written by Chris Familton
When Dinosaur Jr reformed in 2006 many fans would have been expecting a fleeting reunion, a tour and perhaps an abandoned attempt at writing and recording new material before imploding in a collision of personalities. The good news is of course that the reconvened triumvirate of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph are a little older, wiser and no doubt mellower and as a result we have two new records and another Australian tour to be thankful for.
Murph always appears to be the most unassuming of the trio, perhaps because he isn’t one of the songwriters and has long been the subject of Mascis’ dictatorship when it comes to playing drums. On the line ahead of their tour of Australia Murph is keen to point out that the dynamic has shifted slightly when it comes to Mascis.
“He’s still pretty firm but he’s a lot more open to interpretation. Before there was like no exceptions on a certain level whereas now he’s definitely a lot more open to ideas or if I’m more comfortable doing something a certain way on the drums he’s more able to say ‘yeah lets go with that’ which is a lot easier and a lot more fun for me to have him relaxed,” says Murph.
The band’s live shows have also changed with the newer material adding a different element to the intensity of their performances. “Its just better and more dynamic, a little less punk and a little more rock. Some of the early material that we were drawing from was pretty fast and high energy whereas with some of the later stuff we are able to lay into it a little more, its actually more enjoyable for me,” admits Murph.
With the release of Beyond in 2006 and last year’s Farm Dinosaur Jr showed they are still on top of their game with their songwriting though according to Murph both albums were noticeably different in their construction. “Farm was more traditional like the way we always used to make records. We had a block of time that we set out at J’s studio and just really banged it out whereas Beyond we kinda just pieced it together over a period of seven months so it was a very different kind of experience. I think for us doing everything under the gun and having that pressure where you have to get everything done over a month or two seems to work better and I think this is why Farm seems a little better,” he explains, adding “Beyond felt like a reunion record and then Farm felt like we were a band again making a record from scratch which is a bit different.”
One thing that has stayed constant is the division of labour when it comes to songwriting. Most of the songs still come from Mascis with a couple of gems from Barlow making the final mix. “Its the way its panned out but at the same time J will say right at the very end ‘well does Lou have any songs’ and Lou will say ‘Oh you waited till the end to ask that, well I guess I have a couple of songs I could come up with.’ It always seems to work out that way which is kind of funny. If you were to talk to Lou he probably would say he is pushing to get his ideas in there, it depend who you talk to,” laughs Murph.
As well as having their own stellar back catalogue Dinosaur Jr have also made The Cure’s Just Like Heaven their own. In their hands it became an explosive triumph and it still features in most of their shows. something that Murph encourages. “I personally love to play it at the end, these guys kind of make fun of me because I like to play it all the time and they are like ‘man, don’t you get sick of that song?’, I’m always like no, we gotta keep playing it.”
Much has changed in the music industry since the band were first together and Murph can’t quite get his head around the approach of many kids who are starting bands. “Music these days is so much more disposable which is kind of a bummer for me, its just not as exciting, you don’t feel like you can count on it as much.”
“Lou’s very opinionated and he might disagree but there are two modes of music these days, there’s like the fashion end of music where you have people who are really doing it almost like a star search quality where they want their name in big lights and they’re really looking to break into something. We don’t even deal with that end of the spectrum, we don’t want to be some huge band postered all over the world, and we never really tried to be that way. When I was a kid with friends in bands we were just doing it for the love of music and it was fun and cool to party in the basement with some beer and have a jam. Now you get kids plotting world takeover and working with designers and promoters. To me that is really weird and surreal,” says Murph.
In the changing world of music Dinosaur Jr keep on doing what they do best – writing, recording, touring and most importantly enjoying what they do. With plans to keep touring and then hopefully work on a new album later in 2010 there seems to be left in the old dinosaur yet. Great news for everyone.
This interview first appeared on The Dwarf