Categories: musicQ&A

Digging Into Dinosaur Jr., A Conversation with Murph

by Jeremy Morrison

Dinosaur Jr. has been making noise for a long time now. Distortion-heavy, full-of-feedback noise that is cited as heavily influential on the alternative and indie music scenes that have emerged during the course of the band’s run.

Formed in mid-80s Massachusetts, Dinosaur Jr. was then and is now songwriter/guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Patrick Murphy, or ‘Murph.’ While the degrading of inner-band relationships led to both Barlow and Murph departing by the early-90s, and Mascis shelved Dinosaur Jr. entirely in 1997, the original line-up reunited in 2005 and has been playing together since.

This past August the band released its fourth album of new material, “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not,” since reuniting. On March 26, Dinosaur Jr. performs locally at Vinyl Music Hall in downtown Pensacola.

Ahead of the group’s local engagement, Murph took a few minutes during a stop in Madison, Wisc., to discuss the band’s evolution throughout its career, his view on Dinosaur Jr.’s musical influence and how warm it needs to be to go for a swim while they’re in town …

(photo/ Levi Walton)

SANDS: Pretty cold up there?

MURPH: A little chilly. Not too bad.

SANDS: How’s the tour going?

MURPH: It’s going really well. It’s awesome, actually. The shows have been great. We missed the snowstorm that came through, we dodged that.
It’s been a pretty relaxed schedule, actually. Way more relaxed than usual.

SANDS: Yeah? Just pace-wise?

MURPH: Yeah. We’re doing this thing this tour where every five shows we have like two full days off. We’ve never done that before. We usually just go straight through, and every seven or nine shows have a day off, and it’s usually a drive-day and we drive really far. That’s usually how we do it, so it’s interesting. Different pace.

SANDS: Are you doing some cool stuff on your days off?

MURPH: Yeah, I mean, we were in Bloomington, Indiana, on the first break and that was really cool. They have a lot of cool shops. But no, we usually just rest. We don’t really — we’re not too adventurous on our days off.

SANDS: I noticed when y’all first released your tour schedule, Pensacola wasn’t on that list. What made y’all decide to add that and have you played here before?

MURPH: No, we haven’t played Pensacola. I’m not really sure why, we were just told it was added, there wasn’t like a discussion, ‘Oh, we should play Pensacola,’ it was just like we got notified, ‘Oh, Pensacola was added.’ And we were like, ‘Oh, cool, great, we’ve always wanted to go there.’
I lived in Tallahassee, so I use to go to the beach in Grayton and Panama City and all that. But I never went to Pensacola.

SANDS: Well, we’re glad to have you come for a visit. So, are y’all playing a particular period from y’all’s catalog this tour, or are y’all focusing on an album, or are you drawing from the entire catalog?

MURPH: I mean we always focus on — we have our new record, so we play some of that, but we always do a greatest hits. It’s always like, you know, four songs from the new record and then we play everything from, like, the beginning, middle, end. We always do.

SANDS: The crowds at your shows, do you find they’re a lot of fans from way back, or do you get a lot of younger folk too?

MURPH: No, mainly younger guys, younger kids. It’s been really good. It’s a mixture, but it’s definitely more younger, the majority.

SANDS: So, Dinosaur Jr. has had, you know, a bit of drama, to the point of members departing and reuniting and that kind of stuff —

MURPH: Yeah.

SANDS: How is that now? And why did y’all decided to get back together? And does that history, you know, play into the music that’s being made?

MURPH: I mean, it was management, 10 years ago, that really got us back together. He convinced J. Originally, J was just going to release the records on a label. And then there was huge interest, from like promoters and fans, for the original members to get back together. So we got back together. And we thought that we were just going to do — you know, tour the three records and that would be it. And then it just turned into, you know, here we are 10 years later.
As far as, you know, the dynamics,  it definitely — the chemistry is the same. We get along better. It’s a little awkward at times, but it — that kind of weird tension has ? always made for really good live shows for some reason. So, that’s always been kind of the paradox of the band, you know, that the music is really great, but sometimes it’s really awkward hanging out personally. And we just kind of accepted that a long time ago. Many years ago.

(photo/Levi Walton)

SANDS: Interesting. Why do you think that is?

MURPH: We’re all three really different. We’re all very quirky. We each have strong quirky personalities, but we’re completely different. Like, we kind of clash. And so when we’re all together it’s kind of like everybody has to do kind of a bit of a compromise to hang out because we’re just all very different people on a lot of levels.

SANDS: Do y’all hang out personally, or is it purely professional?

