Once upon a time, there was this hugely influential indie-guitar band from Boston named Dinosaur (Jr.) that was started by Lou Barlow and J Mascis. After Lou got edged out, he went full-time into a side project that's becoming just as influential with low-fi fans everywhere. He started Sebadoh with Eric Gaffney (who left) and Jason Lowenstein (who didn't) and now with Bob Fay, using the simplest of recording means. Even after punk had taught lots of musicians that expert skill wasn't a necessary requirement for bands, Sebadoh led the way for anyone who wanted to use 4-track. After success rehauled Dinosaur, Lou was about to taste it again with his new band. Will success spoil Lou? Will he go in for Phil Spector productions now instead? How obsessive is Lou about age? Will we stop asking stupid questions and let the guy speak for himself? One thing is for sure: thanks to SUB POP.
HOW DID YOU START OUT WORKING WITH J?
J and I started out with Deep Wound about '82 or '83. We met him through an ad. Me and my friend Scott, who I knew at high school, wanted to be in a band and we needed a drummer. We made up an ad and put it in a cool local record store. We said we wanted a drummer who plays really fast and we put down Minor Threat and Circle Jerks and he called. His dad drove him down with his drums and we started a band. Deep Wound broke up because we got out of hardcore and J started playing guitar. He told me to play bass and that was Dinosaur. It was about '84 then. Time went by a lot slower then- a lot things happened that year. It could have been '84 but it was really '85 when we started to kick into it.
SO HOW WAS DINOSAUR DIFFERENT?
Deep Wound was a really fast hardcore band. Dinosaur was really influenced by Neil Young and Black Sabbath and also a lot of... not exactly indie rock, since that wasn't around then. There was stuff like the Birthday Party, Scratch Acid and Sonic Youth.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THOSE EARLY DINOSAUR ALBUMS THAT YOU PLAYED ON WHEN YOU LISTEN TO THEM NOW?The songs are kind of long. I think that J's songwriting is kind of amazing. On the first Dinosaur record, the songs are way too long but the ideas are there. He was really creative then. He had a lot of ideas and he tried to put that through Dinosaur. Really challenging. He kind of slowed down quite a bit after that. I like that records quite a bit. I think they're alright. It always shocks me about how influential Dinosaur really was.
HOW DID THE BAND DEAL WITH ALL THE ATTENTION IT WAS GETTING AFTER THE SECOND ALBUM?
At first we were kind of thrilled because we thought YOU'RE LIVING ALL OVER ME was our crowning achievement. It seemed that the bigger we got, the more it got to be a routine of being in a band and it just stopped being creative. J kind of took over. It was kind of weird- everything just changed. Once the band started getting attention, we couldn't really bond as much. It was much easier to bond when we had a common goal and the whole world seemed like it didn't care. It's pretty weird to analyze now. Of course, we were pretty young back then.
ARE YOU STILL IN TOUCH WITH J?
I see him every once in a while. I had a pretty nice conversation the last time I saw him.
HOW DID SEBADOH GET STARTED?
Eric and I were making 4-track tapes of acoustic songs. We would swap tapes and compile our solo recordings together and started releasing cassettes. We actually put out a record on Homestead before Dinosaur kicked me out.
HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
After YOU'RE LIVING ALL OVER ME, things just got weird. We did another record after that (BUG) and it got weirder and weirder and I just got detactched from the band. I was into playing but J and I just didn't talk. J was getting more and more lethargic in general. It started to get really uninspired. They reacted to that by kicking me out.
WHERE DID THE BAND NAME CAME FROM?
It was a name that I was kicking around in high school. I was just recording songs at home. I used to not really think up lyrics. I would make nonsense things and nonsense songs. I had abstract words and just chant them. That was one thing, one piece that I had started changed that I had done.
HOW DID YOU MEET UP WITH ERIC AND JASON?
I met up with Eric because he was part of the punk rock, hardcore scene. He actually did his own fanzine back in '83. He was one of the only people who liked Deep Wound. I hooked up with him then. We started talking and we realized that we had a lot of similar musical taste, like being into the Beatles. He was one of the few people who had extreme tastes like I did. We believed that music was a real spiritual force. J didn't really believe that. He just didn't have the whole spiritual angle. Eric and I were into the almost religious side of music. We bonded over that and experimented with various psychedelics together and just got be be good friends for a little while.
WHAT ABOUT JASON?
