Monday, 16 April 2012

The one where I tell J Mascis the Bobby Gillespie Story - 14.12.2010

Stories are something we all share with each other. I'm not talking about Billy and Bobby Blue Hat, but more specifically about stories of legendary Saturday nights, run ins with the rich and famous. Sometimes these stories gain a little extra depth in emphasis, and imaginary details creep in. Often, once you've got a story down, you learn a rhythm in the telling of it. And so it was with the Bobby Gillespie story. This isn't the story where I saw Bobby Gillespie in the Soho, and went to say hello only to have a wall of muscle tell me 'Anything you want to say to him, you say to me first'. It is the other Bobby Gillespie story, and it started around here in Shepherd's Bush.

Which visitors will find is still a rum old place. Within a hundred yards of the station, there's a pan pipe band playing Enter Sandman. The Westfield shopping centre looms over this surreal soundtrack with a weird cultural power, blotting out the skyline, disorientating me with its surprising scale. I'm lost, holding a sheet of questions that I've knocked up in thirty minutes of thin concentration. Accidentally, I find myself walking towards the Bush Hall, and re-orient myself with the assistance of a man who is selling three boiled eggs for a pound. I ask him where the K West hotel is, while looking at my map. It's over there, he says. You've walked the wrong way. Would you like some eggs?

Ten minutes later, I'm in the K West lounge, and half an hour early. It's a swish, high contrast address, with tasteful modern design touches, and coloured uplighting from the floor here and there. The Drums are lounging casually with a small entourage and early 90's haircuts, and Kelis is reportedly somewhere in the building. A presenter of Newsnight review who I can't remember the name of is polishing off what looks like a very nice lunch upstairs. It's that kind of place.

It isn't the sort of environment I'd expected to meet J Mascis, to be frank. It was easier  to picture him sitting on a moth-eaten two-tone brown fabric sofa, one of those ones that folds out into a single bed and offers no type of support to the back. In the real and fading afternoon light, he sits on a fashionable purple armchair, and is working his way through a Marks and Spencer cheese and pickle sandwich. We can wait until he finishes, I say. He puts the sandwich down, and we begin. During the interview, I say 'If we can... towards the end of the interview, there's a story I'd like to tell that relates to you, if we've got time'. Alright, he says. He's hard to get talking sometimes, which I put it down to being a reaction to some fairly thick questions and it being the last interview of the day. At other points he exhibits a sense of humour which is exceptionally dry and subtle. We begin somewhere predictable.

TFTS: 'Several Shades of Why' – the new album out on Sub Pop, can you tell me a bit more about the album. Home recorded, self-produced?

J: Yeah.

TFTS: Any favourites on it already?

J: (Pauses, then speaks slowly and very quietly) Yeah, I kinda like the first two songs [Listen To Me and Several Shades of Why], that's why we put them first... It's like this is what defines the album for me, this is what I want to put out.

TFTS: (Looks at borrowed I-phone on table) I hope that is getting all this.

J: I recorded on... I record all my songs on those now. For ideas and stuff.

TFTS: Really?

J: For song ideas, yeah. You can email them to yourself. Put em in different folders. High tech.

TFTS: Your previous album, Songs for Amma, was written and dedicated for Mata Amritanandamayi. Can you tell me who he is and why you follow him?

J: It's a she. Yeah, Amma is the short version of her name...

TFTFacepalm: My apologies.

J: It's alright. And she's like a spiritual leader in India, kind of like mother Teresa or something. She has a lot of charities, just helps a lot of people and then she tours around the world and people go to see her and she hugs them. And that's like the main thing she does. Sort of been following her for a long time now.

TFTS: What interested you about her originally, how did you find out about her?

J: Somebody just told me to go see her. I guess it's like I was just kinda depressed and looking for anything to make me feel better.

TFTS: Did you meet her in person?

J: Yeah, I went and I got a hug, y'know. It's the main thing people do.

