It's safe to assume that if the Pixies hadn't gotten back together last year, the re-forming of the original Dinosaur lineup (which was forced to add the Jr. after the release of its second album) would be the most unexpected band reunion in the history of underground rock. Though the group–singer-guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph–recorded a handful of influential albums in the second half of the '80s, and played ear-shattering shows that were burned into the memory of devoted listeners, the initial trio was just as well known for the way Barlow was kicked out of the band (Mascis and Murph told him the band was breaking up, even though they'd already replaced him and booked an Australian tour) and his subsequent public anger. In addition to suing Mascis for back royalties and keeping the acrimony alive in interviews, Barlow wrote some pointed songs about his ex-bandmate, recording them with his side-project-turned-main-project Sebadoh.
But time reportedly heals all wounds, and after Merge agreed to reissue the band's first three records–1985's Dinosaur Jr., 1987's You're Living All Over Me, and 1988's Bug–Mascis' management jumped at the chance to get the original trio back on the road. That became easier after some recent pleasant encounters between Mascis and Barlow, including a one-song reunion of their pre-Dinosaur band Deep Wound at a benefit show last year. Nearly 16 years after Barlow was given the boot–and more than a decade after Murph left Mascis following Lollapalooza '93–the '80s version of Dinosaur Jr. is playing its back catalog for intrigued audiences all over the world. The A.V. Club spoke separately with all three members between the band's first 10 shows and its current North American jaunt, which includes an appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago this weekend.
The Onion: Are you surprised that the original trio is back together?
J Mascis: Yeah. I guess it was just up to me. I know the other guys wanted to do it. Yeah, it's pretty surprising.
Murph: Yeah, I'm really surprised. Not that we're back together–that's not too surprising. It's how everyone's changed. I didn't think people would change as much as they have. And mellowed out. I'm kind of the cynic, I just always think, "Oh, people must just stay the same," and I'm amazed how much change has gone on.
Lou Barlow: Yeah, I guess. But the actual decision to really make this happen came after I had hung out with J a few times at shows he was playing or shows that we both played. We kind of have a fair amount of people in common that we either know quite well or work with mutually, so the ground had been considerably softened. I saw J play for the first time since I was kicked out of the band maybe about a year ago–we had both seen the Mission Of Burma reunion, and it was kind of like, "God, it was pretty good, they pretty much sounded the same as they used to." When I saw that, I was like, "Huh, I bet Dinosaur probably could just step onstage and sound approximately like what we used to sound like." If you told me four years ago that Dinosaur were going to get back together, yes, I would be insanely surprised. To actually be back, for me–you know, I was kicked out. And it was very personal: It was like, "I don't like you. You talk too much. You're out of the band." I wasn't kicked out for musical reasons.
O: When did the reunion process begin?
JM: A couple years ago, I played with the Asheton brothers and Mike Watt–we were in London playing Stooges songs, and Lou was there, and I asked Lou if he wanted to sing a song. And he was apologizing then for some of his past behaviors–that was the first time he seemed to have mellowed out a bit.
LB: I couldn't hear anything. Actually, that experience made me feel like I would never want to play with J. [Laughs.] 'Cause when I went up and did it, all you could hear was J. It was ridiculous. You couldn't hear Ron Asheton playing at all. It was just like Mike Watt playing a hundred million notes on the bass and J playing a bazillion notes on the guitar, and these two older guys, the two legends of the group–not that they all weren't legends–but the "1969" guys are completely drowned out by these two guys that just cannot stop playing. [Laughs.] And I couldn't hear a word that I was singing. And although I knew the song really well, I found that the extreme volume actually blew every single memory of the song out of my head. The singing with him onstage was pretty goofy, but the part that was cool was just hanging out backstage with him, and just kind of getting to know J again, and talking to his wife. His wife is really friendly. I would just ask him, "Can you hear anything when you're playing, J?" [Laughs.] "Are you wearing earplugs?" It was funny, 'cause ever since I was in Dinosaur and playing that loud, I went through a lot of different phases of playing bass really differently, or playing acoustic or playing guitar in Folk Implosion and Sebadoh. I kind of went through a whole lot of different changes. It was weird to get back up onstage all of the sudden and go, "Oh yeah, there's people that just play loud–that's what they do." [Laughs.] "Wow, this is tough." But I think just being near him was really important for me, just to begin to let him become a person again to me, because I had a really hard time after, with how much ambivalence I held about him. Like kind of worshipping him and really adoring him on a personal level, but then just hating what he had done to me. And that's where I apologized for yelling at him a few years before that.
