J Mascis: Acoustic Tendencies | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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J Mascis

Acoustic Tendencies

Apr 05, 2011 Web Exclusive
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Anyone who has interviewed J Mascis knows that he is traditionally a man of few words. However, through his years in music, from his early hardcore days with Deep Wound through his marvelous career with Dinosaur Jr. and The Fog, not to mention various side projects and related bands, Mascis has spoken loudly through his masterful guitar work and evocative songwriting skills. His current album, Several Shades of Why, is Mascis' first solo album of new material, a largely acoustic piece that has him touring, this time absent of the sludge and noise of his main band and instead centered on just the man and his guitar. Leaving New York City for Boston on an early afternoon after a Friday night gig in March, Mascis took some time to open up about his career, his current solo shows, and why he really just wants to join The Eagles.

Frank Valish: What kind of music was playing in your house when you were growing up?

J Mascis: Oh geez. I guess whatever my brother had at the time. I liked The Beach Boys, and he had Aerosmith and Deep Purple and Steve Miller and stuff.

When did you realize that you had a talent for song and songwriting? Was it young?

I don't know. I think I wrote a song in fifth grade maybe. But I'm not sure if I ever realized that. [Laughs] I just did it.

Has it traditionally been easier for you to express yourself in song that in other ways?

Yeah, probably. I was never very...I didn't talk too much or anything.

Growing up in the hardcore scene, was there a time when you realized that you were able to express yourself through more traditional song, rather than the sort of primal bludgeon that is often hardcore?

Yeah, it just seemed like hardcore died, and we were still interested in music, so we just tried to do something else. It was good.

I want to say that I absolutely love, love, love the album. For me, it highlights everything that I really appreciate about what you do. I guess my question is, why did it take so long for you to do a solo album like this, especially since its been 15 years since Martin + Me?

I don't know. I just got sidetracked with Dino getting back together and it just didn't seem like a good time until now.

Was there a hesitation over the years for you in presenting yourself in this raw, exposed way, where you seem, in a sense, more vulnerable, with the electric guitar and drums stripped away?

No, I don't see all that. I guess it doesn't matter to me, or something. I just want to make good music that I would like to listen to.

Is it uncomfortable for you to play solo in front of crowds?

Yeah, it's pretty hard.

Do you think that was maybe part of the reason why it took so long to get back to doing that? Did it take a certain level of courage or gumption to make that step again?

Yeah. I hadn't done it in a long time. I guess I like it better now because I have an album out so I have a reason to play like that, rather than just doing it.

Hearing these songs just you onstage with an acoustic guitar, one can really hear the song absent of some of the other factors, particularly the volume. I wonder if you feel that you, in some way, hide behind the layer of noise and whether these acoustic performances feel more out front and open and exposing for you.

Yeah, I mean I always wouldn't say hide. But it's scarier to play without the band. It's more comforting to play really loud. I guess I get more nervous about like, "Oh will I lose my voice?," because that's the only thing kind of holding the show.

Is it awkward to be touring right around the same time as Lou is touring Sebadoh? Like "I'm doing my own thing and now Lou's following me around the country again anyway?"

Oh no.

Because I think Sebadoh was in Philly like two days after you were.


But there was a time when that may have been the case, when you felt that way.



Well, it was mostly Lou's problem [laughs] that he got over, finally.

I wondered about that at the time too when Dinosaur reformed, whether there was a formal reconciliation of sorts, or was it more like, well, we're older now, let's just do this?

Yeah, I think, you know, he finally got less angry and let go of some things. And he did apologize to me for some stuff.

Did you apologize to him for anything?

No. I don't think so.

Back to the acoustic performance and the new album. Was there ever any thought that maybe you would just put this album out and not tour it? Just not put yourself through all that.

Yeah, sure.

What changed your mind?

I didn't think about it that seriously. But it is a thought.

Because you're at the point in your career where you don't have to do anything that's not comfortable for you to do.

Well, yeah. I mean, you just gotta keep doing something. You get bored sitting at home too.

Is there anything else that you have really been dying to do creatively that you have not done yet, with the guitar or otherwise?

Oh no, not really.

Because you keep yourself in other bands, drumming and such. So you keep things creatively diverse for yourself, right?

Yeah, it would be easier to play guitar in a big band, like Joe Walsh. Kind of just give up and join The Eagles or something. But that hasn't presented itself.

Lastly, I just read yesterday that you're planning to do some Dinosaur shows where you play Bug in its entirety?


When is that happening, and who's idea was that?

Well, I guess ATP asked us to do the show in London, opening for The Flaming Lips, so we decided to just do some more shows. So we're going to do that.

So, like summer?


Do you ever wish that or feel like you want to perform some of the songs that you've written outside of the context of the original Dinosaur that maybe you're not as able to perform anymore with the original lineup? Because I noticed that the original lineup was sticking largely to the original tunes.

Yeah, well there's limitations to what the original band can do. I like playing with other people too, but a lot of times you can't really make enough money to carry around all the amps and stuff I'd want to play with.

And there's really no thought of teaching those guys a bunch of the songs that they weren't initially on.

Yeah, they've learned some of them. But some of them Murph can't play.

Well look, I'm not going to take up any more of your time. I really appreciate your talking to us and I love the album and how it presents what you do, and I loved watching you in Philly. It was really neat to be able to watch you work and do what you do. So thank you so much.





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