TFTS: Sounds like she's a good giver of hugs. (Changes subject abruptly) I know you've done a lot of lists today. As a rated guitarist, everybody must ask you who the best guitarists are. But you're a drummer too. I'd like you to rate the best drummer A) You've seen B) You've heard C) You've played with.

J: The best drummer I've played with is Kyle Spence [The Fog / Harvey Milk]. The best I've heard... I like John Bonham, Charlie Watts, and Ian Paice. Of those, I've only seen Charlie Watts play. I saw Buddy Rich once (chuckles to self), he's the best one.

TFTS: You've played with Steve Shelley too. When people ask me about picking a fantasy band, it always has Steve Shelley and you in it. That's a given.

J: Really... Echo and The Bunnymen wanted Steve Shelley.

TFTS: Really? They go up in my estimation every day... (Looks at list of questions)
On getting older, most men seem to develop hobbies, or something that is 'their thing'. When you were young, apart from music, what was the first thing that caught your imagination.

J: I guess I really liked baseball as a kid, but then I felt like it ruined my life too.

TFTS: Did you collect cards?

J: Played baseball.

TFTS: Were you any good?

J: Uuunh... OK. Better at fielding than hitting.

TFTS: OK, now you're a bit further down the road, is there anything you obsess about now?

J: I'm just like mostly music oriented... I really like gear, like recording gear and guitars.

TFTS: Ah, tech stuff. Do you find yourself looking in guitar magazines saying 'I like the look of that'?

J: Sometimes, mostly vintage stuff. Mostly my interests are music and Amma, and that's about it.

TFTS: I read somewhere you were into skydiving at one point...

J: (Shakes head very slightly) That was just...

TFTS: Or was that just press bumpf?

J: Uhuh.

TFTS: Just wondering, is there anything you can't play on guitar, or anything you're trying to learn?

J: Just fingerpicking... English folky stuff like Bert Jansch.

TFTS: I know it's a terrible term, but is there anything you still want to achieve in your musical career?

J: I want a Juno. It's the Canadian Grammy award. I don't know how I'd go about getting one... Maybe if I align myself with some Canadians.

TFTS: They love you over there though. Sonic Boom in Toronto had a giant window display for Farm. It was beautiful.

J:  (Remembers, nods) Yeah, that was pretty cool.

TFTS: Is there anyone you'd still be star struck by?

J: Oh yeah, plenty of people. Keith Richards, Charlie Watts... yeah, a lot of people.

TFTS: You must have spent some time with Iggy...

J: Yeah, yeah...

TFTS:  and I know you're a big Stooges fan... So what was it like hanging about with them?

J: Yeah it's weird, yeah it's always weird, sometimes good, sometimes bad. I'd probably feel that way if I watched a lot of TV. I was star struck by Robert Crumb's brother... Have you seen that film 'Crumb'? His brother I saw, at an Amma thing, meditating, with this tape... First time he had this tape coming out of his mouth, and in the movie he's doing that too, so I was kind of star struck.

TFTS: On getting the Fender signature model... the Jazzmaster. When did you know, and how did you feel about it?

J: Some guy at Fender was a fan that I'd met before. He wanted it to happen, but he's not that high up, so I don't know exactly how it happened. So yeah, it was pretty exciting.

TFTS: One of those boyhood dreams achieved?

J: Nah., because it was nothing i ever dreamed about or thought about. It's awesome but nothing I could have even considered. Like getting to be on SST records that was like a dream come true, that was one of those things I tried to do and achieved.

TFTS: After you've finished supporting this album, is there a good chance of getting Dinosaur Jr back into the studio?

J: Yeah. Sure, a lot. Everybody wants to do it.

TFTS: How did you feel the response was to the records since the line up got back together?

J:  Seemed that people liked the last one more than the first one, which was cool.

TFTS: When you're out and about, do you get recognized for yourself, or do people think you're someone else?

J: As other people. No, I don't think I ever get recognised as other people. I definitely get recognised at a music festival or something.

