It’s 11.30pm on a Friday night in Gothenburg, Sweden and Lou Barlow has just walked offstage. The bassist for the iconic three-piece Dinosaur Jr. is relaxing backstage with a beverage after what was, by his admission, a strange night for the band. “We had a very strict DB limit so we had to constantly turn it down,” he says bewilderingly of the Gothernburg show, one of the last of their current European tour. “They were quite strict about it because apparently if we went over this level the place would lose its license.”
The 46-year-old shrugs at the notion that this would’ve presented more of a challenge for Dinosaur Jr., often recognised for the sheer volume of their sets, than other acts. Throughout our 20-minute conversation, Barlow is reluctant to hastily agree to many preconceived theories about the band’s existence.
“I think noise and melody are perfectly compatible. I think Dinosaur Jr. has always been a very melodic band,” he notes. When pressed further on how concise I Bet On Sky, their latest release is, Barlow again feigns agreement.
“The songs are simpler in some ways, there’s a little more keyboard, a little more acoustic guitar. Since J writes the majority of the songs, I can’t really speak for him.”
“I just do what I do,” he adds, with little dramatic flare.
One of the most endearing (though for many at times, incredibly frustrating) elements of the Dinosaur Jr. aesthetic has been how low-key they’ve remained about their ascension. From humble beginnings in Massachusetts in 1984, the band reunited after an eight-year dissolving of the band. Barlow and Dinosaur Jr. parted ways in 1989 before the band reunited in 2005 with its original members. Three albums later, they’ve evolved into a dependable stalwart of guitar-rock, still remaining loyal to themselves and their vision.
Barlow admits that the idea of becoming a more recognisable band is a tempting one, but not one they’d actively pursue by making drastic changes to their approach.
“I rejoined the band eight years ago. I don’t think we’ve never shied away from getting bigger,” he says bluntly. “But in terms of playing arenas by opening for bigger bands, I don’t think that helps Dinosaur Jr. very much. I don’t think that broadens the band's fanbase. What seems to be the most effective thing in terms of making our audience grow is just being ourselves. We have our way of doing things, and that’s what we do. If we were to do anything too radical to engage a larger audience, I think it might backfire.”
Fans rejoiced when frontman J Mascis and Barlow buried the hatchet in 2005. While many wondered if the three-piece would be able to capture their fans imagination with the same gusto they had in the late ‘80s, their most recent full-length, I Bet On Sky has left little doubt.
Lou Barlow now finds himself and his band in a special place. Not quite elder statesmen, not quite cult favourites. It’s a strange position that he relishes being in.
“Considering most of the elder statesmen of guitar rock are still alive, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, I don’t know if I’d put us there. But we’re definitely in some middle ground. Some strata of classic rock,” he says with relative ease.
BY JOSHUA KLOKE