Released earlier this year, Several Shades Of Why marks legendary Dinosaur Jr. singer/guitarist J Mascis's first fully-formed solo effort. The quaint, gentle acoustic-led album marks a far cry from the blaring, overblown electric guitar assault of the iconic shoegaze trio. Thing is, though there is the starkest of contrasts between the instrumentation, there's barely a variance in vocal intonation. As I soon found out, the distinctive disaffected style also carries into J's cadence as interviewee. You see, though sporting a head of hair that would make Gandalf jealous, J speaks in a sedate manner which makes Treebeard seem like a veritable motormouth in comparison. But hey, you can't hold it against him.
Several Shades Of Why is one of the standout releases of 2011. Though releasing several solo efforts over the course of his two-decade-plus career, this LP marks the first instance of original compositions - J's most absolute solo statement yet.
"I guess Sub Pop wanted me to do it for a while. I guess I just got around to it now," J states matter-of-factly. Though notoriously laconic, you can by no means accuse J of emanating disdain. Shit, it's just the way he talks - what of it?
Thinking about the transition of instrumentation from Dinosaur Jr. to the solo record, it's almost bizarre how little J's vocal style has had to adapt. It's more a case of transforming the gentle/abrasive dynamic of the band into a more sensible gentle/gentle dynamic on Several Shades Of Why. Whatever it is, it's a phenomenon J hasn't paid much mind to. "I think I just have a limited voice or something, it just sounds the same. I don't really think about it, I guess."
When it comes to writing for either project, J presents a similar assessment. "I just edit stuff as I think of it. If I think of this riff, or if I write for acoustic record, should I file it away for electric or something. I just edit stuff as I think of it," he reiterates.
Last time J was in the country was with Dinosaur Jr., a tour which saw the band obliterate the Supernatural Amphitheatre with one of the loudest sets I've ever heard. So how does J fare when it comes to solo festival appearances? "I'm just playing alone. It's a lot harder but I haven't done too many festivals with the acoustic. But sometimes it's surprising how quite people get when people are listening. I guess that's surprising to me sometimes. It's fun to give it a shot and see what happens."
With the aforementioned Dinosaur Jr. set giving my earholes a thorough workout while standing at the top of the hill, J is well aware of the OH&S issues when performing in front of his monstrous stack of amplifiers. "Yeah I've always worn earplugs. From the beginning I was a drummer, then I switched to guitar. I kind of missed the physical aspect that drums gave you, so I tried to play loud to get the air moving so I could feel it against my body," he muses. "Early on I knew I wanted to feel it more than I could hear it, so I already knew it was too loud for my ears, so I just wore earplugs. I like getting the chance to play so loud, it's fun. That always interests me. If you're playing alone it's hard to carry around that many amps," he states.
Reformations are a funny beast, but Dinosaur Jr.'s mid-2000s reunion has proven to be one of the select few that retain the original magic, not only in the touring circuit, but also with quality new albums. "I guess we just have a certain chemistry or a certain sound, just from learning how to play together when we were kids. I guess it still interests people, we still have a certain energy that is rare, or something," he ponders.
There's a strange, ostensibly tempestuous rapport between J and Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow. When I spoke to Lou earlier in the year, he stated that "My perfect world would be touring with all my bands together, playing the one night. Then J Mascis can sit on a fucking throne, and all these balloons can fall down because he plays lead guitar." Just like how you can't label J's laconic nature as being a result of disdain, Lou's outspokenness can't be labelled mean-spirited. "I don't know," J laughs when asked about the state of his and Lou's creative relationship. "I guess it seems alright, it depends. He's kind of, I don't know what you'd call it, volatile or something. He's not always even-keeled or something. It depends on the moods of everyone. It's usually alright," J states.
Soon after performing over the New Year's period in Australia, J sets sail on the rather curious Weezer Cruise, a five-day long "festival" on board a cruise ship. During which, J will perform alongside a star-studded roster with Dinosaur Jr., as well as performing under his solo guise. "I don't know anything about that," J states, despite there being little more than a month until the departing date. "I'm just hoping for the best. I have no idea what that's gonna be like. It's definitely a first, I've never been on a cruise or anything like that," he states, though I sense a tinge of excitement shining through.
J Mascis will perform at Falls Music And Arts Festival, taking place in Lorne on Wednesday December 28 until Sunday January 1, and in Marion Bay from Thursday December 29 until January 1. J also performs sideshows at The Toff In Town on Tuesday January 3 and Wednesday January 4 and at Caravan Music Club on Friday January 6. Several Shades Of Why is out through Sub Pop.