Under The Radar Magazine Norman Reedus vs. J Mascis
He fearlessly stares down sociopathic killers and hordes of zombies every week as the crossbow-wielding, motorcycle-riding Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead, but Norman Reedus readily admits that what really makes him nervous is the idea of talking to legendary Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis. In truth, Reedus has a reason to be nervous; Mascis is a notoriously difficult interview, typically speaking slowly and with little enthusiasm, elaborating very little in his answers, and giving every indication that he'd rather be doing anything but talking to you. But if Mascis is hard to impress, he quickly warms to Reedus, even asking himquestions by the end of the interview.
Though they've never met, Reedus and Mascis have already worked together, in a sense: Reedus stars as an abusive drug dealer in 2013 indie drama Sunlight Jr., a film for which Mascis did the soundtrack. But even though Reedus and Mascis are just now becoming personally acquainted, Reedus has been living with Mascis' music for most of his life. As an insecure 20-something, Reedus found comfort in playing Dinosaur Jr.'s classic "Feel the Pain" on repeat, just as today he uses tracks from Mascis' 2011 solo album Several Shades of Why—"Very Nervous and Love," in particular—to prepare for emotionally raw scenes on The Walking Dead. But if Reedus uses Mascis' music to get into character, does that mean Daryl Dixon would be a J Mascis fan? Probably not, Reedus admits, explaining that he pegs Daryl as more of a Motörhead kind of guy. "He's probably listening to whatever his brother was listening to, like heavy metal," he says. "But sometimes I do Daryl, and sometimes I do me."
The Walking Dead will return to AMC this fall and Reedus' photo book, The Sun's Coming Up... Like a Big Bald Head, is out now. Mascis' new solo album, Tied to a Star, is due out this summer on Sub Pop.
Norman: I'm doing good. I'm in Georgia, out here in the woods. It's nice.
J: Oh yeah?
Norman: Yeah, it's beautiful out here. Where are you?
J: I'm at home. Amherst, Massachusetts.
Norman: Oh, cool. Well, I know you worked on Sunlight Jr. with [director] Laurie [Collyer]. What was that like?
J: Oh, it was cool. I've known her for a little bit, and she just asked me to do it. Luckily, she liked most of the stuff I would do, so I didn't have to keep going back and try to fix stuff.
Norman: I thought it was great. It was such a new, refreshing musical approach. How does that work for you? Do you watch scenes and then come up with songs? Or did you read a script and have songs already made?
J: I just watched the movie and would write to the scenes. That's the easiest way, I think.
Norman: Nice. Did you and Laurie collaborate with stuff? Or did she just say, "go for it?"
J: No. She had some other guy in there who wanted me to do a few things over again or something. But it was pretty good.
Norman: Oh, wow. Hey, I wanted to ask you about your meditation process, and I know you have a guru that you work with. I was talking to Kim Gordon, and I was saying, "Hey, I know you know J. What are some good questions I can ask him? I'm a big fan of his." And she brought up your guru, which I find really fascinating.
J: Oh, yeah. I haven't meditated too much since I had a kid. That has taken a lot of my spare time. But, yeah, I still go see [Mata Amritanandamayi, aka Amma] and she just had a 60th birthday—a big thing in India that I went and played at. That was cool. There were all these different musicians and dance troupes who are big in India, so it was really interesting to see that. I had to follow this circus act where a guy had a pot on his head and he was blindfolded, and he had a machete and he chopped a coconut in half that was sitting on some other guy's head. So that was kind of hard to follow.
Norman: That is awesome! [Laughs] The other guy had a coconut on his neck and he took the machete and cut the coconut?
J: Yeah, the blindfolded guy chopped the coconut in half while it was sitting on the other guy's neck. And he chopped some other stuff, some other fruits that were near his genital region. They did a lot of crazy stuff. That was a weird act to follow.
Norman: And then what? You just plugged in and played?
J: Yeah. I have a few friends who are also into Amma—a drummer from L.A., Herb [Graham, Jr.], and this guy [Mikko von Hertzen], who is actually a rock star in Finland, he played bass. I was surprised that they had a Marshall [amplifier] in India, so they just cranked it up. And we were right next to Amma while she was hugging people. That's her main thing. She hugs people. So thousands of people line up, and she had already been up for 22 hours straight, doing this on her birthday. And then we plug in and starting blasting away a few feet from her head. It was kind of weird, but she seemed into it.
Norman: When are you doing that again, and how do I get there?
J: I don't know [Laughs]. Yeah, it was a pretty wild trip. I only went to India for three days and came home, so I was on the plane most of the time.
Norman: Wow. I've been to India one time, and it wasn't exactly what I expected. It was beautiful, but it left me with this sad feeling, to be honest. Do you go to India a lot?
