Dinosaur Jr. is an American alternative rock band formed in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1984, originally called simply Dinosaur until legal issues forced a change in name. The group disbanded in 1997 before reuniting in 2005. Guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph are the band's founding and current members – Mascis has been the group's sole continuous member. Their distinct guitar sound, characterized by high gain, extensive use of feedback and distortion, and frontman J Mascis' melodic guitar solos, was highly influential in the alternative rock movement of the 1990s.
Their debut album, “Dinosaur,” was released in 1985. It was recorded for $500 at a home studio in the woods outside Northampton, Massachusetts. The album was originally released when the band was still known simply as Dinosaur, before a lawsuit forced the name change to Dinosaur Jr. After the record's release, Dinosaur would often drive to New York City to perform shows. At one of their shows, the New York City-based alternative rock band Sonic Youth approached the band declaring themselves as fans. Sonic Youth invited Dinosaur to join them on tour in the American Northeast and northern Midwest in September 1986.
“You're Living All Over Me,” their second album, was released in 1987 on SST Records. The album was named after a line uttered by frontman J Mascis while on tour with the band. Much of the record was recorded with Sonic Youth engineer Wharton Tiers in New York City. The album received much more attention in the indie-rock community than the debut had, and went a long way towards establishing Dinosaur as a major underground band. Immediately following the release of, “You're Living All Over Me,” supergroup The Dinosaurs (featuring ex-members of Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Hot Tuna, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane) sued them over the use of the name, prompting the addition of, “Jr.”
Dinosaur Jr. had a major breakthrough in the United Kingdom with their debut single for the Blast First label, “Freak Scene” in 1988. It reached #4 in the U.K. Independent chart, staying on the chart for 12 weeks. The band's third album, “Bug,” followed shortly after, reaching #1 on the U.K. Independent Albums chart where it spent 38 weeks. The band's first U.K. Singles chart placing came in 1989 with their cover of The Cure's “Just Like Heaven.”
Despite the album's success, tension between Mascis and Barlow began interfering with the band's productivity, and in 1989, after touring in support of “Bug,” Barlow was kicked out of the band. Barlow now focused all of his attention on the former side-project Sebadoh. Meanwhile, the band embarked on an Australian tour with Donna Dresch filling in for Barlow. In 1990, the band released a new single, “The Wagon” on Sub Pop, their first release since Barlow's departure. The single featured a short lived lineup including Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel from the band Gumball, in addition to Mascis and Murph.
Despite the ongoing lineup turmoil, Dinosaur Jr. signed with Sire Records in 1990. They made their major-label debut with, “Green Mind,” in 1991. The new record was virtually a J. Mascis solo album, with Murph playing drums on only a few songs, as well as minimal contributions from Fleming and Spiegel, who were out of the band by the time the album was released. Mascis (who had started out as a drummer) recorded many of the drum parts by himself, layering the various instrumental parts through overdubbing. While Mascis' guitar, voice and songwriting ensured that the album had its share of the band's old sound, it was much quieter and more layered, with more use of keyboards and acoustic guitar, and with a noticeable lack of the power-trio roar that the original lineup had been known for.
For touring purposes, Mascis first added Van Conner, and then Mike Johnson to handle the bass parts and embarked on several tours to support, “Green Mind,” with support acts that included Nirvana. In 1991, Sire records released an EP, titled “Whatever's Cool with Me,” that featured old B-sides coupled with one new tune.
The band found their live shows well received in the changing musical climate of the early 1990s, and decided to record new material with the new lineup. This time, the recording sessions were with full participation from Murph and Johnson, with the former playing most of the drums and the latter playing all of the bass parts, singing harmony vocals and even contributing a few guitar solos. This material represented the peak of the band's commercial success, with the single, “Start Choppin',” reaching the Top 20 in the U.K., and the album that followed, “Where You Been,” reaching the UK Top 10 and the Billboard Top 50. Although the new material was more accessible than the band's 1980s albums, in terms of playing it represented a partial return to the more unrestrained power-trio sound of the original lineup.
Murph left the band after touring for, “Where You Been,” leaving Mascis as the sole remaining original member. He was replaced for the band's live shows by George Berz. However, the band's subsequent albums would be recorded mostly by J Mascis on his own, playing everything except for bass and some harmony vocals, which continued to be handled by Johnson. The commercial success continued with 1994's “Without a Sound,” which placed well on both the Billboard and U.K. Album charts. After 1997's “Hand It Over,” Mascis finally retired the Dinosaur Jr. name. In 1999, he released the first of two solo albums under the name J Mascis and the Fog.
The beginnings of a Mascis/Barlow détente started in the mid-'90s when Mascis began showing up at Sebadoh shows. In 2002, the two shared the stage for two shows in London, with Barlow singing, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” along with Mascis, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton and Mike Watt, who had been performing Stooges songs as Asheton, Asheton, Mascis and Watt.
Mascis regained the master rights to the band's first three albums from SST in 2004, and arranged for their reissue on Merge early 2005. Later that year, he and Barlow shared the stage at benefit show for autism at Smith College organized by Barlow's mother in Northampton, Massachusetts, and played together as Deep Wound after Mascis and Sebadoh had completed their respective sets. They then toured as Dinosaur Jr. in Europe in 2005.
In 2007, the original members of Dinosaur Jr. released, “Beyond” on Fat Possum Records, their first album of new material as a trio since Bug in 1988. The album went on to commercial success, debuting on the Billboard 200 Albums chart at #69 in its opening week.
In February 2009, the band signed with indie label Jagjaguwar. Their first release on the new label was titled, “Farm,” and released in 2009. The album was released to positive reviews.
In January 2012, Barlow posted an online newsletter via his Twitter account confirming that Dinosaur Jr. was indeed writing new songs. The resulting new album, “I Bet on Sky,” was released in September 2012.