In the late ’80s, J Mascis’ band Dinosaur Jr. shocked the world, or at least the college radio crowd, by proving that grimy, noisy punk only sounded better when you added Neil Young-style guitar solos. He surprised close listeners by proving that a man that outwardly never seems to display any emotion beyond resigned bemusement could write eloquently about loneliness and the fraught complexities of adolescent male friendships. He surprised us when he broke up the original line-up featuring drummer Murph and bassist Lou Barlow, and somehow went on to MTV stardom without losing his dignity. And after a decade’s worth of passive-aggressive warfare between Mascis and Barlow, he surprised us when he got the original line-up back together, proved that reunion albums don’t have to suck, and somehow made Dinosaur Jr. more beloved than they’ve ever been. Hell, last year they even surprised themselves by having a hit song in Japan for reasons that are as strange as they are complicated.
Somewhere along the way, Mascis somehow turned himself into an internet fashion icon. His penchant for brightly colored pastel t-shirts, chunky eye-glasses, dope sneakers, loud Adidas jackets, and the ever-present Mishka “Keep Watch” Eyeball hat has made him an object of social media fascination. With his crotchety public persona and affinity for classic rock, Mascis seemed a bit like an old man when he was young. Now that he’s older, he dresses like a hip-hop loving teenager who is besotted with Millennial Pink and the latest Supreme drop… and he makes it work for him through superhuman nonchalance. Mascis has never really cared what anyone thinks, and if he wants to wear the brightest purple jacket you’ve ever seen while playing the loudest guitar solo you’ve ever heard, you have no choice to respect it.
Mascis has a reputation for being a hilariously unenthusiastic interview subject. In fact, I lovingly goofed on this facet of the J Mascis Cultural Experience a long time ago. But once he got over his obvious confusion that this was indeed the subject that I wanted to talk to him about, he got about as enthusiastic as is possible for him. Hey, some people really love pastels.
I want to talk to you today about the fact that you’ve become a fashion icon these days. How would you describe your current style?
Jeez. I describe it as just kind of like, you know, whatever I’ve kind of collected over the years and throw on.
When did you start getting into brands like Mishka?
This one was probably about 2008 or something, I’m not sure exactly. I saw a friend had an eyeball pad or something, and I think it was Damien (Abraham) from the band F*cked Up, and I asked him about it and he said, “Oh, they could send you some stuff right now.” So they sent me some stuff and I just started wearing it.
Yeah, there’s a lot, like a lot, of photos of you wearing Mishka hats or shirts with the giant eyeball on it. Why do you think you like it so much?
I’m wearing it right now. I guess it seems like non-specific. I just like the image. I just kind of went with it just because it’s not like a band T-shirt or something. I just like the eyeball.
I like stuff that pops up a little bit. Around here where I live, everything was hippie granola brown. So I like purple especially, but just brighter colors to fix up my mood.
Being from Massachusetts, you’ve always been surrounded by earth tones. So you want to rebel against it.
Who are some of your favorite designers and brands? I know you’re a big fan of Jeremy Scott.
I thought a lot of his Adidas things were really cool. I mean, I used to like Paul Smith in the ‘90s. Fred Perry.
Have you always been a person who pays attention to fashion, or is it something that you came to later in life?
Yeah, I think my dad was pretty fashionable, and I would say one thing he would do with me is bring me clothes shopping. We wouldn’t do that much together, but that was one thing and he was always a snappy dresser. I guess it started from him.
Mishka has sponsored a lot of hip-hop mixtapes, and street style in general is associated with hip-hop. Are you the only band that works with them?
Oh, I have no idea.
A couple of years ago you had your own capsule design with Mishka. How hands on were you with it?
That’s the thing, I really kind of like the stuff they do. So, yeah, when they showed me stuff they come up with, I was mostly really into it already.
Do you have a stylist?
So it’s all stuff you pick up yourself?
Do you keep up with trends or read fashion blogs?
No, I just kind of pick up stuff here and there.
In addition to the eyeball swag, we also see you a lot in your now signature all-clear glasses. Who makes those, and why do you like that look?
The clear ones I haven’t worn in a long time. I guess lately I really like Selima Optique. I got some frames somewhere, and my friend who is a stylist told me they have a store in New York. I had no idea. So I went there, and since I’ve gotten a lot of stuff there.
Why do you think you like that brand?
Whatever I like, I like and I stick with it, I guess. I’m always looking for purple or pink frames, but it’s hard to find any. They don’t seem to make any for men in those colors.
That’s a shame. You have a right to purple glasses.
I know, I don’t understand. I’m always frustrated that women’s colors are more my style in sneakers or anything, like the women get all the good colors and men get what’s left over or something.
It’s really unfair.
I don’t know what to do about it.
Hopefully someone reading this article will make it for you. I know you really like Adidas. Are there other sneaker brands that you’re into?
I mean, I like Puma and Vans.
There are sneaker heads out there who will wait outside overnight at some shops when limited edition stuff comes out, and they’ll buy and sell pairs of rare things online for thousands of dollars. Are there any particularly rare shoes you’ve ever bought or at least that you’ve wanted someone to buy for you?
Yeah, I wanted those Ben&Jerry’s dunks that came out. And they were, you know, right as soon as they came out, they were thousands of dollars. I didn’t get up on the Nike app or anything.
That was annoying, but I’ve gotten some Kyrie Patrick Spongebob shoes that are kind of cool.