J: I've been there about six times. I definitely didn't feel sad about it. I definitely felt good when I came home. It seemed like people seemed happier, in a way, where I was. Even though they're pretty poor and everything, the vibe seemed a little happier somehow.
Norman: I went over with an ex-girlfriend, so maybe that had something to do with it.
J: Oh, yeah.
Norman: You've studied with [Amma] for how long?
J: I started in '95.
Norman: Oh, wow. This is one of my questions: why do you think it's important to have a quiet mind? At the same time, your guitars and everything are so loud. Does [meditation] help you get into that? Is it part of the same equation?
J: It can be similar. I can definitely get into a zone, playing that loud. It envelops you, and you're in a certain space. That's pretty cool.
Norman: I was doing all this research on you and stuff, and I found this interview that you did in 1993 with Kennedy from MTV.
J: Oh, yeah. [Laughs]
Norman: Fucking brilliant. She was sitting there blowing bubbles in pajamas with cowboys on them. You looked like you wanted to strangle her.
J: Yeah, I watched that a few years ago when YouTube started posting all that stuff. It seems like I was harder on her maybe than I should have been, but I don't remember what I was thinking. Actually, I remember I ended up going to a party at her house around that time, and that was pretty funny. [It was] when Marilyn Manson... [when] Trent Reznor was bringing him around all these places as his new signing or whatever.
Norman: I remember watching you on [Late Night with] David Letterman and you were playing "Feel the Pain," and you had this guitar strap with the lightning bolts on it and this glittery blue guitar. And I was watching it thinking, "This is probably the coolest motherfucker on the planet." What bands do you like now that are up and coming? I can make a playlist.
J: I don't know... jeez. I've just been listening to Canned Heat lately. I bought this biography of the drummer from Canned Heat. Somehow I'm fascinated by them right now, so I've been listening to them a lot. The guitar player [Alan Wilson] who sang the hits, he died when he was 27. He killed himself, but you don't hear about that as much as, of course, Jimi and Janis.
Norman: Kurt Cobain—was he 27, too?
J: Yeah, I think so.
Norman: Why do you think 27 is the number [when people die]?
J: I guess that's when you...I don't know. I guess that's a depressing year. I understand it. It seems like the point where you just have to turn the corner and do something else than you had been doing. That's probably around the time I was probably the most famous and most depressed. I'm not sure what it is.
Norman: Do you plan on doing more music for films?
J: Yeah, I actually did three things this year. I did a soundtrack for this guy, Krishna Das. He's a big singer for yoga places. He does all this chanting. He's like the biggest guy on the yoga chanting scene. There was a movie about his life, and I did the soundtrack with a friend of mine. And then another Allison Anders movie I did also this year.
Norman: What movie is that?
J: Oh, shit. What was it called? I'm spacing on it now. I forget the title of the movie right now. [It appears that the movie is titled Strutter—Ed.]
Norman: Do you ride motorcycles at all?
Norman: I totally picture you on a motorcycle.
J: Yeah. I know I'd kill myself, so I never got on one.
Norman: Everyone says that, but I bet you wouldn't. I can totally picture you on one. So, I know you played in Williamsburg not too long ago, and the cops shut it down. Is that what happened?
J: Yeah, it was an outside show, and the cops shut it down in like 10 minutes, which was pretty funny, because that was about as long as we wanted to play anyway. It was good timing. We were just jamming, and we ran out of solos to play, and the cops were just like, "Stop! Now!" [Laughs]
Norman: Was it just a noise complaint?
J: Yeah, I guess it was many noise complaints. I was surprised by how fast they got there. Usually, in New York a noise complaint or something, I can't imagine it turning around in like 10 minutes. But they'd had so many complaints that they couldn't tell us to turn it down. We had to stop.
Norman: Have you heard Kim's new band [Body/Head] that she's got going? What do you think of those guys? I keep trying to see them live. I know they just came to Georgia, but I was actually in New York.
J: They're pretty cool. They play around here a lot, and we live in the same town. They'll play in a record store for 20 people. There's a lot of shows like that around here.
Norman: Do you collaborate with a lot of other bands and other artists?
J: Oh, sometimes. If somebody asks me.
Norman: Are there ones that you like best?
J: Well, my favorite album that I've been on is called Upsidedown Cross. That was the band, and I played drums on it. I really liked that album. Those guys are all really twisted—like old punk rock dudes.
Norman: What's your favorite movie?
J: Oh, shit. I don't know. That's a tough one. I guess Harold and Maude and A Clockwork Orange were big when I was 12 or 13. Beyond that, I'm not sure that I have a favorite movie. I liked Evil Dead a lot. And Basket Case.
