SEVERAL SHADES OF… J Mascis

The guitar-slinging
guitarist and occasional man of many words weighs in heavily, or at least
astutely, on what’s up in his world.

 

BY MAX BLAU

 

While he remains most widely known as the leader of Dinosaur
Jr, J Mascis has constantly immersed himself in numerous
other acts over the years including Deep Wound, Upsidedown Cross, J Mascis and
the Fog, Witch and Sweet Apple. As Mascis approaches his thirtieth year as a
professional musician, the guitar legend continues to reinvent himself despite having
very little left to prove in his career – this time with a new solo record, Several Shades of Why (Sub Pop).

 

On it, Mascis emerges as a much different beast from the
bulk of his past projects. Throughout his twenty-nine year career, and despite
occasional solo diversions into acoustic music as a live performer (he also
contributed ethereal/atmospheric compositions to the soundtrack of 1992 film Gas, Food, Lodging), Mascis has long demonstrated a core affection for loud, roaring
riffs and fiercely melodic noise rock. Several
Shades of Why
, his first true acoustic record, strips away all the
signature distortion and raw energy typically associated with his songs.
Instead, Mascis relies on his understated voice, acoustic guitar and a handful
of notable contributors (among them, Kurt Vile, Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell
and Black Heart Procession’s Pall Jenkins) to craft a record that speaks
volumes about his ability to delve into seemingly any musical style from folk
to doom metal, and succeed. We recently spoke
with Mascis about his new record and his touring plans, about paying tribute to
Neil Young recently and what’s next (or not…) for the heralded musician.

 

***

 

BLURT: After all
these years working with noisy, electric guitar-based acts, why did you finally
decide to put out an acoustic record?

J MASCIS: I just wanted a change, you know? I’ve always
liked acoustic music. Meg [Jasper] at Sub Pop was bugging me about doing an
acoustic record, but then the Dino reunion happened so it kind of got put on the
back burner, so it’s been quite a while. [But I’ve] thought about doing it and
now it actually happened.

 

Several Shades of Why includes a pretty long list of guest
contributors including
Kurt Vile, Sophie Trudeau (A
Silver Mt.
Zion),
Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) along with
numerous others. How did you get all these great artists on the record?

I just asked them, you know. People did a lot of stuff, and
I just picked things that I liked out of it. I didn’t tell them what to play, I
just wanted to see what they came up with and then picked parts out of it.

 

Did you work with
them in person or did you send demos out to them like you did with some of your
recent collaborations including The Hold Steady and Dead Confederate?

I think half of the people recorded it in their own studio
or whatever, and the other half came to my house to record it. You can do a lot
these days just sending tracks around on the Internet.

 

So I take it that’s how you and Kurt Vile got together for the tour
then?

Yeah, he opened some Dino shows…He recorded some of [Several Shades of Why] at my house.

 

Do you have a
recording studio in your house or were you just working on writing parts of it
there?

Yeah I have a studio at my
house.

 

In terms of the new
record, tell me about the album title–Several
Shades of Why.
What’s behind the title?

I just came up with it in a lyric, you know. Just thought it
sounded cool so I promoted it as the title… it got promoted to song title then
to album title.

 

Is that your usual process in naming songs and albums?

Sometimes, yeah. Trying to get
out of that lately, but yeah [that’s what I do] on a lot them.

 

We touched a little
bit earlier on the acoustic nature of the record. But I’m curious as to why you
chose to not have drums on the new album as well. Why did you go that route?

I just tried to make it sound different. Add some
limitations so it wouldn’t sound like all my other stuff, you know.

 

I know you’re pretty
particular with your guitar set-up. How big of a difference does it make you
having the same set-up across albums as well as in performance?

I don’t have a solo set-up yet. I have a couple ideas of
what I want to use, but nothing I’m used to yet. With Dino, I’m used to all the
gear that I have so it’s harder to switch up and use different stuff. It should
be cool.

 

While you don’t have
everything planned out yet, what are some of your ideas that you have in mind
for this tour? Do you think you’ll have touring members playing with you?

I’ll either play or not play through an amp. Or I’ll play
through the amp and not mic the guitar. I don’t know if the amp will just be a
monitor or if I’ll play direct through the P.A. or something.

 

Will you be playing
songs from across your catalog or just your new solo work?

I’m sure [I’ll play] some Dino
songs and some other stuff.

 

In terms of moving
forward, do you have any idea what you plan on doing next – whether it’s trying
something new again, solo work or returning to one of your others projects?

Probably all of the above.

 

Have you started working on anything new yet with any of those?

No. Not yet.

After all these years
and different projects, are there any particular groups or works that you’ve
done that you most closely identify with?

Well, everything reflects that [certain] period of time, you
know. I’ve always liked this band Upsidedown Cross that I played drums on.

 

A few weeks ago, you
played a Neil Young show in New York.
How did that go? How was your experience there celebrating Neil Young’s music?

Yeah, it was fun. I got the band together – it seemed kind
of like Crazy Horse or something. Nobody else [was doing that]… mostly it was
acoustic acts. It felt like we were the only ones really trying to play Crazy Horse.
So that was kind of cool. There were all these old ladies in the front all
dressed up – they have season tickets to Carnegie Hall. [laughs] That was pretty funny.

 

They were all there to see you, right?

[laughs again]
They’re all there to see whatever’s at Carnegie Hall.

 

 

J Mascis is currently
on a U.S. tour with opening
act Kurt Vile through April 10 – see full tour itinerary at his official
website,
along with upcoming UK
and European dates as well as further North American shows later this spring.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Timothy Herzog]

 

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