|J Mascis, Murph and Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr. performs during day 2 of FYF Fest at Los Angeles State Historic Park on September 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Karl Walter/AFP
Dinosaur Jr. are beating the odds. In more ways than one.
It's been seven years since the long-estranged members of the revered indie-rock power trio buried the hatchet and reunited -- but they still haven't imploded, much to the surprise of fans and foes alike. Even more remarkable: On their 10th album I Bet on Sky, they show signs of evolution, expanding their supersonic wallop with more elaborate production and arrangements.
"Yeah, it's different than the last couple of albums," agrees guitar hero J Mascis in his instantly recognizable deadpan croak. "It wasn't focused as much on having to play the songs live or having more songs to play live. So I used things like keyboards, and stuff I can't replicate live. And I was arranging more of the songs in that way ... just being open to whatever it is the song might need on the record. There were lots of things I knew I wouldn't be able to play live, but I didn't worry about it."
In fact, it seems the slackerish Mascis seldom worries about anything. Or displays any emotion whatsoever. In stark contrast to his noisy, overdriven fretwork, the 46-year-old Massachusetts native is notoriously (and almost hilariously) taciturn and disengaged with reporters -- one interviewer compared him to a dog who just sits and stares at you when you toss him a ball.
With I Bet on Sky out now and Dino Jr. -- rounded out by bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph -- headed north for a trio of shows, Mascis lived up to his reputation during our brief chat, pausing several seconds before each answer and sounding like he was just dragged out of bed. Here are the highlights:
This album has a very confident, relaxed vibe. Does that fit with the way it was recorded?
Yeah, it was a pretty mellow scene when we recorded it. Not much drama.
As usual, you self-produced the album at home. Wouldn't you like to work in bigger studios with producers?
Um, I'm sure it could help with certain things. I guess if someone else is paying for it -- that would be the big thing. I get too freaked out in studios. I would be in a studio staring out the window -- and it would cost $1,000 a day to stare out the window. I was kind of paralysed by that thought. That's when I started deciding I should do it at home.
Is it all a financial issue, or is there a creative element to it as well?
Yeah. I mean, I can just walk upstairs and record. But I'm sure I could come up with other things in other places.
Everybody talks about how well you three get along personally these days. But what about musically? How is that dynamic different?
Um, uh, well, I think maybe Murph is trying harder these days. There was a song I had for (their 2007 comeback album) Beyond that we couldn't record. It didn't come out right and didn't sound right because the drums weren't happening. But by this album, it sounds good when Murph plays. So he's made some kind of progression.
This album has some different sounds on it. How important is it for you not to cover the same ground again? A lot of artists are happy to stay in their comfort zone.
I don't know. I mean, I don't care. It depends. If people want to do the same thing over and over again, that's fine with me. I just try to do different things.
How are the new songs working out live?
We haven't started playing them yet. I don't know how many of them we're going to do. We still have to go through all the songs and see which ones seem like they could sound good or whatever. I guess we'll be doing some experimenting too, I suppose. Trying them all out. That'll be interesting.
How do you feel about touring after all these years? Is it still enjoyable or just a grind?
I like it better now than I used to. I don't know why. Something happened. I'm not sure what.
You always seem to have several projects on the go. What else have you been working on?
I did a few soundtracks. I did a little bit of acting this summer in a movie and a TV show. Um, what else? I just did a 7" for someone's wedding. A friend asked me; I guess all the guests will get 45s. I've never been to a wedding where you get a 45. But yeah, that's about it. I did a bunch of stuff.
After decades of loud music, how's your hearing?
I don't know. I haven't had it tested. It seems like it could only be bad news, so why bother?