J Mascis is just as legendary for his pursuit of tone as he is for penning alt-rock anthems for Dinosaur Jr. We chatted about the band’s new album and his collaboration with a guitar icon.
Dinosaur Jr., fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist J Mascis, has carved a unique path through the landscape of alt-rock. Since emerging from the rural surrounds of Western Massachusetts — where he admits that there was “no scene I wanted to be involved with,” the band has toured relentlessly, and enjoyed critical and commercial success for almost four decades.
The band’s newly released album, Sweep It Into Space, was created in the shadows of the pandemic. The intervening time between recording and release has been what J Mascis describes as “pretty sucky in general.” But now, with a stretch of tour dates on the back of the record, and a new signature Fender Telecaster in tow, the Dinosaur Jr. juggernaut is set to roar back into life.
For the production of Sweep It Into Space, Dinosaur Jr. tapped old touring buddy Kurt Vile to lend his talents to the project. When asked about how they first met, Mascis explained that “he opened for us back in the day, and the drummer I was playing with joined his band, but I’ve known him for a while. After his Childish Prodigy album came out, somehow I hooked up with him.”
Vile has undoubtedly has had an impact on the Dinosaur Jr. sound during their time together in the studio. Injecting his trademark flair for melody in tracks like And Me and the single I Ran Away, the album is a blend of singalong choruses (though nobody can hope to imitate J Mascis’ trademark drawl), and gnarly, raw, guitar work. “It gives it more dimensions, having his guitar playing and his singing gives it a different flavour,” says Mascis on the Kurt Vile effect. “He does things differently to how I would do them, so it gives it a ‘wider’ sound to me.”
And on that signature rawness — much of that tone is due to a signature guitar. Fender has just released the J Mascis Telecaster — a lovingly crafted homage to the man’s original blue-sparkled beast. The new version is fitted with a set of proprietary pickups, and an unusual top-loader bridge — with lower string tension — perfect for nailing those J Mascis-style bends.
“When I bought it,” says Mascis about his first meeting with the original guitar, “it had these giant frets and they’ve never worn down because they’re so big. I just played it. I never really did anything else to it. I didn’t switch anything. The guy told me when I bought it that he put a ’56 pickup in the bridge. And I had it painted that colour at some point.”
This guitar did most of the heavy lifting on the new record, especially when it came to the punchy, in-your-face solos. “On I Met The Stones,” Mascis explains, “parts in between the singing are on an Eastwood baritone guitar, but the main lead is on the Tele.” This track, in particular, sees the three-piece at its most ferocious on the new album, with Mascis trading vocal phrases and searing lead lines.
Those familiar with the band and the brutal Dinosaur Jr. live show will know that J Mascis is just as likely to wield a Fender Jazzmaster. But as he explains, his two favourite guitars serve distinct purposes:
“I usually rely on the Jazzmaster for live stuff — on a couple of songs I might play the Tele, but in the studio, I tend not to use the Jazzmaster too much…my whole live sound is based around the Jazzmaster, but when I’m recording, I usually use smaller amps and a lot of different guitars.” So the wall of stacks that you might see surrounding J Mascis on stage doesn’t usually make it into the studio.
Another key element in the tonal DNA of the guitarist is his pedalboard. You’ll regularly spot this fabled collection on internet forums, where too many nerds spend too much time fawning over circuitry. Therefore, I couldn’t resist asking: were there any new toys to report? Mascis was characteristically modest in response: “I’m always changing it slightly. I put an [Xotic Effects] SL Drive on the board lately. I squeezed that in there to have another clean channel. I mostly used it on I Ran Away, I needed a different tone for that song.”
Sweep It Into Space is out now. Starting in September, Dinosaur Jr. is hitting the road for a North American and European tour. Head over to the band’s website for all the details.
Visit Fender for more information on the new J Mascis Telecaster.