Lou Barlow opens up...

Popular music has often lived a cyclical existence. These days, whether or not you were there to live it, it would be hard to deny the returning influence of the punk pioneers and alt-rock heroes of the 80s and 90s. Dinosaur Jr., a visceral and unusual power trio from suburban Massachusetts, were undoubtedly one of the most memorable and versatile acts to emerge from that time, bringing with them bulging barrels of noise and melody, doled out in varying portions across nearly 15 years, six albums and countless, often notorious live shows, spawning a loyal, sizeable and resilient following along the way.

After surviving a spate of line-up changes while traversing mainstream trends, Dinosaur Jr. lay dormant from 1997-2005, returning once again with the original line-up of J, Lou and Murph intact. Far from a flash in the pan, it’s arguably been the most successful period of activity for the original band, and to this day, regardless of previous, well-publicised inner turmoil and disputes, it shows no signs of slowing down. Fast-forward five years then and we find the revitalised former fossils alive, well and stronger than ever, releasing their third album since reforming, 'I Bet On Sky', this week.

Followers of Dino folklore will likely be aware of the perceived and well-defined hierarchy within the band’s personnel, with frontman and long-haired axe-wielder, J Mascis, largely calling the shots. With that in mind, despite finding it difficult to ignore the enthusiasm and energy put in by bassist Lou Barlow and drummer, Murph at every given opportunity these days, you could be forgiven for thinking J’s long-term counterparts are simply along for the ride.

The songwriting has indeed been more collaborative than ever since reforming, with Barlow regularly contributing lead tracks and largely more universal input involved in fleshing out the final product. However, with ‘I Bet On Sky’, the journey to creation was familiarly mechanical in lieu of any pre-meditated inspiration or concept – simply ‘it’s time to do another album’. But, as Barlow tells Clash from the back of a van mid-tour with his other long-time compatriots, Sebadoh, that’s just the way it is, the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it works.

“The manager started talking about it about a year ago,” explains Barlow. “’So what I’m thinking is in February, we’ll record a new record’, and it’s like ‘ok’,” he laughs. “I mean, that plan was a long time coming so I was able to prepare myself for that and get some songs together. The thing with J, he’s, I dunno, he just sits down and it just comes out of him. It’s just a never-ending stream of Dinosaur Jr. songs by J Mascis. The amazing thing about J, for me, is that he does everything without any passion - at all - but in the end it is passionate; it’s actually quite rich in passion, and that’s the interesting thing that I learned early on as a kid, that he can do that.”

Dinosaur Jr. - Watch the Corners

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As Barlow notes, J’s process is clinical by design, simply because there needs to be an outlet for a seemingly never-ending stream of ideas, but the resulting work is far from throwaway: “When I do my own things, I’ve had writing partners where our songs have been made together; songs that come out of hours of conversation and it’s amazing that J will just toss these things off, but in the end when everything’s coloured in, it’s like, these things are beautiful.”

Like the majority of their post-reunion material, 'I Bet On Sky' channels the slick, studio-produced melodicism of 90s Dino but with enough of the textbook shredding and chaotically noisy characteristics that defined their early work, to make it both a worthy successor and a nod to past triumphs; in other words, it’s a solid effort that marks yet another chapter for the band and signifies their prevailing ability to churn out the good stuff.

At this point, with notable solo works in the bag and Sebadoh on the cusp of charting their own foray into post-hiatus creativity following the self-released 'Secret EP' in July, with a full-length pencilled in for next spring – not to mention an ever-growing family - it’s perhaps easy to question the permanence of Barlow’s own involvement with Dinosaur Jr. However, it becomes clear in conversation, that this isn’t a choice of creative preference, but more a case of putting all of one’s energy into everything that’s on offer. “Dinosaur Jr. is a huge part of my life,” Barlow answers with his own self-described textbook positivity. “I mean, Murph has been living in my house!

“I don’t have any hierarchy in mind about what I’m doing at the time,” he continues. “I mean, I do think because I’m not really in control of Dinosaur Jr. that I have to keep something else going, because you never know. Because J is inscrutable, I have no idea what he wants to do. There’s no reassurances in that band. It’s not like ‘that’s great, I’m really glad this is all working out’ - there’s nothing like that at all. It’s like ‘oh we’re doing this?’ Ok, great!” Barlow jokes. “There’s never any explanation. We’ve got a manager that kinda oversees things and strategises but other than that, it’s just what it always was. “Well, there goes J, I guess we follow now?”

“I’m never really the person that’s like… I mean, I would never give up on it. I would never be the guy that’s giving up on it. Unless something happens and I can stay at home and make money and watch my kids grow up. Unless I can do something like that.”

It would be impossible to accurately predict how long we may be blessed with Dinosaur Jr. but as far as modern day reunions go, theirs has been one of continual creative rewards for their multi-generational fanbase and judging by ‘I Bet On Sky’, there’s plenty yet to be excited about. Hell, the ride ain’t over yet.

Words by Ryan Drever

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'I Bet On Sky' is out now.

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