He knew Eric. Eric and I were these local freaks that he looked up to. He heard one of the first Sebadoh tapes and liked it and he knew about Dinosaur. He was friends with Eric and saw him at parties. Eric told me that he met this kid who played drums and that we ought to check him out. He was totally amazing. He was 14 or 15 and just this amazing drummer. Gradually, Eric got to know him better and he invited him over to the practice space. We started jamming with him and slowly got to know him.
SEBADOH HAS A REPUTATION FOR MAKING LO-FI MUSIC. ARE YOU REALLY SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT THAT?
No, I've never avoided using cleaned up things. It's just that from the beginning we wanted to learn how to do it ourselves. I actually like the quality of 4-track. I like cassette tapes. In a lot of instances, peoples' demos sounded a lot better than their finished product. That was something that I always noted. When we started Sebadoh, we just used 4-track tapes because they sounded better. Also, it was something that you were doing yourself. You were in control of the recording. No one else was fucking around with it and making it sterile. I just liked that. It wasn't that we were afraid of technology, it was just that we knew what to do with it. We didn't want to put ourselves at the mercy of technology and sacrifice the integrity of the recording and the message. Now, going into the studio is something we can do so I'm kind of interested in going in, spending the money, and see if I can make the studio recording as emotional as the 4-track recording.
DO YOU THINK THAT'LL CHANGE THE SONGS OR THE NATURE OF THE BAND THOUGH?
Not really. We've always been kind of the same. Really garage-y. Even when we go into the studio, it's pretty hard to hide that. Our new record is pretty cleaned up and studio-friendly but it's still the way we play.
PAVEMENT IS COMPARED TO SEBADOH A LOT OF TIMES. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THEM?
I think they're probably our closest musical relative. Even though we don't sound a lot of like. They're from a similar age group. Similar influences. Also, they're taken a similar path. We've always been a couple of steps behind them in terms of popularity and cross-over appeal. I've always felt pretty close to them though. I knew them better a couple of years but I haven't seen them much. There was a time when we did a tour with them and we got REALLY close. I got to know Steve Malkus pretty well. That was a long time ago. I haven't really talked to them since then. There's something about those guys that I really relate to, musically and personally.
JUST AFTER YOU LEFT DINOSAUR, THE "ALTERNATIVE" SCENE STARTED UP WITH ALL THOSE SEATTLE BANDS. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THAT WHOLE SCENE?
I thought that grunge was the death of heavy metal and the birth of a new hard rock. I never thought that Sebadoh was a part of that- we were never heavy. I think that with Nirvana, it was the same kind of thing that we shared with Pavement- same age, same influences. Kurt Cobain grew with a lot of the same kind of musical revelations that I did. Even from the very beginning though, there were just a HEAVY band. That's just something Sebadoh never has been. Pavement has never been a really heavy band either. Our whole careers are moving at the same pace if Nirvana had happened or not. We didn't experience this huge growth in popularity when grunge hit- it just didn't work that way. It was something where all the stoner kids across the country started listening to Soundgarden and Nirvana rather than Ozzy. I don't think it's a bad thing and I'm not trying to be sarcastic about it. It was this hard, more emotional version of heavy metal and we never really fit into that. I don't really feel attached to it. It never hurt us that Kurt Cobain wore a Sebadoh shirt. There are a handful of kids around the world that discovered Sebadoh because of Nirvana but it wasn't a phenomenon.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE BOSTON MUSIC SCENE NOW AND WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?
Boston's always had a lot of clubs and bands because it's a pretty intense college scene. Though I grew up in a factory town, there was still a ton of colleges outside. They all had college radio. We could always play at colleges. I've always considered Boston to be a pretty OK place to be if you're going to be in a band.
WHERE THE PIXIES A REALLY BIG INFLUENCE?
The Pixies seemed to be a HUGE influence on everybody but no. I have NO connection at all. When I found that 'Oh "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is like the Pixies?' I was like 'Oh really?' I just thought that they were always kind of lame. I just never really liked them. They weren't lame really. I heard a couple of songs and they were fine but I never imagined that they were a huge influence on so many people. It really surprised me.
WHY DID ERIC LEAVE THE BAND?
He quit the band all the time. He spend as much time out of the band as he did in the band. We've always been trying to keep things open. We weren't strict so we just let him come and go. He just wasn't happy being in a band. Finally, he just flipped out. Jason and I just said forget it. We had to get this thing off the ground. We're going to strave?! We're going to rely on Eric Gaffney and he's just quiting? So we finally told him that it was the last time he quit. It was weird but it was definitely for the best.
