In an age when reunion tours appear to be materialising at an alarming rate it is easy to be skeptical of the results. Too often artists who have a failing solo career look for a return to the band of their glory days for a quick 'cash in'. Whilst money has openly been cited as one of the excuses for reforming the original line up of Dinosaur Jr, it is certainly not the only reason, as there is an acknowledgement that the seminal line up was disbanded at a time when they were still making outstanding music.
Unlike many of the bands that are reforming of late, the members of Dinosaur Jr actually had some success after their original members parted company. Founding member J Mascis continued with the Dinosaur Jr moniker and produced a few highly regarded releases that saw the band find a home on a major label, before forging ahead with a credible solo career. When Lou Barlow was told his services were no longer required by Dinosaur Jr, not only did it spawn the resultant 'bad blood' that has thankfully eroded over time, it also lead to Barlow forming the highly influential Sebadoh, as well as having some mainstream success with Folk Implosion and most recently he has been gaining momentum as a solo artist with the release of his most well-received work for a long time.
With recent parenthood and the success of his latest album ensuring that Barlow is in fine form, he appears truly grateful to be given the opportunity to play with a band that he obviously still holds in such high regard even though his departure from Dinosaur Jr was on less than harmonious terms. Father Time looks to have healed those wounds, and the business of putting on a show that is respectful of the legacy of the first few Dinosaur albums is at the forefront of his mind.
The original lineup of Dinosaur Jr perform at Capitol on Sunday, March 5. Lou Barlow will then return to Perth for a solo date at the Rosemount Hotel on March 19.
By CHRIS HAVERCROFT
Hi Lou, it'll be great to have you back in Perth. It's
pleasing that you haven't been scared off by us being
reportedly being some of the worst drivers in the world.
Is that true? I wonder how you would measure up to Massachusetts drivers - normally known as mass-holes. The most ruthless drivers I have ever seen. I cut my teeth driving in Massachusetts, and when I moved to California I was way ahead of the game.
From the outside it looks like you had a pretty
It was great, yeah.
You must have been pleased with EMOH and the way that
it was received. Is that the most successful record you have
had for a while?
I don't really know. I don't know what the numbers were on it, but it was the most successful in terms of I did it really cheaply and I did it totally myself and I had no managers and nothing between myself and the record company and all that stuff, so it was all very satisfying and direct. It wasn't overwhelmingly successful by any means. It was the first time that more than half the reviews were good! The critical consent appeared to be tipped towards the positive as opposed to the negative which is not something that I could say for the last few records that I have done.
The people that like it appear to really like the
I hadn't heard much from Australia. I'm trying to get a few solo dates at the end of the Dinosaur tour. I initially had some trouble knowing who I should contact or how I should go about it, but who knows. I'll try and go through the people that are doing the Dinosaur tour to keep it simple, but we'll see. Who knows?
Considering the positive response to EMOH, has it been
difficult to put the solo stuff to bed whilst you tour with
A little bit I guess, to be honest. It was a little weird because I was doing good you know! So after doing the States and Europe to pretty good crowds - nothing fantastic, but good for me, then it was like woop that's it. Time to get on the bus, put in the earplugs and turn up the bass.
You had spoken about a bit of a lack of momentum with
Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, and seeing as the industry
is all about momentum, are you worried about Lou Barlow
losing the momentum created by EMOH?
Dinosaur has a momentum of its own to say the least. A momentum and an inertia as well that is equally fascinating to me.
How did the reunion come about?
Well J still lives in the area that we grew up in. He would show up at Sebadoh shows during the '90s even though I would wonder why the hell he was there, but he would show up. So I would be 'OK, there is J, that's weird'. And then over the years we have had friends that we both work with, you know, and one in particular, a sound man / tour manager that we both work with that we are really close to. He is a really good friend to both of us. So at one time in London when he was working for J, he was like 'you have to come to this show that J is doing with The Stooges'. So I go to the show and I see J and I kind of talk to him for a little bit. For the first time where it felt like that I didn't really have an axe to grind with him or anything. I don't know why but for some reason I mellowed out about a lot of the stuff that happened. So we had an OK conversation.
Then after that, my mother who lives in Western Massachusetts, she works for this community resource group that supports families with children with autism. She and this co-worker of hers who is kind of an indie rocker had this idea to have a benefit show. My mum of course called me up and said 'Lou, you are going to come out here and you are going to play this benefit', and Kim and Thurston from Sonic Youth live out here too, so she is like 'I'm going to track them down and ask them and I'm going to ask J and we are going to have this big benefit'. And it totally came off and it worked. I came out here with Jason Lowenstein and we played as Sebadoh, and we played right before J did and J played a solo set. Unbeknownst to him, whilst he was playing, myself and the two other members of our hardcore band that we had when we were in high school, we conspired to have this reunion as J was ending his set. As J was ending his set we walked out, or someone walked out and said J go behind the drums we are going to play Video Prick - which happened to be the one song that we could probably play. So J sat behind the drum kit and we ran through one of our songs and it was kind of funny, and kind of fun. So I was like 'well that was something - now we have actually played on stage together'. Actually with The Stooges thing I did some guest vocals on some of the songs when he was playing - which was awful - but Video Prick was kind of funny.
