For almost three decades now, Massachusetts-bred alt-rockers Dinosaur Jr. have been pushing the limits of amplifiers, instruments, and themselves. Their signature sound — a synthesis of heavy distortion, multifarious melody, disconnected, lethargic vocals, and blistering solos — has acted as a sphere of influence countless musicians, swooned critics and, fans. But, like many bands with monolithic legacies, they didn't start out with intentions of grandeur. Originally just a trio of young, impassioned musicians, Dinosaur Jr. never set out to create the type of career others mythicize.
“We kinda just wanted to be apart of what was going on at the time,” original member and bassist Lou Barlow says, referring to underground rock's mid-eighties glory days. Dinosaur Jr. just wanted to have a hand in the progression and diversity of the rock scene spurred by labels like SST Records. “That was our goal, and after we reached that we really didn't know what else to do.”
They may not have had a concrete strategy following their entrance into the SST catalog, but a multitude of acclaimed, globally-recognized albums and cross-continent tours tours later it doesn't seemed to have mattered much and the focus was never lacking. Countless bands are still trying to fine-tune the sound of albums like 1987's untouchable You're Living All Over Me. Barlow expresses a belief in the classic formula of the hard-working “power trio” and that “If things are good, they last,” and those musings serve as the most sensible explanations for the band's continued ascendance over the years.
However, not all that appears gloss and glitter is pure, perfect gold. Along the way, there were blotches and blemishes. Personalities collided, bandleader and guitarist J. Mascis seemed to have a vice-grip on the group and its creative process, communication was shaky, and after the success of the seminal album Bug Lou Barlow was out of the band.
“When we were first together, it was hard. We were leaving our cocoons, piling a new band together, and driving across country on tours — and that doesn't bring out the best in people at times,” Barlow says, describing the “pretty rocky” past of the band. “We were young, and touring took a lot out of the solidarity of of the band. It took its toll, and it kind of peaked when they kicked me out of the band in '89.”
It wasn't until 2002, when Mascis shared the stage with Barlow and other rock pioneers to perform The Stooges' “I Wanna Be Your Dog” that these two would share a stage again. After that, the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall into place. They performed material from the first collaboration as hardcore band Deep Wound at one show, played a late night television gig, and headed out to Europe for their first tour in over a decade. The tension had been relieved, and for the first time since Bug the team of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph were working together.
In 2007 Dinosaur Jr. released Beyond to widespread approval and praise. Farm, the follow-up, was received just as well and earned all of its accolades, and this summer's I Bet On Sky has continued the streak. There haven't been any visible bumps or potholes in the road, and the band's career has remained relevant and kinetic. The youth may no longer be there, but the ability is.
“It's hard to have more life and vitality than a 21 year-old,” Barlow laughs. “Now, I get a lot of energy and vitality from the music. Personally, I feel it now more than ever. It's not complicated with personal issues.”
There is no longer any outside complication stemming from other issues or quarrels, just the constitutive properties of what makes rock music connect so well. This is what makes music enjoyable to listen to in the first place, and it's what moves teenagers, adolescents, and longtime devotees alike. This is everything you could want from a veteran rock band.