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April 24, 2004 at 7:37 pm #46924
Lou Barlow talks about Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., autism & lots more from the Providence Phoenix (.com)
Gimme indie rock
Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein reunite in Sebadoh
BY MATT ASHARE
It was just over a year ago that Lou Barlow, the Boston-by-way-of-Northampton indie-rock singer-songwriter who got his start playing bass in Dinosaur Jr., seemed to have given up on Sebadoh, the band whoâ€™d sustained him through much of the â€™90s. Instead, having resettled in LA, heâ€™d turned what had been a side project of sorts â€” the Folk Implosion â€” into a rock trio who resembled Sebadoh in both sound and style. The album they released in March 2003, The New Folk Implosion (Artist Direct), abandoned the folk-hop sampling that gave the old Folk Implosion Barlow had formed in Boston with his friend John Davis a breakthrough hit from the Kids soundtrack (London) in favor of the kind of melancholy, guitar-driven singer-songwriter fare that had been Sebadohâ€™s bread and butter.
But Barlow has always followed his own path, and just when it seemed that Sebadoh were a dead issue, he disbanded the Folk Implosion and reconnected with long-time Sebadoh partner Jason Loewenstein for a loose reunion thatâ€™s now spawned a tour that comes to T.T. the Bearâ€™s this Sunday. And just as the "new" Folk Implosion had mutated into something resembling the old Sebadoh before breaking up, the new Sebadoh bear a striking resemblance to the old two-singers/guitarists-and-a-beatbox Folk Implosion, with Barlow playing acoustic guitar, Loewenstein on bass, and a four-track providing minimalist backing beats.
Whatâ€™s more, this new, two-man incarnation of Sebadoh mirrors the first touring version of the band. Sebadoh were conceived as a trio, with Eric Gaffney (and then Bob Fay) on drums. But when they were invited out on their first tour by Fugazi and fIREHOSE, Gaffney opted out, leaving Barlow and Loewenstein to their own devices. "That was in early 1990," Barlow recalls when I reach him in LA. "And Eric bagged out on the tour only a week or two before it started. So it was just Jason and I, playing acoustic guitar and electric bass, with a tambourine between us that we stomped on. That was the original Sebadoh touring line-up."
The genesis of the current Sebadoh reunion dates back to last year, when Barlow was asked to perform at a series of shows celebrating the 10th anniversary of the British label Domino Records. "The very first release on Domino was the Sebadoh album Bubble and Scrape. So they asked me to play solo at the anniversary event. I was just coming off what turned out to be the last Folk Implosion tour, and Iâ€™d been thinking about Jason a lot. So I called him and asked if heâ€™d be willing to do it as a Sebadoh show. That turned into a tour of England and Holland and Iceland. It all worked out so well that I think we both felt it was something we could do again."
Now the story gets a bit more complicated. As anyone whoâ€™s followed Barlowâ€™s career knows, his departure from Dinosaur Jr. in the late â€™80s was not a pleasant business. He and J Mascis didnâ€™t speak for years. Given Mascisâ€™s misanthropic nature, that might not seem particularly unusual. But Barlowâ€™s bitter feelings about his old pedal-stomping comrade-in-noise surfaced in the Sebadoh song "The Freed Pig" (later covered by the Breeders in a session produced by Mascis) and the single "Gimme Indie Rock," which features a witty and thinly veiled salvo aimed directly at Mascis. It became common knowledge that the Barlow/Mascis friendship had broken down in 1987, a full two years before Barlow was booted from the band. Alternative rock had its own intriguing if ultimately uneventful Everly Brothersâ€“style soap opera.
Yet that feud came to a very rock-and-roll resolution last year when Barlow showed up to see Mascis perform with bassist Mike Watt and former Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton in England. "I apologized to J for yelling at him the last time I had seen him, and we had a nice time together. I even went up and sang with them: we did â€˜1969,â€™ I guess. It was so loud, I couldnâ€™t even hear it. It was so perfect, because I hadnâ€™t been on stage with J in a long time, and nothing had changed: I couldnâ€™t hear anything. I was just screaming my head off. It was pretty funny. I met his girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife. And I got all kinds of backstory on what had been going on. We just hung out. It was like, â€˜Wow, Iâ€™m growing up and this is great.â€™ "
Thatâ€™s bound to conjure visions of a Mascis/Barlow Dinosaur Jr. reunion, but donâ€™t get your hopes up just yet. Barlow points out that he hasnâ€™t even "thought" about anything like that, particularly since he hasnâ€™t had any contact with the bandâ€™s original drummer, Murph. "I donâ€™t know. I just donâ€™t know how realistic it would be. I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s up with Murph. And he was absolutely crucial to the band when I was in it."
