Interview with Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.

J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph of Dinosaur Jr. Photo by Brantley Gutierrez.
J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph of Dinosaur Jr. Photo by Brantley Gutierrez.

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.

“Interview” with Bret Michaels of Poison

Bret Michaels (sort of) talks dirty to RFT
By Jaime Lees
Published: February 13, 2008

Bret Michaels is a horny beast. Throughout his time as the lead singer and frontman of the classic hair-metal band Poison, this was a well-documented fact. He initially wooed women with a hyperactive stage personality — music videos showed him makin’ eyes and advances on wickedly dressed über-babes — but then he’d slow it down and aurally caress their lady-spot with smoothly strummed, sensual power ballads. With his tight clothes, vampy attitude and requisite rocker-length hair, he was quintessentially ’80s sex-on-a-stick. Similar to his perma-boner peers in Mötley Crüe, he seemed to have a thirst that only ‘tang would quench. Today, it seems as though not much has changed in the life of Bret Michaels. Though grunge came along some time in the early ’90s and made hair metal look like yesterday’s used condom, he released several fairly well-received solo albums and became a talking head on VH1. Through it all, he’s still a dude who aspires to rock — even if the hairline of his long blond hair is now strategically hidden under a doo-rag.

But being (potentially) follically challenged hasn’t exactly hurt Michaels’ game. He still has the enviable luxury of sitting back and letting the honeys just fall into his lap — quite literally, it seems. As the star and subject of the recent hit VH1 reality show Rock of Love, Michaels is currently entertaining audiences in a whole new way. The dating show arouses rumor and scandal as a gaggle of busty gals basically punch one another in the breast implant over who gets to date him. (And we use the word “date” very loosely here.)

Still, Love is glorious. The show’s trash factor makes it irresistible, while its popularity seems to have greatly helped Michaels ease back into the media spotlight. The intimate details he reveals in the show — about things like his debauched past and medical issues — also add a whole new dimension to the public perception of the man, because he comes off as cooler, sexier and funnier than you would expect. But mostly, the show serves to illustrate that Michaels is still, God love him, a lustful rock star to the core. In honor of his Valentine’s Day concert at the Bottleneck Blues Bar, we’ve dug up some classic Poison lyrics in hopes of getting you in the mood for makin’ love (or just straight-up doin’ it). Some of these lyrics are romantic, some of them are titillating and some of them are just plain obscene. We’ve also completely fabricated quotes from an imaginary conversation we had with Bret Michaels, in which he explains the meaning behind these bits of suggestive soft-core literotica.

Song: “Look What the Cat Dragged In”
Lyrics: “No tell, motel, hotel bed/If it wasn’t for the sunlight I’d swear I was dead/I got a girl on the left of me/A girl on the right/I know damn well I slept with both last night”
Bret Michaels might say:
“Oh yeah, I remember that night. I usually score with more than five babes a night, and that night I only banged these twins. Eh… it was just a Tuesday. I forgive myself.”

Song: “Talk Dirty to Me”
Lyrics: “‘Cause baby we’ll be at the drive-in/In the old man’s Ford/Behind the bushes/’Til I’m screamin’ for more/Down in the basement/Lock the cellar door/And, baby/Talk dirty to me”
Bret Michaels might say: “That is poetry. It’s truthful. It’s moving. It’s inspirational. And doesn’t it make you hot? I’m the Shakespeare of turning you on.”

Song: “Nothing But a Good Time”
Lyrics: “They say I spend all my money on women and wine/But I couldn’t tell you where I spent last night/I’m really sorry about the shape I’m in/I just like my fun every now and then”
Bret Michaels might say: “Chicks are always trying to change me! They don’t understand that I’ve just gotta ramble, y’know? Some babes just can’t handle how hard I must rock. I’ll tell them ‘Woman, you look good an’ all, but ease up off of my stick. I’m the man around here.’ After that, they know their place.”

Song: “I Want Action”
Lyrics: “Long legs and short skirts/These girls hit me where it hurts/I can’t wait to get my hands on them/I won’t give up until they give in/Now I’m not lookin’ for a love that lasts/I need a shot and I need it fast/If I can’t have her, I’ll take her and make her”
Bret Michaels might say:
“Uh, yeah. Man, that does sound a little creepy and aggressive. But girls just parade around like that and I get all worked up. Don’t they know who I am? I just told them I wanted action!”

Song: “Something to Believe In”
Lyrics: “I drive by the homeless sleeping on a cold dark street/Like bodies in an open grave/Underneath the broken old neon sign/That used to read JESUS SAVES”
Bret Michaels might say: “See? It’s not always about chicks! I have important things to say — this is social commentary. I do have a soul. But I gotta tell you, this soul mostly just wants to poke hot babes. D’ya know what those cold homeless guys need? A warm woman to cuddle up to on those dark nights. Trust me, going balls-deep will keep you warm.”

