Earlier this month Dinosaur Jr were amongst the acts playing at the Hostess Club Weekender in Japan. We were lucky enough not only to catch the show but to grab a chat with Murph before the band headed on stage.Â
âJohn Robb! John Robb! Wow we shot our first, well one of our very first, videos – the video for âFreak Sceneâ – in his garden. This was when he was in his early band in the ’80s. What was the name? (The Membranes – ed) It was 1988, we hung out at his house, it was pretty cool.â
It is a relaxed and friendly Murph whom I am sitting with and once I tell the Dinosaur Jr. drummer whom I write for a wealth of convivial anecdotes spring forth I have no problem settling in and listening.
Murph: Weâve been doing these one off gigs all summer. We went to Chicago, Des Moines, Italy, Belgium but they were just weekends. Most recently we just did a long full States tour where we went from Toronto all the way to California and then all the way back. Because of that big hurricane that hit we were supposed to fly Monday, we had to change out our tickets to Sunday – we got out just in time â flew a sixteen hour flight to Hong Kong. So straight from ending that tour to these gigs Hong Kong, Taiwan, Osaka and now here. We fly home tomorrow.
LTW: Just in time for Election Day…
Murph: We are all Obama fans. The States well it is still kind of apathetic politically and I think Obama got a really bad rap, a lot of people are saying âHe hasnât done anythingâ but the economy is such that I mean nobody could do anything itâs going to take 10 years for things to change.
LTW: Talking of change – the early dayâs verses the past seven years – are there differences?
Murph: The early days and now yes it is totally different. It is a lot more fun, we play a lot better and it is a lot more functional now. We communicate, we didnât communicate at all in the early days.
LTW: Are those improvements down to just being older – wiser?
Murph: Partly, also these guys (J Mascis and Lou Barlow) both have had kids in the last seven years which changes everything, you have to get better at communicating and handling stuff if you have a kid. In the early days we were just really different people honestly Lou and J were socially…well, their families just taught them no social skills where as I grew outside of New York City with a family that was totally opposite.
At 14 I was doing all kinds of crazy stuff and going to New York and so I think we clashed because they found me intimidating and I found them really irritating because they just wouldnât try to be more social and I did not understand.
Now I see if youâre not taught it you donât know how to be social, but then I would get mad that they wouldnât try to figure it out. So it created this tension: J constantly thought I was really annoying and was trying to do everything to squash me and Lou would just say nothing so there was always this battle and tension going on. Now everyone is pretty social adjusted and we donât have that kind of tension anymore.
LTW: Has that played a part in the mellow feel of âBet On Skyâ?
Murph: Yeah, I guess that has something to do with it, and J has such a great relationship with his kid heâs a really great dad that has a lot to do with it, itâs a combination. It was a lot easier to make this record we just got in there and kind of did it: really focused and it was pretty painless. The last records had a little more tension here and there and it took longer to get songs to sound right, where as this record just seemed to gel so well.
The early days were like painful, J was a monster as far as the drum parts, he was highly critical of every single beat, every bass drum hit, everything. He would just be standing over you like an angry teacher âwhy canât you get that right, what are you an idiot?â it was really intense. Were as now it is âoh well do something else then okayâ.
LTW: So can you enjoy those early albums?
Murph: Oh yes, I can enjoy it now. For me learning has always just been a hard process I wasnât a good school kid I did well in subjects I liked and didnât do well in things I didnât like. It has always been a struggle for me learning that goes for music as well were as J and Lou have always been superfast learners they get stuff right away so.
LTW: A lot has changed in the music industry especially in the past decade. Do you think it was easier back then starting out, than it is today?
Murph: J said yesterday âit is always going to be hard starting outâ, for me I think itâs harder today because there is so much emphasis on saleability: how many units can you sell – how many downloads can you get off iTunes when they are looking at signing bands.
I notice bands think about that when they start to creative an image for themselves or write songs were as when we were doing it none of that existed so it was just raw and it was angst. You just wanted to get out there, get your message out there, your energy out there and you got the feeling a lot of other people were doing it the same way.
I think it was more fun, easier and the other difference back then labels wanted to sign you for four to six records so when you got signed you got into a long term partnership and that is completely a thing of the past. No label no matter who you are wants anyone for that long or the artists doesnât.
LTW: So, maybe fan financing through sites like KickStarter and Pledge Music are the way forward?
Murph: I think itâs great, because I know a lot of people who otherwise wouldnât be heard. It is a good way to combat the corporate music world where all they care about is how many units you are going to sell.
LTW: Do you think that fan financing may soon be the only option for guitar bands with dance, rap and R ‘n’ B being so popular?
Murph: If a band bashes on trash can lids and makes enough money record companies with sponsor them, making money that is all they care about not the content. I think history always repeats itself; there is a resurgence of kids now who are coming out to see us because they have heard about J and that he is like the modern day Jimi Hendrix or something.
LTW: So who do you go see?
Murph: I still like a lot of experimental stuff, we got to see Throbbing Gristle a few years back when we played one of the festivals in Spain and it was really amazing, I still like to see heavy bands like Motorhead.
We played a festival in Champaign, Illinois and that was more atmospheric that was really cool and I still listen to a lot of the jazz fusion that I grew up on like John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Oh God! Hendrix! Iâd love to see him back in his heyday that would be amazing. I was a total Hendrix freak growing up.
LTW: Would you see a hologram Hendrix?
Murph: Yes, I guess I would out of curiosity. I know people that have seem Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and I canât even imagine what that would be like.
LTW: The UK is hoping to see you soon can we expect any dates next year?
Murph: Yes, like everywhere in Europe that will include the UK and I am hoping for some of the festivals, you know the economy is really in trouble when festivals and music venues close up which has been happening a lot in Europe unfortunately, but I am hoping for a few festivals.
I have cheekily over run my time and then some with Dinosaur Jr.âs stage time fast approaching itâs from interesting conversation straight to a set that was energizing, bombastic and as creative as ever: a remarkable band still making remarkable music.
Dinosaur Jr. will finish out the year with several US dates including a special show to celebrate the 25th anniversary of âYouâre Living All Over Meâ which will take place at New Yorkâs Terminal 5 on 1 December. Kurt Vile and the Violators are the support and the night will includes special guests Al Cisneros, Kim Gordan and Johnny Marr.
Five UK dates have along with 12 dates in Europe just been announced and tickets will be available first to fans in a pre-sale details of which will be announced next week to keep up to date with this and all Dinosaur Jr. news via their website www.dinosaurjr.com and twitter @dinosaurjr
The UK dates are as follows:
Jan 30 – Glasgow, UK – Arches
Jan 31 – Leeds, UK – Leeds University Stylus
Feb 1 – Manchester, UK – Ritz
Feb 2 – Brighton, UK – Concorde
Feb 3 – Bristol, UK – Fiddlers
Interview and live picture by Katie Clare. You can read more from Katie on LTW here.