Dinosaur Jr. - Biography
Depending on your interpretation, Dinosaur Jr. are either criminally overlooked as pioneers of the booming alternative scene of the early 90's, or one of the more popular groups from the noisy class of pop bands which included the Pixies and Sonic Youth. Either way, J Mascis, a genuine visionary as a guitarist if not a songwriter, recorded some of the most cutting and beautifully ear-splitting guitar solos ever put to tape, and he still managed to be tuneful in the process. The career of the band can only be mapped as the career of Mascis himself, as he is the only member to have been involved in every stage of the band since their mid-eighties inception. The rickety nature of the group's roster was usually a result of Mascis' perfectionism and unwillingness to collaborate, as a couple of Dinosaur Jr. albums were recorded with little help or no help at all. Now enjoying a successful reunion of all three original members, one can only speculate as to how long Mascis will stay in collaborative mode. But, as the band's latest album was critically acclaimed and sounded fresher than anything Mascis had recorded in well over a decade, let's hope this reunion is the real thing.
The band began as Dinosaur, not Dinosaur Jr. in Amherst, Massachusetts. Mascis' previous band, the hardcore punks, Deep Wound, had broken up in 1983, and Mascis started jamming with high school classmate Lou Barlow. Mascis drummed for the band at that point, but former All White Jury drummer Murph was soon acquired to free him up for the guitar spot. The new band started gigging and, in building a local following, were picked up by indie label Homestead Records. They released their debut, Dinosaur, in 1985. They built up a reputation of consistently delivering bombastically loud live shows, and gained notoriety for themselves and for their album in doing so. One early roadblock met the band in late 1986, when a psychedelic group called Dinosaur, comprised of musicians hailing from the ranks of Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe & the Fish, sued the band over the rights to the name. The band added a “Jr.” to their title, appeasing the hippie outfit, who have not been heard from since.
The group moved to the increasingly popular California-based indie label, SST Records, owned by Greg Ginn of Black Flag. They released their second album, You're Living All Over Me, in 1987 on their new label to rave reviews from alternative publications. The album subsequently became a massive hit as far as underground albums go, and peers of the band sung the praises of Mascis' marriage of melody with an incessantly rabid guitar squelch. A year later, they came out with their career-defining (and scene-defining) single, “Freak Scene.” College radio was all over the single and so the stage was set for the album upon which it appeared, Bug (1988 SST). An even bigger hit than its predecessor, Bug established the band as one of esteemed prowess in the alternative community, and their popularity swelled. Unfortunately, it had become clear that Mascis and Barlow would not be able to co-exist for very much longer as their relationship was already very strained, the two of them declining to speak to one another. In 1989, Mascis informed Barlow of his decision to break up the band. Literally one day later, he had reformed the group, this time neglecting to inform Barlow, who would not be part of the new line-up.
The only thing about the line-up that was necessarily new was that the bass-playing spot would now be a revolving door for whichever friend of Mascis was asked to join. Among the guests were Van Connor of Screaming Trees and Don Fleming of Gumball. After scoring a hit with non-album track “Just Like Heaven,” Mascis' noisy interpretation of the Cure song, the band moved to Sire Records, citing financial problems with SST. Now faced with the task of translating his signature noisiness into a sound suitable for a major, Mascis recorded Green Mind almost entirely on his own, with Murph appearing on just three tracks. The album was released in 1991 to sometimes harsh reviews from alternative publications who didn't think Mascis had retained enough of the guitar noise for which he was now known.
Mike Johnson, previously of the band Snakepit, became the full-time bassist before the group went on tour in support of the album. On that tour, they were joined by Nirvana, who had yet to release Nevermind and become the biggest band in the world. Once that happened, it seemed likely that Mascis would try to immediately capitalize on the success of the sound which he'd helped create. Instead, he released the Whatever's Cool With Me EP (Blanco Y Negro/Sire) and laid relatively low. A fourth album turned up in 1993 in the form of Where You Been (Blanco Y Negro/Sire). The album did benefit from the explosion of alternative rock and cemented Mascis as something of an elder statesman of the genre. It became the first Dinosaur Jr. album to break into the charts, reaching number 50, and spawned the single “Start Choppin'.”
After playing in the 3rd Lollapalooza tour in 1993, it finally came about that Mascis would record an album entirely Murph-lessly. The drummer was nowhere to be found on 1994's Without A Sound (Blanco Y Negro/Sire) and soon joined the Lemonheads. Mascis' new album was poorly received, but a hit on MTV, “Feel the Pain,” gave way to decent sales. He launched his first solo acoustic tour after this, which was released in album form as the first official solo album by J. Mascis, 1998's Martin & Me (Blanco Y Negro/Sire). Obviously quite fond of the solo artist feeling, he made the next Dinosaur Jr. album without Marc Johnson, who carried on with his solo career. The new album, Hand it Over (1997 Blanco Y Negro/Sire) was considered to be his best work in years, but it failed to receive any significant airplay on major radio stations.
In the late 90's, he announced the official break-up of the band and put out a solo album under the name J Mascis + The Fog, called More Light in 2000. Early on in that album's promotional tour, Mascis' bus underwent a serious accident, resulting in two cracked vertebrae for Mascis and the abrupt end of the tour.
In 2005, reissues of early Dinosaur Jr. albums began to turn up. Merge re-released the self-titled debut, You're Living All Over Me and Bug. Mascis soon announced that the band would reunite for a short tour, and it would evidently be as authentic as a reunion gets, with even Lou Barlow returning to the fold. Sire re-released Green Mind and Where You Been, complete with bonus tracks, and the tour occurred shortly after to commemorate the re-releases. In 2007, the trio would up the ante yet again, surprising everyone who knew the band's history by recording and releasing an album of all-new material, Beyond (Play It Again Sam). Most shocking of all was that the album, its mere existence enough of a surprise, was ranked among the band's best work upon its release.