Artwork by PAOLO AMICO
BY JONATHAN VALANIA J. Mascis has always been a man of few words, a condition stretching back to the prehistoric days of Dinosuar Jr. Emerging from the crunchy redoubt of Amherst, Massachusetts in the late ’80s in a splatter of hair-wagging guitar sludge and stoner-dude-ski-bum laissez-faire vocals, Dinosaur Jr. rose out of the primordial ooze of ’70s classic-rock radio and the tar pits of punk rock, like a tinnitus-inducing mash-up of Neil Young and Sonic Youth. Mascis became the guitar hero of alternative rock, a genre largely defined by anti-heroes. Twenty albums later — including 11 Dinosaur Jr. albums and eight solo records — Mascis remains his generation’s pre-eminent six-string shredder and most-reticent anti-star. Mascis plays World Cafe Live tomorrow night (along with local yokels Purling Hiss) in support of his new, all-acoustic solo album Tied To A Star (Sub Pop). Last week we got Mascis on the phone in the hopes that he had belatedly discovered the joys of communication, but alas he remains a man of uncomfortable pauses and eternal silences, still preferring to let his fingers do the talking. BARELY DISCUSSED: Acoustic vs. electric; hugs and Hinduism; Strand Of Oaks and shredding on “Goshen ’97”; Asperger’s and autism; Gina Arnold and Nirvana.
PHAWKER: Your new solo album, Tied To A Star, is all-acoustic as was the one before, 2011’s Several Shades of Why. Given your well-earned rep as a blistering six-string electric warrior who routinely plays at sadistic volume levels this is sort of like Hank Aaron going to bat with a toothpick. What do you get out of playing acoustic that playing electric just can’t provide?
J. MASCIS: I don’t get much out of it, I’d rather play electric, I guess.
PHAWKER: Then why make an album of all acoustic songs?
J. MASCIS: Good question. I’m not sure, it’s more of a challenge, I guess. I like to work with restrictions, you know?
PHAWKER: In 2005 you released J. and Friends Sing and Chant for Amma, an album of devotional songs dedicated to Hindu religious leader Mata Amritanandamayi, about whom you reportedly wrote “Ammaring” on the first J. Mascis and the Fog album, More Light. Do you consider yourself a student of her teachings?
J. MASCIS: Yeah, sure.
PHAWKER: How did you hear about her teachings and what about them drew you in?
J. MASCIS: Somebody just told me to go see her in New York, I guess — it was pretty easy, just kinda go and get a hug from her. Basically she goes around the world hugging people, her message is pretty simple: just kinda like serve other people, and that isn’t hard to understand or follow or anything. Just made me somehow feel better, so I just kinda got more into it over the years.
PHAWKER: You totally shredded on the Strand of Oaks song “Goshen 97,” what can you tell me about working on that track how did that come about and why did you say yes. I’m assuming you probably get asked to play on a lot of people’s albums all the time, you can’t say ‘yes’ to everyone.
J. MASCIS: To a lot of them I do.
PHAWKER: How did the Strand of Oaks thing come together?
J. MASCIS: Yeah, I just recorded it at home, we’re on the same label and they asked me so, I just said ‘okay,’ I gave it a shot, seemed to turn out pretty good.
PHAWKER: Despite nearly 30 years into a career in rock you remain notoriously inscrutable and largely unknowable. The Village Voice once called you “the enemy of enthusiasm.”
J. MASCIS: Oh, that’s cool.
PHAWKER: There’s been a lot of loose speculation on the Internet that you are Asperger’s or even full blown autistic, do you care to clear the air on this?
J. MASCIS: That’s not true, but that’s interesting.
PHAWKER: I wanna read you something that I wrote in the Philadelphia
Inquirer back in 2007, “Dinosaur Jr. arguably blew it the day in 1991 that Mascis – then in the midst of one of his mute periods – refused to utter a word to Gina Arnold, the Option magazine writer who was following the band around on tour in hopes of writing a cover story. In frustration she turned her attention on the other band in the stinky van: Nirvana.” Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Things might have turned out differently if I had bothered to answer her silly questions’?”
J. MASCIS: I don’t even know what you’re talking about. What magazine is that?
PHAWKER: Option magazine, do you remember Option magazine?
J. MASCIS: Yeah, so you think Option magazine made Nirvana’s career?
PHAWKER: Hardly, but that story both identified and embodied a paradigm shift in underground rock — the torch had been passed to a new generation.
J. MASCIS: Anyway, yeah, I mean, what can you do? You live with these regrets, I guess. Then again if you become huge and kill yourself that doesn’t seem so great either.