O: You guys have said some pretty terrible things about each other over the years, and Lou even sued J. How did you get past the insults?
JM: I guess it was just up to him to mellow out a bit. Lou's always expressed interest in a reunion, even when he's screaming at me. He realized he had to take some of the blame for the past.
LB: Well, J says it's because I mellowed out; I think it's because he mellowed out. [Laughs.] Because he was pretty much like a borderline sadist when I was in the band with him–he took great pleasure at other people's pain. [Laughs.] Now, he doesn't seem to be that way, and if he was that way, I would pick up on it. When I yelled at him a few years ago, it was because I thought he was saying extremely thoughtless and cruel things about people. When I began to see him after that, he just didn't have that edge, which then made me kind of mellow out. I don't really hold grudges with people–I mean, I have problems with people and things that I work through, but I've found that just about everything, every kind of breakup that I've had, always seems to come full circle, and I'm very open to that in my life. That's a big part of my life: reconciliation. So to see that kind of end with J, I was like, "Oh, okay." You know, I didn't quit the band. I wasn't driven away from the band. I would have stayed in that band for as long as they would have had me, regardless of how I felt mistreated. I would have stayed with the band for the music. So yeah, I definitely mellowed out, but it's because I was starting to get the idea that J had changed, and a lot of people had told me that. And as I actually began to see that myself, that's when my guard just totally dropped. I had a huge chip on my shoulder about what had happened to me in that band. And the way that J sort of phrases it now, like "Lou mellowing out," it's like, "Yeah, but this is like a–"
O: An action-reaction thing.
LB: This is an action-reaction thing. The thing about keeping the band together was not the issue between me and J, ever–we were always on the same page musically and kind of philosophically. The problem with keeping Dinosaur Jr. together was keeping Murph in the band, and my biggest job in that band was convincing Murph that we were great, and that's what I did all the time. Murph was the wild card. I wasn't. That came out later. I got a girlfriend and came out of my shell, to the horror of these people in a very controlled social situation, which was J's world, which was–whether J knew it or not–very much under his control. And when I came out of my shell, I then became something that couldn't be predicted. You couldn't predict what would come out of my mouth, and I took great pleasure in that. And the only real way of preserving that situation, the only way of J remaining in control of his world at that point, the world of that band, was to get me out of there. And that's what happened. And I'm sure it was very annoying to hear me come out of my shell, I don't doubt that. But we were all annoying. [Laughs.]
O: What did keeping Murph in the band entail?
LB: Talking constantly about it. Murph was a free spirit–he liked everything and anything. Murph was the guy that was driving 100 miles an hour down the back roads, drinking beers, scoping out parties, listening to Frank Zappa at top volume, and expounding on the virtues of jazz fusion. Where J and I were like, The Birthday Party, Neil Young. We were very open-minded, in our way, but there was a vision–J was writing these songs, and I intuitively and implicitly understood where he was going with his songs and what he wanted. Murph was the guy who was like, "What is this about? What's the big deal? Why are you guys telling me that I gotta play this way?" And that was a huge tension… It was really about keeping the band dynamic together and me and Murph solidifying as a rhythm section, and that was a lot of what I was involved with in the band. People kind of make this like, "J and Lou hate each other!" We weren't arguing. There were no fights between J and I. It came down to like two instances: One was me doing a bunch of really ill-advised feedback during a slow song, which J took as a personal affront and attacked me onstage, and then the second being the actual kicking me out of the band. And that was it. Between that time, there were no arguments between J and I–there was just no communication. We just didn't have that kind of chemistry. We had musical chemistry, but we had no personal chemistry. But I was hardly the only person on the planet that didn't have personal chemistry with J Mascis. [Laughs.]
M: The band was most important to Lou. Lou felt like the band was this real angel's egg or whatever. Whereas J was like–it was a lot of his stuff, so I think he could only be so objective. And me, I was just like, "Yeah, you know, whatever. We're just this sloppy punk-rock band. Who cares?" [Laughs.] But yeah, Lou was the most serious as far as like, "This band, man, this is like really important." He definitely was very idealistic about it, which was cool. J was, too, but Lou was definitely more so.
