The Crystal Ballroom, in Portland, OR, suddenly fell silent as J Mascis, shuffled on stage in a parka and a purple scarf. After an extended lunch break, Mascis arrived to do the soundcheck before the show started. Mascis slowly picks up his guitar as Mike Watt grabs for his bass — as soon as he has the guitar in his hands, Mascis starts soloing. The once silent room is filled with the sound that makes Mascis a rock icon. Starting out with Dinosaur Jr, Mascis has recorded at Fort Apache, Electric Ladyland, and Dreamland among others. He has also collected his own gear over time and has recorded his past two solo albums in his home studio, Bob's Place, named after his dog that patrols the studio — whether or not you are recording. As Mascis finishes up the soundcheck, I realized that the cotton I had stuck in my ears was a little red from bleeding. This was my introduction to Mascis.
How and why did you make the transition from being a big guitar gear guy to a recording geek?
I think it was just from freaking out on spending so much money sitting in a studio not doing anything and staring out the window and realizing it's like a thousand dollars to sit on this couch and stare out the window.
How did Bob's Place get put together? Did you buy your gear all at once or over time?
At first I bought a house and then I started buying stuff. I had a couple things like some API graphic EQs I bought. I had Roland SRV 2000 reverb that I liked to use on the snare drum — those were my first two things I had. But when I got the house I decided that I should get some gear and start recording there. I never thought I would have a recording studio. It's like having your office at home — it always seemed like a bad idea, but then I realized that I couldn't deal with studios anymore and paying that much money and stuff. So I bought the 24-track machine that was the big thing to buy. I bought a couple of more things like mic pres and stuff.
Did you learn from the engineers at Fort Apache or did you talk to Kevin Shields to learn to record?
I still haven't learned how to engineer, but I picked up a lot, mostly from John Agnello I guess.
So you were never interested in the recording studio? Asking engineers what does that button do?
Yeah, sure. I realized that I liked some things along the way. With the first things I bought I realized that I like the API graphic things. They are the only EQ that I can relate to — it's like move the levers.
So did you do a day in the studio as background research for when you played the engineer in Grace of My Heart?
No. [laughs] I just kind of drew on my past experiences with engineers. I spotted a few fuck-ups they had in there. Like one time they had all these stupid '80s drum sets in the studio, and '70s Fender amps.
You mentioned the API EQs. Are there any other pieces of gear that you would classify as a favorite or a must-have when you record?
I dig the Telefunken v76 mic pre. I use that thing for vocals, guitar, and toms. It's the coolest, heaviest mic pre I've heard. Definitely not transparent, an audio word I hate. If it doesn't have a sound why would I wanna use it. I like the Distressor a lot — it's my favorite compressor I think. I like the Distressor because it's not clean. It's like half fuzz box, half compressor. I like certain microphones. I hate recording acoustic guitars with anything but a ribbon mic. I was really happy when I discovered that one day because I always hated every acoustic guitar sound I would get. Suddenly, I think at Dreamland, I was there and I was going through all these mics and pulled out a [RCA] 77 or something and suddenly it sounded so much more normal. I never understood why the acoustic never sounded like an acoustic guitar. I was happy to discover the ribbon mic. I use those a lot.
What's your stance on the digital versus analog controversy?
Well I prefer analog definitely, but I have a DA-88 because I can sync it up to the 24-track and get a few more tracks.
Ever worked with Pro Tools?
Yeah, Tim O'Heir brought Pro Tools to my house. I've done a couple of things with it. Some other kids were there mixing with Pro Tools at my house. I don't know — it doesn't seem any fun to me to record into a computer. There's no joy in turning the knobs or seeing the tape turn around.
Do you record as loud as you play live?
I don't record as loud — especially Kevin would freak out if it was too loud. I don't have much isolation and you can really hear what's going on the tape...