Drummer Patrick Murphy explains why Dinosaur Jr aren't extinct 30 years on from initial meltdown

AGELESS: Dinosaur Jr are, from left, Lou Barlow (bass), J Mascis (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Murphy (drums).
AGELESS: Dinosaur Jr are, from left, Lou Barlow (bass), J Mascis (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Murphy (drums).

YOU could never describe J Mascis' signature guitar sound in Dinosaur Jr as mellow.

For almost 40 years the Massachusetts slacker-rockers have been bleeding ear drums with Mascis' sonic assault of distortion on his trademark Fender Jazzmaster.

The 55-year-old is regarded as one of the most influential six-stringers of the alt-rock era, inspiring the likes of Nirvana and The Lemonheads and he was voted 84th in Rolling Stone's greatest guitarists of all time.

Away from the stage, Mascis in the '80s and '90s, could also be notoriously explosive. The original line-up of Dinosaur Jr - Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass) and Patrick Murphy (drums) - famously imploded after three albums in 1989 on the eve of their maiden Australian tour.

Mascis kicked Barlow out of the band and four years later Murphy followed, after becoming frustrated with the frontman's desire to control and perform all instruments on their albums. Eventually in 1997 Mascis disbanded Dinosaur Jr to focus on his solo career.

But then an amazing thing happened. Bridges were mended between Mascis, Barlow and Murphy and in 2005 they made one of rock's most surprising reunions. And even more surprisingly, it's endured.

Since 2005 Dinosaur Jr have released five albums, including their latest Sweep It Into Space.

"We get on a lot more," Murphy says over Zoom from Massachusetts. "It's a lot easier to hang out with each other. It can still be odd and tense.

"A lot of it is J and Lou having family and kids and it's changed them in such a great way. You know kids just pry you open. If you're holding on to something or trying to be a certain way, kids have a way of wearing you down, they're not gonna let you get away with it.

"In their case I think it was really great. It brought out more humanness and more emotion, which is all great stuff for a dynamic and healthy relationship."

Sweep It Into Space, which was co-produced by indie-rocker Kurt Vile, has attracted some of the strongest reviews of Dinosaur Jr's career.

It's arguably the most melodic of Dinosaur Jr's 12 albums, led by the folk-rock swagger of I Ran Away and the Barlow-penned Garden.

J is just J. He's not gonna change.

Patrick Murphy

"I feel extremely lucky," Murphy says of Dinosaur Jr's relevancy, unlike many of their grunge contemporaries.

"Especially in the UK, even bands that are their hometown heroes, they're famous for just panning them at some point and discarding them and saying, 'well, they were our favourite band, but not anymore.'

"Every year we're like, 'this hasn't happened yet', it's like a surprise."

Part of the reason for Dinosaur Jr's longevity is likely due their underground status that they maintained even in the early '90s when grunge blew up and became overexposed.

Murphy also credits the band's unique personality.

"J is just J," he says. "He's not gonna change. The more you try to pressure him into something or to go in a certain direction, the less he's going to do it. Most people would crack and cave and be influenced by whatever, and he's just J. That's the great thing about him."

While the dynamic inside Dinosaur Jr is more genteel these days, Mascis remains very much in creative control. Barlow contributed two songs to Sweep It Into Space, while the remaining 10 were written and arranged by Mascis.

GENUINE: Patrick Murphy admires J Mascis' (pictured) ability to resist outside influences.

GENUINE: Patrick Murphy admires J Mascis' (pictured) ability to resist outside influences.

"J's like the mad scientist in the lab, there's something brewing and you're not really sure what's happening and then it's like 'poof', these songs appear," Murphy says.

"J has this formula and he's really the brainchild behind it, but the demos when J does them - and the same with the records that he played all the instruments - the ingredients are there, but when Lou and I come in and play the songs, it really takes on the Dinosaur Jr shape.

"J can do it, he can pull it off and he could of easily made a record that way. But it's never quite the same. It's the chemistry of the three of us. We breathe life into these songs that becomes us. It's our unique signature."

Due to COVID-19 Dinosaur Jr have been limited to drive-in shows in the US.

They remain hopeful of returning to Australia in 2022. The maiden tour to Australia in 1989, despite Barlow's departure, remains one of Murphy's favourite memories in Dinosaur Jr.

"It was beyond my wildest dreams being able to go to Australia," he says. "That was the first time I felt like we've kind of made it, or we're making it, because we got to go to this far-off place.

"I made some money and I got to stay for a few weeks, so it made a huge impact on me personally as far as my career."

Sweep It Into Space is out now.

This story Plenty of rocking roar left in old Dinosaur Jr first appeared on Newcastle Herald.