One gets the feeling that J Mascis would rather plug in and let the music speak for itself instead of talking about his impact on rock music and his band Dinosaur Jr. Nonetheless, the soft-spoken frontman stops in San Francisco with the band on December 15 for a live interview with Henry Rollins at The Fillmore followed by a run through Bug, the band’s 1988 breakout album.
We spoke with Mascis about the album, his guitar heroes and the lawsuit filed by a San Francisco band that forced Dinosaur to change its name to Dinosaur Jr. in the late-80s.
What was your first reaction after hearing you were named the 86h best guitarist by Rolling Stone?
I was glad that Keith Richards was No. 4. They had covers for the first three guitarists, but I don’t know why they skipped Keith and went to Eddie Van Halen [No. 8].
Who were some of the guitarists who had the biggest influence on you?
I like Keith Richards, Mick Taylor and Ron Asheton and Greg Sage. I guess, Greg Sage is the only one who didn’t make the Rolling Stone list who had a big influence on me.
The Fender Jazzmaster is a guitar that you’ve used throughout your career, and now you can’t go to a rock venue without seeing one. What attracted you to that model?
It’s the first guitar that I got. I learned to play on it because I couldn’t afford a Stratocaster. Back then, it was cheaper than any Strat, and I’m just used to playing it now. It wasn’t a top-of-the-line guitar. In the ‘60s, Hendrix played the Strat, that was what blew it out of the water and the Jazzmaster faded out. It came back, I guess.
So, why Bug and why now?
We already did it on the East Coast and it did pretty well, so we thought we’d try it on the West Coast. We did it first when we got offered to play at England at All Tomorrow’s Parties. We did more shows because we figured if we learned it, we might as well play more.
Did you also do the live interview with Henry Rollins?
Not at the show in England, but the shows on the East Coast, which was pretty weird. But, people seemed to like it.
Is that more stressful than a normal gig?
Yeah, a little bit. It’s just weird, but I guess it’s not as stressful as playing acoustic shows, which is what I’ve been doing.
Does it feel like public speaking? What makes it weird?
I’ve just never really seen that at a show—a band being interviewed before they play. Henry’s thought was to try to make people understand the times when Bug came out. A lot of people hadn’t seen us back then.
That was obviously a pivotal time for the band—you were getting more well known and you were also sued by the San Francisco band Dinosaurs over your original band name, Dinosaur. Was that a stressful time for you?
We got sued after You’re Living All Over Me. Yeah, it was pretty weird. Barry Melton, the lawyer who was suing us, was also the “Fish” in Country Joe and The Fish. He had an office on Haight Street. I thought, “Why are the hippies coming after us?”
Bug was kind of bad time because we just weren’t getting along. That was a major problem; we weren’t getting along at all during Bug and the band was kind of falling apart. That was worse.
Now you and bassist Lou Barlow have been back together for a few years. How is this second round going?
It’s alright, and has its ups and downs. I guess we’re a little bit more equipped to communicate better and deal with it, or something.
Dinosaur Jr. performs December 15 at The Fillmore. Tickets are $44.50 and the show starts at 8pm. More info.