Interview with Dinosaur Jr’s Lou Barlow

01/09/2012

dinosaur jr lou barlow interview

There has always been tension between Dinosaur Jr’s Lou Barlow and J Mascis. At the peak of their success with the release of Bug, their relationship hit a tumultuous low when Mascis attacked Barlow on stage. The group broke up. In 2005, the original group reunited for a tour, but did not perform many of the songs from Bug. “We always had a stigma attached to it as a not so great artifact of a not so great part of time,” explained Lou Barlow. Now twenty years later Dinosaur Jr. just finished playing the entire album along a West Coast tour with Henry Rollins interviewing the band before each show.

SF Critic (SFC): How did you meet Henry Rollins?

Lou Barlow (LB): I met him initially when Dinosaur Jr. played his TV show. I think it was on Sundance (it was on IFC), “The Henry Rollins Show.” He’s been a really big fan of Dinosaur Jr and J. Mascis for a really, really long time.

SFC: When was that show? How long ago?

Lou Barlow: That might have been four or five years ago.

SFC: That’s much more recent than I thought.

Lou Barlow:I didn’t know him, but maybe J met him before that. I’ve known of Henry Rollins since he was in the band SOA. Of course as a young music fan I knew about him, but I was never actually introduced to him until five years ago.

SFC: What brought on the idea to have Rollins interview the group before the shows?

Lou Barlow: I think it was on the part of the Dinosaur Jr. management as a hook to make it more interesting for people. Maybe because of how much of a die hard fan Henry Rollins is of J, they thought it would make the shows special.

SFC: I am sure you have such a die hard fan base that any show would be special.

Lou Barlow: Yeah but we’ve been touring the reunion thing already, and we did some new records. We were thinking more like, how can we get people to pay more money to see us play kind of thing. To be perfectly frank that’s what I think the management thought. We haven’t done a lot of touring this year. Also, we’re playing the whole Bug record, which is one way to make it special and to up the ante they added Rollins.

“J hated me and I hated him. I hated him because he hated me. Generally, the only reason I really hate anyone is that they hate me first.”

SFC: By touring the Bug record that’s special. Was the reason to do this album an effort to make some extra cash?

Lou Barlow: [Laughs] No it’s a record that is sort of a lost record of the original lineup. Although it was our most popular record when I was in the band of the first three records, it was a record that I don’t think either J, or I, or even Murph remembered that fondly. There were quite a few songs off of Bug that we didn’t play. We always favored the You’re Living All Over Me record.

SFC: What was the reason for that?

Lou Barlow: I just remember it not being a particularly good time. J wasn’t in a particularly good spot. He was kind of a monster and wasn’t really into the band. It seems like making the record was a total chore for him. It was just a very negative time period as I remember. Actually, going back and listen to the record I am like “Wow, what a really good record. We did a great job!”

SFC: Can you explain about what was happening during that time?

Lou Barlow: J hated me and I hated him. I hated him because he hated me. Generally, the only reason I really hate anyone is that they hate me first. We had kind of reached our peak already. We had put out You’re Living All Over Me. We were on SST Records, so there was nowhere else to go for as far as we were concerned. We had filled every possible career goal we could have. It sort of left us with this empty feeling like, “Now what do we do, just tour until we all hate each other for the rest of our lives?” It was strange. We didn’t have any aspiration beyond what we had reached.

SFC: Sonic Youth was one of your first tours right?

Lou Barlow: Yeah we left home for a few weeks we opened for Sonic Youth.

SFC: Can you remember that? What was it like?

Lou Barlow: Yeah! It was amazing. [laughs] They were my favorite band. We really looked up to them. They were the coolest, back then [laughs]. We looked up to them so much, and they loved J, the band. It was incredible to be embraced by our heroes by these people we loved so much. And that too, touring with Sidekicks for two weeks, what else were do you do? Where do you go from there? It just seemed like there was no where else to go.

SFC: What was that relationship like? Beyond that tour did they provide any guidance or help?

Lou Barlow: Oh yeah. After that tour, J would stay at their apartment when he was in New York. J knows them to this day. He’s very close to them. They welcomed J into their pool like he was a member of the family.

SFC: One thing I keep hearing in this interview, when you referenced Henry Rollins or Thurston, you refer to J as “the band.” Do not feel like it’s your band at all?

Lou Barlow: I think I’m just the bass player. It’s pretty clear to me. I play in the band, when I interact with bands, I think most people don’t even know that the bass makes a sound. Especially with Dinosaur Jr because there is so much volume involved that is mostly coming from J. Of course it’s J’s band. I love being a part of it, it’s awesome, there’s a music light that goes on between Murph, J, and I. I’m also very into music, the way bands operate, and I don’t think most people are like that, “Oh there’s a guy playing lead guitar that’s awesome!”

SFC: Was there ever a point where you wanted more control with Dinosaur Jr?

Lou Barlow: From the first time I played with him, I was in a hardcore band with him, within the first month of the band we had pretty much discarded the songs I had written and J was writing all the songs and that was that. At a very early age it was just that J was the dominant personality figure in the band and that was the way I understood it. I have in my opinion a rich musical history of my own that I can draw confidence and ego from. I know what I do in the band. I know how it works. I don’t expect anyone else to know that.

SFC: I understand. Everyone plays a certain role. I was listening to Dinosaur Jr’s interview with Rollins in New York, and you were asked about your experience after releasing Bug and the group’s following was growing, what it was like. You responded you were scared, anxious, and pretty much everything behind the success was a “blur,” can you elaborate on what was happening?

Lou Barlow: Elaborate? We were getting a lot of attention. We were playing sold-out shows. It’s just that thing of being younger and not knowing how to process everything.

SFC: Looking back could you process it better now?

Lou Barlow: Oh yeah of course.

SFC: What would have you done differently?

Lou Barlow: I would have enjoyed myself. I would have punched J in the face [laughs]. I would have stood up for myself. I would have forced my songs on the band. I would have figured things out. You know what I mean. I wouldn’t punch him, that’s going a little too far. I would have been able to stand up for myself–that’s all. It would have made the band better. It would have been great.

SFC: Was J a bully?

Lou Barlow: Absolutely. J was a total bully.

SFC: Is he still a bully now?

Lou Barlow: Kind of. It’s amazing the way he does it. He has a pretty amazing way of non-aggressive, aggressive way of controlling situations that is totally breathtaking. People fear him. It’s amazing.

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Download Mp3 – Dinosaur Jr.: “I Want You To Know”
[audio: http://www.box.com/shared/static/s21pfq1t4c0gupoxjcvj.mp3]

Watch Henry Rollins interview with Dinosaur Jr.