In 1993, the summer before my senior year of high school, my camp buddy Ross Seligman made me a tape that altered the course of my life. Dinosaur Jr.’s Where You Been was on side A and the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray was on side B. I had previously never even heard of either band. Until I popped in that tape, I pretty much exclusively listened to classic rock and grunge. That tape opened me up to seek out new sounds and not just accept the stuff I heard on the radio. Oddly enough, drummer Emmett Jefferson “Murph” Murphy III was in both bands: first with Dinosaur Jr., which he left in 1993 to join the Lemonheads. The original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. reunited in 2005 and have subsequently put out four new albums. In December of 2015, the band played a weeklong run at the Bowery Ballroom to celebrate their 30th anniversary. In a testament to how beloved they are, guest performers included Kim Gordon, Kevin Shields, Jeff Tweedy, Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, Mike Watt, and Henry Rollins, to name a few. I spoke with Murph over the phone about those anniversary shows, touring, and the differences between his famously feuding bandmates, J Mascis and Lou Barlow.
You all are doing a lot of touring behind this new album. Which songs do you see on the setlist and get really excited about?
Murph: Right now, we’re playing “Goin Down” and “Tiny” [from the new album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not]… We have to kind of relearn the new songs, believe it or not, because we recorded so long ago.
Who writes the setlists?
J does, but it’s interesting—I was thinking about that the other day. When we first got back together ten years ago, we would all kind of make a group effort to write the setlist. Then somehow it just kind of morphed back into J doing it. I don’t know why that is, if we just got lazy and it was easier for him to do it.
With the new record, were you writing your own parts, or is that a J thing as well?
Because J is a drummer, the way he writes the songs, the drums are so specific, literally, to how he is strumming the guitar that the parts, they’re kind of intertwined. He’ll literally be writing snare and kick drum patterns to what he’s strumming on the guitar. That’s just kind of how he’s always done it. I’ll vary fills and breaks and stuff, but core beats always have to be exact because of how he writes the songs.
What’s the last drummer you’ve seen live who just blew you away?
We were just in Japan and saw At the Drive In. And that drummer [Tony Hajjar] was really good. I was impressed. He was really good. My tastes musically are kind of different. I still go see drum clinics to see drummers. I went to see Dave Weckl this past winter in New York in this little jazz club and it was just drums, guitar, and bass, and that just blew me away. It was this crazy jazz fusion trio.
The Bowery Ballroom shows looked pretty incredible. What are some of your favorite moments from those shows?
Oh my God, that was amazing. Getting Henry Rollins on stage to sing “Don’t” was just like insane. We had done the Bug tour five years ago. We did eight shows on the West Coast and eight shows on the East Coast. And when we did the West Coast shows, Henry came with us on the bus and we got to hang out with him. And we would ask him, “hey, you wanna get up there?” and he was really explicit, like “no, I don’t do that anymore. I’ll do my spoken word, but that’s it. I’m really just a fan and I have no desire to get up there and perform.” So when he was like, “yeah, I’ll get up there and do that song,” it was just like, wow. So that was amazing and having Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine… we’re all such fans of those guys, but then when we ended up playing one of Kevin’s songs, that was like a dream come true for me to play a My Bloody Valentine song.
Were you surprised at how beloved the band was?
Yeah, I was blown away, man. I was kind of in awe. Especially because J is such a mystery, even to us. J and our manager just kind of compiled a list of people and they would ask us, “hey, do you have any people?” and Lou and I would drop some names in. But the band didn’t sit around and go “gee, let’s make a list.” It wasn’t like that. And so literally, even Lou and I didn’t even know who was showing up until the final week.
What name jumped off the page where you were most surprised they were gonna be there?
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, I didn’t realize, that was pretty wild. Some of the women singers were J’s friends that I didn’t even know who they were. Like Sharon Van Etten. I had known who she was, but I was surprised that she was coming up.
To finish this interview, instead of me asking you about the famous fights between J and Lou, I’d like to do a Lightning Round called “J or Lou?” You ready?
Who would win in a bareknuckle fight? J or Lou?
Who enjoys backstage food more? J or Lou?
Who’s a snazzier dresser? J or Lou?
Who watches more TV? J or Lou?
Who would win in a footrace? J or Lou?
Who snores more? J or Lou?
Who has stranger superfans? J or Lou?
Who’s better at remembering your birthday? J or Lou?
Dinosaur Jr. will be at Tipitina’s on Wednesday, September 14 with Elisa Ambrogio. For more info, check out dinosaurjr.com.