Dinosaur Jr-frontman J Mascis - on Thursday May 30th the band will play in the Effenaar during BRIDGE - is an absolute guitar hero. One that operates in its own loud, squeaking and creaking universe. We examine his unique guitar sound with producer/mixer Pieter ‘Pidah’ Kloos and mixer Erik Welmers, two experts who have frequently experienced the American up close.
Playing hard is an art. It's not just a matter of just turning up your amp all the way. There is more to it. Without a special kind of playing control your sound will be hopelessly off track. “I don't know any other guitarist who can get away with playing that loud without it becoming a mess,” says Erik Welmers. “Most guitar players wouldn't be able to handle his setup. But somehow, with J, it never becomes mush.”
“His guitar sound is always hard in your face,” adds Pidah. “Not just because of a little extra gain, no, he moves an incredible amount of air with his amps.”
Erik and Pidah should know. The latter producer from Eindhoven toured Europe with Dinosaur Jr. in the 1990s with the local heroes of Alabama Kids. And Erik Welmers mixed the band during many European and American tours between 1989 and 1994. “J himself always plays with earplugs. Rightly so. He has two large Marshall amps and cabinets and a Hiwatt amplifier near him on stage. Nowadays he also uses an extra amplifier as a stage speaker. Sometimes I think: 'Hey, you don't need that at all. You can hear it all already, right?'” Welmers himself did not have the luxury of having to endure the sound stream with earplugs. “As a mixer, I had to be able to experience the sound exactly as the visitors did. That means without earplugs. That hurt my ears quite a bit. But, we had good fun. So it was definitely worth it.”
Pidah also cherishes warm memories of the time he experienced the Americans up close. Alabama Kids was called 'the Dutch Dinosaur Jr'. “The major common denominator is that both bands listened very carefully to Neil Young,” is how Pidah explains the comparison. “J Mascis also has a voice that is a bit off, but sounds wonderful. I like it very much.”
But back to the guitar sound of our hero in question. In addition to the amplifiers mentioned above, the Big Muff is the big secret of the blacksmith of J Mascis. “That takes it from krrrchh, to krrrchhhhhhh and krrrchhhhhhhchchchhhhhhhhh,” Pidah wordlessly summarizes the guitarist's three stages of sound that J makes. If the previous letter combinations do not make much clear: the Big Muff is an iconic fuzz pedal that characterizes the sound of Mascis. He goes from talking loud, to shouting and then screaming. If you ask the guitarist himself about the how and what of that sound, he is a man of few words, in Welmers' experience. “He usually said something like 'Yeah man, I don't know' when asked for an explanation. Nowadays he is a bit more articulate, I saw on YouTube, but he always remains his cool self.” On various online video’s he himself explains how that famous sound is produced.