O: When you started talking about the reunion, what were those initial conversations like? Did you have to deal with apologizing and asking for apologies before you could talk about playing music again?
JM: No, not really. We never were much for talking. [Laughs.] It was just kind of like people growing up. We were all so young, you know.
LB: Our sense of humor in that band was harsh. And nobody was particularly safe from that, except maybe some girls. [Laughs]. When we were functioning as a band, we would be watching Faces Of Death videos and practicing and listening to Venom and then having conversations, which were just these great dissections of other people's personalities. So it would be really hard to seriously go to J: "That thing you said about me really hurt my feelings, and I've never been able to shake it." Anything that he said about me, I've said worse about him. You just get a really thick skin. My skin was pretty thin when I was in that band, but because of what I went through with that band, and just the level of humor and sarcasm that we were dealing on was so intense–I think it's also something that's almost regionally specific, like it's almost a Massachusetts thing. I moved there from the Midwest when I was like 12, and I thought people were fucking assholes when I got to Massachusetts. And when I moved out to California, all of a sudden everybody in California is trying to hug you and stuff and talk about, "Hey, that was really great, and thank you so much." And you're like, "Wait a minute, what the fuck is this?" Maybe it's attributable to everybody kind of having a sense of humor about themselves, which is probably the nicest surprise about J that I think I've experienced. Finding out about him is like, "Wow, he has a sense of humor about himself." 'Cause in my estimation, back then, he didn't. He could insult you for how you chewed while–literally–saliva is dribbling out of the side of his mouth while he's chewing on a piece of gum like a fucking cow. [Laughs.] And he's telling you that he hates the way that you eat chicken. So now to see that maybe he sort of understands that he himself has his own quirks, that's pretty healing. Now, things are just great–it's like family around. J's wife is really nice, and I went to see J's guru a couple weeks ago. [Laughs.] He was out in Los Angeles seeing this woman Amma–they call her "the hugging guru," 'cause lines of people form and you go and you hug her. And J's been following her for probably 10 years.
O: In 1993, Sebadoh shared some Southwestern Lollapalooza dates with Dinosaur Jr. Did you come into contact with each other that summer?
M: Not at all. I didn't even go watch him. [Laughs.] It was weird. I always liked Lou, and I was really into Lou–I just wasn't back then. Now I'm really into his stuff, but back then, it had only been three or four years [since Barlow's expulsion]–it was still just too fresh, so I couldn't really listen to his music, 'cause it was just too painful if I were to hear it. I remember one time, we were like, "Yeah, Lou's playing on the side stage." J was like, "Are you gonna check it out?" And I was just like, "Mmm, probably not." [Laughs.] I was kind of afraid to deal with him, because he was so angry every time I'd come across him. It was always some kind of confrontation, or "You suck!" and I just, like, couldn't deal with it. So I avoided him. [Laughs.]
LB: The main stage was probably, at any given show, a half-hour walk in the midday sun, and being on the second stage, we didn't really have the little carts or anything to zip around on, so I never made it to the main stage. And it was pretty obvious that Dinosaur were not into playing that at all. J never said anything–I could usually hear the sort of windblown Dinosaur from where we were–but the very last show that we played in Los Angeles, J said the first thing that he had said–and actually, I have this on videotape, because I was videotaping some ducks floating across the pond, and you can hear J going, "This is the last show of Lollapalooza–we're so fucking psyched!" [Laughs.]
O: That must have provided you some enjoyment.
LB: It did, because I just knew they were miserable. I knew that removing me would only create a very brief moment of relief for them, that they would immediately fall back into some kind of crazy rut. So that was satisfying. [Laughs.] But that was a long time ago… One thing I do remember that was kind of interesting was that I had all these amp problems on that tour, because we were playing–literally–in the middle of dusty parking lots and stuff, and I had this really sensitive amplifier that was breaking down. And at some point, J offered–I don't remember how it happened, maybe he was backstage or something–to let me use some of his stuff. But I refused. I was like, "No, that's okay." But I remember just going, "Man." [Laughs.] "Well, that's interesting." J started showing up at Sebadoh shows in the '90s–I think he was kind of aware of how much shit I was talking about him, but I don't think he really ever pursued any of it. One of the things that really triggered this, for me to finally just go, "Hey, you know, maybe this could work," is when I realized that maybe J wasn't really holding any kind of grudge against me because he didn't like me. I was thinking, maybe he just didn't realize what he had done, or maybe he wasn't really aware of how much he'd actually hurt me. And when I started to realize that, he kind of became more human to me.
