April 8 2009 12:00 AM

Drummer gives dirt on band’s new record, storied extinction and resurrection


The ‘80s and early ‘90s were the heyday of alternative, slacker rock. Dinosaur Jr. was the band that made it cool to layer drawling vocals with loud, colossal blasts of lead guitar. The art of screeching feedback can largely be attributed to alticon J. Mascis, Dinosaur’s guitarist and vocalist.

Along with The Pixies and Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr. influenced a wide range of bands. From alternative and indie staples like Nirvana and Pavement to Lansing favorites like The Cheap Girls and The Plurals, Mascis’ vision can be heard in countless bands.

Dinosaur officially called it quits in 1997, but after a 2005 reunion the original lineup is touring and recording again.
While Mascis’ long, dark hair has turned grey, the new material sounds as young and fresh as the records the band was pressing back in the ‘80s, and the group is poised to follow up on its well-received 2007 comeback record “Beyond” with a new LP called “Farm” this June. “When you make a record, you have to do a bunch of touring, so we are just trying to get back into that,” said Murph, the band’s drummer.

The 12-song album gets back to heavier ‘90s aesthetics, and Murph (born Emmett Jefferson Murphy III), said it should make for an energetic show. “This record is way more like a rock record,” he said. “I’m actually really excited about it. It’s almost more reminiscent of the ‘Where You Been’ (1993) period.”

The band’s personal squabbles over the years have been well documented, but Murph said those days are long gone. “When we toured when we were younger it was really hellish,” he said. “Now it’s actually fun. It’s totally different.”

Before the inner turmoil, the band gained an underground following that eventually blossomed into commercial success. The group formed in 1984 in a Amherst, Mass., a college town like East Lansing, and quickly made a name for itself with ear-splitting performances. “We were so loud,” Murph said. “In the town we grew up in, it was more about cover bands and bars. We were actually banned from most places because we were too loud.”

Being shunned from the local scene, "forced us to go to New York and Boston and branch out," Murph said. “That’s when we started getting more recognition.”

The band released its debut CD, “Dinosaur,” in 1985 on Homestead Records. Two years later the group would reach a career landmark — a record deal with SST, a now legendary underground label responsible for launching the careers of Black Flag, The Minutemen and Sonic Youth. “That was just our dream, to get on SST,” Murph recalled. “When we went out to California, we met Greg Ginn (SST owner and Black Flag guitarist) and all those guys. They saw a show of ours and were really into it.”

After releasing “You’re Living All Over Me” on SST, Murph said the band figured it had reach its limit, but Dinosaur surpassed that milestone and were soon touring
the world. “It just kept growing,” Murph said. “Every year it got a
little bit bigger.”

However, by the late ‘80s, bassist and founding
member Lou Barlow and Mascis’ musical partnership began to sour. “There
was a lot of tension mounting between Jay and Lou — there was a lot of
tension between all of us,” Murph remembered. “Lou wanted more of a
voice in the band and to get more of his ideas out there. Jay wasn’t
receptive to it.”

That was the beginning of the end of the classic
lineup. “We just personally clashed on so many different levels,” Murph
said. “It just got to the point where we couldn’t work together

By 1989, ongoing turmoil between band members and Mascis’
controlling demeanor lead to Barlow’s dismissal from the band. Barlow
went on to front two successful acts, Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. Murph
also parted with Mascis in 1993 to drum for The Lemonheads.

Mascis released two more studio albums under the Dinosaur Jr. moniker
before officially retiring the name in 1997. He then focused on the
solo project J. Mascis & The Fog and started drumming with the
stoner rock band Witch.

After the sketchy breakup, fans and
even the band member didn’t foresee a reunion. “I had wanted to
[reunite the band]; I had always been open to it,” Murph said.
“Honestly, I never thought it would happen. It was kind of like a
marriage gone wrong.”

After a 12-year absence from the scene,
Murph said the Dinosaur fans are still as youthful and vibrant as ever.
“When we first started playing, we were in our 20s, and we were
basically selling it to our peers; today, that hasn’t changed. The
audience is still an average age of 20 to 22.”

While the band often
plays in front of thousands at festivals, Murph said the band prefers
intimate venues.“To have people right in your face and have that
audience feedback – it’s great," he said. "I think we all prefer that.”

Dinosaur Jr. with Awesome Color. 8 p.m. Thursday, April 9. The
Small Planet, 16800 Chandler Road. 18 . $21 in advance, includes free
7-inch record. (517) 351-6230. www.thesmallplanet.net.