When Dinosaur Jr. reunited in 2005 after an eight-year hiatus, the members intended to play together for a little while and again head their separate ways.
More than a decade later, Dinosaur Jr. remains together. The band will be appearing at the Desert Stars Festival at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23 and 24.
Dinosaur Jr. released its first album, Dinosaur, in 1985, and all of the band’s albums since—including Green Mind, Where You Been and Without a Sound, which were recorded with limited or no involvement from Lou Barlow and/or Murph—have received some degree of critical acclaim.
In 1997, frontman J. Mascis decided to retire Dinosaur Jr. However, in 2005, Mascis acquired the rights for the band’s first three releases from SST Records so he could re-release them on Merge Records. That process began a dialogue between the three original members—and sparked the reunion.
Eleven years have passed since that reunion, and to nobody’s surprise, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, released by Dinosaur Jr. on Aug. 5, is receiving praise from critics and fans alike. During a recent phone interview with drummer Murph, he said he remains shocked by the acclaim the band seemingly always receives.
“I’m really surprised,” Murph said. “We just keep refining our sound, and J’s getting better and better at songwriting. Everybody is honing their craft. We’ve gotten better playing together, I’m getting better as a drummer, and I think everything is subtly improving over time.”
Even though the band’s 2005 reunion was welcomed with open arms by critics and fans, it wasn’t easy at first for the three members to play together again.
“The first couple of records we did, it was really stressful,” Murph remembered. “We didn’t really plan on doing this. J was going to re-release three records; we were going to tour for a year and a half behind those records and call it a day. We didn’t really plan on going for this long and doing all of these records.
“When we started recording, there was a lot of pressure to make it good and succeed at it. If our relationships weren’t better today, we wouldn’t be able to do this. There would be no way. If we had the old baggage—the tension that we used to have—it would be unbearable, and we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Murph elaborated on that previous “baggage.”
“It was all personality quirks,” he said. “We’re all really different people, and we’re all strong egos. We have different ways we live, and it was hard when we’d travel. It’s still hard. When you’re getting in each other’s space, it can be really hard—especially when people aren’t willing to compromise, and you want to stay the way you are. When you travel together, you have to be able to compromise on different things. You can’t live like you’re at home all the time.”
The members of Dinosaur Jr. particularly enjoy performing at festivals.
“I think festivals are great, because you get to go to different places, and you have a mass audience,” Murph said. “There are a lot of people there who are there for other bands, so you can walk away with new fans. I think it’s all an upside, and it’s a great thing.”
That’s not to say that Dinosaur Jr. doesn’t ever feel out of place.
“The only time when I feel it’s odd is when we play an extreme emo festival, where it’s all, like, 20-year-olds and emo bands, and we’re obviously like the grandfathers showing up,” Murph said. “That’s awkward, but it’s still fun, and the kids are still psyched to see the show.”
While Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not is receiving positive feedback, Murph said the process of creating the album was a bit unorthodox.
“This album was weird, because we didn’t really have any material,” he said. “I was kind of freaking out, because J was like, ‘I don’t have any songs.’ We actually started reworking a song from J’s other band that he had written. He had half a song, and we started with that, and it got the ball rolling. As soon as the process started, it just started churning out like a factory. Once that happened, J was recording demos in one room, and Lou and I were trying to keep up and learn them in another room. We were tracking in the morning, and it was crazy—but it was great. It opened up the floodgates, and then the record was done.”
Murph explained why every Dinosaur Jr. album ends up being a surprise to him.
“I didn’t hear any lyrics or anything, so I didn’t get a sense of what the songs are going to sound like,” he said of Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. “It was even more of a surprise when I heard the finished product. Me and Lou aren’t there when J does vocals. We’ve already left at that point, and we’re not there, and he’s recording the vocals by himself. We don’t really know how it’s going to sound until we hear the finished product. He and Lou both are pretty self-conscious and don’t want people around when they’re doing vocals. It’s usually just them and the engineer on the days that they do vocals. It’s always been like that.”
Murph admitted that there is one Dinosaur Jr. album that is a personal favorite.
“I really like Where You Been, even though Lou isn’t on that one,” he said. “That was when things were really tight, and we had this amazing studio called Dreamland in Woodstock, N.Y., which is an old massive church with this wooden room. The drums sounded insane. Production-wise, that record is one of my overall favorites.”
Dinosaur Jr. will perform as part of the Desert Stars Festival, which takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23 and 24, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Weekend passes are $125. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertstarsfestival.com.