Q&A with Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.
At lot has happened to Lou Barlow in the past four years. Around the time his daughter was born, he released his solo album Emoh, reunited with Dinosaur Jr. and recorded two albums and just released another solo album, Goodnight Unknown, earlier this month. Barlow will be performing both with Dinosaur Jr., as well as opening the show with the Missingmen, who toured with Mike Watt earlier this year, this Thursday, October 29 at the Boulder Theater and Friday, October, 30 at the Aggie Theater in Ft. Collins. We spoke with Barlow about the sonic nature of Dinosaur Jr.'s shows, how a guy threatened to kill the band for damaging his ears, lo-fi music and Goodnight Unknown.
Westword (Jon Solomon): I was reading about the recent Dino show in St. Louis where a guy called the venue and threatened to kill you guys for ruining his hearing when you played Columbia a few years before.
Lou Barlow: I guess the guy said that he was going to show up with DB meters and hearing protection and he was going to prove how we were hurting people and ruining people's lives.
WW: Did he ever show up?
LB: No, he did not, as far as we know.
WW: I was also reading how you wear two pairs of earplugs during the Dino shows.
WW: How is your hearing these days?
LB: I have tinnitus. I have really severe tinnitus.
WW: I've got that, too.
LB: I think a lot of us do. I wouldn't necessarily blame it on Dinosaur or whatever. I just think even the process of recording music and playing in bands over the years -- I think it all just takes its toll.
WW: What's J's whole thing behind having the volume be so incredibly loud?
LB: I think it's just something he decided to do a long time ago. The very first practice we had he had a loud amp and earplugs and some gun muffs over the top of his earplugs. So it was clear that the statement he was going to make was the feel of the music.
WW: So how's it going on this tour playing with the Missingmen and then playing with Dino? Is it kind of tiring you out or are you digging it?
LB: I'm digging it. I like it. It keeps me busy. It keeps me out of trouble. It's cool. With Dino, we play for about an hour and a half and we've got roadies that do everything for us. So there's not a lot to do other than sound check and play. I guess I need more stuff to do just to keep my mind going and to keep myself feeling like I'm moving forward.
WW: How are you and J getting along these days?
LB: It's probably the same as it's always been, but a little bit better. Still, there are a lot of similarities. I enjoy Dinosaur for what it is. It's a unique band that has a unique chemistry. I think in the end, music is the most important thing. The music is great.
WW: Going back to the '90s lo-fi movement that you kind of spearheaded, do you have any take on what's going on with lo-fi these days?
LB: I think people, just because of digital recording and how computers have become such an important part of our lives, I think the means to record music now is in more people's hands. It's a lot cheaper than it used to be. Even back in the day, it would cost $500 just to get a four-track. It was a lot of money back then. It's a lot of money now, actually. I think now people have a lot more power in their own hands and the ability to make records and they don't have to rely on studios any more. They don't have to rely on other people's idea of what music should sound like. I think musicians naturally gravitate toward music that sounds real. I think the greatest music that we call classic rock -- that really changes people's lives -- could be classified as lo-fi music. That'd be like early blues recordings or Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles. I mean, those are records made using only four-tracks. Some of the greatest songs that have ever been recorded were recorded with one microphone. I think really lo-fi adds a texture, a reality texture, to the music. And I think it's something that people really gravitate towards naturally. I think that people are making very richly textured recordings that would have been called lo-fi before.
WW: You recorded Goodnight Unknown on a cassette four-track and then dumped the songs into the computer, right?
LB: Yes, I had a cassette four-track and a mini-disk four-track that I used on most of the songs and then dumped it onto my computer. In the computer, I could put more stuff on top of it if I wanted to.
WW: You made the record for the most part in your practice space, right?
LB: Yeah. I did almost every day when I was home. I would take my girl to pre-school and I'd go over to my space and record for five or six hours.