Dinosaur Jr. remain untamed.
The trio - J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph - are toasting their 30th year together, their 30th year of making music. Initially coalescing as the hardcore group Deep Wound, the band then slowed things down, placing a caustic spin influences from the 60s counter culture in the process.
Using the name Dinosaur (and then Dinosaur Jr.) the trio helped to define the grunge template when Kurt Cobain was still struggling in high school.
Three albums - debut 'Dinosaur', breakthrough 'You're Living All Over Me' and 1988's 'Bug' - were followed by a split as Lou Barlow left to focus on his Sebadoh project.
Re-uniting in their original format for a series of shows in 2005, Dinosaur Jr. have retained the volume, the sarcastic wit and the bloodied-eardrum riffs which fuelled their iconic early material.
Publishers Rocket 88 have gathered an exhaustive new oral history of the band, speaking to each of the band members, close friends, label mates and fellow travellers in the process.
Out next week (February 17th) Clash is able to present an exclusive extract plus some rare imagery.
The piece opens as Dinosaur become Dinosaur Jr., and the sessions for masterpiece 'You're Living All Over Me' begin.
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Lou: We’d developed a style as we played live more, Murph and I had locked in and J started to write songs that fit us all better. Bulbs of Passion, the Repulsion b-side was the first time that it felt like we were a good band, it’s such a cool song. It synthesized the sound of Dino for the first time.
J: We didn’t have a manager until after getting a major deal. Before then there weren’t many deals or paperwork to deal with up to then. SST had its own booking agency, we had a booking agent for gigs.
Lou: I had nothing to do with the business back then, J was running everything, so he’d tell us we were recording for whatever company. He was a natural, effective leader – as long as you’re leading and people were following, it’s effective. I totally followed J and would follow him anywhere. J said ‘we’re going to be on SST’, and we were like, ‘OK, what happened to Homestead?’ J replies, ‘I dunno’ and we accepted it, moved on.
J: We really wanted to get on SST Records. That was our plan at first, and to tour. And we achieved it pretty quickly so after that things got pretty fuzzy. After you achieve your goal where do you go from there? It’s where we still are now...
Lou: To be signed by SST Records would be our life goal realized. All of our favourite bands were on the label. J and I were really of a common mind that we wanted to be a punk-edged band but also incorporate all of what we were listening to. We were listening to everything; 60s music, 70s music, hard rock, and a lot of aggressive post-punk.
Murph: The recording of 'You’re Living All Over Me' was like a huge step up. We recorded some of it in New York and when you go to do anything in New York immediately there’s a seriousness to it, and you think, ‘This is real.’
Lou: We recorded one side of You’re Living All Over Me at a place called Pine Tracks in Massachusetts, where we did basic tracks and mixed some too, before going to New York and working with Wharton Tiers, who had Sonic Youth credentials.
J: The first sympathetic guy we worked with was Wharton Tiers, who’d worked with Sonic Youth, and that was on one half of 'You’re Living All Over Me', in New York. Murph: It was exciting to be in New York; everyone in New York is such a character. I remember Wharton Tiers whose studio, Fun City, we were recording in and his wife, who was really funny – she’d come in with snacks and coffee and speak in this very serene uptown voice and it was all so surreal. Coming from Amherst to this weird, almost John Waters-like environment, it felt like I was dreaming and in some strange film.
J: The first recordings were done with another guy from Western Mass who didn’t get it at all, which was really annoying. Wharton did though. He ended up being my superintendant when I moved into the building where we recorded. I liked the place and kept asking if there were any apartments open. And in 1991 there was, so...
Lou: I really enjoyed the process of making that record. The songs were great. I wasn’t singing other than the one song I wrote and the piece of tape I put together for the end of the album. I focused on playing the bass. Murph: On that record there was no guesswork as far as the songs went. Everything was fully formed. Lou: We got to make a video for Little Fury Things, and we filmed quite a bit of the video in and around my parents’ house. There is a scene of our friend Megan Jasper jumping on my parents’ bed, swinging her hair in J’s face, and another scene of J sitting on the toilet with Megan dancing in front of him.
Murph: One of the reasons it’s such a great record is that J was unrelenting, especially with me. He was tortuous; everything had to be just right: ‘Now you’re hitting two hits here on your bass drum when it should be... you’re hitting the cymbal wrong here... it has to be like this ...’ He was really, really meticulous. Every little thing had to be exact. Which was great, but at the time it was really hard. But I knew that the record was going to be something, so that superseded any kind of pain.
Lou: During my childhood if I were alone with my cousin we’d end up making fake adverts and radio shows on tape recorders. I’d record all these short ditties, maybe even 10 seconds long, and I’d send some in to radio shows who’d play some of them. I started putting the first Sebadoh release together for Dino’s first UK label, and the tape at the end of 'You’re Living All Over Me' (Poledo) was my first attempt at doing this stuff fully, my first ‘masterpiece’. I was smoking dope and made some weird things that were personal and took a real jump, emotionally. I started seeing some value in it and I asked J if I could put it on the Dino album and J was instantly ‘OK, sure’ so it went on. We all really liked Throbbing Gristle, so me bringing in tapes was cool enough, it all fitted in, made sense to us. We were acknowledging our fascination with industrial music. But at the time I didn’t think I had anything that could match the scope of J’s songs.
J: After our SST album I started feeling that people were starting to like us. After the album it was kinda like we’ve done it... and here we are... well, well... It’s weird achieving your goals. Where do you go from there?
Lou: I remember listening back to tracks that we’d laid down for 'You’re Living All Over Me' after smoking pot, and it was a revelation, like ‘Wow, this is for real!’ I had a pot epiphany that we were really a good band.
Thurston Moore: I got 'You’re Living All Over Me'. That’s when I was initially enlightened. Ever since, I’ve always found everything they’ve done really exciting.
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'Dinosaur Jr.' - the band's oral history - can be ordered via the Rocket 88 website.