by Eric Broome for Mean Street magazine, December 2002
J Mascis & the Fog
"I don't know."
"I have no idea."
These are typical responses for J Mascis. Legendary for his unproductive interviews, Mascis doesn't have much to say about his music, and why should he? After all, he has been making practically the same record for 17 years. Just accept his stuff or don't. It's no biggie. Really.
His unvarying sound might be a fatal flaw, except that he's just so darn good at it. And if he lifted some ideas about chords and guitar distortion from Neil Young, so what? He may not be much of a singer either, but still, there's something endearingly human about that indolent croak which transcends its limitations. As long as he keeps mixing an underrated melodic knack with that sensual roar of noise, there will always be a place for him.
Free So Free is the second album by J Mascis & the Fog, following a solo disc and Mascis' lengthy reign over Dinosaur Jr. Featuring members of Cobra Verde but mostly self-recorded, the disc shifts between frisky rock ("Freedom"), acoustic pickings ("If That's How It's Gotta Be"), fuzzy pop ("Tell the Truth"), a dash of boogie ("Bobbin") and the usual grinding thunder ("Set Us Free"). Before a recent jam at the Roxy Theatre, Mascis stretched his metabolism and patiently endured some questions.
What keeps it fresh for you, after all this time?
"I don't know. I'm just still into it. I don't have many other interests, I guess."
You went back to an indie label, and switched band names -- was this a conscious move back to square one, or just the way it happened?
"That's kinda the way it happened. It just seemed like the band [Dinosaur Jr.] was over, and with major labels, it's a different scene now again."
Are you happy with Ultimatum?
"I don't know."
You play most of the instruments on this album, right?
Bass, as well as guitar and drums?
"Yeah. I didn't play keyboard, some piano, some slide guitar and some backing vocals."
Do you play keyboards at all?
"A little bit. Not too good."
The new album has three songs with "Free" in the title, plus two more songs with "free" in the lyrics. Is this some sort of theme?
"Ah, it was just coming out and I decided not to edit myself. I guess I could've changed some of 'em, but I figured I might as well just let it all become the 'freedom concept album' or something. I don't know."
Is this album more upbeat than some of your other albums, then?
"Oh, I have no idea."
Do you have a house full of guitars which you can't bear to get rid of? Are you a big collector?
"Well, a little bit. I like old guitars and stuff. They're just objects, you know. I think of drums more like an instrument. Guitars are more like objects or something. I prefer new drums, but I like old guitars."
You're one of the few legitimate guitar heroes in the alt-rock world -- why are there so few of them?
"I don't know. I guess solos seem less popular or something. I don't know if people are scared to do solos, or they're just not into 'em. But I've always liked 'em. It's an immediate way of expressing myself."
Do you feel like you tried anything new on this album?
"Just things that people can't hear. Subtle things which aren't that obvious. They seem different to me, but probably not to the average person."
Well, what seems different to you?
"Just different effects I used, and slightly different grooves or something.... They're slight things which are different to me, but I guess they don't register as being different to people who are just listening to it."
Seems like there might be a little more air in the music...less of a wall of sound?
(laugh) Whatever I think, right?
"It's no conscious decision to do anything. It's just trying to realize each song."
You're still recording out of your home studio. Have you always lived in Amherst, MA?
"Sort of. I've had a place in New York too. I've been in New York some, but I could never stay there for extended periods. I get extremely bored in New York. If I'm in New York, I just end up watching TV, which I would never do in Amherst. I can't think of anything to do while I'm in New York."
Don't you have music friends there?
"Yeah, I've got friends. But they're all so busy, because they have to work to pay rent to live in New York. And I don't like to go to bars. I guess that's the main thing people do in New York. So that's part of the problem. You can't hang out at people's homes, because their apartments are too small. So everybody hangs out in bars, and I'm not into that anymore."
How did you end up playing on Saturday Night Live, a couple of years ago? That was a surprise!
"I know that guy Tim Meadows, and he hooked it up. So I was jamming with the band all night. I guess they have guest musicians there."
Usually, it's someone more mainstream like, say, Charlie Sexton.
"It was pretty funny. Christina Aguilera was there, and Christopher Walken. It made me realize why John Belushi and all those guys took so many drugs. It's such a high stress level, for so long. For a solid four hours, there's this insanely high level of stress going on, from the last dress rehearsal all the way through the show. Everybody's so freaked out. It's really weird."
You have another band too, right? With Mike Watt and the Asheton brothers from the Stooges?
"Yeah. We do some gigs from time to time. We did All Tomorrow's Parties here, whenever that was, and we played before Guns 'N Roses in Belgium, this summer. That was fun. We'll be playing a couple of shows in Europe, soon."
How did you get together with the Ashetons?
"I knew them a little bit, before. It was just a long series of processes. We were jamming with them, and then they were getting psyched so we'd play with them more."
I guess you've known Watt for ages.
He's the King of Los Angeles.
"He plays a lot of gigs around here."
You're not producing other bands much anymore, are you?
"I kinda lost interest in it. I'd rather just do my own stuff. Producing is weird. It's like being paid to abuse the band or something."
Will you still be making music in 20 years?
"I have no idea."
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