J Mascis, frontman of alt-rock OGs Dinosaur Jr., is known to be one of the least sociable people in music. It’s a badge he wears with honour. “At a young age, I think I built some sort of force field around myself,” he says. “While walking my dogs, I can make it down a crowded street without anyone talking to me. A lot of times the dogs can break down the forcefield; people wanna talk to the dogs. My wife would have, like, 10 people talking to her.”
But on Elastic Days, his latest solo LP, the grizzled guitar wizard opens way up, wrestling with heartbreak and aging over hazy, wistful acoustic meanderings. He admits it was nice not having to discuss tunes with the rest of his Dino Jr. bandmates. “You don’t have to wait around while other people learn your song,” he says.
Another benefit of going solo: Mascis gets to play the drums exactly how he wants them to played. He notes that Dino Jr. drummer Murph can get a bit too aggro for his liking. “Murph’s got more of a primal rage coming through. I have a little bit more finesse or something. I remember playing one song, I think it was “Goin’ Home.” He was just playing too hard, so I gave him these really tiny sticks to see if that would help make it quieter. That’s what we ended up going with.”
Truthfully, the trio — which broke up in the ’90s due to creative tension between Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow, before re-forming in 2005 — isn’t big on spitballing anyhow. “Murph always makes small talk with everyone — not so much me and Lou. Lou talks a lot on his own, but we don’t talk that much.”
Of course, Mascis doesn’t talk much, full stop. That’s just the way he likes it. “I’ve never talked to anyone sitting next to me on a plane. To me, it’s too much to strike up a conversation with somebody. Except one guy who turned out to be a roadie for the Who or something ’60s. That was pretty cool.” In other words, unless you can spill some historical rock n’ roll tea to him, you probably won’t get too much out of Mascis.
And that’s okay. His famously impulsive, so-many-feels solos — which are all over Elastic Days — say plenty. “That’s the way I like to express myself, I guess. It’s like instant expression — you just never know what’s gonna come out.”