MURPHY: I mean J and I hang out. We ski and we do stuff. Lou kind of does his own thing. He was in L.A. for years — he’s back in Massachusetts, but he’s much more, like, private family-guy, so he kind of does his own thing. But J and I hang out, like I said we ski and stuff, we have, like, mutual friends.

SANDS: How would you — I guess compare and contrast both the music and the process between the different periods of Dinosaur Jr., primarily the earlier and post-reunion?

MURPH: It’s just gotten way easier. It use to be really, like, pulling teeth to do anything. It was just an arduous task, it was just hard, it was unpleasant. And now it’s — we can actually have fun sometimes on tour. Recording is a lot less stressful, we’re able to just kind of like get to the task at hand without all the drama.

SANDS: What’s the writing and recording process like now, these days?

MURPH: It’s the same. You know, J’s always had, like, ideas, demos. He’ll record demos himself, like bass, guitar and some scratch vocals. And then he always gives me the demos first, because he wants the drums first.
He’s really particular, I mean, like, literally — I said this in another interview — he literally writes songs, like, a lot of his guitar parts will sync up with the kick and snare drum and so that’s why it has to be really kind of exact and spot-on and that’s why he kind of has to write it, because he’s really got specific stuff in mind that’s really hard to convey to someone else unless you really see what he’s doing. You know, like, hear it on a demo. So, that’s how we’ve always done it, since day one. He’ll just give us a demo. And J has kind of his style and then Lou and I incorporate it. You know, we learn the songs and then they kind of become Dinosaur Jr., they take on their own life when the three of us kind of play them. And that’s how it works.

SANDS: What’s it like being a drummer in a band where the songwriter is also a drummer and has very specific ideas on the parts?

MURPH: It’s funny, it use to be really hard, it use to be kind of a drag because J was — you know, I was just kind of starting drums and J was already, like, a phenomenal drummer. So, literally in the beginning, he was writing drum parts that, like, I couldn’t play. I would have to literally practice and get good enough to even play the parts, because they were just way beyond me. And, again, it was frustrating, but it was like a good learning experience, a good learning curve. And now we’re just more — we’re all kind of like on more equal footing, so we’re just able to kind of enjoy the process more.
I still, I mean I’ve always loved hearing — I mean, J is an awesome guitar player, but I actually, personally, like hearing him play drums more. I mean, I still — if he’s doing a project or something, playing drums, I still try to go see it. You know, I love hearing him play drums because he’s just such a natural drummer.

SANDS: Can you talk for a minute about your days in the Lemonheads, what was that experience like?

MURPH: That was awesome. I mean, it was way — I mean, we went to way more places than Dino had and we would spend, you know, like, Evan [Dando] was really into, like, partying and hanging out and there were, like, tons of girls and it was, like, fun. We would go — I remember one time we went to San Paulo, Brazil, and as soon as we got there we had like three days off staying in, like, a five-star hotel, staying out, and it was just awesome. Completely different. Dinosaur is much more, like, work. We get down to business. You know, Lemonheads was, you know, much more about the party. It was definitely pretty cool.

SANDS: And lastly, the term alternative music is applied to you guys —uh, you know, you’re cited as, the band is cited as forbearers of alternative music, or a huge influence on alternative or indie music. How would you describe your music and how do you see — you know, how do you view its influence?

MURPH: We’re not really aware of that. You know, we get this question asked a lot about influences and stuff, and we definitely don’t write songs with that in mind. J and I, especially, are not really aware of it, we just — we’re kind of like perfectionists, we all try to do our best job, and do our best work, but that’s as far as that goes. We just put stuff out there. And, you know, if it’s considered influential or, you know, historical or whatever, that’s beyond us, we really don’t think about it.
I think — I mean, it’s great, it’s a great compliment. But we just kind of —for us music is like art, you know, you put a painting up and you hope people are gonna like it. And that’s kind of how we approach music, that’s about it. It’s pretty simple.

SANDS: Well said. And thanks for talking with me.

MURPH: Yeah. I can’t wait to come to Pensacola. I hope it’s warm enough that we can hit the beach, maybe even hit the water.

SANDS: Yeah, you know, it’s suppose to warm up maybe in the next few days so maybe it’ll stay warm for you guys.

MURPH: Cool. Awesome.

SANDS: It depends on what you consider warm. I mean, y’all are from up North, so 70s is warm, right?

MURPH: Seventies. Seventy-five would be nice, something like that you know?

(photo/Levi Walton)

Dinosaur Jr. plays Vinyl Music Hall March 26. For more information, click here.

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