An Interview with Dinosaur Jr.: Stressing The Small Stuff

An Interview with Dinosaur Jr.: Stressing The Small Stuff

—by , December 2, 2015

12-02 AQ Cover - Dinosaur Jr. 1 (Photo by Brantley Gutierrez)

With the ever-changing tide of the music industry, staying relevant for 30 years is nearly impossible. But despite Dinosaur Jr.’s fair share of problems, they’ve made it look almost easy. The alt-rock giants released their would-be self-titled Dinosaur (the “Jr.” was added to their name after they were threatened with legal action) three decades ago; the first in the trilogy of beloved albums from the original lineup of the group before internal turbulence took hold leading to drummer Murph and vocalist/bassist Lou Barlow’s departure. Now reunited since 2005, Barlow, Murph, and vocalist/guitarist J Mascis will be commemorating the major milestone by headlining a completely sold-out, seven-night stint at Manhattan’s legendary Bowery Ballroom, where they will be performing the LP in full followed by a second set of favorites, calling upon different musicians to join them for each show. Although the band has played records in their entirety to celebrate a landmark event in the past, including a similar evening of music at Terminal 5 for the 25th anniversary of You’re Living All Over Me, they promise the Bowery Ballroom shows will be “bigger” with more surprise guests this time around. Along with preparing for the run, the group also entered the studio last month to work on a follow-up to 2012’s I Bet On Sky.

On a day off from recording, Murph took time to briefly discuss the new album as well as the upcoming Bowery concerts, New York City, and the existence of a worldwide scene.

What initially sparked the idea to do a 30th anniversary celebration for Dinosaur?

Well, we did a thing for Living All Over Me at Terminal 5 in New York a little less than five years ago and that went really well. I think our manager probably suggested doing something for this first record and J agreed. Then we started thinking about having guests. Originally we were going to do only a few nights, but they sold out right away. Now we’ve got seven nights and different guests coming in every night.

So what can fans expect from the shows?

We’re going to do our first record, which is kind of wild. We’ve done at least half of it in our set on different tours, so we’ve been playing some of the early stuff already. It’s going to be really interesting for the audience and for us, because we’re not really a jammy band. So when we get other people up there, we kind of wing it. And like I said, Terminal 5 was a blast; we had so many cool people and it sounded great.

Have there been any special guests officially confirmed yet?

I don’t believe so, we’re still working on the roster. We have half confirmed and the other half we’re waiting to hear back from, but we definitely have a ton of people.

That’s awesome. So you mentioned that you’ve played a good amount of Dinosaur already on tours, but has it been strange to revisit as a whole?

No. We did it years ago in London at a place called The Coco. We played Living All Over Me because they had started a trend with a lot of bands coming in and playing their records. And now it’s actually really cool, because we did Living All Over Me and then we did another tour where we played Bug. It’s actually really nice because it puts a nice structure to the set, because you have a real definite start and stop when playing these songs. It provides a nice flow.

In addition to the debut, you’re doing other songs from the catalog. For a band that has such an extensive discography, how will you choose what songs make the cut for the second set?

That’s where the guests come in, because there are a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I always wanted to play this song!” And we’re like, “Oh okay, that sounds doable.” Or on the other hand people will be like, “That song’s too hard, I can’t play that. But what about this song?” And then we just work it out accordingly to what people want to play.

Why choose to hold the shows in New York City as opposed to anywhere else, including the band’s home state of Massachusetts?

New York has always kind of been our home, even though we’re from Massachusetts. In the early days it was really all about CBGB’s and the other early clubs in New York; we played Boston but New York is what we always gravitated towards. J actually transferred to Hunter College from UMass to be closer to that music scene in the late ’80s and also so he could be closer to Kim and Thurston from Sonic Youth. I don’t know why, but we always thought New York was the coolest place, especially for punk rock. Plus, I actually grew up right outside of New York in the Stanford area.

Switching gears a little here. Do you feel the record would have been received differently had it been the band’s debut now as opposed to 1985?

Wow… I’ve never been asked that question. That’s a great question. It’s like Back To The Future, you know? It’s like if we could freeze ourselves and come back in a hundred years, would it be the same? And I have no idea! (Laughs) I really don’t know. Everything is so different now. The business of music is totally different. Just everything is so different. I mean we’ve always been really true to the music and have really put a lot into it, and I think anybody, no matter what you’re doing, if you have those ingredients and you’re really persistent and you believe in it, I think you’re going to get some recognition. But [the album] is definitely the sign of the times. It was a scene! There was a whole scene we were representing, it wasn’t just us. There is still a scene now but it is more global because of the internet, and it’s just different now. So it’s hard to say.

After going through what you have and being in this industry for so long, what advice would you give to yourself if you could when you were first starting out?

Don’t stress the small stuff. So many bands get so caught up in which guy is going to be the “leader” or the whole ego battle and that takes away so much from the actual music. I would say just do the music and not worry so much about the politics. Another thing I would tell kids is that the audience has one perception and what’s going on in the band is totally different, and 99% of the time the audience doesn’t see that. So they don’t get if there’s a mistake or if there’s something going on internally that people are getting really stressed about. The audience doesn’t even know about it, so why stress about it? It’s not really going to matter in the end to the show or the performance, so you might as well get up there, rock, and have a good time. I think a lot of people forget that because when you’re in the studio or a rehearsal space you’re in this little bubble, and you forget that when you’re playing in front of a crowd that it is totally different. It’s totally different for them than it is for you being in the band. So just be aware of that.

Are you guys working on any new music?

Yeah! We’re right in the middle of it right now. Today is actually my day off. But a few weeks ago we just started recording a brand new record.

That’s great!

It really is, it’s been like three years since our last record. It probably won’t come out until July or something but we’ve got definite songs so it’s pretty exciting. We’re basically going to do this record and that’s going to bring us right into the Bowery shows. It’s going to be a busy time and we’re just going for it.

 

Dinosaur Jr. will be headlining Bowery Ballroom in New York City, Dec. 3 through Dec. 9. For more information, head over to dinosaurjr.com.


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