Music » Features

Silence in the Fog

J. Mascis lets songs, guitar do the talking


Talk softly and carry a really loud axe -- that's been the J. Mascis modus operandi since he first emerged with Dinosaur Jr. in 1985, brandishing ear-bleeding volumes of Sonic Youth dissonance, Crazy Horse-length guitar solos and a bad case of the Uma Thurman blues.

It's now common practice among critics and hipsters to ignore or belittle the Dinosaur Jr. Canon, what with all his alleged classic rock guitar wankery and the Mascis-as-influential-precursor-to-grunge status (Kurt Cobain asked him to be Nirvana's drummer). All of which explains why it's practically an immutable law of nature that the "D" section at any used CD retailer in America must include at least one thrashed copy each of Without a Sound or Where You Been?

None of which is really fair. Though Mascis has been mining the same heartbroken vein for almost 20 years now, there was more depth and individuality and flat-out rock in that vein than he is currently given credit for -- it's hard to imagine Built to Spill, for one, without him. (Though one hopes he really is finally over Uma, their breakup so meticulously confessed by Mascis on the early Dinosaur Jr. records and on-camera during the Sonic Youth tour film, 1991: The Year Punk Broke). His latest incarnation, J. Mascis & the Fog (a rotating cast which has included Bob Pollard of Guided By Voices and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine), plays Amos' Friday, and follows the tried and true Mascis formula -- shards of guitar augmented by a laconic whine, smoldering solos and the occasional Neil Young-like acoustic thrown in for a breather. As the Fog, Mascis has issued two releases, 2000's More Light and 2002's Free So Free, discs that find him recapturing some of the songwriting intensity of his early years, even if Uma no longer fuels the fire.

It would be nice to hear Mascis wax at length about all this, but his notorious reticence makes interviewers long for the voluble Marcel Marceau by comparison. Delivered at 78 speed and in a cadence that defines the word "slacker" (complete with nap-length pauses), Mascis briefly held forth on the following subjects recently by phone from his home in Amherst, MA.

On how he's doing:

"Oh, medium, I guess."

On the upcoming tour:

"It's a short one. Haven't started yet."

On how he met the current Fog, Dave Schools (bassist for the on-hiatus Widespread Panic) and Kyle Spence (drums for The Tom Collins):

"I don't know. I met Dave somewhere. I went down to jam with him and played at his club in Athens (The Caledonia) and this guy Kyle the drummer's band opened for me and I liked his drumming a lot. Somehow I just tried something else out and it seemed to work pretty good."

On their brief West Coast tour this summer:

"It was pretty cool."

On whether he'll play anything new on this tour:

"Just all stuff through the history."

On working on the upcoming (March 22nd) Merge reissues of the first three Dinosaur Jr. records:

"It was all right. I liked having the chance of fixing a few things that had gotten fucked up over the past."

On his fanbase:

"I think there's a few new people, but mostly just diehard old fans."

On other projects:

"I'm just playing in a couple bands around town. Drums in one."

On the rumored skydiving influence in Free So Free:

"That was just something the writer made up."

Just about the only topic that seemed to raise Mascis' temperature above zero was the election, which had taken place the day before:

"I'm just kind of amazed by it. That he can fuck over everybody for four years and still get elected. I just...I just didn't realize how stupid so many people are. I know some stupid people, but I can't imagine there's that many of them, but I guess there are."

Mascis has always expressed himself best in song and with a guitar in his hands; his open love letters to Uma over the years are undeniably affecting, if a little sad in every sense of the word. As for his legendary reticence -- well, as the old saw goes, it's better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Still waters, indeed.

J. Mascis & the Fog play Amos' Friday at 9pm. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

Add a comment