J. Mascis, of course, is the long-running frontman of Dinosaur Jr., and widely considered one of the greatest guitar shredders indie-rock has ever seen. But for his gem of a debut solo album, the just-released Several Shades of Why, Mascis went a more mellow route, whipping up mainly acoustic folk-country fare with guest turns from Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Philly’s own Kurt Vile, among others. While the so-laid-back-he’s-practically-comatose Mascis usually seems like he’d rather chew off his own limbs than be interviewed, he graciously got on the phone with us on the eve of his solo acoustic tour.
How are you feeling about the new album?
Just kinda waitin’ to see what happens. Wondering if people who don’t like Dino will get a chance to hear it or if they would like it.
Obviously a lot of people talk about you as a great guitar player, but the new album really puts the spotlight on your songwriting.
Yeah, I think a lot of people are more interested in songs than guitar solos. I’m not one of them.
So you’ve got this new album, plus [side projects] Sweet Apple and Witch if you just wanna play drums, and then Dinosaur Jr., too. It must be nice to have all these different avenues for playing music and have people be interested in all of it.
Uhhhhh. Yeah. It’s cool. Playing drums is more of a hobby because I’m not making any money doing that. It’s hard to justify leaving the family and going on tour for a few months doing that.
Kurt Vile’s on the new album—how did you discover him?
Actually, it’s kinda weird. Megan [Jasper] from Sub Pop, who wanted me to put out an acoustic record for years, she’s the one who told me about Kurt Vile and gave me his [Childish Prodigy] CD. I was in Seattle and someone wanted to know, “What’s your 10 favorite albums of this year?” And I couldn’t think of one. So I asked Megan, “Do you have any records that are any good?” and her and her boyfriend both said they liked the Kurt Vile record and they gave it to me and so I guess that’s how I heard about him and I liked it a lot.
What was it like collaborating with him?
It was cool having him play because I like some of the atmosphere and the sounds he has on his record, stuff I knew I wouldn’t play myself but I kinda wanted some of that sound on the record, so I had him play it.
Did he come up to your house?
Yeah, he came to the house and [producer] John Agnello was there and he was working on Kurt’s album at the time. Kurt ended up recording some of his album at my house.
Any other projects in the works?
Yeah. I’d like to do another Witch album, and I’m thinking about a Dino album sometime.
Does doing an acoustic album and tour like this make you crave playing loud guitar?
Oh yeah. I prefer playing loud, I guess.
I noticed you grew out a beard. Is that because you made an acoustic album?
No. My wife made me try it out and I’ve just kept it for a while.
PW's Music Issue 2014