Nevertheless, Mascis and Barlow will once again be sharing a stage together, this time a little closer to their original home â€” at a benefit at Smith College in Northampton on April 30. And the Sebadoh tour probably wouldnâ€™t have come about if Barlow hadnâ€™t been invited by, of all people, his mother to play the benefit, which is being headlined by Sonic Youth. "My mother works for a resource center for families with children who have autism out in East Hampton. And through that, she came in contact with J Mascisâ€™s cousin, who has a kid who has autism. So she and a co-worker formulated this idea of having a benefit for the resource center. They were like, â€˜Weâ€™ll ask Lou, and J, and Jason . . . â€™ The way my mother was thinking, there was no issue between J and me. Since we had already patched things up, it really wasnâ€™t all that outrageous that my mother thought she could put a bill together with J and me. And since she was inviting Jason as well, I thought we should just set up another Sebadoh tour around the benefit."
Most of the shows on the 17-date tour, which kicked off in St. Louis on April 19 and ends in Nashville on May 8, sold out well ahead of time. And given how prolific Barlow has always been when it comes to home recording, youâ€™d think the bandâ€™s main American label, Sub Pop, would have some kind of Sebadoh retrospective rarities compilation or box set in the works. But according to the often self-depreciating Barlow, there are major impediments to thatâ€™s happening anytime soon. "Sebadoh were guinea pigs for Sub Pop as far as them flirting with being a major label with Warner Bros. As a consequence, they made a lot of stupid decisions on Sebadohâ€™s behalf, and we went right along with those decisions. So they lost so much money on us. We were willing to do a retrospective of some kind, and they balked because they had to give us money to do it. The Sebadoh catalogue just doesnâ€™t sell. Weâ€™re not Pavement. Our records donâ€™t sell anymore, and there really isnâ€™t the interest. And Jason and I both know from when we went out on tour with our respective bands that thereâ€™s a very limited audience for it. I mean, when Sub Pop says they canâ€™t afford to do one of our records, that tells you something."
But though the audience for solo material by Barlow and especially Loewenstein (who was always an unsung songwriting hero of sorts in Sebadoh) might not be as robust as either would like, the two could be underestimating the Sebadoh allure. Even Barlow admits that "the Sebadoh tour in England was different. We did do a lot of really old Sebadoh stuff, and there were great silences after a number of my songs. But when we finally started playing songs from later records like Bakesale, people went crazy. So itâ€™s pretty clear what people want to hear from us on this tour.
"Jason is making a bit of a compromise because weâ€™re not playing very electric. Even the percussion has no samples or cymbals. So heâ€™s taking a step back to where Iâ€™m really comfortable right now, which is the quieter stuff. But Iâ€™m able to step it up a little bit to play his songs. I donâ€™t know how long this can last, but itâ€™s a happy medium between the loud and the quiet."
In the meantime, Barlow has been putting together what amounts to his first fully produced solo album, which heâ€™s planning to release on the North Carolina indie Merge. "I guess the model for what Iâ€™m doing are the acoustic songs that were on the last Folk Implosion record." Loewenstein has already played on a couple of the tracks, and it seems likely that the two of them will continue to collaborate, whether or not itâ€™s as Sebadoh. "As long as my friendship with Jason is there, Sebadoh is still alive. We just work really well together. I think people donâ€™t realize how many of the songs on albums like Bakesale are Jasonâ€™s: people tend to think that his poppier songs are actually mine, and theyâ€™re not."
The current tour may help clear that up, but Barlow isnâ€™t entirely optimistic. "Someone interviewed me from the Onion yesterday and asked why I donâ€™t collaborate with anyone. I mean, except for my home recordings, all Iâ€™ve ever done up until now has been collaborative. There are a handful of people who have worked with me and left, but itâ€™s always been for personal reasons, not because I donâ€™t collaborate well with other people. Iâ€™m actually very easy to work with. This new album Iâ€™m doing is the first time Iâ€™ve ever done a studio album by myself listening only to my own opinions about stuff. But I guess the perception is that I donâ€™t collaborate well with other people. Itâ€™s kind of depressing. But once I start doing something, I really donâ€™t give a shit about what the perception is."
Sebadoh perform this Sunday, April 25, at T.T. the Bearâ€™s Place, 10 Brookline Street in Harvard Square; call (617) 492-BEAR.
Issue Date: April 23 – 29, 2004April 25, 2004 at 9:28 am #101281
great find, thanks a lot, dB!
very interesting to read Lou’s view about him meeting up with J in London 2002 at the Stooges Tribute gig, about the (im-)possibility of a Dinosaur Jr reunion and about how his mother put the set together for the Smith’s College benefit
also I didn’t know that The (New) Folk Implosion is currently disbanded.
…and obviously, J and Lou are label mates on Merge records now (where also the Dino backissues come out) :):)April 25, 2004 at 11:54 am #101282
Hmm, interesting article neither did I know that The Folk Implosion is disbanded.April 25, 2004 at 1:30 pm #101283
if my memory serves me right, sebadoh is on city slang as well …
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