Norman: I saw Basket Case! I love that you just referenced that. Do you watch our show, by any chance? Do you watch The Walking Dead?
J: Yeah, I've been watching it.
Norman: Are you caught up and stuff?
J: I'm not caught up. I'm on Netflix. I'm not sure where I am on it. What season is it now?
Norman: We just started season four. The premiere was Sunday. Now I'm back in Georgia, and we have three more episodes [to shoot]. It's going great. Would you ever do music for a TV show?
J: Oh, yeah. That would be awesome.
Norman: Really? If I could pull that off, that'd be great. I'd love to have you do that.
J: I'd definitely be into doing some zombie-slaying music. That'd be cool.
Norman: Well, I want to make this brief. I'm a huge fan of yours and I met your wife with Kim at theSunlight Jr. premiere, and she was so sweet...
J: How did you like Sunlight Jr.?
Norman: I loved it, man. It felt like a slice of real life. It felt like you were a fly on the wall of this relationship that was so doomed. And there was beauty in the sadness from time to time, and it just felt so real. And the music that you put to it added to that so much. So many times you watch a film, and someone's asked to do music for it, and they basically just pick songs. It felt like it was your music and your guitar. It felt like you were a part of the film. It felt like it never took you out of the lives of these people—it was so beautifully done. I really loved it. Laurie did such a good job—she's such a good storyteller. And the acting was great. I was just happy to work with all of those people.
J: Yeah, I hope it gets put out or whatever.
Norman: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's getting a lot of buzz right now. But, yeah, I was asking all of my friends, because I get nervous. I've never really done this [interviewing a musician] before. But I was asking my friend, [The Walking Dead co-star] Alanna Masterson, "What kind of questions should I ask? Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" We made this list of questions. They're fucking ridiculous, but I feel like I have to ask.
J: All right. Cool.
Norman: Okay. This is one of those "would you rather" games. I'm going to throw a couple of these at you. Would you rather have vagina on your forehead or a row of penises down your back like a stegosaurus?
J: Oh...I think I'd have the penises on my back.
Norman: That's what I said, too. Okay, here's another one: would you rather fart popcorn or have your past and future web browsing history available to everyone?
J: What was the first one?
Norman: Fart popcorn.
J: Art popcorn?
Norman: No, fart.
J: Oh. Fart popcorn. I'll fart popcorn, I guess.
Norman: Yeah. Me, too. One more: would you rather have sex with a goat and no one knows you did it ornot have sex with a goat and everyone thinks you did it?
J: Oh, definitely have sex with a goat.
Norman: We had all the same answers. Well, J, it was a pleasure. I hope I meet you one day. Like I said, I've been a huge admirer of yours for a long time.
J: Oh, thanks a lot.
Norman: Yeah, "Feel the Pain" was my anthem for a long, long time. I'm a huge fan, and I hope to meet you. I really do. If you ever run into Laurie or any of those people, give them a big hug for me. I'd love to hang out sometime.
J: Yeah, I thought you and Matt Dillon were pretty believable in that movie [Sunlight Jr.]. I was having a little trouble with Naomi Watts as a white trash person, but I thought she did pretty good.
Norman: Oh, really? Yeah, that was such a weird movie, for certain reasons. I'm such a fan of hers, and my first line in that film was "I can smell your pussy through this glass." So every day I was like, "I'm sorry about what I did to you today, and I don't know what I'm going to do to you tomorrow." It was very strange. Matt, I've worked with before on a couple things, and I'm a big fan of his. But dumping garbage on his head while he's in a wheelchair...I felt like I was not the most-liked person on set, though Laurie was loving it.
J: Does that rub off? People on movies think you're an asshole on set just because [your character is]?
Norman: Well, no. Before going in the scene where I first come up to [Naomi Watts] when she's working in the convenience store, I come in, and I was mic'd. So Laurie and the producers were listening on the mic, and I didn't realize they were listening. You kind of forget sometimes. So I was walking around talking to myself going, "pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy," trying to be this white trash asshole.
Norman: And I looked over and realized Laurie was listening, and she has this big smile on her face, like "Thumbs up!" And I was just like "Oh, God. Fuck." Then we did one scene with Matt, where he's in his wheelchair and in his home, coming to get the rent money. And he goes to strangle me, and there was a big trashcan full of garbage next to him, so I adlibbed and grabbed the trash and dumped it all over his head after our little fight, before I left. I don't think he was very happy about that, but we're friends. It was definitely a fun movie. White trash Florida.
J: That's dark, yeah.
Norman: Cool, man. I don't want to take up too much of your time. It was nice to talk to you, and like I said, I would love to meet you sometime. I'm a big fan.
J: Oh, thanks a lot. Good luck with the zombies.
Norman: Thanks, man. I may be trying to track you down.