Interview: Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. - Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

Dinosaur Jr. – Photo by Brantley Gutierrez

Although the members of Dinosaur Jr. have spent the past few weeks touring Europe, the highlight thus far has not been any particular city, but rather the fact that they are finally fighting off the sickness that has plagued all three of them since the tour start. Compound that with a winter tour, and being on the road is not entirely enjoyable.

But luckily for the group, they haven’t had to worry about the audience turnout, with many of the shows, including last week’s Berlin performance at Postbahnhof, selling out.

Interestingly enough, Berlin is a city particularly important for the group, and especially lead singer and guitarist J Mascis.

“We have a pretty strong connection to Berlin through J,” bassist Lou Barlow said. “His wife was raised around here and he has actually a lot of extended family here on his wife’s side.”

In addition to the special relationship, the members of Dinosaur Jr. also have the unique experience of having played in the city many times and seeing firsthand how it has grown and changed over the decades.

“We sort of were able to experience what it was like before the wall came down, and sort of see the changes happening,” Barlow shared. “Berlin is one of those places where you just really…do feel how much things have changed and how incredible it is that it happened in our lifetime.”

He also explained that there was, for Dinosaur Jr., a surreal aspect to it back in the 80s, particularly when the band, a trio of 20-somethings, would drive through East Germany, experiencing its fair share of speed-traps, Communist billboards, strip searches, and more.

But just as Berlin has a particular and unique history, Dinosaur Jr. has one of its own. Worth mentioning is the eviction of Barlow after 1988’s “Bug,” followed by a complete disbandment after four more albums, in 1997. Yet in 2005, the band’s original lineup, consisting of Barlow, Mascis, and drummer Murph (née Emmett Jefferson Murphy III), reformed, and has gone on to put out three new albums that still retain more than a hint of what once was.

“We’re really lucky, ’cause the new stuff just seems to fit in so well,” Murph said. “Every time we’ve toured these new records, it fits and it’s pretty seamless.”

Of course, playing a setlist the heavily favors the older songs can be interesting for the members, particularly considering the memories they might conjure up.

“What’s funny, we played In A Jar, and the other night we were playing it and I remember it was like, so tedious. J was really so anal about certain things on that songs and it was like, really, I just remember it was a real struggle [back then],” Murph admitted. “But now, I’m just like, it’s one of those songs. It’s fun to play and it doesn’t bug me or anything, although it did at the time.”

Yet although Murph and Barlow sometimes associate the old songs with certain moments of unrest in the band, overall, they tend not to reflect on such things too much.

“Even if they come to the most negative period, to me, they’re all like, they’re almost like these little anthems that helped us actually survive it. It’s actually something good that happened in a bad time,” Barlow said. “There [are] no songs I make really negative associations with…except maybe some of the ones that I didn’t play on or I didn’t record, where I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I hate this song.’ But the funny thing is that when we play it, I really like it ’cause I feel like it’s like it takes on a form, it takes on a life, I feel like we’re sort of conquering it or something.”

All spoken by a man who once said that Dinosaur Jr.’s strong point was its musical chemistry, and certainly not its personal chemistry. To this day, the members find this to be somewhat true, even if they have moved on past the days of hating one another.

“I think nowadays we have personal chemistry and stuff we can do together,” Murph said. “We’ve been doing this for 8 years but it was about maybe 5 years ago there was something going on where it was just the three of us, me, J, and Lou, and we went out to dinner. And I was like ‘Wow, this is the first time…it’s taken this many years’…it blew me away.”

And from a perspective of closing in on 50, the band members can process things a lot more objectively than in their younger years, part of which includes accepting that Mascis has a particular vision for the band, and that’s part of the value of it, and what makes Dinosaur Jr. work.

“It’s the mind of Mascis, kind of,” Barlow said.

“It’s just like J’s world. He’s just got this kind of thing,” Murph added.

Now, the band seems to have come full circle, with the three of them doing what they set out to do, but handling it like adults.

“I still feel like we’re kinda just big kids. These guys are a little more grown up, I guess. I’m the biggest kid,” Murph said. “It still feels like we’re just in a band together…and it hasn’t really changed. [However, in the past] I’d do something and it would annoy J. Lou would do something and it would annoy me, or J. And it was always like you couldn’t do anything without somebody being like, ‘do you have to do that?'”

Now, the members know how to respect the space and artistic intentions of one another, which is how Dinosaur Jr. functions best–with a little bit of distance.

“I like how the music is the most important thing now, whereas when we were younger, it was really more about personal stuff. We’d go on these tours and it was just like ‘bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch’ about every single thing,” Barlow said. “Now we just know that the music is the most important thing and so all that other stuff doesn’t really matter as much.”

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