O: It must have been weird to have J in the crowd while you sang songs about him.
LB: He wouldn't know, though.
O: But you would know.
LB: I would know, but singing songs about people who are there–it's gotta be done. It's the only way to really write good songs. [Laughs.] You can cover everything in all the metaphor you want, but as far as directly communicating with people, that's pretty much what it's about. I wrote a lot of songs for him that were actually not hate songs–I thought that they were very well-researched, and I often implicated myself in the problem just as much. [Laughs.] But I never thought he would listen to them. I knew he wouldn't, as a matter of fact. Which actually gave me a lot of freedom.
O: The fact that J offered to let you use his amp goes against the perception that you two didn't talk for years.
LB: There's a lot made that we hated each other while the band was going on, and it wasn't really that–it's just that we didn't communicate. We had, like, zero chemistry as people. J's someone that, if you get him going and talking and feeling comfortable, he can be really articulate and easy to talk to. But you have to do the work. And when I was in the band with him–actually, from the first time that I met him–I held him in really high esteem, because I thought he was really talented and well-dressed and he was like the coolest guy I'd ever met.
So I was very intimidated by him, and for that reason, I could never just walk up to him and slap him on the back, like, "Hey, J, what's going on, man?" I would always approach him as if he had literally been beamed down from another planet. 'Cause I thought he possessed super powers–I really did, from very early on. He was an amazing drummer, amazing songwriter, he picked up the guitar and within a very short period, he wrote those first three Dinosaur records. And there's so much on there, lyrically and melodically–I was totally in awe of the guy, so it was very hard for me to just be mellow around him. I really kind of worshipped him. He has an older brother, so when you smell that kind of worship in somebody, you tend to want to abuse them, I think. I haven't had that experience, because I grew up with all sisters, but he had an older brother and had a lot of friends in high school, so I think once he sort of figured out I respected him too much, he just kind of abused me.
O: It seems as though that tension probably had a lot to with the energy of the initial Dinosaur records and concerts.
LB: People talk about that a lot, and I think that's just bullshit. Because I think the thing that actually makes things sound really good–there's also this thing called the love of music that actually makes you play that way. [Laughs.] I like how people think, "Yeah, man, it was because they all hated each other that it was so great." Because the record that stands out as our big crowning achievement, that's when we were more like a band. You're Living All Over Me, we were a band. We were so much of a band, and I felt so safe within that band, that I put my fucking tape collage at the end of the record. J said, "Yeah, do it, that's cool." And when we were doing our short tours around that time, there was a real sense of working together, and when we would go into the studio, we would be there with J while he was constructing these things. And we would be singing together in the studio, or cracking each other up. The reason that I played so hard with Dinosaur wasn't because I was thinking, "I wish this was J's face!" No, it had to do with having a pretty good idea of what we wanted to sound like, based on listening to tons of records and being really passionate about music, and passionate about forceful music, too. We were really into forceful music, but also completely in love with songs, and after coming out of something like hardcore, how else could you play and be true to yourself without just fucking wailing? But really, it's the love of music first and foremost that makes things sound great. The tension is what tore us apart and what made Bug not be quite as great as the record before it. Because if J and I had actually started to really work together, or I had felt safe to start writing songs with him, we could have become something else entirely. There are no could'ves here–I never go, "Gee, if only J and I…" I'm just saying that You're Living All Over Me was an instance where we were working together. J was masterminding it for sure, but he was benevolently masterminding it, and we were working together and it was pretty fun. And we were enjoying what we were creating together. So it's really hard for me to play into that kind of mythology about the tension and stuff.
O: Other than supporting the reissues, is there a particular reason why you've returned in 2005? Do you feel like maybe the world is finally ready for this reunion?
