On the Kurt Vile collaboration and the hybrid future of music creation we are living in.
It’s usually a good thing for an established band to be willing to switch things up a bit and bring a new voice into the fold. It’s an approach that keeps things fresh and when everything lines up accordingly, the end result can be excellent.
Amherst alternative rock power trio Dinosaur Jr. went about this in their own way with a more collaborative vibe for their 12th overall and fifth post-reunion album, Sweep It Into Space, that’s coming out via Jagjaguwar on April 23. Philly indie rock phenom Kurt Vile joined up with J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph for the sessions while the original trio worked more together on their specific roles.
It’s a bit of a different sounding record than their previous releases, but tracks like “I Ran Away,” “Hide Another Round,” and “You Wonder” hold up against the rest of the band’s prolific discography. Barlow and I recently spoke about Vile’s presence easing the mood, things being a little bit lighter this time around, Mascis, and his switching instruments and being home for the longest time in his adult life.
What was the experience like having Kurt involved? Did he bring any different inspirations or influences when it came to the songwriting aspect of things?
He wasn’t really involved in the songwriting as much because J brings his own to the sessions and I do too. It was kind of like hanging out; he’s a funny guy and I like his personality a whole lot. J and him are good friends and so it was sort of like having somebody around cracking jokes, playing guitar, telling funny stories. He definitely helped with adding things to the songs, he did backing vocals and guitar stuff here and there.
Typically, the way that we make records is a method that we’ve been following for the last 15 years or so. Kurt’s presence didn’t really alter anything too much, but he definitely brought some different touches here and there. It was really fun having him around.
With this being the fifth album made since you, J, and Murph got back together in 2005, do you think this album has a different vibe than your previous releases since reuniting? Musically a lot of songs seem to focus more on melody and cohesion rather than having loud riffs and rhythms.
It’s a little lighter in kind of a cool way. I think J’s songs are a lot poppier than even I could perceive sonically. Like I said before, having Kurt around definitely lightened the mood, but I think all of the records we’ve put out since the reunion have been slightly different from each other. This one I will say has a lighter feel to it, which is something I kinda dig.
There seems to be something more organic with this one. It seems to concentrate more on the songwriting aspect of things rather than going full bore on a rock song.
I like the way it works and how it feels playing the songs on this one. When it came to recording my songs, which are two on the record, I actually worked with J and Murph much more. The two of them wrote the drum parts together which is the first time that ever happened. J played bass on both of my songs while I played guitar and that was a cool way to switch things up.
How have you been faring at home during the pandemic so far? I know you’ve recently been doing some recorded performances on YouTube including one with your family and friends for Easter. Have you been doing anything else to pass the time other than doing these performances? Have you been concentrating more on music and being with your family?
Well, a month or two after it kind of kicked in I started doing livestreams. I did a ton of them for a couple months, it was like a rate of 20 livestreams every week. Then I went on unemployment and when I did that I figured that since I was making money with the livestreams I would hunker down and start recording new material. I was working on a solo project anyways at the time, which I was able to finish up and that evolved into my wife and I doing these short videos of our family and friends. It’s been a really cool time, I’ve never been home this long in a long while so it’s been quite an experience.
I can imagine because before COVID-19 you were always on the road, so being home for this amount of time must have taken some getting used to. What’s your opinion on doing these virtual shows? Do you view it as a thing that only has a time and place for now? Or do you see it as something viable for a future as a way to connect with fans of your music when you have a night off?
There’s a lot of things that are cool about livestreaming and I hope that I can utilize it for the rest of my life, really. There was a point when I was doing livestreams every week that I felt like I had to do it because my livelihood had sort of been swept away. There’s so many aspects of this pandemic, and with other people’s jobs too, that are going to change the way people work forever. There’s going to be more Zoom meetings and there are people that won’t be working in an office building, which are changes that are going to be around after the pandemic because it’s going to be more aligned with the tech lifestyle that we have. When it comes to the devices we use to accomplish our jobs, there will be changes that have to stay.
I would love to keep making livestreams here and there and making YouTube videos. There are people who’ve been doing them before COVID-19 and still doing them today, so it’s probably going to be something that’s always a part of what I do now.
What are your plans for the summer after Sweep It Into Space is released? You alluded to how you’ve been working on a solo release, so do you plan on putting it out later this year? Have you been in talks with the other guys in Sebadoh about doing another record with them again?
I have a solo record coming out on May 28 titled Reason To Live, so that’ll be the next thing I’m working on after the Dinosaur Jr. record comes out. For the next month or two I’m just going to be promoting these two records that I’ve worked on in the last year. Singles from both records are coming out along with videos. I don’t really know what the future holds for Sebadoh, we had our touring cycle cut short by the pandemic so I don’t know if we’re going to pick back up with that or what. The pandemic kind of killed our momentum but as far as my solo stuff and Dinosaur Jr. goes, we’re poised to wait it out and see where it takes us.
Dinosaur Jr. is scheduled to play the House of Blues Boston on Nov. 27.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Brooklyn Rail, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.