Interview With Lou Barlow
Lou Barlow has been a fixture on the indie scene since the mid 1980s, when he began playing with a teenage J Mascis in the hardcore band Deep Wound. This partnership eventually became Dinosaur Jr., one of the most influential bands to record for SST during its heyday. After Bug, the follow up to the classic You're Living All Over Me, Barlow split to form Sebadoh with Eric Gaffney. Characterized by extreme eclecticism and a sound that ranged from sweetly acoustic to ragged and noisy, Sebadoh was as well-known for its music as its unpredictability. After recording seminal albums such as Sebadoh III and the mainstream near-successes of Bakesale and Harmacy, Sebadoh went on hiatus after 1999's The Sebadoh.
During all of this, Barlow made solo recordings under his Sentridoh moniker and released several records with his partner John Davis as Folk Implosion, which even resulted in Top 40 hit "Natural One". Barlow has also relocated to L.A. from western Massachusetts, and has begun posting various bits of music, film, and writing on his website, www.loobiecore.com. I caught up with him recently to see what was going on with Sebadoh, how he kept himself busy, and where he saw himself in the music scene.
Jason Dungan: Maybe to start, could you talk a little about the status of Sebadoh? Is the band finished, or is it just on the shelf for a while?
Lou Barlow: Definately on a shelf, I try to keep it dusted…y'know, Jake's doing his own thing, I've got a new Folk Implosion. It's now the Time When We Do Other Things For Awhile..TWWDOTFA...Sebadoh's popularity nosedived after The Sebadoh so it's not like we feel exactly welcome back. There's no nostalgia yet either. We'll see…the real reason Sebadoh isn't together is that we live thousands of miles apart and don't have the $$$$ to commute like we used to.
JD: You seem to be focusing on solo acoustic stuff and a new lineup of the Folk Implosion. Are these your main focus now, and what kind of "direction" is the F.I. record taking? Is the solo work more of the main outlet for the kind of stuff you did with Sebadoh?
LB: Uh...N.F.I. feels like a combination of Sebadoh and old F.I...some rock, some acoustic , some sample-driven. I always had Sentridoh as an outlet for acoustic home-recorded stuff.
JD: For a while now, you've been working on your site, putting up old/new songs, photos, films. How is this affecting the music you're working on? Does being in LA affect things?
LB: I've been here for four years now, so I barely remember what it was like before. L.A. is f-n weird. But, y'know, like any place you eventually find your level and that's what's going on. I'm finding my way…it's definitely been a humbling journey.
I just feel more involved having a site. It inspires me to finish things (not easy after 15 years of success and disappointment). It's an outlet, it's fun. I'm not sure what the future will bring, but, certainly, having a site and taking control is a good idea.
JD: There are several bands, like yourself, Sonic Youth, Yo la Tengo, etc. who've been around for awhile, in some cases 15 or 20 years. I don't know if I really have a specific question concerning this, but I'm interested in how the process of making music changes during this time, and how you approach just sitting down and writing a song if it's something you've been doing for a while, what kind of changes you try to introduce. I'm also interested in how you feel that the "scene", for lack of a better word, has changed since you started playing.
LB: Oh, that's complicated. I write songs anyway I can and always have. I have no method and if I think I do, I STOP immediately. Like they have from the beginning, songs just rise up, take shape from melodies that pop up whilst showering, or the first thing that I sing when I pick up a guitar, or the ghost I hear in an instrumental or a sample.
I think bands have their shit together much more these days. In my day, indie rock was an excuse to be kinda half-assed, casual…it was a reaction to glam metal, goofy new wave pop shit and prog rock. Now the kids are too young to remember that and/or have different reference points, so it's cool to be INTO IT again, work on your live show (and i don't mean the *STAGE* show, I mean merely knowing your songs). Bands are taking the best bits of 90's indie and mixing it with the sounds and look from the 70's and early 80's that seem as mysterious and magical to them as the 60's did to me. I'm buying more records these days, and actually listening to them.