DID YOU THINK THAT BAKESALE WAS A LOT DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER MUSIC THAT THE BAND HAD PUT OUT?
I thought it was a lot more stream-lined. If you compare it to BUBBLE AND SCRAPE, BAKESALE is like this well-mannered pop-punk record in comparison. The lyrical ideas are still there. It's kind of the same.
HOW DO YOU PUT YOUR SONGS TOGETHER?
It's a variety of ways. You use a usual cliches. A melody'll pop into my head and I'll sit down and play it on guitar. Sit down with my notebook and put some lyrics over the top of it. Sometimes, words come out first. I always try to write songs that I want to sing. If I heard them, I would think they're good. I would think that the lyrics really meant something. I just have a real problem with bad lyrics. I've tried to make lyrics so that even if they're a little cheesy or romantic, they were something that I meant. That was the way with Jason and Eric. That's always been our thing, to get something out emotionally in our songs.
WITH HARMACY, DO YOU THINK THAT CAME OUT DIFFERENT THAN THE LAST RECORD?
We spend a lot more time on it. It's a lot more fuller sounding thing. When I hear BAKESALE now, it sounds kind of thin. HARMACY sounds more beefed up. It's trying to capture some of the power that I felt was on some of the earlier records. Trying to reclaim some of that power but still maintain some of the momentum that we build up with BAKESALE, which was a version of the band that we could take on the road and where we could play good shows.
WHERE DID THE COVER OF HARMACY COME FROM?
It's from Ireland. We were just cruising by and Jason put his camera up to the window and snapped that picture. While we were looking for cover photos, I was talking to Jason and asked if he had any good pictures. He sent them to me and I just thought it totally rocked. Harmacy, it's a great word. It's not even a word. It's amazing.
WHAT ABOUT THE COVER AND BACKCOVER OF BAKESALE?
The front cover, my mother took. That's me when I was one year old (leaning over a toilet). The back cover is Bob Fay and his two brothers on the day he won a contest at a fair. He's got a little ribbon on him.
WHAT DOES SEBADOH HAVE PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?
Trying to get through our tours. I don't know what's going to go on for our next record. I don't know what our plan's going to be. I'm kind of hoping that we get back to basics, like in the beginning. Start recording for ourselves and demo ourselves and see what direction the record's going to take. Figure out a body of songs and bring it up to some studio. Maybe introduce some producer. I want to get back to basics. With the last record, we took a back seat when it came to the final mixing and recording of the record. I think it was a good decision for now but it's definitely not the way we want to do it in the future. We're all pretty proficient in recording ourselves and performing the songs ourselves. That's something we really have to re-discover. Just to re-discover some of the more independent spirit of our early stuff rather than introducing outside people immediately.
SO YOU THINK THAT THE EARLY SEBADOH MATERIAL HAS A SPECIAL SOUND THAT GETS TO YOU?
Yeah, kind of. With BAKESALE, people were like 'Oh finally, Sebadoh's cleaned up.' In a certain way, I think that the other records might be off-putting to people but we were on to something. We were discovering our own production style. We let that slide to keep the band going. We had a great time recording BAKESALE. We recorded it really quickly. It put it on this path of being a little more traditional than before. In a certain way, that was the right decision for that time. For the next Sebadoh record, I think we have to get back to the three of us and figure out where we want to go first before we step into a studio and have other people start suggeting things.
YOU DID COVERS OF FLIPPER AND HUSKER DU. THOSE ARE TWO OF YOUR FAVORITES?
I like Flipper. Flipper lasted longer to me than Husker Du. They've always been fucked up. That lasts longer than Husker Du where they kind of fucked up for a while but they kind of streamlined their deal pretty quickly. Flipper is something that never sounds the same. They have a lot of these amazing anthems. They made them out of the most ugliest, churning garbage you've ever heard. That's what so beautiful about them. I remember when I bought 'Brainwash' and I thought it was cool song and they just kept playing it again and again (on the record). J actually had a (radio) show with this guy named Charlie from Deep Wound. It was called the Brainwash Show. They played that over and over and over, right before a polka show on a Saturday morning.
Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER
MAIN PAGE ARTICLES STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC LINKS WRITE US