Chances are, if you know the name Tom Scholte (and are not a student at UBC, where he teaches), you're a film geek with a passion for B.C. film—in which case, you probably associate him with the movies of Bruce Sweeney (Dirty, Last Wedding, or The Dick Knost Show—regrettably retitled Hoser in some circles). He's also worked with Carl Bessai and other B.C. filmmakers, in a career spanning more than 20 years, and directed his own Dogme-based drama Crime, which played the VIFF back in 2008.
One thing you might NOT associate Tom Scholte with is music journalism, but people can have more than one passion, and those who do know him—even slightly—know that Tom is probably one of the biggest fans of Dinosaur jr., in Vancouver. His quest for a J Mascis bobblehead has yet to bear fruit—he’s been forced to make do with Mike Watt—but hell, we don't know anyone else who even WANTS a Mascis bobblehead, do you? The Straight could think of no man more qualified for a Dinosaur jr. feature than Scholte, even if they sloughed him off on Murph. Clearly the band’s press people were not aware they had a celebrity interviewer on their hands.
By Tom Scholte
As Dinosaur jr.’s drummer and unofficial referee, Murph has an attitude to touring as straightforward as his name. “People are like, aren’t you going to sightsee and I’m like, no I’m here to work.” Speaking to me over the phone from the band’s tour bus, Murph , with typical blunt honesty, makes it clear that, as they have matured, the band member’s goals have shifted from their early days on legendary indie label SST in the mid-‘80s. They’ve gone from “doing it just to do it and see what happens to now this is like our job. We’ve got families to support and there’s other people involved.”
Upon first listening, ‘workmanlike’ may seem like an apt word to describe Dinosaur jr.’s new release, Give A Glimpse of What Yer Not, on Jagjaguwar records. Born of a looming deadline that saw Murph, singer J Mascis, and bassist Lou Barlow arrive in the studio with little material ready to go, the result is the band’s most straight-ahead offering since the three reunited and returned to recording with 2007’s Beyond.
But, as with much of Dino’s output post-SST, repeated listenings reveal the meticulous crystalline detail within the layers of sludge and fuzz and, before long, the snarlingly catchy riffs, exhilarating Bonham-esque rhythms, and haunting lyrics have gotten under your skin and end up circling in your brain for days on end.
Impressive as always is the signature searing and achingly melodic Mascis solos, the one at the tail of “I Walk For Miles” ranking amongst the maestro’s most emotionally incendiary.
According to Murph, all of this results from the same no-nonsense approach they take on the road. “We’re all kind of perfectionists. Especially now that we’re older we don’t feel like we’ve got a lotta time to screw around. Whether we’re recording or gigging we just show up to work. We’re just here to get the job done.”
T-shirts declaring “Mascis is God” are a familiar sight at Dino gigs. Bassist Lou Barlow has cultivated his own devoted following as a singer-songwriter thanks to the magnificent work of his band Sebadoh following his initial departure from Dinosaur jr after the bands first three records. As a result, it is easy to miss the significant influence exerted by Murph on Dino’s overall aesthetic and stylistic development.
Along with a handful of other SST bands from the 80s including the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and Meat Puppets, Dinosaur jr. laid the foundation for the subsequent grunge explosion of the ’90s. The trio helped fulfill the longings of countless suburban kids across North America who were hungry to embrace the anti-authoritarian DIY ethos of punk but reluctant to completely turn their backs on the virtuosic musicianship of classic rock inherited via the record collections of their older siblings.
While Mascis, along with Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould and Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood, deservedly receive much of the credit for making the world safe for guitar solos again, Murph played a critical role in driving Dino toward being one of the most significant planks in the bridge between punk and classic rock. He helped evolve a sound that was maybe best described by a high-school friend who first turned me on to the band’s seminal 1987 release You’re Living All Over Me: “The Cure getting fucked in the ass by Black Sabbath.”
Says Murph: “I was actually the proggy, jazzy guy of the band. Lou and J were always like die-hard thrash-to-the-day-you-die. I was the guy who was always like ‘Let’s try and broaden our horizons’ and they were like ‘no, it’s gotta be HARD CORE, GRRR!’
It actually caused a lot of tension in the early days ’cause I was the guy who wanted to listen to Rush and Lou and J were like “Rush fuckin’ sucks! Like what the fuck !?!”
Murph gives equal credit to other SST label mates who helped brew the concoction that would eventually send bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam rocketing up the charts. “Bands like the Minutemen provided a bridge to all that stuff. There was lots of SST bands that did that jazz-punk thing like Phantom Tollboth. A bunch of early bands.”
Murph even spills the beans on the dirty little secret of Black Flag and SST founder (and bane of hippies everywhere) Greg Ginn. “He was a total Deadhead. Before he started Black Flag he had already seen 150 Dead shows.” Fortunately for Murph, and the rest of us, he didn’t have to scratch too hard at the surface of his own band-mates to eventually excavate the classic rockers within. “In junior high, Jay was a total Stones fan before he discovered Oi! and hardcore. So, I knew…”
In addition to taking heat for his oh-so-gauche musical tastes, the early days saw Murph tasked with the unenviable job of being the middle man in what was, at the time, one of the most toxic intra-band relationships in all of indie-rock. (And when you’ve got label mates like Hüsker Dü that’s saying something.)
When asked to muse upon what forces drove J and Lou apart as youngsters and, ultimately, knit them together again as adults, Murph points to what the two have always had in common. “Unrelenting stamina. Insane drive. Insane music knowledge. As different as they are as personalities, their philosophies of life and their core is very similar. Their work ethic is very similar.”
And so we end where we began. With “the work.” And what still sets the original Dino line-up apart from any of its other incarnations is captured by Murph’s vision of what “the work” is when it comes to playing live.
“When the three of us get on stage we’re still those angry, punky, frustrated suburban kids that wanna break out. And we channel that even now. When we get on stage that energy is still there.”
So, if you’re one of those kids of which Murph has seen so many on this tour that are “excited to take in a piece of history” and you’ve never seen the original Dinosaur jr. live, I urge you not to miss your opportunity at the Commodore Ballroom tonight (September 30).
It might just blow your head clean off.