The Kennedy Center

J Mascis



Biography

Singer, guitarist, songwriter, and indie rock legend J Mascis has created some of the era’s signature songs and styles. In the quarter-century since he founded Dinosaur (Jr.), Mascis has created some of the modern era’s signature songs, albums, and styles. As a skier, golfer, songwriter, skateboarder, record producer, and musician, J has few peers.

The son of an orthodontist, Mascis originally hails from Amherst, Massachusetts. His first musical venture occurred with the short-lived hardcore punk band Deep Wound with high school mates Lou Barlow and Scott Helland in the early 1980s. Though he started his career on drums, he soon transitioned to guitar when he set out to form Dinosaur (Jr.) in 1984. Mascis invited Barlow to play bass, and recruited Emmett Patrick Murphy (“Murph”) on drums. The band went through a few identities – first Mogo (for a single performance with vocalist Charlie Nakajima), and later Dinosaur (the band would not adapt the suffix “Jr.” until 1987). Their self-title debut album Dinosaur released in 1985, and was immediately recognized as groundbreaking for its peculiar distortion. Often referred to as “fuzz,” their novel sound is noted for its extremely electric resonance and conscientious combination of riffy musical styles reminiscent of garage, punk, and metal rock juxtaposed with country twangs and goth depth. Noise became the band’s signature style.

Though a retrospective cult classic, Dinosaur was anything but a commercial success. It did, however, enable the band to frequent venues in New York, where they were approached by legends of alternative rock, Sonic Youth, who pronounced themselves fans, and offered the group the opportunity to join them on tour in 1986. The next year, in 1987, the group released You’re Living All Over Me. The album received much more attention than their debut, prompting Dinosaur from the underground scene. Immediately after the release, the band was forced to adapt “Jr.” on account of a preexisting band named “Dinosaur.” Still, the band persisted. From 1989 on, Dinosaur Jr. went through various line-up changes, but J Mascis remained the group’s front-man. In spite of the disruption, Dinosaur Jr. enjoyed success after success throughout the 90s. In 1990 the band signed with Sire Records, and produced Green Mind the very next year. Virtually on the crest of the changing alternative rock scene, Dinosaur Jr. toured extensively throughout the early 90s supported by acts no less than Nirvana, among other distinctive grunge-era bands.

By 1997, Mascis dissolved Dinosaur Jr., moving on to other projects, most notably his musical project: J Mascis and the Fog. The Fog occupied Mascis’ attention for three years starting in 2000 with the release of More Light. The project allowed J to continue touring, but he never turned his back on Dinosaur Jr. for good. In 2004, Masics regained rights to all previous recordings from the Sire label, and arranged for a re-issue of the three original Dinosaur Jr. albums with Merge Records. The band officially rejoined in April 2005, appearing on The Late Late Show with Craig Fergusson. Now, firmly rooted as indie rock champions returning to glory, Dinosaur Jr. released Beyond in 2007 to rave acclaim. Although the band members continually venture on separate side projects – Masics has played variously with the bands Witch and Sweet Apple – Dinosaur Jr. remains intact. 2009’s Farm is their latest recording. This past summer, the original Dinosaur Jr. trio (Masics, Barlow, and Murph) toured across the East Coast including a sold-out show at D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

In 2011 J Masics released Several Shades of Why, a solo project with Sub Pop Records. Nearly all acoustic, Several Shades of Why is J’s first solo studio record, and it is an album of incredible beauty, performed with a delicacy not always associated with his work. With the help of a few featured musical guests, notably Kurt Vile, Sophie Trudeau (A Silver Mount Zion), Kurt Fedora (long-time collusionist), Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), Matt Valentine (The Golden Road), and Suzanne Thorpe (Wounded Knees). Together in small mutable groupings, they conjure up classic sounds ranging from English-tinged folk to drifty, West Coast-style singer/songwriterism.

In this solo project, the laconically-based, heavily distorted roar of J’s guitar, and the persistent clash of drums are conspicuously absent, but every track, every note even, bears that distinct Mascis watermark, both in the shape of the tunes and the glorious rasp of the vocals. As Mascis relates, “…it’s basically all acoustic. There’s some fuzz, but it’s acoustic through fuzz. There’re no drums on it, either. Just one tambourine song, that’s it. It was a specific decision to not have drums. Usually I like to have them, but going drum-less pushes everything in a new direction, and makes it easier to keep things sounding different.”

Watch Past Performances

Video 9/7/2011: J Mascis

The singer, guitarist, songwriter, and indie rock legend’s signature songs have been performed by bands including Dinosaur Jr., Velvet Monkeys, and the Fog.

J Mascis