LB: I don't know why it would be any more important now. I mean, people talk about all these bands that are really influenced by Dinosaur. Dinosaur's influence has become so subsumed into–it's not even an issue any more of whether we've influenced people. There was a brief time I thought in the '90s where it was pretty obvious, like "Creep" by Radiohead, where you're like, "Whoa." And the shoe-gazer bands. But at this point, it just seems like we probably could have done this at any particular time, and people would be like, "Wow, I never thought that would happen."
JM: Yeah, it seemed like a good time for all of us. Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine was saying, "Yeah, that would be good for you guys to play again, to show people that you influenced a lot of people." Like we influenced them and, I don't know, some other bands at the time. And kids don't realize at this point.
O: After everything you've been through, was it possible for your shows to feel like old times? Would you even want them to feel like old times?
JM: No, not really. [Laughs.] It definitely felt better than old times. More like earlier times, before we were all hating each other.
M: People always talk about how we didn't get along, and it's true, but we still paid a lot of attention to the music, regardless, and we took a lot of time to learn the music and do it really well to the best of our ability. And I think it paid off, because it's still there–Lou and I got together at first, like two months ago, and practiced at his rehearsal space in California, and within an hour, it felt we were back in J's basement in the old days. [Laughs.] It feels way like old times. We've played a bunch of festivals and stuff already in Europe, and I just feel like we're so punk, like we're just really heavy and aggressive. It definitely feels like the '80s all over again, as far as the early-'80s hardcore scene or whatever. I definitely feel like that energy is still coming through, and it's cool.
LB: It feels exactly like old times, minus the part where I think everybody hates us. [Laughs.] Minus the part where I think I'm doing something wrong. Or minus the part where I just feel cripplingly self-conscious.
O: Back in the day, a lot of the band's problems cropped up on tour. How are you guys holding up on the road?
J Mascis: So far, so good. We had Lou's wife and Lou's new kid on the bus. And my wife. And then we had some other people who were all kind of old-time fans working with us–usually people who me and Lou both like. And Murph gets along with most people.
Murph: Everything's been awesome. It's been really, really cool. I'm still kind of shocked–I'll be numb, just kind of sitting around going "Wow." I'm not used to it, 'cause I'm still programmed from the old days. The biggest thing is, back in the early days, it was more just us, whereas now we have a couple techs with us–a really good drummer and guitar player. They've actually played with J. So it's more like a family. I mean, yeah, it's the three of us out there, but I feel like we're coming from a much bigger foundation where we have this whole family of musicians, so we can laugh about stuff and joke. I can screw up a song and look over at whoever and laugh, and he'll be laughing, like, "Yeah, that was a good one, you fucked that one up pretty good." In the old days, that would have never happened, and that brings a whole new kind of fun light into it.
Lou Barlow: Those were literally the first tours that we were doing, and in the 15 years since I was in the band–or whatever it is–I've toured constantly, and so has J. And Murph has toured, too, with Lemonheads and some other bands. So we're, like, veterans of what we do. Those first tours would be hard on anybody, and in my opinion, back then, J and Murph were rather spoiled. [Laughs.] So it was extremely difficult for them, as the youngest children in their family, to have to share everything. [Laughs.] It wasn't easy to share your space, and it was devastating for J to have to be near people while they were eating and stuff. [Laughs]. It was really hard for him. But that was a long time ago.
O: As a music fan, are you usually skeptical of reunions?
JM: Um, depends. Yeah, sometimes. Definitely skeptical of reunion records. [Laughs.] I think the first reunion that I was really into was Fleetwood Mac–I thought Stevie Nicks was singing a lot better than she used to sing. That inspired me in some way–I really liked that live concert they recorded. The music seemed better. Mission Of Burma, I've seen quite a few times–I saw them in the old days, and they seem better now that they've reunited. The shows I've seen were better than the shows I saw when I was a kid.
O: As a musician, how artistically rewarding is it for you to relive the past?
JM: It's pretty fun, just 'cause we play really well. I think people are psyched 'cause it doesn't seem, from people I've talked to, like a nostalgic thing–we play really hard and have a lot of force behind it. I guess we're just a good live band, so it sounds good. I don't know, 'cause maybe there's so many crappy bands now that it makes us seem even better or something.
