An Interview with Lou Barlow of Sebadoh


This interview was originally published in Skin Flute Music Magazine #2 in 1992. It was conducted about two weeks after they played their show in Knoxville, Tennessee, which I had booked. Overbooked is more like it. It was at this tiny Bar-B-Que restaurant on Sutherland Ave. There must have been about 500 people at a venue that could only squeeze in about a hundred at a time. There was a lot of in-and-out traffic that night.

The band also stayed at my house. It was really weird waking up to see Sebadoh, and saying adios outside their van. At the time I had only put out my first issue of the zine, but I already had found that I preferred to avoid in-person interviews. It just seems foolish with that tape recorder as a constant reminder, and the formality of it all. I also wanted to see them play before trying to come up with questions. Truth is, I think any kind of interview is sort of silly now, but sometimes people say things that are pretty interesting. As it happened, I waited two weeks after they left and then gave Lou a phone call ...

Lou Barlow Skin Flute: Hey, is Lou there?

Lou: Yeah.

SF: Is this Lou?

Lou: Yeah.

SF: Hey, this is Kenny. I'm calling from Knoxville.

Lou: Hi, Kenny, how ya doin'?

SF: Pretty good ... how you doin'?

Lou: Pretty good.

SF: Did you get my message yesterday?

Lou: Yeah I did.

SF: Umm ...

Lou: Could you hold on for a second?

SF: Yeah.

[Long pause ...]

Lou: Hey.

SF: Sorry to bother you.

Lou: Oh no problem, no problem. I'm just hangin' out. Waitin' for someone to call me, actually. I've been getting a lot of phone calls today, so it's perfectly fine.

SF: I just wanted to ask you some questions so I could have something to write about.

Lou: Suuuurrrre. [Sound genuinely pleased here.]

SF: Ahw-right, umm, you and Eric have been together since '85, right?

Lou: Eeyyeah, uh, eighty- ... '86 let's say. We've known each other since '82 or something like that.

SF: And uh, he was on vacation, was it San Francisco?

Lou: Yeah. Yeah.

SF: Just havin' a good time?

Lou: Yeah, he just came back yesterday. We went and picked him up at the airport.

SF: How long has Jason been in the group?

Lou: 'Bout, um, oh god, since, since probably the winter of '89.

SF: Hmm, how did you meet him?

Lou: He knew Eric, and he played locally, and they were like the best, probably the best local band.

SF: What was that?

Lou: They were called Dissident Voices. They kind of sounded like Hüsker Dü but they were all like 14 and 15 years old. They were playing in the area around the same time as Buffalo Tom were, so they were like really similar to Buffalo Tom and they were like, way younger and they were kinda ... they were better. And we saw Jason playing and we were like, holy shit, he can really play. And then it turns out Jason was pretty into, uh, he bought the first Sebadoh tapes we were selling at local record stores for fifty cents, and he bought 'em and he really liked 'em and he was really into Dinosaur, and so, he just got to know Eric by hangin' out, ya know, smokin' dope and drinking with him and stuff. He just got to know him and Eric was like, oh we should get this guy in the band 'cause he's really ... and I saw him play, thought he was really good and he's a really cool guy.

Lou Barlow SF: Was that Jason's first band?

Lou: What, Dissident Voices?

SF: Yeah.

Lou: Yeah, I think so.

SF: What about Eric?

Lou: He was in, oh man he's been in so many bands. He played like, with almost every local band. He even played with Gobble Hoof briefly. They're like a, um, they have a record out. Jay Mascis played drums on the very first Gobble Hoof record. They only have one record out. They're putting out another one, but they're on New Alliance records. They're all local guys from around here. But he played with them and he played with, god, with every single ... tons of bands. Actually Jason played in several bands, too. He played in, like, three bands.

SF: What about yourself, I mean besides Dinosaur, what was before that?

Lou: Ummmmm, Deep Wound. That was a band I played in with Jay, Jay Mascis, too. He played drums and I played guitar. So I've been in three bands, Jason and Eric have played with tons of people. Just, 'cause they lived in North Hampton, and they're both really good players. A lot of people ask them to jam.

SF: What about Bob, does he fill in for Eric a lot?

