listen to a lot of stuff and just try to find something I like. Um, newer bands, I like the Wooden Shjips. What do I like? I don't remember what I've gotten lately. There's always a lot of older stuff that I've never heard, that I like probably more than new bands, it seems like. The Fall album that came out maybe five or six years ago still sounds pretty amazing.
But you like Wooden Shjips?
Yeah, and this band Soft Moon, I like.
Both of those are San Francisco Bay Area bands.
Do you still have any resentment left over about the old S.F. hippies that made you guys call the band Dinosaur Jr. instead of just Dinosaur?
Uh, sure. It was the Fish from Country Joe and the Fish. And he was a lawyer, and his office was on Haight Street, it all just seemed pretty weird.
What did you think when you first heard that? Were you angry?
Uh, yeah, I was just kind of like -- I didn't understand what the big deal was. Like, I don't know, I just figured people would know the difference. They were the Dinosaurs and we were Dinosaur. I guess that wasn't enough of a distinction. I should have listened to the hippies back then in the record store -- they told me about them.