LB: It's a gift that I get to go back, 'cause Dinosaur taught me so much about writing songs and musical dynamics, and so much of what I did was a reaction to Dinosaur. And what's kind of interesting, too, is that I'm doing this Dinosaur thing and I'm playing the way that I used to play, which is getting back to the genesis of my strumming style–the way that I played bass, and then the way that I began to write my own songs on ukulele and four-string guitars, when I first started writing for Sebadoh. It gets me back to that, which is where I went after I finished my solo record.
What I realized was that, since probably like '92, I had made a conscious switch to writing on a six-string guitar with normal tuning, and I started writing songs that way 'cause I had written so many songs on four-string guitars with alternate tunings that I thought I went far enough in that direction. So I started to embrace the more standard tuning and see what I could do with that, which led me through the '90s, like the Sebadoh pop years or whatever–Bakesale and Harmacy–into Folk Implosion. After I finished my solo record, I was like, "I really am ready now to return to my roots, I'm going to rediscover this style, I'm gonna start playing ukulele again and start getting back into that."
And just as I was starting to do that, then this Dinosaur reunion thing came up–it's like I was able to totally be transported back to that time. It was really cool. And then on top of that, right at the same time, I'd actually reconnected with Eric Gaffney from the original Sebadoh, and we're now piecing together a reissue of Sebadoh III, which was like the big, crazy, weird Sebadoh record that everybody liked. So I'm going back and listening to all the old tapes of that, which are all the songs that I wrote just after I was kicked out of Dinosaur. So it's really unique. For all of the bad blood that has passed between me and my ex-bandmates and all that shit, it's all come back around: I'm talking with Eric Gaffney and we're doing this reissue together, and I'm fucking playing with J again and hanging out with him and Murph. It's really cool.
O: Do you think the original trio will record new music together?
JM: We don't have any plans except the summer tour–see if we make it through that. I've been recording stuff on my own, but we didn't have any plans to record or anything. We're just thinking about the tour. I guess none of us really have a very forward-thinking attitude. I just don't know what that would be like, or if there's a point to it, or anything to record. Does anybody really want to hear the new Stooges album? They just want to go see 'em and hear 'em play their old stuff.
M: I don't know. This summer's gonna be so long, I don't think we've talked about it. We have some offers to do some stuff maybe later, and we'll see. I know Lou wants to get back to do some Sebadoh stuff, J has some side projects he's gonna work on, I have a couple things brewing. But we'll see. I think we're gonna be so burnt out after this summer, we can't really think beyond it.
LB: I really have no idea. We've only played 10 shows. I don't know how I would write songs like that now. I don't know why people are even really concerned about that. We've talked about that as a band: It's like, "Why are people talking about this? Why are people asking us if we're gonna do a new record, when if we did do a new record, they would get the fucking promo and go, like, 'Yeah, I don't know–maybe this wasn't such a good idea?'" [Laughs.] Like, you'd get the record for free, or you'd fucking download it, and then we'd be out touring our new album while people yelled for the old songs, while they went to the bathroom when we played the new ones.
O: But you said that one of the things that made you think this reunion could work was seeing Mission Of Burma, and people have responded well to their new record.
LB: I listened to it once, and I said, "Yeah, okay, it sounds like the old stuff," but I didn't listen to it. I don't know. I consider myself to be a pretty good gauge as to the audience that I play to, and I have the attention span of less than a 13-year-old. Like 13-, 14-year-old kids, or 15-year-old kids, they can actually make it through whole records. I can't. I can listen to, like, one song of something–I'm extremely fickle, and I have no sense of nostalgia about anything. I don't give a shit. I'm never like, "Oh great, I'm so glad Iggy Pop has remixed Raw Power." [Laughs.] You put it on for one second, it's like, "I don't care. Who gives a shit? So it sounds better–who fucking cares?" I think maybe J is the same way.
O: Did money have something to do with the reunion?
JM: Yeah, that helps the vibes of the band, too. On the tours where we hated each other, we had, like, five dollars a day or something, and our van breaking down. It was just miserable–times where we'd take it out on each other. Getting paid some decent money definitely helps the vibe of the band.
O: Did you feel strongly enough about getting together and playing these old songs that you would have done it regardless of the money or any other factors?
JM: Probably not.