JD: Could you go into a little more detail about the new record, how it came about, the recording process, what plans you have for the new F.I.?
LB: Well, I've been trying to get it together for a long while, John Davis left the band three years ago but had given me his blessing to go ahead without him. I started in late 2000 sometime, working with Wally Gagel, who had recorded Natural One, Dare To Be Surpised and One Part Lullaby. I enlisted Russ from Sebadoh [and] we generated a dozen or so instrumentals over a few months, but nothing that really excited me. I think I underestimated how tired and lost I felt, with John leaving, Sebadoh fizzling out…I just wasn't into it, [and I] felt ambivalent about using samples for the primary percussion…most importantly I couldn't manage to write any lyrics I was happy with or that I felt could stand up to previous efforts.
In March 2001, the Melvins asked Russ and I to tour with them either as Sebadoh or Folk Implosion. We then decided to get Russ's partner in Alaska! (ed. – the band, not the state), Imaad Wasif down to L.A., learn a few things from the F.I. catalogue and do the tour. This worked really well, [and] I knew that Imaad would be an excellent collaborator and we started to write songs that summer and in between Alaska! engagements, the new Folk Implosion took shape. We recorded in the winter of 2001 with Mickey Petralia. [We] recorded five songs, kept two. We slowly pieced them together into 2001…then we got dropped by Interscope, who were trimming their roster. This worked to our advantage really as the band was drastically changing and I really didn't want to answer to anyone as I tried to write and craft the next record. There was lotsa money problems and legal hangups for spring/summer 2002. In the meantime, Alaska! finished their cd, and it's f-in’ GOOD. Finally this August, we got a new label under modest terms and with a healthy hands-off policy. We finished mixing the two songs we did with Mickey, both songs 5-minute-plus rock epics (if I may say so), within a day of that we were at the Ship with Aaron Espinoza, recording five more songs – two acoustic based, three electric. We recorded and mixed in two weeks. Next week I plan to finish two sample-based songs I started at home, bringing them to Wally Gagel to add a bit of the old-school Folk Implosion flavor. Which will bring it full circle. Overall, the album sounds strangely consistent with the F.I. sound but maybe a bit Sebadoh-esque too…I like to call it THE NEW FOLK IMPLOSION!!!
JD: Since we recently passed the anniversary of 9/11, I was wondering if you had any thoughts about what's going on. One thing it's made me think of is how non-political most music is today.
LB: I have nothing to say about that day that wouldn't sound trite, really, but I will say as GW Bush shows his true ignorance and the military industrial complex kicks into high bloody gear, we'll start to shake of that dazed feeling. Especially if they go after Saddam again…ugh.
JD: Most of the bands you've been in have featured two or even three contributing songwriters. In Dinosaur, it seemed that collaboration was a point of contention; by contrast, Sebadoh was democratic to an extreme, lending the early records in particular a unique feel. You've never really been in a band that was just your songs and some backup. Could you talk about collaboration in a band, the different dynamics of the bands you've been in?
LB: Dinosaur was J's band, I willingly took a back seat. J was, to his credit, very cool with me contributing to You're Living All Over Me. I just wasn't his friend and I have difficulty sharing with people who don't like me, or me them. I like collaborating when it's possible. In fact it's the only thing that makes being in a band worthwhile to me – fostering friendships and encouraging independence, keeping things creative for everyone. This is the most important thing to me, far more than getting popular or being recognized as a songwriter. I've felt this way since beginning Sebadoh and the new Folk Implosion reflects that as well (though I'm the primary singer, 80% of the songs were written as a group).
JD: Speaking of that, what are Eric Gaffney and John Davis doing these days?
LB: Dunno, making music hopefully.
JD: To finish, could you give us a list of 10 or so records you're listening to right now?
Lou Barlow / Folk Implosion is on tour now. View dates and other Barlow news at www.loobiecore.com.
By Jason Dungan