Mascis Lives All Over Us

We were already big Dinosaur Jr. fans here at Rock Band Central: After all, they’re local guys who’ve blown out half the world’s eardrums. But our regard for mainman J Mascis went up a few notches when he stopped by our office recently, and proceeded to rack up an unheard-of 92% score playing “Blitzkrieg Bop” on expert during his first-ever session with the game—on drums, no less. (Okay, so he also crapped out about 30 seconds through “N.I.B.” beforehand, but everybody needs a warm-up). We cornered Mascis for a bit of friendly chat afterward—and as anybody who talked to him can attest, the man is as quiet offstage as he is noisy on. But he’s a friendly, low-key sort who’ll volunteer some wisdom if you give him a little space.

Pioneering noise band Dinosaur Jr. was formed in Northampton back in 1983; a product of that city’s under-the-radar hardcore punk scene. Over the years Mascis’ songwriting came to the fore, along with his wild feedback-drenched approach to guitar. This made Dinosaur Jr. one of the East Coast’s proudest contributions to alternative rock, even after Mascis fell out with the band’s co-founder, bassist Lou Barlow (who went onto form Sebadoh and Folk Implosion). While the band was on break, Mascis went solo and even did some acting—Fans need to see his turn as a mountain man in Allison Anders’ “Grace of My Heart”. Defying the odds and mending some grudges, the original lineup—Mascis, Barlow and drummer Murph—got back together three years ago, toured like mad and made the old fans very happy. They even filmed a live DVD at the Middle East, the neighborhood rock’n’roll joint that’s only a couple blocks from our office. Considering the volume Dino Jr. plays at, we swear you could hear them from here.

A few excerpts from our post-game chat:

Q: Was playing Rock Band anything like playing music in real life?

A: No! It’s really stressful playing those drums. It’s a whole different experience having to watch the colors go by. I never read music, so here you have to watch it scrolling at you and you have to concentrate.

Q: So you managed a 92% on your very first song?

A: Not the first—I started with Black Sabbath and I couldn’t figure that one out. I figured the Ramones would be a little easier. With Sabbath I just disappeared off the screen. But I didn’t get that experience of having the singer kick the microphone over.

Q: Anything like that ever happen to you at a real gig?

A: No, our experiences were worse. We once had a soundman throw a bottle at us because he wanted us to stop playing. That happened at one of our first shows in Boston, at a club called Chet’s Last Call. We were really loud and had no fans—That’s a pretty bad combination. You think he would have just flipped a kill switch instead of throwing something at us—and I wasn’t drinking, so I didn’t have anything to throw back. Another time we had the soundman actually come onstage and turn my amplifier down—that got me a little angered. And the worst was probably the time I got shocked onstage, getting thrown across the stage and seeing a blue flame come out of the amp. That happened once in Scotland.

Q: In Rock Band, players start in the garage and get through their first shows to work up. What did Dinosaur Jr. sound like when you first started rehearsing?

A: Don’t know—Not too bad, I guess. I was just starting to play guitar at that point, so there weren’t as many long solos. But solos were what I really wanted to play, right from the start—Chords just weren’t as interesting to me. I really liked people like Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones, and Fast Eddie from Motorhead. I didn’t want to sing, but we had another singer who didn’t work out so I took it over.

Q: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

A: Yeah, I probably wrote it for a talent show in school. I liked the Beach Boys a lot, and the first song I wrote was to the tune of “Barbara Ann,” except it was about Jimmy Carter. The words went like, “He’s the Governor, came from the South, has a peanut farm and a big huge mouth.”

Q: Are there any bootlegs of that floating around?

A: Hope not.

Q: I have to say that Dino Jr. is still one of the loudest bands I’ve ever seen. I saw you at the Rat in Boston and it was loud enough to carry out the door and down the street.

A: Still is, probably. We played outside at a ski lodge in Aspen the other day, and we heard that you could hear it across the street. I always thought that if I could just entertain myself, then other people would be entertained. It didn’t happen that way at first. But it starts happening after awhile, and that’s easier than trying to figure out what people might like.

Q: Is that your advice to bands starting out, to entertain yourself first?

A: Yeah, hoping for the best is really all you can do. And people can always tell if you’re really into what you’re doing.