Mike Johnson is well known for his work on four Dinosaur Jr. records, but he's completed an equal number of solo efforts for Up Records over the last eight years and made significant contributions to records by Mark Lanegan and Caustic Resin--as well as the occasional appearance with Queens of the Stone Age. His baritone voice is dark and Turkish-coffee rich--which can be intimidating--but he was actually quite sweet when I spoke with him. Johnson plays a solo set with his former Dinosaur Jr. bandmate J Mascis at the Tractor Wed May 29.
So your next solo record is done now? "Yes. It should be out on Up Records in August. I recorded it with Phil [Ek] at Jupiter and Avast. It's myself, Jim [Roth] on bass, Jason Albertini from Duster on drums and piano, and Bret [Netson] from Caustic Resin playing some guitar and singing."
At this point do you feel like people perceive you as an individual artist in your own right or does the Dinosaur Jr. history still follow you around? "I don't think anyone perceives me as anything anymore, really. I kind of feel like I'm starting over."
Really? "Yes, and I think that's a good thing."
That's nice. It must have been annoying to constantly be asked whether J Mascis is really a prick--stupid stuff like that.... "[In the past] there's definitely been an emphasis on the Dino thing--it'd be nice not to have to talk about that anymore. [Laughs.]"
What do you get out of playing with Caustic Resin? It seems dramatically different from your quieter solo stuff. "I actually think they're the same in a weird way, and I think Bret does too. They're both kind of dark. The first time I heard Caustic Resin, I was like, 'Oh my God, there's a rock band that does it right!' You know? I think in a strange way we're starting to cross-pollinate. My music is becoming more like his and vice versa."
So what can people expect with your set at the Tractor? "I think I'm going to have a band. I think it's going to be myself, Jim, Jason, and Jeremiah [Green, of Modest Mouse]--if I can round them up. We've practiced, but who knows--it might just be me."