Are you a big Spongebob fan?
Not really, but I like the shoes. They were pink.
A lot of people start dressing more conservatively as they get older, but you are just rocking more and more bright colors and cooler, cutting edge stuff and moving in the opposite direction. Is that a conscious thing?
I don’t know, it’s kind of. I feel like I’ve dressed a lot crazier when I was younger and then I kind of dulled down for a while and then it’s coming back up, maybe? I looked at some stuff I was wearing, I don’t know, in my worst fashion period. That was maybe around 2000 or something. I just looked uninspired and dull when I look at pictures.
I said to my editor that you look like Odd Future’s cool older uncle. Do you meet people, especially maybe younger people, who are surprised that this is how you dress now?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I’m surprised sometimes that some people like some stuff I’m wearing. I can’t really tell.
Do you ever meet younger people who maybe aren’t fans, and they’re like, “Whoa, you’re wearing those? That’s pretty awesome, dude.”
Yes, mostly that’s kind of random, just like at Target or something, some guy will go “oh, cool shoes” but I don’t think they were fans or anything.
Streetwear is also heavily associated with skateboarding, and a few years ago you shot the video for “Tiny” at a Brooklyn skateboarding park. Are you big into skateboarding?
Yeah, I skated a lot when I was 11 and 12. Tony Alva was kinda my hero back then, right? I haven’t quit really, I just don’t do it that much. I get really envious that there’s a lot of cool skateparks around now that I wish were around when I was a kid.
But do you still occasionally get on the board?
Yeah. I definitely don’t, you know, go into bowls or anything. I feel more breakable for sure.
When Dinosaur Jr. first started, did you think a lot about how you wanted the band to look?
I thought about just myself and the other guys were on their own trips. Lou was into sweaters. My fashion idol was Nick Cave, I guess, when we were starting the band, so I was kind of sticking my hair up gothic-ish looking. And a lot of jewelry, I don’t seem to much anymore, but I had a ring on every finger and a ton of necklaces and beads.
You had a ring on every finger?
That’d be a cool look. You should bring that back. Bring back the necklaces.
It seemed to get harder to wear a ring when I played guitar. It’s kind of like I don’t wear anything on my finger anymore.
Now what kind of necklaces are we talking about? Big chunky ones or little chains?
Usually like some big medallion kind of thing that was hanging from the chamber and then like flowery beads.
That sounds like something a rapper would wear. Then again, so is Adidas. I guess you’ve always had that interest.
Well, more like weird old lady jewelry that I find in the Salvation Army.
When “Feel The Pain” was an MTV hit, and you did the Lollapalooza tour and alternative rock was huge and you were at your maximum level of exposure, how important was your visual presentation when you were doing public appearances and playing big shows?
Yes, I would like to get stuff made, like jackets and stuff, when I was going to be on a TV show or I wore a Paul Smith suit that had cow patterns on it, but it was blue and black. I would just kind of get things for TV things, but playing live on stage I wouldn’t dress up much. I remember we played in suits on Jon Stewart’s show, that was fun.
You don’t seem like a suit guy.
We like suits, and we’d look for special occasions to wear them at.
Do you talk to the guys in the band at all about dressing up these days, or are they on their own?
They are really on their own. We don’t have anything in common with clothes.
Do they ever comment on how you dress?
Yeah, like, I think Lou sometimes when we got back together said, “If I had my way, no one would wear band t-shirts in the band” and I think, again, maybe sneakers on stage, too. That was something when I played with Ron Asheton from The Stooges. He would be mad if I wore sneakers on stage.
What’s Ron’s problem?
It’s frowned upon in some circles. You’re supposed to wear shoes like Beatle Boots.
Are there any fashion rules you personally have for what you wear on stage?
Definitely not shorts. I like wearing shorts a lot, in the summer, but not on stage.
Right, a lot of people feel that way.
I think it’s a good move.
You mentioned Nick Cave, who are some of the other musicians you’ve looked to throughout your life, like that’s a fashionable person and I kind of want to look like them?
It could just be like I remember after Nick Cave, I saw some kid at college walking around with a flannel shirt, Doc Martens, and long hair. That’s when Doc Martens were hard to get. I saw that as “ok, that’s going to be my next look.” I saw that as the blueprint for my next stage, or whatever. I was into what Keith Richards would wear. Lemmy, I was into his clothes.
There’s an episode of Gilmore Girls wherein the punk rock character Jesse wears a t-shirt that’s the cover of the Green Mind album. It’s since become a recurring object of fascination amongst Gilmore Girls fans.
Yeah, I was really into the Gilmore Girls. That was a great show.
Were you excited when you saw Jesse wearing it?
Yeah, but I wish I’d gotten to be on the show like Sonic Youth got to be on the show. I did get some Gilmore Girls American Apparel sweatpants, I guess when they ended the show, they had these sweatpants and gave them to everyone on the crew and the lady knew that I was into it. I think she gave them to Kim Gordon to give to me.
The last time I saw Dinosaur Jr. I noticed you were selling the Green Mind t-shirt at the merch stand. Did the Gilmore Girls bump make your fans want to cop that one?
Yeah, I mean we’ve been selling that.
Well thank you for talking with me. My last question is, do you consider yourself a fashionable person?
I guess not really. I would like to be, but I just feel like they don’t pay enough attention or something. I dunno.
When you get called a fashion icon, how does it make you feel?
Yeah, I’m into it.