Lou: Umm, pretty much, yeah, I mean because Eric doesn't like to hang around here too ... too much. So. And Bob's just a really good friend of ours.

SF: Is that Bob Fay from the liner notes on your album there, Sebadoh III?

Lou: The liner notes?

SF: I mean, whatever ...

Lou: The press kit?

SF: No the, it says, it doesn't say "Thanks to", but I guess that's what it's supposed to be.

Lou: Oh that, yeah, yeah. Yeah that's him. That's definitely him.

SF: Is uh, when you guys added a bass player, is that part of your transition from acoustic to electric? Or, or was it just somethin' to ...

Lou: Somethin' to do. Yeah, it was definitely just something to do. Because we didn't like, we didn't make, we haven't necessarily made a transition, it's just that we do whatever we can. Like, I mean, I sort of hope that we keep playing acoustic. Keep doing that. I don't think we've ever made a transition from one to another, but we did when we started. You know, when we got a third person it definitely gave us the ability to play electrically. Electric with two people doesn't really cut it.

SF: You guys aren't even playing any more songs from Sebadoh III, are ya?

Lou: Umm, well not with Bob because we know a lot of songs from Sebadoh III with Eric, but since he was gone and we just didn't want to have to reteach Bob a bunch of songs that Eric played, so we just taught Bob all new songs so we wouldn't have to go back and play old songs. It took a lot to teach all kinds of new songs, though, but we never got around to start teaching him any of our old stuff.

SF: Does the song "Rockstar" have anything to do with Jay Mascis?

Lou: No, not really. It really doesn't, actually. I mean you would think it would, because I definitely have written about him in the past. I mean I'm not particularly embarrassed by writing about anything in my life.

SF: Do you not write about him anymore?

Lou: Not really, no.

SF: You're over it?

Lou: Pretty much, yeah, it's been a while. It's been a really long while. I wrote a lot of songs that could be traced to my, the emotional upheaval of Dinosaur. I would hope that anybody could, anyone who goes through any emotional upheaval and writes any songs, write about what happened to them. It just so happens that mine's a little bit more high-profile, I guess.

SF: In the song, "Renaissance Man", where it goes, "Violence is cool, one of two things real" -- what's the other one?

Lou: Sex.

SF: That's what I thought.  [pause]  Umm, you have a new album coming out?

Lou: It's not done. We're gonna start working on it pretty soon.

SF: Have you thought of a name or anything like that?

Lou: Umm, no. We were thinking of "Leave Home".

SF: How's it gonna be different from everything you've done before?

Lou: It'll be more electric. It'll be more electric, totally. Definitely the emphasis will be on electric songs. Well, actually Sebadoh III was pretty electric. This will be even more electric, definitely.

SF: You mentioned the press kit before, that first page, the biography? I was wondering who wrote that.

Lou: Ken Katkin of Homestead Records.

SF: He says in the second paragraph, "Sebadoh are and have always been one of the most conceptual, structured, directed bands around." Is that really true?

Lou: Umm, I'd say that we're pretty conceptual, but the concept is not anything that you could really name or put your finger on.

SF: I think he was talking about the transition from each album, especially Sebadoh III.

Lou: Oh, we definitely try to challenge it. We definitely, like, completely try to challenge ourselves, if that's considered direction, conceptual, then definitely, but as far as like planning everything out and stuff, no way, never. Never, ever, ever.

SF: That's what I thought, I thought it was pretty spontaneous.

Lou: Yeah, it's totally spontaneous. But, I mean, maybe what he was trying to say was that ... trying to make the point that we put an incredible amount of thought into what we do, and we do, but that doesn't in any way make us ... just because we put a lot of thought in it doesn't mean that we plan anything. Do you know what I mean?

SF: Yeah.

Lou: It just means that we ... whatever step we take, we do it, we try to do it, as hard, we try to step as hard as we possibly can.

SF: I heard you guys had a wild show in Chattanooga the day after your show here.

Lou: Yeah, it was totally awesome.

SF: Something about some mind altering substance?

