Words: Richard Lewis

Come On Join The Freak Scene

As one of the most influential bands to come out of the US in the 80s/90s, alt. rock titans DINOSAUR JR. have acquired a cult worldwide audience since their 1985 debut, influencing scores of bands from their contemporaries up to the present day. My Bloody Valentine embraced their defining ultravolume approach ever since seeing the Massachusetts band live for the first time. Lead by chief songwriter/guitarist/vocalist and sole original member, Mascis, the band reformed with their original line-up in 2005 following an eight-year hiatus. Also returning to the fold and definitively restoring the band to its original configuration was bassist/vocalist/songwriter Lou Barlow. After an acrimonious exit from the group in 1988, Barlow went on to forge a hugely impressive path piloting revered lo-fi pioneers Sebadoh, as well as establishing The Folk Implosion who reaped critical and commercial success during the mid-1990s to early 2000s. The trio’s date at East Village Arts Club early next month is the band’s second UK tour in 12 months and their first Liverpool date in eons. Prior to the group’s arrival, Bido Lito! chatted to Barlow over the phone in LA about the band’s current plans, US indie labels and treading carefully where influences are concerned.

“I’m not surprised; I dunno if I imagined it, we’ve been reformed now for over eight years. At this point it’s kind of typical,” Barlow says when asked if he thought the second Dinosaur Jr. incarnation would endure as long as it has. “Originally it was from late ’84 until 1989, a little less than five years,” he explains of his initial tenure in the group. “Now we’re eight and a half years into it. It’s interesting, I wouldn’t have predicted that, even maybe in 2004.”

Early in their career, Dinosaur Jr. gigs were noted for the gulf in personality between Barlow’s wiry, restless presence and Mascis’s relaxed, impassive nature (one journalist wrote that the singer ‘invented the slacker generation’). How has the dynamic changed between you, J and Murph compared to the early days?  “It’s not as edgy, y’know,” reflects Barlow.  “Between J and I it’s fairly drama-free, we get down to business, music is the most important thing whereas before there were a lot of personal issues and that’s not the case anymore. In some ways the dynamic is real similar, the basic dynamic of the way that we function creatively.”

The past two Dinosaur Jr. albums, 2009s Farm and I Bet On Sky were both released through acclaimed US indie label Jagjaguwar, also home to luminaries such as Bon Iver, The Besnard Lakes and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The band’s early albums were released through legendary indie labels Homestead and SST, the former home to Big Black and Nick Cave, the latter to Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü and Black Flag. How does being on Jagjaguwar compare to your years on indie labels in the 1980s? “SST, that was chaotic,” Barlow recalls. “The second record that we did (1987s You’re Living All Over Me, considered by many the band’s best) we had a release date, we had this tour that was planned around the release of the record, we went on tour and the record wasn’t out yet, it got pushed back. We were touring a record that wasn’t released. There were so many stories of that label never paying people. It was very chaotic. You still wanted to be on the label because of the other bands who were on the label. You wanted to be a part of the history, of the scene. Whether the label was particularly honest or what kind of job they did wasn’t really relevant. It was just like being a part of something rather than it being a good business decision. Now things are actually far more honest than they ever were back then,” Barlow states. “I mean Homestead records was ran by a guy who barely had any connection to music and no interest in paying anyone anything!” he laughs.

On the subject of stage work, in J Mascis the US indie rock scene of the 1980/90s had the nearest thing to a guitar hero, one who wasn’t afraid of embracing the then unfashionable practice of lengthy guitar solos. One of the band’s signature live elements then and now is bludgeoning volume, Barlow and Murph creating a roaring background to Mascis’s bottle rocket soloing.

“Volume is important for J.” explains Barlow. “He really surrounds himself in his sound. It’s almost impossible to play his guitar. J has such a unique, particular sound. As a guitar player if I step in front of his rig, it’s impossible to hear anything but himself. It’s totally overpowering. It’s something that’s unique to him and something that he started to do so long ago, it’s unique to his personality. Apparently in the years I wasn’t in the band he had even more amplifiers onstage, almost twice as many. In some ways he’s actually pared down his equipment, even in the time I’ve been back in the band, now he’s functioning at about as minimal as he possibly could.”

Following their Liverpool date, part of the band’s UK tour includes a bittersweet fixture at ATP End Of An Era, the first of two concerts by the festival which announced it’s demise this year. “I always look forward to that, I love ATP.” Barlow enthuses. “I’m a big fan of that festival. I can’t really imagine an end of the ATP style, Dinosaur are huge supporters of it.”

Given that the group has maintained a steady release rate since the beginning of the band’s renaissance in 2007, does the band have any plans to start on the next LP once the tour is concluded? “I hope so,” Barlow says. “I would love to start working on a new Dinosaur record at the end of next year.”

While Dinosaur Jr.’s influence on bands in past decades is well documented, can you detect any traces of the group’s sound in recent acts?  “There’s a few bands in the UK, Yuck, Mazes,” Barlow says. “It reminds me a lot of Teenage Fanclub, I like hearing that sort of 90s influence in the music.” Recent groups who win his approval include San Diego art rockers Octogrape along with storied garage rock big-hitters Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. However, the thorny subject of influence and appropriation between bands is one that Lou is keenly aware of.

“Four years ago I did my last solo record, the biggest influence on me was Animal Collective, you can’t hear it, but that’s all I was listening to,” he explains. “It’s always amazing when bands like Pavement came out and all of a sudden there were a bunch of bands who sounded exactly like Pavement, to me that’s always mystifying. How can you do that? I mean, do you have to sound exactly like the band you like? That’s something you do? I’ve always been wary of incorporating too many obvious influences,” he laughs.

Richard Lewis


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