Interview with Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr./Lou Barlow & the MissingMen
By Jaime Lees
Published on October 05, 2009
8 p.m. Wednesday, October 14. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard.
$22 advance, $25 day of show. 314-726-6161.
With grunge-era staples such as “Freak Scene” and “Out There,”Dinosaur Jr. specialized in bittersweet compositions, where even the sad songs were love songs and even the love songs were sad. But they were no crybabies: An impermeable wall of screaming guitar concealed much of this melancholy. To the delight of fans, not much has changed over the past twenty or so years. The older songs still ring true, and the live shows are still a pulverizing avalanche of sound. (The volume of which can only be described as “unholy.”) And don’t call this a nostalgia tour: The band’s new album, Farm, might be its best one yet — supplying a mixture of confessional songwriting and dizzy, throbbing rock. Dino’s own Lou Barlow opens the show in support of his solo album, Goodnight Unknown.
Lou Barlow has indie cred out the ass. As the bass player for Dinosaur Jr (which is playing at the Pageant on Wednesday, October 14), Barlow (alongside guitarist J Mascis and drummer Murph) has been at the forefront of the “alternative” scene since the early ’80s.
And if playing with Dinosaur Jr. wasn’t enough, this dude started college radio gods Sebadoh as a side gig. A side gig! He needed another outlet for his songwriting and — whoops! — he accidentally started freakin’ Sebadoh. Jeez.
Still, it gets crazier. For a few years in the mid-’90s, Barlow fronted psych duo Folk Implosion. Yeah, you know ‘em. That’s the band that scored a surprise hit with the spooky “Natural One” off of the soundtrack from the film KIDS.
Oh yeah, and Mr. Midas puts out beautiful lo-fi solo albums, the latest of which, Goodnight Unknown, is released this week on Merge.
We “interviewed” Barlow via email a couple of weeks ago while he was touring with Dinosaur Jr. in Europe. He was gracious enough to write us back, despite the semi-ridiculous questions we sent his way. Thanks, Lou.
Jaime Lees: So you’re doing a weird thing on this tour. In addition to playing with Dinosaur Jr., you’re also the opening act, playing your solo music with a backing band. How does that work out? It seems exhausting. Do you need to take a nappy, Lou Barlow?
naw, the more i play the more energy i have. dino only plays for an hour and half a night. my band will be playing for 45 minutes, tops. we’ll be on a bus, so i can sleep, dino has roadies so i can sit on my ass for most of a day. i’ll be fine.
Your new album, Goodnight Unknown, gets better with each listen. It seems more upbeat than your previous solo work, but it still lovey and conflicted. Do you write about situations in your own life or do you see yourself more as a storyteller?
i’m not a storyteller. at all. the songs are based on situations in my life. i collect phrases that have the right feel when i sing them. string them together around the theme. maybe a particular incident or a general message ( i.e. ‘i love you’ ). songs provide a lot to hide behind. you can get away with murdering the language. as long as the feel is right.
When you’re writing music, how do you decide who gets it? Meaning: Do you write songs for your solo albums and Dinosaur Jr. albums separately? Or does it all start from the same place?
with dino i like to start with improvising bass and drums. finding riffs that feel good. then marrying them with existing melodies or something totally new. the main objective is matching the texture of j’s songs in some way. i don’t want to frankenstein a song i wrote on acoustic into a dino-replica. i want it to be organically dino. if that makes sense. the songs i write on acoustic guitars seem best kept acoustic, for now. those became the songs on ‘goodnight unknown’
So, I really loved those silver and purple limited edition Dinosaur Jr. themed Nike High-Top Dunks. Do you have any other plans to license merchandise like this? And can you hook a ho up with some phat new kicks? (Ladies size 7, please)
i don’t even know how that happened. j’s on a whole other level of brand awareness and profit avenues.
Do you still live in L.A.? What’s the process for when Dinosaur Jr. needs to get together to write, rehearse or record?
i still live in LA. when dino needs me i go back east, stay with my parents and soak up the hometown vibes. and i can bring my wife and the kid out for gramma time.
How on earth do you still have your hearing? I last saw Dinosaur Jr. play in 2006 and it was the loudest MF sound I’ve ever heard in my life. Not just the loudest concert I’ve ever been to, but the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. Many people fled the venue. Those who stayed were shoving cocktail napkins down their ear canals. At least two chicks were crying. Does that make you proud, Lou? Huh? Does it?
no. it’s f-in ridiculous. it’s j’s trip. he is inflexibly dedicated to the idea of extreme volume as a necessity. was then, is now. it’s one of the great mascis mysteries.
i wear 2 pairs of 33 db reduction earplugs. one pair buried in my ear canals, the other gaffer taped on top of those.. it sounds and feels pretty great that way. i experience the songs on a physical level as well as melodic and emotional (i think and dance to them )
we played a show last year with small amps and it was great. we really don’t need the extreme amplification but it’s part of j’s ‘brand’. that’s the ship i’m sailing on and i won’t be mutinying anytime soon. the positives still outweigh the negs.