Lou: Oh yeah, I had taken acid for the first time in a couple of years, and I'd taken it pretty well before we started to play, and it was just a beautiful day that day. It was just a really good day for us, because we hadn't really been in warm weather in a while, and it was just really, really warm, nice, everybody was really cool, and um, we just played a really good show. And I was tripping my brains out.

SF: I wish I had gone down there.

Lou: It was really fun. It was a really, really fun show. It was definitely one of the highlights of the tour. Being on acid definitely did not take away from my ability to play and sing my songs, which was really fun.

SF: Have you written songs like that?

Lou: On tripping? No. Never. I mean, drugs are cool, but I can't really realize ideas through drugs. I mean I can get maybe some embryos for ideas, but usually the conception and execution, I'm usually pretty directioned and straight and stuff, but ya know, I have no fear of chemicals, but I definitely would hate to have to rely on them to do anything. I think it's definitely a recreational thing.

SF: Well, anything unusual happened lately?

Lou: Mmmmm, unusual, uhhh, yeah I guess, but I can't think of anything specific. No we just came back from our tour. Oh, some guy from Columbia Records called me today. That's unusual.

SF: What'd he want?

Lou: He wants to sign us.

SF: That's interesting.

Lou: Better not write that down. Yeah, in fact, don't write that, 'cause, like ... could get in a whole lot of trouble, probably. I don't know, it's a really fucked up thing, it's like, 'cause we're just about ready to sign with Sub Pop, and then today, sorta spontaneously, some guy from Columbia called me who really likes Sebadoh. He's never heard our electric stuff, pretty much, which is really weird for me, to think that some guy from Columbia is calling us on the strength of just our records and not, not our ... It's really weird. He didn't seem to be calling us because he thinks we might be the new Nirvana or something, because that's pretty much what major labels are looking for now, the new grass-roots grunge rock band, and he was totally not looking for that at all. He just seemed to be interested in our song-writing and stuff. It was kind of intriguing, so, that was kind of interesting.

SF: But you're planning on signing to Sub Pop, even though that guy called?

Lou: I don't really know, now. See that's why you shouldn't write it down because I don't know what the fuck is going on. We have to talk to some people.

SF: Well maybe I'll call you in a month or so, see what's up with that.

Lou: Yeah, hopefully it'll all be resolved by then, I really hope so. I don't want to spend a lot of time picking over a bunch of bullshit like this, because it is bullshit really. All we want is to get our records out; we don't have to be all tied up in weird litigation. Mediations between record labels -- it's pretty lame.

SF: Well, I guess that's all I was wondering about, ummm. When do you think you might come back to Knoxville?

Lou: I don't know, maybe in a couple of months. Who knows? We're going on tour again in May. We're gonna open for Buffalo Tom on the west coast. And so we'll probably be coming back through the south, going back home from there, so. Our shows in Tennessee were both so much better than I thought they would be, because we sort of thought, like, oh those are the shows that no one's gonna come to, that's okay. But it turned out that, um, you know, it seemed like the Knoxville show worked out pretty well. The Chattanooga show worked out really, really well for the guys who booked it. I guess they actually made money for the first time, which just totally blew me away, because I didn't think any ... because we don't put out grunge records, even though we kind of sound grungy live, we don't put out grunge rock records. I kind of imagine that's what would get people out to see us. I was really surprised.

SF: People are starving for music out here, although it's getting better. Like last night I saw the Meat Puppets. And, uh, there's been, of course I've been bringing some shows in. There's been some pretty good stuff coming in. It's getting better.

Lou: That's cool, yeah, definitely, I really liked the response that we got when we played down there, and in Chattanooga too. People just seemed to be, kind of like, interested, ya know? It was kind of neat, because it's really different when you play in the east and in the midwest. People are a little more, it's like they just stand back and wait for you to impress them. But down there it's just like people just seem to want to see music. It's kinda different, much better. When we play it makes us much more relaxed and just ready to enjoy ourselves rather than try to put across anything really intense and heavy. We just lay back and enjoy ourselves, and play our music. And that's what it's all about, pretty much. It's hard to do that when you play in Boston. It's really weird ... weird vibes.

Sebadoh later signed to Sub Pop, so I figured it was okay to print that stuff about Columbia Records. -Kenric

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