Dinosaur Jr. loud as ever three decades later

Dinosaur Jr. comprise (from left) Jay Mascis, Lou Barlow and Emmett Jefferson Murphy III.
Dinosaur Jr. comprise (from left) Jay Mascis, Lou Barlow and Emmett Jefferson Murphy III.PHOTO: LEVI WALTON

American alternative rock elders Dinosaur Jr. say they have mellowed with age, more than three decades after the formation of the band.

Bassist Lou Barlow says: "There's not the same feeling of, like, tension we may have had when we were younger."

Still, the new material from their latest album, Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, does not stray from the band's early sounds because the way they make music has not changed.

"In some ways, it's exactly like it used to be. We do the same thing. J will write a song and give us the demo. I think the thing that keeps it similar is that the basic mechanics of the songs are similar," says Barlow, 50, referring to guitarist- singer Jay Mascis, who is better known as J. Mascis.

One thing he will not forget from their early days is how loud their practices were.

The first time they jammed, in Mascis' parents' house in 1984, Mascis played so loud that it sent him and drummer Emmett Jefferson "Murph" Murphy III running out of the room.

"The first practice we had, he was wearing those ear muffs that you use when you shoot guns. Murph and I saw him and we're like, 'Oh no, what does this mean?'

"He started to play and it was so loud that we had to run and find toilet paper to put in our ears, just to stand in the same room while he played."

In a telephone interview with The Straits Times from the band's home state of Massachusetts, Barlow adds that Mascis' penchant for volume stemmed from his beginnings as a drummer.

"When you sit and hit the drums, it gets very loud, you feel the drums physically.

"When he began to play the guitar, he wanted the guitar to have that same sort of dynamic effect on him. He played extremely loud to feel what he was playing."

The extreme volume, Mascis' distinctive drawl and the memorable hooks of their songs have made Dinosaur Jr. one of the most influential bands in the alternative rock world.

Their latest album, the 11th, was released this month.

While their early albums, Dinosaur (1985), You're Living All Over Me (1987) and Bug (1988), entrenched them as cult heroes, the band's early 1990s output, such as Where You Been (1993) and Without A Sound (1994), broke into the mainstream charts on the back of the era's alternative rock boom.

Due to personality conflicts with Mascis, Barlow was kicked out in 1989 and went on to form two other bands also important in the alternative rock canon - Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion.

Mascis retired the Dinosaur Jr. name in 1997 to go solo. In 2005, the founding members reunited and they have been recording and touring since.

Like their earlier releases, Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not has been enthusiastically received by the music press. British rock magazine Kerrang! writes that it "reminds us how life-affirming their music can still be", while American music website Pitchfork held it up as proof that "their well for inspiration has not yet run dry".

Their volume, too, remains high.

The band's only show in Singapore to date, at the Esplanade Theatre in 2010 as part of that year's Mosaic music festival, featured stacks of amplifiers blasting their trademark, ear-drum shattering sound.

Barlow says: "In the late 1970s and early 1980s, bands such as Van Halen would play with walls of amplifiers.

"That was part of an almost cartoonish idea of what rock music was and I think Jay wanted to adopt a bit of that for his vision of what he wanted to do."

• Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is out in stores and on digital platforms.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Dinosaur Jr. loud as ever three decades later'. Print Edition | Subscribe