Let’s face it: Reunions are rarely what they’re cracked up to be. So, when a band returns from the grave stronger than before, you can expect heads are going to turn. Of late, groups like Pavement and My Bloody Valentine have gloriously exemplified such success stories, breathing new (old) life back into the indie-rock game. But even they can’t boast the second-round success of Massachusetts indie rockers Dinosaur Jr. Since resurfacing in 2005 following an eight-year split, the godfathers of grunge have been going stronger than ever. And given their turbulent inter-band history, that’s no small feat.
Despite years of mudslinging during the 1980s and ’90s, frontman J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph seem tighter than ever, and their most recent output, last year’s I Bet on Sky, only reinforces it. Filled with chugging guitars, catchy melodies, and heaps of distortion, I Bet on Sky harks back to the Dinosaur Jr. of the mid-’90s, tightened and refined for the 21st century.
This Thursday, the band makes a mid-Coachella stop at Velvet Jones in support of I Bet on Sky. We recently caught up with Lou Barlow to talk about the history and the future of the band.
You guys recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of You’re Living All Over Me. I imagine that must have been a pretty surreal experience. You know, it didn’t really surprise me. [Laughs.] The anniversary show itself was beautiful. It was kind of J’s baby. He put it together and organized all the guest musicians [Johnny Marr, Frank Black, Lee Ranaldo, etc.]. It was done in New York, and New York was a really pivotal place for us. When the band started to do well, J moved down to New York and made lots of friends. That was when the band really started to break [out], so I have a lot of positive associations with that particular record. The history of the band, of course, is much stormier. I liked the experience of doing an anniversary show, but it wasn’t like, whoa, I can’t believe it’s been 25 years! It was more like, fuck yeah it’s been 25 years. It feels like it, my god.
I want to talk a little bit about I Bet on Sky. Where did the album title come from? The title is from a lyric that J wrote for one of the songs. But once we finish a record, it’s really J’s baby. He’s the last word on the album artwork and the title and the song sequence — he does all of that. He does it intuitively, last minute, on the fly, and then the record just takes its own shape. You record a bunch of songs at the same time, and they become a reflection of whatever that time is, I think. This record has some mellow tunes on it, which is kind of cool. There’s more diverse instrumentation on it; there’s more keyboards. For my two contributions, I had an idea of what I wanted to do; I wanted to make upbeat, kind of aggressive songs, so that’s what I did.
How did the recording sessions for I Bet on Sky compare to the last two albums? It was pretty identical. If anything, this one was a little smoother, I’d say, just because it was the third time we’d done exactly the same thing. [Laughs.] It was pretty easy. J’s really the one who bears the brunt of the hard work once Murph and I finish our music tracks. For me it’s really pretty fuckin’ easy. I go out to Massachusetts, I stay at my parents’ place, I drive up to J’s house every day. It’s a whole lot like it was 25 years ago, to be perfectly honest. I find it all really familiar and actually pretty relaxing.
Your fans can’t seem to believe that you guys are still around. Do you feel like Dinosaur Jr. has another album in it? I don’t know. I never really know when J’s going to be like “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He’s never really outwardly pleased with anything that Murph and I do. [Laughs.] I’ve worked with lots of other people in lots of other situations, and I’ve worked in situations where I’ve totally collaborated on every single fucking note that I’ve put on a record, and I’ve sat down and done whole records by myself. When I work with J, it’s like, well, I’m working with J, and this is what it is. Every time we work together, I assume it’s the last time ever. For that reason, I try to bring everything I can to it and say what I want to say and do what I want to do and make it the most rewarding experience for myself. But I never expected that it would still be going. I’m always a little surprised, too, to be perfectly honest. When I get the call to go record it’s like, “All right. Awesome. Let’s do this. I’ll be there.”
Do you still enjoy it? Absolutely. It’s a musical relationship that was forged when I was very young, and for that reason, it’s like second nature to be playing with those guys. I’m familiar enough with rock ’n’ roll history and the ins and outs of my favorite bands, and I know that it’s extraordinary when you get people who, for some reason, you musically click with and who create a sound that cannot easily be imitated. Like, if three other people were doing the same thing [we’re doing], it’s not going to sound the same. I’m very grateful that what I have with J and Murph has a very unique sound to it. I really appreciate that.
What’s the status on the new Sebadoh album? It’s being mixed right now. I have seven songs on the record that I’m working on, and my partner Jason [Loewenstein] has seven, and our drummer Bob [D’Amico] wrote a song, so we’re throwing ’em all together and calling it a Sebadoh record [Laughs.]
Do you struggle to find a balance between keeping Sebadoh running when you’re working on Dinosaur Jr.? I’m getting pretty good about it. I just make sure I start thinking about what I need to think about long before it happens. Dinosaur Jr. has a really great management team, and they really give us the big picture, so that makes it easy. The biggest challenge is just making sure that I’m going to have the time to make the best Sebadoh record I can make, and also the time where I can fully devote myself to each thing when it happens. I never want to feel like one is suffering more because of the other.
Dinosaur Jr. plays Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Thursday, April 18, at 8 p.m. with opener The Shrines. For tickets and info, call (805) 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com.