Song: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
Lyrics: “We both lie silently still/In the dead of the night/Although we both lie close together/We feel miles apart inside”
Bret Michaels might say: “There’s a rumor this song is about the downside of dating a hot-ass stripper. People always think it’s some big analogy about love and life. Really, it’s just about flowers, man. Being a playa-playa I give out a lot of roses and, damn, those thorns are a bitch.”

Song: “I Hate Every Bone in Your Body But Mine”
Lyrics: “This chick’s got me so addicted/I hate her so much even though I wish she was my girl/I hate every bone in your body but mine/I can’t wait till I can hate you tonight”
Bret Michaels might say: “Gimme a break, people. I need attention down there. That ain’t no sock in my pants!”

7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 14. Bottleneck Blues Bar at Ameristar Casino, One Ameristar Boulevard, St. Charles. Sold out. 636-949-7777.

  • 02-13-08 Riverfront Times (St. Louis) – article link
  • 03-27-08 reprint in the Houston Press (Houston) – article link
  • Bret Michaels – website

Interview with Ian MacKaye of Fugazi

Ian MacKaye takes on new venues.
8:30 p.m. Monday, November 5. White Flag Projects, 4568 Manchester Avenue. $5. 314-531-3442.
By Jaime Lees
Published: October 31, 2007

On an Even(s) Keel
As the frontman of the legendary punk bands Fugazi and Minor Threat and co-founder of Dischord Records, Ian MacKaye has proven himself to be both a prolific songwriter and a keen businessman. He birthed the highly respected independent label nearly three decades ago and it has since grown to be the very nucleus of do-it-yourself punk-rock culture. MacKaye’s unwavering integrity and sincerity in the face of the shady corporate music business reveal his career path to be nothing short of inspirational. Viewed as the moral and dignified godfather of the hardcore and straight-edge scenes, MacKaye seems to start accidental revolutions by simply speaking his mind and doing his work.

With the much-missed Fugazi on indefinite hiatus, MacKaye has plenty of other projects to cultivate. In addition to speaking engagements, running the label and giving interviews, MacKaye is busy scheduling tour dates for his newest band, the Evens, a lo-fi (yet still intense) duo with Amy Farina, formerly of Washington D.C.’s the Warmers. Though the Evens could easily cash in their punk-royalty status in exchange for the best gigs in town, the band schedules the dates by itself and prefers to play small, non-traditional venues including art galleries, libraries and community centers.

Calling from Dischord House, the headquarters of his label, MacKaye is instantly likable. He seems smart, affable and warm. In conversation he’s quick, but not rude. Funny, though not sarcastic. In this and every other forum, it is clear that MacKaye takes what he does very seriously.

“I work really hard,” he says. “[Other] people, they punch out for the day and they go home. I never punch out. I’m never off the clock, in a way. The fact that I haven’t separated my work from myself — it has its pluses and it also has its negatives.” The lure, however, is clear. “I wake up every morning having something to do and wanting to do it.”

Aside from the advantage of keeping costs down for fans, MacKaye reveals another purpose in booking alternative venues: “So we can be liberated from the rock world, which is pretty constricting when you get right down to it. I mean, you think about the kind of venues or the kind of establishments where music can be presented, and ultimately it’s pretty limited and largely dictated by one of two industries, you know — and that’s the rock industry and the alcohol industry. And since we don’t feel beholden to either, then why not break free?”

When MacKaye is questioned about his constant work and touring, he pushes off any concern. “I like places, I like people! I like going somewhere. I like that fact that music is a point of gathering that can effectively work anywhere.” Here he further clarifies: “I guess I don’t feel ever burned out at all. I just feel fortunate to be able to go play music.” — Jaime Lees


  • 10-31-07 Riverfront Times (St. Louis) – article link
  • 11-01-07 reprint in the Pitch (Kansas City) – article link
  • 11-08-07 reprint in the Houston Press (Houston) – article link
  • 11-15-07 reprint in the Nashville Scene (Nashville) – article link
  • interview outtakes here
  • The Evens – website

Melt Banana

Melt Banana
7 p.m. Saturday, October 27. 2 Cents Plain, 1114 Olive Street.
By Jaime Lees
Published: October 24, 2007

Not everything that comes from Japan is cute. In fact, Melt Banana seems to be doing everything it can to deny the naturally adorable output of its birthplace. Formed fifteen years ago, the band remains uncompromising in its ability to mess with audiences’ preconceptions by gouging a Hello Kitty-shaped hole right through their eardrums. Employing the use of bass, guitar, theremin, computers and whatever the hell instrument makes that laser-zap sound, the noise band grinds screechy clamor against abrasive thumps with a dash of piercing dentist drill. But the effect is great: If you grit your teeth and listen long enough, you’ll realize the band is actually taking you on an artful journey that culminates in a semi-melodic loop of blissed-out frequencies.

  • 10-24-07 Riverfront Times (St. Louis) – article link
  • 11-29-07 reprint in the Houston Press (Houston) – article link
  • Melt Banana – website