J Mascis' non-stop creative streak lands him seven albums in a decade

J Mascis has lived a significant percentage of his life on the road or else in the studio. 

Across a 35-year career, he’s released 11 albums with Dinosaur Jr., half a dozen as a solo artist and been a frequent collaborator. 

The alt-rock guitar icon’s new solo record, Elastic Days, sends him back to Australia this week for a 12-date tour across four states – an extensive run by most artists’ standards.

“It’s always good to go somewhere you haven’t been,” Mascis says. “I like going to Australia and it’s pretty cold here, so it might be good to get out of the snow.”

Mascis has enjoyed uninterrupted creative momentum over the last decade or so, releasing four albums with the re-energised Dinosaur Jr. as well as three solo records. But although he’s been a celebrated songwriter since the mid-1980s, pressures still arise when working on something new.

“I just want to make something good that I’d like to listen to,” Mascis says. “My main idea is to entertain myself and hopefully other people will be entertained. Every album is what came out at that time. It’s as good as I can do at any time.”

Dinosaur Jr. has generally been a place for Mascis, bass player Lou Barlow and drummer Murph to deposit their messy, chaotic tendencies and make a lot of noise. Elastic Days, by contrast, sits at the folky singer-songwriter end of his repertoire.

“I’m usually writing the songs for the specific album,” he says. “So I can think of what I want the album to sound like and try to steer the songs in that direction or that vibe.”

The Elastic Days track ‘I Went Dust’ is a duet with Zoë Randell of Australian indie-folk duo Luluc, who are Mascis’ Sub Pop labelmates. “I thought it needed something and I just asked her and really liked the way it sounded when she sang it, so I just went with that,” he says.

Mascis operates out of his home studio in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is where all the recent solo and Dinosaur Jr. albums have come together. He’s credited as producer, though he’s not quite a technological ninja.

“I don’t have the patience for it. I’m more into all the gear and stuff,” Mascis says. “Engineering, a lot of it is troubleshooting when something’s broken and that’s something I really don’t like to do. Especially now with computers anything could go wrong. I have no idea what’s going on. Although it makes it easier to record by myself, if something goes wrong I really have no idea where to begin to figure it out.” 

Mascis has been a constant collaborator throughout his career. He’s appeared on two albums as the drummer in the band Witch and played guitar on the 2006 Lemonheads’ comeback album. Just last year he appeared on albums by Fucked Up, Weakened Friends and Vitamin X.

“I like to keep busy and do different things,” he says. “You get different inspirations from them. Just by playing with different people I play differently. I like that.”

It’s common for songwriters to start out trying to emulate the artists they love, but the copycat tendency fades once a unique sound develops. J Mascis has an unmistakable presence on record, typified by his melodic droning vocals and preference for a searing electric guitar solo. But he’s not a solipsistic creator.  

“You just get inspired by different things or whatever I’m obsessed with at a certain time would come out somewhat, probably. Even though it’s hard to tell, sometimes I’ve written songs that were complete rip-offs of other songs, but they go through me and it doesn’t sound anything like the person I was trying to rip-off.

“When we first started I really liked The Birthday Party, but nothing we played ever really sounded like The Birthday Party. It just didn’t work out. A failed Birthday Party rip-off band.”

J Mascis comes to Howler as part of Brunswick Music Festival on Wednesday March 13, Thursday March 14 and Friday March 15 (sold out). Head to the venue website for tickets.