It’s Hard to Stay Fresh: An Interview with Dinosaur Jr
Free Press Houston: First off, congratulations on your new record Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, which was released back in June. From what you can tell, how have you and the band noticed the reviews?
Murph: It’s been amazing! This one is definitely making a larger splash than the last 3 records. When we first did the reunion, obviously, it was beyond huge, because it was the first record, but it’s similar to that. I’m really amazed how well it’s been received.
FPH: The last record, I Bet On Sky was released some time ago. Does that feel obvious? Has time gone pretty quick for the band with the constant touring you guys do?
Murph: I think it was 3 or so years ago, but it definitely feels a while ago. I have a side project in Los Angeles that I, kind of, dabble around with. The band, Dumb Numbers, just released a CD that came out on Joyful Noise. Now, that’s more of a studio project, so it keeps me busy, too, but I don’t have any touring projects like Lou and J. I get a little more time off than they do because they’re still travelling, where as I’m usually home, drumming, doing my own thing.
FPH: Besides touring, or in your case, not touring, what are the benefits to other projects? Do you find side bands to be a necessary thing once you’ve been in a band for such a long time?
Murph: Oh, God! It’s just like breathing. Being in any situation, you just feel stifled. That’s the normal part about working closely with other people. You always need breaks, you know?. You need have outlets that you can do other things, just so you can do other things, blow off steam. You are always limited when you’re travelling closely with one group. It’s hard to stay fresh, so you have to do those other projects.
FPH: Well, to stay fresh with Dinosaur Jr., do you guys keep the same mindset, emotions, and thoughts nowadays when you go into the studio? Have you found the winning formula?
Murph: Yeah, we have a formula that’s tried-and-true, man, we’ve depended on the same thing: we basically let J -he’s the idea guy! He’s a visionary, he’ll just disappear into a room and start churning out demos. We try to get them as fast as we can and learn them, and it’s just this crazy process. [J] just goes through this explosive period and will get out 12 or 13 songs. That’s how it’s always worked with J.
FPH: A long time ago, I saw a video of the recording process for the band… which is at a house; is that still the case? Who’s house is that?
Murph: Yeah, that’s J’s house. The studio is on the third floor of his house, and it’s a full studio with a lot of nice gear. It’s where we record. That’s where it happens. We didn’t always do that, though. We used to use other studios, obviously, but since this reunion ten years ago, we’ve done everything at his house.
FPH: Playing loud is something that Dinosaur Jr. has done and captivated for as long as anyone could remember, and each show seems to get louder and louder. Are there any bands, currently, that you think are on the same noise level?
Murph: I mean, there isn’t anything recent. My Bloody Valentine, recently, is the only other band that plays louder than us. Motörhead, when Lemmy was alive — I got to see them like five years ago at a festival in France — was really powerful and super loud. But I don’t just listen to loud music. What I listen to on my own is the opposite, really. I listen to some, but I really love 70’s jazz fusion. I’m still a total Zappa-head and love people like John McLaughlin and Johnny Cobb. I still listen to that stuff to that day, and I’m inspired by it, probably even more so than “new” music. I listen to new stuff, and it’s good, but it’s never as good as the earlier stuff I grew up on. I’m a lot more inspired when I put on a Black Sabbath record. Just the other day, I was listening to Aerosmith’s Rocks — very early stuff — and I thought, “This is really good!” So I’m always rediscovering the early stuff I grew up on.
FPH: In the earlier days of the band, and possibly to this day, have you personally enjoyed having support for the tour or being the support?
Murph: I much prefer supporting; being on a big tour. The pressure is off, you only have to play for 45-minutes to an hour. You just get to enjoy the show more. Not only do you get to play, you also get to be a spectator. It’s much more enjoyable for me, personally. J and Lou would probably say the opposite; they probably enjoy headlining more. When we used to tour with Sonic Youth, it was the same thing: it was so amazing, man, to be able to see them play while they were together, like, super inspiring, to me. The early tours with some of the bands here were really cool; some are together and some or not. A few of those were short-run questions. I’ve been more impressed with the bands we’ve opened for. We did a tour with Primus last summer, and we just got done with a Jane’s Addiction tour. Back in the early days, we got to play with the Cure. That made more of an impression on me, getting to warm up for the bigger bands. They were a lot more exciting and impressionable than what new bands I’ve played with. I know that kind of sucks, but it’s my perspective, you know?
FPH: Being that you guys have had a rather public hiatus, when bands get back together, to you, do they usually live up to the expectation of being as good as they were while in their prime?
Murph: Most of the bands, 99% — and I hate to say it — don’t really deliver later on. I think we’re on of the lucky few. We’re exceptional that we can still deliver. I remember seeing Gang of Four, and they were still really good. My Bloody Valentine were really good. But again, I think there are only a small handful of bands that could pull it off. A lot of bands out there, I don’t think, pull it off, and that’s my opinion, you know?
You can purchase “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not” here, and along with their show at White Oak Music Hall on September 15.