13 September 2006

EAR FARM interviews Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein from Sebadoh

In 1991 Sebadoh released Sebadoh III and the album, the band, helped lay the foundation for everything "indie" that has come since. On the record the three members of the band (Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney, and Jason Loewenstein) traded instruments and song-writing duties and created one of the great albums of the '90s. A month ago Domino released a fantastic remastered version of the album with a bonus disc of extra tracks and I was offered the chance to interview Jason and Lou.

EAR FARM: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions here. I've been a Sebadoh fan for 14 years and yet I've never really stopped listening to your music. Other than for this reissue of Sebadoh III, do you guys ever find yourself listening to Sebadoh albums?

    Lou Barlow: Not really...not yet...I have too many regrets these days. I don't hear what things are, I hear what they could have been, and it's just painful. III is fairly regret free for me though...

    Jason Loewenstein: Usually only when I forget the songs and have to make notes / refresh my memory. I have listened to the first two a few times... (ones that I didn't have anything to do with) I was listening to those a lot before I ever was in the band and I still think they are amazing.
EF: What was the process like having three distinct songwriters in the band?
    Jason: It was like, bring what you want to rehearsal and we'll play it. For me it was kind of scary because Lou and Eric were way ahead of me in terms of songcraft and confidence, and they were older.

    Lou: Dude writes song, dude enlists band or records song himself...or both...each dude decides what songs of his own he wants on the record...record is done. We never vetoed each other.
EF: Did you ever find yourself being influenced by the song writing of the other guys?
    Lou: Sure, can't give any examples though.

    Jason: Yes. I was a fan of Sebadoh before I was in the band. I am influenced by what I like! (Also by what I don't like.)
EF: Sebadoh III is one of my favorite albums of the '90s...what's your favorite record of the '90s?
    Lou: Eva Luna by Moonshake

    Jason: Heres a few...Slint - Spiderland, Frogs - It's Only Right And Natural, Unwound - Repetition, Royal Trux - Cats and Dogs, Crain - Speed, Pavement - Perfect Sound Forever, Wingtip Sloat - 4 Song EP (7"), Unsane - Unsane, Public Enemy - Fear Of a Black Planet
EF: It seems to me, that as time has passed, the critical appreciation of Sebadoh has gotten greater...what do you guys see as Sebadoh's place in rock history?
    Lou: Greater, really? I think we have been marginalized...our records never show up on any lists, desert island or otherwise...the more time that passes the less impact we seem to have had simply because there has been an avalanche of great indie style music since 2000 that outsells anything Seb managed in the day. I'm thinking Death Cab, Fiery Furnaces, Shins etc... Sebadoh were not a Rock band in the sense that we never found our sound, never tried to be 'consistent'. We were too informal to have a place in 'rock history'. We inspired alot musicians, which was really all we were out to do...affect people the way we were affected by the Minutemen, Meatpuppets (pre-90's)...weird bands that flew way under the radar.

    Jason: With due respect to your question, I dont feel like I can answer that! I think that kind of self analysis is dangerous for anyone. You can end up with a big head, or suicidal, or somewhere in between. I think I will leave that up to the sands of time, or when I decide to fully indulge a full blown mid-life crisis.
EF: Are there more rare Sebadoh tracks that might see the light of day on future reissues?
    Lou: Yes?

    Jason: Possibly. Sebadoh pretty much released everything that we recorded, so rarities are a bit of a problem.
EF: Who would win in a biggest bong hit contest: Sebadoh or Pavement?
    Jason: I believe that Sebadoh would win with regard to the marijuana. We were very diligent.

    Lou: Seb could outsmoke Pavement but they could beat us in Scrabble. They went to college, we did not. Not one of us.
EF: Being tape lovers (and Eric a former 'zine writer), what are your thoughts on the current music scene/MySpace generation of bands who have tools like digital 8 tracks, Pro Tools at home, and the internet/blogs as free PR?
    Lou: Knock yourselves out. I think it's even more democratic and fan-centric than our era and there's nothing wrong with that. It's the logical progression of indie-rock...truly independent.

