A short while back we had the pleasure of hosting one of the most influential guitarists of the late 80s and 90s, and founding member of the legendary Dinosaur Jr. – J Mascis! We grabbed the opportunity to ask him a few questions which we hope you’ll find interesting!
Have you ever had a “screw-pedals-I’m-going-straight-to-the-amp” moment?
No! To me pedals were always part of “it”. It was all one thing. I started learning guitar and pedals at the same time – it’s just one kind of instrument. I was coming from drumming and it felt very unsatisfying to play guitar after drums; it was wimpy-feeling, and I guess with pedals I was trying to recreate the dynamics of drumming. I couldn’t express the same thing as drumming so that’s why I used pedals; to make it more like drums and have the dynamics.
Do you still play drums?
Yeah, I like playing drums still, I play everyday for 5 minutes. Someone recently sent me a video where I was playing drums in this late 80s band, I don’t remember the show at all, but it was pretty interesting to watch and I was like: “Why didn’t I keep playing drums?”. I was already doing Dinosaur at the time but I guess I ultimately wanted to keep playing drums but I wanted to have a band more. I couldn’t figure out a way to get someone to play guitar in a way that was good. Most of the guys around where I lived at the time where listening to Jeff Beck, but not even the good Beck, it was more the fusion-Jeff Beck; “Wired” was like the big album, not the Yardbirds. That’s not what I was hearing, I liked Birthday Party, The Jesus and Mary Chain. I just wanted some sound I couldn’t find from other people around, but having had a lot of drums lessons I figured I could teach someone how to play drums in a way that was alright so I could play guitar.
Did you take any guitar lessons?
No, whatever songs I wrote that’s pretty much what I could play. It’s weird how complicated all the first songs were! I figured more parts in a song made it better. Still some of it’s not easy to play and I can’t figure out how I could play it back then. We just realized simpler things might be good as we went on as a band and found our sound. We had the opportunity to put out a record as soon as we formed as a band. I didn’t know how to play guitar yet, we just went in the studio and started recording in so many different styles, so we had an album to give out to people to get a gig instead of the other way around, that’s what Minutemen would say; records are flyers for shows, so it was a different time.
Let’s talk pedals; how do you use overdrive?
The way I use overdrive is turning it down and seeing what it sounds like, I don’t use it to push, I usually use it to turn down stuff. The Big Muff through the amp isn’t as loud as an overdrive through the amp, so if I use overdrive it would be louder than the Big Muff and I want the Big Muff to be the loudest thing.
Do you use other pedals to push your Big Muff?
Yes, I push Big Muffs with either a Super Fuzz or a Tone Bender and run my amps really low at around 2 or 3. I use a lot of amps at a time though to create the necessary volume and headroom.
What has the uni-vibe brought to the J Mascis multiverse of sounds?
When I first encountered the uni-vibe it was the only modulation I could stand for extended periods – I would turn on a phaser and get sick of it after 30 seconds, a flanger I might use to punch up certain parts but the uni-vibe I can solo through or keep engaged for a long time and I don’t get sick of the sound. Something about it is more pleasant to listen to over a long period of time.
Do you pair the uni-vibe with other effects?
I usually pair the uni-vibe with the Big Muff or another Fuzz during solos.
What are your favorite Uni-Vibe recorded moments?
I guess Machine Gun!
Why the RetroVibe?
The first uni-vibe I had was the Super Vibe Roger Mayer made which I liked and then all the other ones I tried didn’t sound right for some reason. The RetroVibe is the only one that has a pleasant sound that is undisturbing to me! I also use the JAM pedals RetroVibe in my last acoustic record.
Do you take your old Muffs out to gigs?
That’s where I use them actually, I don’t use them in the studio anymore. The first one I had was the Deluxe Big Muff, which got stolen. Then I got another one that didn’t sound as good and then I found a Ram’s head one which I’ve used ever since. I have a lot of other ones but I only really like that one.