TFTS: A lot of people have said you remind them of some Lord of the Rings characters... did people say anything to you in the street when that was at its peak?

J: (smiles) Oh yeah. Nah, you just get weird random stuff, like 'Willie Nelson' or 'Jesus'. Or 'Wayne's World' for a while.

TFTS: Don't see Willie Nelson. I can see a bit of Garth...

J: Nah, it'd be the other one because I was wearing the baseball hat.

TFTS: You've played the odd guitar solo in your time. Do you have any favourite guitar sol description clich├ęs? Scorching, searing... What seems to be the traditional way to describe a solo?

J: Ripping (laughs to self). Soaring sounds good. Searing sounds like...

TFTS: it could go either way?

J: Definitely. But if you want to be seared...

TFTS: I suppose there is that.

(With the questions ended, we get to the Bobby Gillespie story)

TFTS: This is that thing I wanted to talk to you about... I went to see you play with the Fog, at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. It was the Stooges encore show, where you got Mike Watt and Ron Asheton in, do you remember?

J: Yeah.

TFTS: My brother was in the crowd with me, we'd scored free tickets, I can't remember how... and Bobby Gillespie came on. Do you remember that bit?

J: Yup.

TFTS: I have a strong memory of Gillespie getting a lot of abuse from the crowd...

J: Really? (laughs)

TFTS: I remember him getting the mic stand and pushing it into the crowd, and pulling it out and there being a vacuum. My brother walked into that vacuum, and Gillespie brought the mic stand down in an arc, and he got my brother on the head.

J: How was his head?

TFTS: He got four stitches and we spent five hours in casualty.

J: That's terrible.

TFTS: Yeah, but the show itself was superb, I was still jumping around to TV Eye and singing the lyrics after the music had finished. Then I looked around and thought 'I bet my brother was that kid who got hit'. Sure enough, he was.

J: Yeah, that was quite a rift...

TFTS: What was the follow up to that? Did you speak to him after that?

J: Yeah. We were pretty bummed. Me and Ron y'know... all he kept saying was someone spit on him. Was that good enough reason to crack someones head open? I don't know, I don't think so... It was pretty shocking to us.

TFTS: I was taken backstage, and I saw you sitting on the stairs with your head in your hands, surprised by the whole thing. The band came in and said how sorry they were. And I saw Bobby Gillespie slink out of the venue. The security were egging me on to give it a go, saying ' We won't touch you. Do it!'

J: Oh really? (chuckles)

TFTS: Yeah. I decided against it. A few months later my brother was working in a record shop, and Gillespie comes up to his till, and my brother says 'Do you remember me?'

J: No way!

TFTS: And he shows him the scar on his head. And Bobby Gillespie can't believe it's happpening.

J: (Laughs shrilly)

TFTS: He got free tickets to the next Primal Scream show. They weren't particularly good, apparently.

J: Well, I threw my guitar into the crowd once and cracked some guy in the head. And he came backstage, he was all bloody and he said "why'd you throw the guitar at me, I didn't do anything?!"... It wasn't his fault, but I'd lost it and just threw the guitar in the audience and hit him... I ended up playing in a band with him later on. That was weird...

I never understood how someone spitting on you was like 'Well, I should smash his head open...".

TFTS: Years later, he was doing interviews, and no-one ever asked him the question, no-one ever asked him why.

J: It seems like some of his friends didn't think it was that bad either. I thought maybe it's some Scottish thing I didn't understand. Kevin Shields is like the middle man. He's my friend, that's how we got involved with Bobby, to do the thing, so he was in the middle kind of, and he didn't know what to do. And the way Bobby would apologize... I never really understood people apologize and then say '...but'. Just say you're sorry.

TFTS: Well my brother was OK in the end and got some free tickets out of it...


The interview winds up, and we talk about the merits and relative costs of M&S sandwiches. Before he shuffles off to his room, I get a quick snap of him. In the photo, he looks nothing like Willie Nelson, Jesus, or Saruman. Maybe a little bit of Garth.