Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies. There are so many bands that wouldn’t exist without them. You can imagine the honor of interviewing a band that has managed to build themselves a name through almost 30 years.
Dinosaur Jr is one of the most influential band of the last 3 decades and many bands try to imitate their unique sound. Singer, lead guitarist, and even Pope candidate if it were for his fans, J Mascis turned down Kurt Cobain invitation to join Nirvana not one but actually TWO times. That speaks for itself and shows the band faith and consistency to get their own sound.
Massachusetts trio (or duo?) is coming to Barcelona to play Primavera Sound festival and present their latest album, I Bet On The Sky ([PIAS] 2012). We have a chat with bassist Lou Barlow, whose role in the band sometimes seems like a job, but that doesn’t mince words about Murph‘s sudden leaving, the tensions in the band, the family, John Agnello‘s job, or Nirvana. Not to be missed.
How are you Lou? First gig of your European leg, how do you feel?
I’m ok… Well, our drummer actually run away the day before we were supposed to leave, so we have a replacement drummer, it’s very strange.
He just run away?
Yeah. He didn’t take on the plane. (laughs)
But is he coming for the rest of the Tour?
So what happened?
He just changed his mind.
Lou, what’s the worst part of being on Tour?
I guess trying to stay healthy. That’s hard. And staying far from home. That’s terrible. But I love being travelling too so… And I love playing shows. So I can’t say that I’m miserable, I’m quite happy being on Tour. But it’s always like a confusing balancing between the people you love and what you do.
Some bands reunion end up pretty bad. Were you afraid of that?
Maybe I was afraid in the beginning, but as soon as we started playing I wasn’t afraid. As soon as I played the first note I knew I was not afraid.
“The band is more important than our friendship”
Does the fact of having kids affect the atmosphere and the relationship between you guys in the band?
I don’t know. (Thinks for a while) Maybe. (More thinking) I mean having kids seem so natural for me now, that I can’t imagine not doing it. It’s hard to imagine what I would do without them. Before I had children actually my life was very prepared for children
What’s the most important thing in a band in order to make it work? Do you need to be friends or it’s just a matter of chemistry?
The musical chemistry, I gonna tell. The music is the most important thing. You know, the band is more important than the personal relationship with each other.
You know? Music is the most important thing. The band is more important than your personal relationship, with each other. But music is the most important thing. Then if you’re not the greatest friends, if you recognize that music is the most important thing, you can get over these things, because you’re focusing in a common goal.
How do you feel when you know you’ve created your own sound which is actually copied from other bands?
Well I recognize that the band has an unique sound, and as a music fan I recognize that a band with a unique sound is unusual. There’s a few. Well Ramones had a sound and people imitated that sound. And of course there are other bands too but in general, it surprises how interchangeable rock music is. I think we’re very happy, to have a sound. But that’s just because we dramatically focus on something so intensively when we were young, that it became like a second nature to us.
So in a way I don’t think about it, but in another way, as A music fan I understand it.
Which bands do you reckon can have their own sound here in Primavera Sound?
I think Animal Collective has made a very unique sound. And also Grizzly Bear have a very unique sound. Whenever I hear them I’m like “oh, that’s Grizzly Bear”. But it’s funny how other bands, even bands I like, sound like comeditians of other bands.
“We could do the same sound without John Agnello. J is really the producer”
You’ve been working a lot with John Agnello, Is that important the producer’s job in a band?
I think without a producer we could do the same sound. The sound really comes down to J. I mean, J is really the producer of the sound. I mean, John Agnello records with other bands and they sound totally different than Dinosaur Jr. And when he records with Dinosaur he listen what J wants. J tells John what to do. John has been working with J since very early in the 90’s. Almost 20 years. Actually 20 years. I think it’s really the relationship that J has with John. I think if we, Dinosaur made a record, we could maintain the sound of the band at any time because J is so particular about what he wants.
You’ve played Terminal 5 in NYC to celebrate You’re Living All Over Me with lots of friends. How was it?
I loved it! (laughs) Yeah it was a top show. That was great for sure.
J said it would be impossible to make an album like that again. Are you agree?
Yeah I would agree with that. I mean is that way with so many other bands. Could Pink Floyd ever do The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn again? No. ¿Could Black Sabbath ever do Master Of Reality? No. Or the Ramones. Is Lou Reed ever gonna do The Velvet Underground & Nico again? No, he’s not. (laughs)
But it’s lucky. We were lucky. Like I said, when we were young we were very focused to create our own sound, and make the band unique. And we got it.
“We were lucky to make an album like You’re Living All Over Me”
The relationship with J in the past have been pretty tense, but in this last album you participate a lot. Could you imagine Dinosaur Jr without J?
Without J?? Of course not! (laughs) He named the band, he came up with the concept of the band, his guitar sound… I mean you can’t really hear the bass and drums on the records. J is the dominant voice of the band. (laughs)
Would you change something in the band’s?
Yeah I’d like to change some things. Like on the records, when J plays the lead guitar that there’s like no other guitar, it just goes down to the bass and drums… Like it does live. I would like to reflect our live sound a bit more. Luckily someday. And that’s about it. I’m only dreaming! (laughs)
I’m able to do that when I record my own songs, so I’m able to do what I like.And everytime I record or make a song for Dinosaur Jr I do it like thinking, I wanna make a song that has these elements because I’ve never heard them you know?
As for me, I think what makes a band truly great it’s when the live performance surpass the record, which is your case.
Yeah, we know it. Maybe in the future. I would like to make it, a little more minimal I guess.
How long will we be blessed with Dinosaur Jr?
I don’t know.
Is for good?
I don’t know. Now that our drummer run away I really don’t know you know? (laughs)
Would you change something from the past if you could? Don’t you think you could have become a huge phenomenon like Nirvana
I don’t know. J always says that Dinosaur could have never been as big as Nirvana because of his voice. Because his voice is too screamy. Kurt Cobain had a great rock & roll voice. I think the original Dinosaur, if we had stayed together we might have become a little bit bigger, but not Nirvana.
What about your project with Sebadoh?
We’ve just finished the record. We have an EP coming out on vinyl, sometime around september, on Domino, so there’s a lot of music coming out soon.
Are you happy?
Am I happy? (laughs) I’m not unhappy. I got a lot of things going on.