Lou Barlow revisits Sebadoh’s past and talks about its future

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Lou Barlow performing at the Tractor Tavern. Photo by Laura Musselman

As one-third of Dinosaur Jr and one-third of Sebadoh Lou Barlow is an indie rock icon, with an emphasis on the rock.

He helped forge one of the greatest guitar-driven indie bands of the Alternative Nation, and then after leaving Dinosaur Jr due to tensions with Dinosaur songwriter J Mascis he continued his career with Sebadoh and created a string of influential cult albums in III, Bakesale and Harmacy.  The latter two albums are getting the deluxe reissue treatment starting with Bakesale which is being reissued by Sub Pop on April 4. The album will contain 25 bonus tracks and Sebadoh is launching a tour, which lands at Neumos Saturday night ($15, 9 p.m.), to support the release.

“I had a really good time making that record. It was a good time for me personally,” Barlow said about Bakesale during a phone interview from his California home. “The songs are really airtight. They are perfectly short and I was really in a good spot writing lyrics. It was a very, very direct writing process and I can hear that when I listen to that album.”

Harmcy on the other hand is a bit of a different story for Barlow. The record continues the classic Sebadoh lo-fi sound and is still considered one of the band’s best records by fans but the tumultuous circumstances surrounding its release after Bakesale’s success impacted Barlow.

“There were just a lot expectations around that record. We had a lot of pressure early on to … step up and make a full-bodied rock album,” Barlow said.

“We had so much attention around us at that time. We were on the covers of magazines, there was an article in Rolling Stone. There were just a lot of expectations to sell a lot and the album really didn’t sell. By not selling a lot we became this failure within the record company and the insiders  and it was really hard for me to wake up to reality because everything leading up to that with Bakesale, we really were just kind of cruising. We were just playing the music and not concerned with that sort of record label stuff and Harmacy is sort of where all that shit caught up to me and it effects how I look back on that time.”

The lackluster response to the album led Barlow down the cliched rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of drugs and depression.

“It’s totally like a VH1 sort of thing. I even started doing drugs back then too. I was snorting speed and drinking hard alcohol. During Harmacy all of that stuff just sort of happened and it was really heartbreaking,” he said.

In 2007 Sebadoh performed a string of reunion shows after not playing together for nearly a decade but Sebadoh didn’t play a lot of material from the Bakesale and Harmacy sessions. So what should fans expect as party of the Bakesale/Harmacy tour?

“I’m not sure. We’re just playing songs from those two records but there aren’t really any rules about it,” said Barlow. “We are going to try to focus on that style from that period. We kind of turned into almost this sort of straightforward pop-punk band back then. I’m anxious to revisit that to see what kind of power we can infuse into that music now that we’re a bit older and wiser.”

Barlow said he is ready to fill the demand for classic Sebadoh now that the band members are older and wiser and have learned from their past mistakes.

“The idea of things being revisited and rediscovered, like Bakesale, isn’t hard for me to believe. To me it’s not that extraordinary for things to be rediscovered. Every twenty years or some somebody digs a shovel into the ground and digs up old dirt and this time it’s Bakesale. We’re just brushing the dust off and breaking it out again because that’s what music fans will do and we’re a band for music fans,” he said.

With a tour underway and reissues being made available to rekindle interest in Sebadoh and possibly introduce the band to a younger audience, will there be a new album and a full-fledged comeback similar to what happened with Dinosaur Jr?

“I think we have it in mind but I don’t know,” said Barlow. “With Dinosaur it’s easier to make stuff happen because there is so much money involved. We have record labels that give us money and we can afford to create music … But when it comes to Sebadoh and my own things we are much more basic. We don’t have a lot of wiggle room financially so we have to keep things realistic and pragmatic.”

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 13 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and former editor of the defunct music site Ear Candy.