J MASCIS HAS RELEASED TWELVE ALBUMS WITH DINOSAUR JR. AND MORE THAN A DOZEN ALBUMS AND SEVEN-INCH RECORDS AS A SOLO ARTIST OR WITH BANDS SUCH AS UPSIDEDOWN CROSS, J MASCIS AND THE FOG, J AND FRIENDS, WITCH, AND MANY OTHERS. HIS MOST RECENT PROJECT IS UNKNOWN INSTRUCTORS, AN IMPROVISATIONAL ROCK BAND, WITH MIKE WATT AND GEORGE HURLEY FROM THE LEGENDARY LOS ANGELES JAZZ-PUNK TRIO MINUTEMEN.
Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth famously said that in the 1980s, rock music was all about playing guitar, but in the 1990s it became all about playing your amp. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. was the rare grunge-era musician who could do both...amazingly well. Not to mention that Mascis also wrote some of the most enduring songs of the decade. Whether droning through a well-crafted and earnest ballad like “The Wagon” or a riff-based stomp like “Start Choppin’” Mascis always pushed his Fender Jazzmaster above walls of feedback with soaring—and entirely unexpected—major scale guitar solos that became his signature style.
It’s no surprise that his home reflects Dinosaur Jr.’s music so well. Bright, quirky, but with a serious devotion to the music—and gear—that helped shape the band’s sound. While Mascis has toured all over the world, he’s always returned home to Amherst, Massachusetts, the college town where Dinosaur got its start before releasing their first record in 1985. Mascis continues to record with the original lineup, including bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph, and finds inspiration at home in a place you’d least expect. But, that is what has drawn Dinosaur fans for three decades, the great expectations for doing the unexpected.
IS THERE A SPOT IN THE HOUSE WHERE YOU WRITE SONGS?
Mostly in the kitchen.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE KITCHEN?
I don’t know. I’ve always just lived in the kitchen from my old house when I grew up. We had a TV in the kitchen. We’d watch and eat dinner, so we didn’t have to talk. I’ve always just kind of sat in the kitchen since then, it’s where I’m drawn to hang out.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR INTERIOR DECORATING STYLE?
It’s just me and my wife, more so. We have different styles so it’s kind of a battle, I guess.
YOU HAVE A LOT OF KNICK-KNACKS, LIKE THE LEGO GUYS AND SKATEBOARD DECKS—HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO KEEP?
Yeah, I’m constantly trying to get rid of things, since I have a tendency to pile up stuff. So I guess what I really like just sticks around.
YOU HAVE THIS AMAZING HAROLD AND MAUDE POSTER AT THE FOOT OF YOUR STAIRS, HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED CAT STEVENS’ “IF YOU WANT TO SING OUT, SING OUT”?
Ever since I’ve seen the movie when I was a kid, I liked that song. I haven’t really tried to sing it per se, but hummed a little bit of it here and there.
WHAT’S THE MOST SURPRISING RECORD WE’D FIND IN YOUR VINYL COLLECTION?
I remember this guy who was helping me sort the records. He was kind of a punk-ish guy who was younger. I have a lot of punk records, but an Amy Winehouse record stuck out as being weird to him.
ARE THERE A LOT OF PUNK RECORDS FROM THE SCENE YOU CAME UP IN?
I wouldn’t say there was a scene necessarily in Amherst, but, my collection is just all the records I bought when I was coming up. In the hardcore scene you had to mail order the records from the different labels because they weren’t in stores around here, like Dischord and Touch’n’Go. Or there were these other distribution places that sold other stuff. The store in my town had a good connection. He’d go buy records in England a lot. I got a lot of English punk stuff from him.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PRIZED ALBUMS, EITHER FOR SENTIMENTAL REASONS OR JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE RARE?
I remember I got the first Wipers single. That was maybe the record at the time I’d spent the most money on. I saw it in England—it was like £50 for a 7-inch. It was like, a long time ago. And a Negative Approach 7-inch.
DINOSAUR JR. IS KNOWN FOR FEEDBACK AND LOUD GUITARS—HOW LOUD CAN YOU PLAY HERE BEFORE YOUR NEIGHBOURS COMPLAIN?
I’ve never heard anything about it. My neighbour says she likes it because she hated all our other neighbors who lived here. So, she’s glad we live here. She doesn’t seem to mind the music. I don’t play late at night or anything. I’m kind of in town. I’ve never really had any problems.
WHEN YOU’RE HANGING OUT AROUND THE HOUSE, ARE YOU LISTENING TO MUSIC?
I probably don’t listen to music all day. In the car, sometimes. I also play records. But a lot of times I’ll watch something on the computer and try to write songs in the kitchen.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING TO LATELY?
I really like this guy, Matthew “Doc” Dunn from Toronto. He’s got several albums out. I don’t think they’re on Spotify or anything, but they’re on Bandcamp. There’s a video of when I played with him in a record store with him in Toronto just a few months ago.
YOU’RE KNOWN FOR PLAYING A FENDER JAZZMASTER. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT GUITAR?
It’s the guitar I had and learned to play on. So it’s just kind of the sound, the Dino sound. And my guitar style is kind of built around it, the guitar, the Jazzmaster. I still play it live mostly.
WHAT OTHER GUITARS DO YOU HAVE IN THE HOUSE?
I’ve got a lot of different guitars for different sounds. I play differently on different guitars to write songs or come up with different ideas. I’ve got a ’58 Telecaster that I play a lot of leads on while recording. That’s probably my favourite guitar.
ARE THERE ANY SOUVENIRS THAT YOU’VE BROUGHT BACK FROM THE ROAD THAT HAVE SPECIAL MEANING?
That’s tough. The only thing that comes to mind is a Big Muff pedal I got on our first tour. I still use that.
AUTHOR JOHNNY DWYER PHOTOGRAPHER MIKE LOPEZ