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Godfather of grunge, J. Mascis and his Dinosaur Jr. collective have been the pioneers of indie rock since 1984.
Hailing from Massachusetts, USA, the band originally consisted of Mascis on vocals, acting as lead songwriter and lead guitarist, Lou Barlow on bass and Murph on drums. After various group departures and replacements, and even a disbandment in 1997 before an eventual revival in 2005, the group continues to create and lead the way in alternative music around the world.
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In the lead until 35and anniversary of their seminal second album, You live all over mewe take a look at some of the countless ways J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. innovated indie rock.
- Revolutionary distortion with laid-back vocals
- Mix of country rock and punk
- Inspiration for countless deeds
- J Mascis was a pioneer in the primordial stages of the straight edge movement
Distortion and noise
In the mid-’80s, Dinosaur Jr. was an anomaly. Songs that topped the charts in 1987 included Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet,” Whitney Houston’s self-titled second album, and the dirty dance soundtrack.
It was the age of hair metal, glitz and glamour. In many ways, Dinosaur Jr. represented the antithesis of his era.
Mascis’ grossly distorted guitar and heavy use of pedals created a sound that was both antisocial, yet simultaneously appealing to the ears.
Think (or listen) to tracks like “Little Fury Thing”, the opening track of You live all over me. The song begins with a demanding distorted wah that kicks off the album.
With J. Mascis’ easy-going, drawling vocals, Dinosaur Jr.’s use of guitar counteracts, moving the tracks forward at lightning speed.
Voice without fucking voice
Mascis is a famous songwriter, but he is not known as the greatest singer in the world.
This isn’t necessarily a weakness of the band, especially since some of the greatest bands of all time feature a less than admirable lead singer; think Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground, or even Bob Dylan.
His vocal delivery has its charm. It’s tough, laid back, ashy and even whimsical at times. At a time when popular music had reached a point of perfect production – to the point of losing its life in music – J. Mascis brought music back to Earth.
One of J. Mascis’ most interesting creative vocal decisions was to cover a legendary cut from The Cure, “Just Like Heaven.” Mascis’ delivery contrasts sharply with Robert Smith’s, with a gritty approach that strays from the original. The result: a beautiful interpretation of an already perfect song.
This style of vocal delivery can be seen in countless acts after Dinosaur Jr. The most obvious being that of Kurt Cobain, who was such a fan that he asked Mascis to join Nirvana, not once, but twice. .
The abrasive fusion of country rock and punk
Dinosaur Jr. was undeniably a staple of the punk scene in the mid-80s, but that wasn’t always the case.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mascis described the quirky feeling behind the band as “ear-bleeding country”. It was also the title of their biggest hit released in 2001.
Lou Barlow also talked about how people were originally “disgusted” with the force with which the group played.
The connections between Dinosaur Jr. and Neil Young have been made countless times, but for good reason.
The band took what Neil Young started and ran with it, creating a sound almost unrecognizable to the untrained ear at the time. Of course, 35 years later, that sound has enveloped indie rock, with riffs on songs like “Kracked” inspiring countless hits and much of The Strokes’ discography.
straight edge punk
His slow talk, long hair, and love for skateboards give J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. the manifestation of a stoner image. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mascis, since 1982, is straight edgerarely drinking and never taking recreational drugs.
This movement countered the excesses of the hardcore punk subculture and was born after the release of Minor Threat’s 1981 song, “Straight Edge”.
Mascis, as a pioneer of the movement, made it cool not to do drugs at a time when it was the norm.
Those who followed…
It would be remiss not to mention Dinosaur Jr.’s effects on the decades of music that followed.
The group inspired not only later acts, but also their musical peers of the time. One of the most famous examples of this was in the Sonic Youth hit song, “Teenage Riot”, where an alternate reality in which J. Mascis is made President of the United States is imagined.
As previously mentioned, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana reportedly asked Mascis to join the band twice, which he twice refused.
Other artists who have taken inspiration from the group include members of The Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine and Blur.
For more on Dinosaur Jr., check out our interview with J. Mascis.