Dinosaur Jr.: Excavating the ’80s Underground

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On a recent trip to Tokyo to cover Hostess Club Weekend –  a 2-day concert organised by music label Hostess – JUICE got a chance to speak to good ol’ Murph from ’80s underground power pop band, Dinosaur Jr.  As frontman J didn’t say much apart from what amps and guitars he’s into and we couldn’t find Lou, Murph was kind enough to lend us a few minutes of his time before he went on to rock it with his compadres onstage. Here we find out why drummers are the fittest members of any band, why waiting sucks, and how the 80s can eat you up and spit you out band-less…

Hi Murph, how’s the band doing?
We’re okay. We literally had to change our flights. So we flew directly to Hong Kong – 16 hours. Before that, we got off the tour bus and on the plane, came here so we’re still kinda like reeling from it all.

Damn that Hurricane Sandy! What’s the worst thing about touring?
The worst thing about touring is uh, well there’s that term “hurry up and wait” where you have to rush off, you know, get no sleep, and be at the airport just to hangout for three hours. Or rush somewhere, like a festival, where you have to just hangout all day until you play. That’s probably like the hardest thing.

Dinosaur Jr was on hiatus during the late 90s all the way up to 2005. Then you guys came out with a bunch of new albums recently. What happened there?
Well Lou got kicked out in like ‘88 and I kinda like quit-got kicked out in ‘93 and then, J kept going as J Mascis and The Fog and I didn’t think we were really gonna get together again. I’m kinda surprised we did. I thought that was it. And then J wanted to re-release the first three records because he had finally gotten the rights back from different labels. And then when people started hearing that those were gonna be released, there started to be more and more, like a buzz about when’s the actual band gonna play and so that’s how – cause we didn’t really think – we didn’t know people cared, you know? It was more, J was gonna do it on his label and it was that. It was kinda like his own little project idea. And then we just got a lot of demand to play shows and do a bunch of stuff so his manager kind of got us together and got us reunited.

What do you remember most from the 80s underground scene?
Ahh, just that it was so like new and exciting, you know, because we felt like we were like the only group of bands kind of gigging and playing because you didn’t hear that music on the radio. That was pre-Nirvana so it didn’t exist. It was like totally underground so it felt like you were a part of something that was like cool and um, kind of a secret, like a secret club or something. That was really exciting.

Have you always been a drummer or did you start with the  piano (like most repressed rock drummers do)?
No. I started out drumming and have stuck with that. That’s my main instrument. I mean, I probably could play a little guitar but I’m kinda lazy.

How many years has it been since you started drumming?
I think I’ve been playing like 23 years or something or more. Yeah, long time.

It’s said that drummers are the fittest members of their bands. Would you say so in the case of Dinosaur Jr?
Yeah, I mean drumming definitely keeps me in shape. Lou’s pretty fit. Uh, J’s like, he does stuff now too, like he brings this little portable bike on tour, so he’s always biking off to a coffee shop or wholefoods or somewhere, which is kinda cool. But uh, yeah, I could be definitely more fit.

Is there such a thing as an indie band today?
Uh, yeah I don’t know. I mean we still – we throw around the term. Right now it’s more just kinda alternative or experimental, you know. Especially because of the Internet, so many people are just putting their own stuff out themselves and then that creates like its own genre.

What bands of today impress you the most?
Oh god, I don’t know. There’s just uh, I don’t know. That’s a hard one. I’ll have to think about it.

Would you say that rock music kinda faded off after the ’90s?
It changed…

It got lost?
I guess you could say that. We still listen to a lot of old stuff, like Humble Pie and uh, just a lot of classic rock still. I think it’s kinda coming back more now. I think you’re right, in the 90s it was kinda like a limbo – in a state of limbo but now it’s kinda coming back more. Especially cause vinyl is so big now. Everybody loves vinyl, so because of that a lot of people are rediscovering their old records and bringing them out.

What was the last release of music you bought?
Last year I bought a Cocteau Twin CD. Usually I just steal people’s iTunes or take someone’s music, and usually I do more of that today.

Do you feel like Dinosaur Jr, together with a bunch of your peers in the 80s sorta set the sound and template for future generations of bands?
I mean that’s what we were told but we don’t think about that. I know J doesn’t. It doesn’t come into like songwriting or how we play. If it’s an influence, that’s just random. That’s great but we definitely didn’t set out to do that. We didn’t think about “oh, how’s the next generation gonna take this music?” It wasn’t like that.

And you’ve been keeping busy with side projects?
Yes. Well, I did The Lemonheads gig in ‘97 and then I was in this band Swish with a couple of friends of mine and we were signed on Rough Trade for a little while and that was pretty cool. Most recently in California, I’m playing with a guy, Adam Harding. We have something coming out where I’m on one set of songs and Dale from The Melvins is on the other and that’s being released on Joyful Noise. And then I have another project I’m still working on, like a studio project with a different friend out there.

When Dinosaur Jr went broke up, did you see that coming?
I was relieved personally because the early days were just so raw and kinda torturous. It was just really hard hanging out and being in that environment. It was very toxic and it was just hard dealing with that all the time. So, Lou was like… I think Lou when he got kicked out, he was more angry, whereas I just was more relieved.

Lou’s feelings were documented in the book Our Band Could Be Your Life. Did you share some of his feelings, maybe passively?
I remember Lou saying that. I think he said something like, “We could have been as big as Nirvana!” or something. I mean back then, no, I didn’t share that. I thought we were just, you know, like any other band. I just figured we were just like any other band, going out and trying to do our thing, get ourselves out there.

How do you feel about the new albums?
Oh, they’re totally different. They’re different but still in the same genre. We still have the same chemistry.

What’s your favorite Dinosaur Jr album?
You know, I tend to just like the ones we’ve just worked on. Those tend to be like my favorite at the times, so probably I Bet On Sky is right now what I like but also, I guess my favorite record is Where You Been. I still really like that record.


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