The Fort's modus operandi: "Play as loud as you want to get the sound you want." On a later project, under the influence of some alchemic combination of substances, we were recording a version of the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" for a compilation, and we came to a lyric about a creaking door. This inspired Sean Slade to mic up the hinge to the door to the control room. There was hardly an audible creak to it, so he had to turn the mic up really hot. At the end of the song, in a burst of inspiration, he slammed the door, blowing out not only everyone's ears, but also the studio monitors, which each popped and emitted twin plumes of smoke.
J was a friend from UMass Amherst, and his introduction to the world of Fort Apache was enough to earn him a production credit on Buffalo Tom. We had attracted the attention of a Benelux label, Megadisc, on the basis of some demos from the early Fort sessions. They started chipping in for more recordings and we hired Mascis. J was not just another set of ears. Dinosaur's (pre-"Junior" prefix ) You're Living All Over Me was a formative record, and we were unabashed fans (and continued to be, wiseass "Dinosaur Jr. Jr." ribbings notwithstanding). We had known the band since their first record release. We were just starting out, but here was a local band making a big sound that combined classic-rock and punk-rock influences, making big waves internationally. We were just three guitar players — Tom Maginnis's first drum kit was on loan from J.
So it was only natural to ask J to produce our first record. We had been some of only a few dozen people who would go see Dinosaur in the two or three available venues out in Northampton and Amherst. We had seen J reduce soundmen to tears as they struggled with the band's massive volume. We heard about a soundman throwing a bottle at J. We watched as Dinosaur vibrated the wall-sized mirrors off the walls of a long-forgotten shithole called L'Oasis, shards of glass shattering on the stage. After we played our own first gig at this same club, the owner, a beret-clad Quebeçois jazz fan named Michele, proclaimed, "Beefalo Tum. You. Weel. Neveah. Play. Heah. Again. Neveah, Beefalo Tum!" The catchphrase has survived 25 years of bad soundchecks.
J was punk rock in a passive-aggressive way. He just didn't care about soundmen, engineers, or club owners. He had vision. And he helped us achieve a furry sound as well, showing us how to get the right tones from amps and drums and not caring about vocals for even a second. It also turned out that he was great at scheduling sub and donut runs, and putting on inspirational cassettes from Public Enemy to Montrose at just the right moments to get us fired up.
Having J aboard brought the attention of SST Records. This was the home of Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, the Minutemen, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden, the Bad Brains, and Roger Miller. It was like we were hitting our biggest goal right out of the gate. We were giddy. We could not even envision more beyond that. It was like getting blessed by the Pope — if the Pope was a punk rocker from suburban LA who didn't pay bands for years, if at all, and signed acts like Always August and Tom Trocoli's Dog. We brought J back, along with Sean, to record the entire second album, Birdbrain.