When it comes to finding the true king of the awkward interview, J. Mascis has always been a shoe-in for the shortlist. The Dinosaur Jr frontman is just as famous for his uncomfortably long silences and impenetrable laconicism as he is for his world-class guitar skills. He’s a man of few words and even fewer responses - the stuff of squirmer’s legend.
Or that’s what you’re led to believe, anyway. In real life, with his pink-rimmed specs and his long silver locks, he feels more like a cuddly shaman - a friendly Saruman with a skate t-shirt and a glass of chilled mineral water. For the most part he is warm and laid-back, and it’s only really when the subject turns to his new album ’Tied To A Star’ that his deadpan dismissiveness starts to reveal itself. It’s Mascis’ second solo record and a markedly more relaxed sound. His eyes glaze over a bit, evidently bored of having to talk about it. “I recorded it at home…” he shrugs “…I tried to make it mellow, just for a change.”
Most famous for his time with Dinosaur Jr, Mascis has been in several other bands over the years – though he admits he’s not completely comfortable with the solo lifestyle. “I prefer [being in a] band. I like to hang out with different people and play different kinds of music, but…” He pauses, and it’s long enough to wonder whether he’s even going to bother continuing. “[Playing live] is harder, and it’s easier if there’s more people to pick up the slack instead of everybody just staring at you…” he stops again. “I get really nervous. Like, the silence in between songs, I find it hard to talk or anything. That moment is really nerve-wracking.” Considering his tacit persona, it’s not a huge surprise. “Maybe if I was drunk [I could talk]. Or like, I had a coffee in Portland, Oregon - you know, coffee capital - after not drinking coffee for a month and I was just so wired. I was just babbling and I broke three strings on the first song.”
“I basically just sit around with a guitar, watching TV, hoping something comes to me.”
— J. Mascis
For someone who many regard as the poster boy of 90s slacker rock, his attitude to healthy living seems pretty surprising. He’s strictly decaf, reveres the Portlandia way and doesn’t disagree with Gywneth Paltrow’s bad water vibes (“I can handle that”). There are even a few mentions of astrology and cuddly Indian gurus. Could it be his recent foray into fatherhood that’s to blame? "I’m sure it has [affected my music] but I can’t really tell. It’s pretty awesome. It’s totally weird... I can’t see myself having done it any earlier.” He thinks. "…I was more bratty when I was younger. Like, I didn’t really want to do anything. [I was] more annoyed by everything."
Mascis has been in the business for over 30 years, and it’s safe to say there have been a few changes between now and then. The first Dinosaur Jr release was in 1985, but when asked how he thinks they would’ve fared today Mascisis not overly enthused. “It’s hard to tell. I’m not sure if it’s harder or easier now… There seems to be too many bands,” he ponders. “It’s true that with, you know, MP3s and stuff that music doesn’t affect you as much as it used to, so I can see why people aren’t into it as much... It’s harder to really get into music now because of that.” He manages a blasé shrug – “It seems sad, but I don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it… I still relate to records more than anything else.”
As for his approach to songwriting, it remains unchanged. “I just basically sit around with a guitar, watching TV, hoping something comes to me.” He reels off a list of programmes that he’s been enjoying recently (Legit, Louie, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia), but shies away from anything too miserable (“Breaking Bad I can only watch in 10 minute increments.”) It’s a method that sounds pretty ineffective, but it obviously works. “Writing songs you’re just sitting around, waiting for something to happen - like fishing or something. So to pass that time I watch TV.” What about reading? “No. I always thought, you know, reading is something you have to do in school. TV was like an evolution, you don’t have to read anymore ‘cos there’s TV!” he laughs. “I used to read on the airplane in that time when you can’t turn on any electronics, but now you can! So I don’t have to read anymore.” He pauses briefly. “...I like magazines in the toilet.”
“It’s always interesting to see what happens… I don’t know what to expect.”
— J. Mascis
He’s not too interested in film either, which is surprising when you consider his recent appearance in one. Cast in Richard Ayoade’s ‘The Double’, Mascis plays a languorous caretaker in a dark, Dostoeyskian dystopia. It was a new challenge, but perhaps not the biggest stretch of his abilities. “I enjoy [acting], but I don’t think I’m good at it… It’s just fun for me to, like, be in a movie or on TV”, he says, matter of factly. “I saw [Submarine], and I’ve seen a lot of other stuff [Ayoade’s] been in. [I really like] The Mighty Boosh, and The IT crowd.” Could acting be the next big career step? Mascis manages a warm chuckle and shakes his head - "No. I mean, I enjoy it, but I don’t think I’m good at it… If someone gave me a job I’d give it a try."
When it comes to discussing any future plans, Mascis remains characteristically languid. “I’ll tour,” he says, his voice still completely monotone. “It’s always interesting to see what happens… I don’t know what to expect.” As for the destiny of Dinosaur Jr, he is equally undecided. Despite settling their past differences, the idea of another album is not greeted with much enthusiasm. "I don’t know, it’ll be weird. I can’t really picture it… I think Lou [Barlow] is moving from LA back to western mass so I guess we’ll be a local band again, which will be weird. It hasn’t been like that since the 80s…” he shrugs again. "We’ll see what happens."
J. Mascis’s new album ’Tied To A Star' is out now via Sub Pop.
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