    Jason: I think it is evolution! It is just another step in the adaptation of art to technology. It's not perfect, but it puts the control in the hands of "the people" and not the business end of media outlets and record companies. It is great that just about anyone now can get the means to make stuff and distribute it, but that means that there is infinitely more shit to have to sort through for the listeners. And most people are pretty lazy! (Ask me how I know.) It's just as hard now to find good stuff as ever, cause there is a proportionate amount of drivel out there. I guess blogs are pretty important as a filter... Blog writers are the new opinionated record store clerks of the interweb, sometimes helping steer people in the direction of what floats in this ubiquitous log jam of mp3's and MySpace sites.
EF:The kind of music Sebadoh made was always very free...emotive, creative and then balls out rocking too. Yet, the times I saw you guys the audiences were more of the jaded indie-rock fan ilk. Did you ever find yourselves wanting to jump off the stage and shake people and tell them to enjoy the good music?
    Jason: There have been many instances of Sebadoh members chastising audience members for a plenitude of inappropriate behaviors. I have seen footage of Lou hitting a guy with his guitar at a solo show, seen (in person) Lou pouring beer on the head of front row troublemakers, stopping shows because the noise level of people taking in the club made it impossible to go on... We were fairly verbose onstage and had no problem singling people out. In the beginning, it was really part of what we were up to. A sort of inclusive punk aesthetic in my opinion. It seemed like there was ALOT more audience participation in those days. I rarely see a band address the audience in a manner that would inspire any discourse. It appears that communication between audience and band is basically nonexistent, unless it is in a real showbiz kind of way... "So how are y'all doing tonight?"... that kind of B.S. We used to NEVER play exactly the same setlist from night to night, and at first there was ALOT of improv.

    Lou: I fought with audience members alot in the beginning. Indie snobs are the worst. I should know, I was one of them. But I never assumed I was making 'good music', I just hated pretentious f's who gave me hard time.

    Jason: Back in the beginning, people would tell us what they thought of us (usually negative) and we would argue, and feed off the tension in the room to play more. Sometimes the arguments would inspire really aggressive improv jams, but the mood of the room ALWAYS affected how we played the songs. I was friends with guys from Louisville who had a band called "The Web" who opened up for Seb in Detroit years ago... They were great, ahead of their time, and a few very vocal and respect-less shitheads were not into it and began to SPIT on the singer. My wife went backstage and grabbed an entire tray full of deli meats and cheeses and threw it on the head of the spitting guy. He, of course, started yelling obscenities at my future wife and I jumped into the crowd to defend her and the bands honor. I landed right on my back and had to be dragged out of the crowd with these guys kicking me all the way. You can't force someone who is addicted to their close mindedness to quit. They have to want to quit. Sometimes the friends and family members of addicts need to have an intervention, but this is very rare.
EF: Lastly, word is that Sgt. Pepper's... was a kind of response to the greatness of Pet Sounds and my research led me to believe that the same could be said for Sebadoh III. Was it in fact a creative response to Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814?
    Lou: Uh...more like a response to Royal Trux. They were making the sprawling f-ed up masterpieces I aspired to back then. Love some vintage Janet though. Have they reissued that yet?

    Jason: Knowing what you DON'T want to do is the other, very important 1/2 of knowing what you WANT to do, or inspiring the feeling that you HAVE to do something! There are alot of good bands that site the negative and uncreative onslaught of commercial music as an inspiration to "take up arms" (guitars). Things were just as bad on commercial radio back then as they are now... So how about getting it together, you lazy bastards! Trade your mouse / keyboard in for a distortion pedal and a guitar. Please. And stop sampling everything. Christ.
Amen. Sebadoh is a band that made music that truly mattered. If not to you, it mattered a whole lot to jerks like me. Know what I mean? I sincerely recommend you pick up Sebadoh III and find out for yourself. Thanks to Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein for taking the time to talk to EAR FARM. It made my day (month) and I hoped you enjoyed reading their responses to my silly questions.

Listen to Sebadoh on the Domino Music Player.

BUY the reissue of Sebadoh III HERE.

Read what Pitchfork said about the Sebadoh III reissue.

Visit Sebadoh on MySpace.

(the picture posted above is Sebadoh's first promo photo at Eric's garage in Florence, MA. 1990)