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Dinosaur Man Readies Witch's Brew

J Mascis gets behind the kit for hard-rocking side project

February 14, 2006 1:20 PM ET

Dinosaur Jr. singer/guitarist J Mascis might have recently finished a successful reunion tour with his band -- and lined up another round of dates next month -- but that hasn't stopped him from delving into other projects. His latest, a Seventies-inspired hard rock band called Witch, finds Mascis teaming with longtime friend Dave Sweetapple, as well as Asa Irons and Kyle Thomas, members of the Vermont-based folk outfit Feathers. Witch will release their self-titled debut on March 7th.

In a change of roles, frontman Mascis gets behind the drum kit for his new group. "It's my first instrument, so it's fun for me to play," he says. "And if I'm going to play drums, I just like to play whatever I feel like -- I don't want to be like a drum machine."

In another departure, Irons and Thomas find themselves leaving the airy folk of Feathers behind to rock . . . hard. For folks used to the likes of the autoharp and the dulcimer -- and who have opened for new folk royalty like Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Sufjan Stevens -- this is new territory. "I'm not a big fan of the autoharp," jokes Mascis.

He and bassist Sweetapple had seen Feathers perform several times, "and we just thought it was kind of odd that they were so mellow, yet they were so young. We thought, 'You're only, like, twenty-something-years-old. Don't you want to rock?'" So together, they formed the new outfit, eventually cutting a record with producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Son Volt).

Mascis says Witch's hazy sound, which has earned comparisons to Black Sabbath, was mainly inspired by Los Angeles Eighties metal band Saint Vitus. Their lyrics, penned by Thomas, are packed with mystical references. Mascis, now an elder statesman of indie rock, says, "It seems like a lot of the kids in that scene know a lot of really obscure stuff."

Witch plan to tour behind the album, but, for now, Dinosaur Jr. is the priority. Mascis claims the band even plans to write new material.

"We're playing pretty well, and, since we grew, we learned how to play together," he says of Dinosaur. "I think we've got a certain power that a lot of bands don't have, and we're pretty tight. Dinosaur's a lot more of a machine at this point."

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Song Stories

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Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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