In conversation with Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr. need no introduction. After being one of the most influential bands in the mid 80s-90s, disbanding and then reuniting over seven years ago, they are still capable of making superb, catchy yet subtly melancholic music; maintaining their distinctive sound without ever sounding boring. New album I Bet on Sky is full of rock gems and catchy ballads, and once again has been a great success. I had the pleasure to meet with drummer Murph before their first London show in a while at the Electric Ballroom, and talk about band members' relationships, artists he likes and how it feels to play the old hits again.
How do you think I Bet on Sky has been received by both fans and critics?
Oh great. We are very happy as it's been very well received. I think it's a little more commercially viable, though I hate to use that term. It's more accessible and radio friendly, cause there are more ballads on it. Also J (Mascis) worked very hard on vocals for this record more than the other last two.
You are Living All Over Me turned twenty five last year and you had a special celebration at Terminal 5 in New York last December where you played the whole album and then artists such as Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Frank Black, Johnny Marr etc covered some of your early work. How was the whole experience?
It was amazing. I can't believe we pulled it off. It was so cool to have everyone there. It was one of those nights when you tell yourself "why can't it just be like this every night?" It was like a circus. Great fun.
How does it feel to revisit the old Dinosaur Jr. albums and is there any song in particular you feel the most connected to?
I really like playing 'Watch the Corners' from the new record. I think everybody has different songs they particularly enjoy performing live. And among the old songs I still like playing 'Freakscene', 'In a Jar' and 'Just like Heaven'.
I feel like a lot have been said about the difficult relationship you and Lou had with J back in the day, in particular Lou was pretty open about it. But what about the relationship between you and Lou?
We have a pretty good relationship. Lou and I are like the glue, the bass and drums, the strong foundation in this band. That's one of the reasons why I kinda moved to California for a while. I was going there to rehearse quite a lot anyway as Lou and I do rehearsals first and then J comes in. So I think we feel like we are the platform, the base of this band (laughs).
Still talking about the personality conflicts you guys had at the beginning, have you ever read Michael Azzerad's "Our band could be your life" and do you think he depicted a realistic portrayal of the band back then?
Oh yeah. I think it's pretty well documented and close to the truth. Most of it at least…. I would say 75% of it is pretty accurate.
Do you guys hang out when not touring?
J and I do that sometimes but Lou lives in California, the opposite side of the country so hanging out with him is not easy. This time it was very strange as before this last tour J and I didn't even talk for a month which I found a little weird. But then we spend so much time on the road together. And both J and Lou have young kids now, like five and seven years old, so they spend much of their time with their family and hardly have time for anything else.
How was the Weezer Cruise experience and would you do it again?
Oh God, I don't want to sound very arrogant but I don't think I would do it again unless we were headlining, you know unless it was a Dino Cruise. It was just a bit weird, I mean the whole cruise thing is really not my kind of thing. The idea itself was fun though. I remember talking to J about it and asked him if we should do it, and we both saw that as an opportunity as we are really not the kind of people that would normally go on a cruise. I grew up sailing, so if it was really up to me to do something on the water I would just hire a boat and go sailing with a bunch of fans instead.
What is more exciting: recording or performing live?
Oh they are totally different. It's like being in school and being asked "Would you rather being in a class room or taking exams?" Being in the studio is like taking the exams, you need to be very focused, you've got to do very well, as it's like a permanent mark. Performing live is more like living day to day, it's more relaxed and fun.
How important is for you to feel the audience?
That's very important, super important. That makes a very good show.
Is there any country in which you particularly enjoy playing?
We have just been to South America, and Chile was just amazing. That's probably one of my favourite places to play. They were chanting as if it was a football game. It was totally awesome. They are very passionate people.
And what about UK audiences, do you find them more reserved?
Oh no, with us they've always been quite excitable, very punk rock! Like last night we played at this small club in Bristol, it was so hot that towards the end we were almost ready to pass out! It was a totally cool show.
Do you have any regrets in your music career?
One think I always regret is that I'm more a self-taught musician and I wish I was more schooled, because there are certain things that you can only learn if you go to a music school, so schooled musicians have a sort of advantage sometimes. So sometimes I think about that, but that's the only thing I regret.
Is there any artist you would like to collaborate with?
I don't know, there are just so many. Maybe some of the guys from Black Sabbath (laughs) and if I could go back in time I would like to play with Jimi Hendrix, that would be amazing. Nowadays I don't know, I'm more into Prog and Jazz fusion stuff.
And is there any more contemporary artist you particularly admire?
Most of the times it's bands we end up touring with. Like for instance we just did a bunch of gigs with Little Barrie. They are not young young, as they have been around for ten years but they are younger than us. So most of the times it's just bands we've played with. Like back in the days it was a lot of Ecstatic Peace! [Thurston Moore label] bands like Awesome Color and Magic Markers . So I usually like the bands we've toured with more than the ones you usually hear on the radio or the internet.
Who does usually decide which bands are going to open for you?
Usually it's J and our manager which brainstorm and look for bands. Lou and I don't have any say. Actually usually it's more our manager that would say "hey I have these people that could play at the gig" and J would say "Yeah, whatever."
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I'm into the outdoors things. J and I grew up skiing so we do that a lot. I love the water too. That's kind of my hobby, to be outdoors and enjoy the Nature as much as I can. I like exercising a lot. As far as home hobbies I don't have that many. I used to be into records collecting but not so much anymore.
If you hadn't been a musician, what other job would you have done?
I would have probably become a teacher or a counselor, working with teenagers or something like that.
Is there anything special you need to have with you when touring?
Clothes are very important for me. For instance I always have to wear the right shoes when drumming. That can make a big difference, though that may sound silly. I pretty much buy a new pair of shoes every time I go on tour, as after 6 weeks on the road my shoes are basically gone anyway. As for the others, J is totally addicted to TV shows and videos, so he always makes sure he has his computer and iPad loaded up with those. Lou is into skyping, keeping Sebadoh alive on Facebook, doing Instagram, so every day he's quite diligent at doing those things.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We've had a pretty good day so far. We had this funny video interview earlier on as they want to do this Dinosaur Jr. coffee table book with old photos. So they dug up old pictures we didn't even remember being taken! Oh and now I'm looking forward to going have dinner at Wagamama which I tried once and was nice. And then the show of course!
I Bet on Sky is out now, and you can read our review of it here.
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