J has this really aggressive manager who is kind of younger and he doesn't really know the extent of the bad blood that I had with the band, so this guy called me up and asked if I wanted to do this Dinosaur Jr reunion, and I was like 'what do you mean, like J will do it?' and he assured me that J would do it. So I though OK, if you can get J and Murph, then I will be there. And he totally made it happen. And once we got together it was just really easy, and the songs are just so good.
They have always been a good set of tunes.
Oh yeah! For me to go back and revisit that stuff, especially after my solo record, I had almost come full circle. I had finally - at least in my own mind - shed like a lot of baggage. Being in bands is hard. Keeping things together and balancing things in bands is difficult, and I had finally freed myself of all band politics. I was going to keep it simple this time, I'm not going to complicate it. I'm just going to do my own thing and not drag anybody else into this mess. Somehow it seemed so perfect to me that as I had reached this period of evolution, it was kind of funny that I would be pulled back into the very original band that pulled me into some of it.
Has it healed some of the wounds of being kicked out
all those years ago?
Yeah. All my personal kind of issues with it had already dissolved. I think that just the act of playing those songs again was absolutely like a purge. It was like 'oh my god' - just the sonic wash of those songs. For me, I am pretty passionate about those Dinosaur records, and I was a very passionate supporter for quite a while when I was in the band, until right at the end which is when it got really quite weird I guess. I believed in those songs and I believed in J, so for me to come to that source - because J's songwriting abilities are what empowered me to forge on after I was kicked out of that band. Being in that band gave me something when I went on with my music. I was that guy from Dinosaur. It helped me out considerably, so for me it was pretty amazing to be able to come back to those songs.
In hindsight do you think that the exit from Dinosaur
has served you well?
Absolutely! There is no other way that it could have happened. I think that if I had stayed in the band that it would have been detrimental to me as somebody who was finding their own voice. It was really good for me to be able to get out from under Dinosaur and really find my way, and I really needed to be kicked out to make that happen.
Would you have been such a prolific writer had you
stayed in Dinosaur?
Well I would have, I might have. I was already writing tonnes of songs when I was in the band, but they were all on such a different scale than Dinosaur were. I was playing and recording my songs on a ukulele at the time. I do actually think that if I had stayed in the band... I always think of the Ramones or something. I just think that what the Ramones became was really something so negative. I think that people really fantasise the Ramones and their music, and I remember when I saw them in the early '80s I was just heartbroken. I was like 'oh my god these people just hate each other and it is really coming out in the music'. I just get real sensitive to that - like great music being kind of destroyed. I guess just the fact that they got stuck in that sound too. It would have been sad if Dinosaur had got stuck in something, and we would have because we wouldn't have known how to communicate with each other to break out of it. So it's good. It's really excellent after I left because it did good things for J after that and he went on to do pretty well, and I did too.
You have said previously that you didn't communicate
very well and you didn't talk to each other in Dinosaur, has
that changed this time around?
Not really, no. But there is email. That is good. Email is a beautiful thing. J is not a real talkative person. He is very funny, but I'm not really the one that brings it out of him. I like the people that he hangs out with. I like the people that are around us, and whether I am slapping J on the back after each show is irrelevant. I think that J even allowing me to come back and be in the band says enough really. In his way inviting me back, even though it wasn't exactly him - it was all very indirect, but that is the band.
Do you think that being a parent has changed your
perspective a lot, and it could have contributed to healing
that rift between you and J?
When I had the baby we didn't have any health insurance and I was actually facing destitution at that point when the baby was born. The Dinosaur thing happened at the same time and I thought if I did this tour and I did the solo tours then we are going to be able to pull ourselves out of this. So if I was entertaining any pride issues they were completely erased by fatherhood and I needed to do what I needed to do. There are all kinds of things that conspired to bring the band together, some of which are monetarily-inspired, and some of which are just genuinely emotional factors - it's a mix of both.
And you play songs from just the first three albums?
We started to play The Wagon from Green Mind, which is the first song that they released post my departure. I liked the song so I said that I would play it. And also the more that I play with the band the more that I realise that he has these long time fans who are mostly focused on the Feel The Pain era stuff because that did quite well.
Is there pressure to play Get Me?
I don't even know which one that is. There is one that has some golf theme video - I think that is Feel The Pain. Get Me I dunno. There is one that goes (hums Start Choppin'), I dunno, I'm not really up on the later stuff.
Any talk of a new recording or is that stuff abhorrent
There is not only talk of it, I am going to be doing it tomorrow. I was just listening to some demos that J made, that I guess that I will play bass on. Before I left I sat and tried to write some bass lines, I guess we will all get together and see what we come up with.
Are you contributing any songs Lou?
When do you think that may see the light of day?
I have no idea. All the ideas are really sketchy, so I have no idea. I haven't recorded with J in years so I have no idea what his work ethic in the studio is like and I don't know how quickly it will come together. It is a total unknown, which is really cool!
We're doing it for the fans. We're doing it to keep this going. We're not thinking that we are going to set the world on fire with a new Dinosaur record. We are just doing it to keep the momentum going.