LB: I would have done this reunion, if those guys were up for it, no matter how much money was involved. The deciding thing is not the money. To go out and play with those guys? That's just crazy–I would do that no matter what. I'd do that for a benefit. But as far as, like, setting aside the next year of my life, there's gotta be some money involved. [Laughs.] And my wife just had a baby–I am a provider. There is this great personal side of this reunion, which is really amazing, and I really want to pull that to the forefront and say, "This is really why I'm doing it, and this is a beautiful thing for me personally." But there's also the side which is just like, "Fuck, I need to make money."
O: At the end of the Dinosaur Jr. chapter in Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life, there's a story about Lou confronting J after Nirvana broke, and basically saying that it could have happened to you guys. Are you bitter that you didn't receive the kind of recognition that a lot of alt-rock bands got in the '90s?
JM: No, I never thought that was true. 'Cause the minute I heard Nirvana, you could tell, "Oh, this guy sounds like what American radio sounds like–Bad Company or Cheap Trick or something. His voice really has got that commercial kind of style." But I knew we never had that. Our goal was to be on SST–we never even thought that kind of way. It's just after Nirvana, everybody started thinking like that, and the whole scene got really weird and kind of depressing for a while.
LB: I said that to him because I was really high. [Laughs.] I was on the streets of Northampton–I saw J, and I was into fucking razzing him. There was nothing behind that. I was making it up as I went along. But now that I'm actually back in the band, I'm realizing, "We could have never been fucking Nirvana. If I had stayed in the band, we could have done okay, but we would have never been Nirvana." If you listen to Nevermind next to Bug or You're Living All Over Me… I mean, I like Nirvana, but there's so much going on in Dinosaur Jr. records that is–Nirvana's like a simplification.
Nirvana were like power chords–that's blocky, kinda power-chord music with the occasional Sonic Youth-y flip-out in it. But the power of that band is Kurt Cobain's voice, which is just fucking caramel–a beautiful rock voice. But Dinosaur–if you're gonna compare a song off You're Living All Over Me, which is just this crash of chords and roaring bass–that's a wall of sound, like a really rich wall of sound that I don't really hear when I hear Nirvana. I mean, Nirvana, I hear a wall of sound, of course, and it's great, but it doesn't have the artistry that fucking J Mascis brought into it. His guitar playing really is extraordinary, and he really did incredible things with the way that he played his guitar and set up his effects and the way that he crafted that sound. There's a lot to that–you don't hear that when Black Francis plays, and you don't hear it when Kurt Cobain plays. And on top of that, you don't hear it when you hear Smashing Pumpkins. Dinosaur was like fucking blood and guts–I played my bass like Lemmy, and J played like some fucking '70s guitar hero, but who had really amazing influences: Birthday Party, Stooges, Venom, R.E.M. He was awesome. Nobody played liked him.
O: Earlier in Our Band Could Be Your Life, Lou accuses J of being homophobic, but J never defends himself. What was that about?
JM: [Laughs.] I have no idea. The first I ever heard of that was the book. I don't know, that was just weird. I guess we would just tease Lou, but we had no idea he was struggling with that or anything. He never mentioned that, so that was a surprise to me. [Laughs.]
LB: It just refers to one episode where–I don't know. J was really bothered how I sucked on everything. It's funny, 'cause I was going through these tapes for Sebadoh III, and there's actually a few songs that I wrote from that period that really touch on that. Going back to that now, and, like, sort of examining that, I'm kind of like… [Pauses.] I don't know how homophobic he really was. He was just a jerk. He was pretty much just phobic. It didn't matter. Like everything kind of bugged him. And at that age especially, like 19, 20, 21, it's pretty fucking normal for a group of guys who hang around together to spend a lot of time hypothesizing about who's gay. It's pretty common.
And then when I've had run-ins with people, like real fucking dudes, like dudes that are not indie-rock guys or whatever, like just regular fucking people, they are insanely homophobic. So for me to call someone like J homophobic back then, looking back on it now is pretty much like–I was just so consumed with theories as to why he was such an asshole that I was sort of grasping at shit. I'm a little embarrassed about how I tried to actually bring that into the equation. If some guy's gonna approach me with a tape recorder a couple years later and ask me to tell the whole story while buying me drinks, I'm definitely going to start scraping the bottom of the barrel with my theories. [Laughs.] And the homophobic theory is pretty much the bottom of the barrel. J seems pretty accepting of all kinds of things, and I think he probably was back then, even, in his way.