Beauty in the beast

Dinosaur Jr. are much happier people now
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  September 30, 2009

 

Dinosaur Jr., "I Want You To Know" (mp3)

Me, Myself, and I: Three ill-fated trios. By Daniel Brockman.

"Can you hear me? This is getting super loud."

I'm speaking with Dinosaur Jr. drummer Patrick "Murph" Murphy — well, not speaking with him so much as waiting for the noise to subside as he sits in the back room of Berlin's Astra club waiting for the opening band to finish their soundcheck. There's something appropriate about the interruption, though — for better and sometimes for worse, Murph and the rest of Dinosaur Jr. have allowed the sheer noise of rock to do the talking.

The brainchild of Joseph "J" Mascis, Dinosaur Jr. rose from the ashes of Amherst hardcore weirdos Deep Wound. When Mascis switched from the oompa-loompa martial constraints of punk drumming to the blitzkrieg roar of his Jazzmaster, he dragged fellow Deep Wounder Lou Barlow into the bass chair and recruited Murph from fellow hardcore outfit All White Jury. Despite their tangled roots in hardcore, Dinosaur Jr. were destined to forge their own road, thanks not only to the mopy drawl of Mascis's new batch of tunes (inspired in part by his Cure and Wipers records) but also by his dictum to his new bandmates that this outfit was going to be loud.

"There's a certain power and intensity when you're hitting drums," says Murph. "When J switched to guitar, he wanted to feel that same power, and the only way he could do that was to be, like, super loud and play at an incredibly high volume. Lou and I were just like, 'Yeah, that makes sense.' "

Totally. During the band's initial three-album, four-year run, Dinosaur scorched earth with their violently tuneful rock gorgeousness, a sound that was equal parts noisy squall, chugging riffola, and lush melancholy. Their second album, 1987's You're Living All over Me (SST), is one of the most fully realized rock visions ever put to wax, an effortless mix of distorto buzz with overt nods to then-über-uncool classic rock. Mascis had committed the ultimate punk-rock sin: bringing back the guitar solo and using sheer volume to fuse it to the post-hardcore wasteland of late '80s rock. He also perfected a delivery that doomed him to be forever described as "laconic," his laid-back croak — part Nick Cave and part Skynyrd — providing the perfect foil for the tumult behind him.

But though Mascis's near-catatonic demeanor gave the band an alluring mystique, his stonewalling stoicism also revealed his need for tight control of the music. As Dinosaur's knotted arrangements moved farther from three-chord punk, Mascis pushed his bandmates to maintain his vision.

"There were drum parts that I just couldn't play," says Murph. "Working with J has always been kind of like being in school — there's a lot of learning involved. In the beginning, it was really intimidating and really frustrating, because J was super-critical, especially of the drums, so I always felt like I was under the gun."

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