A conversation with Lou Barlow - From Dinosaur Jnr to Sebadoh to Folk Implosion
Lou Barlow is one of the most influential and truly independent artists of the past 30 years. Having started in the wall of noise that was Dinosaur Jnr to the lo-fi indie rock leanings of Sebadoh and to the more intricate and delicate Folk Implosion, he has always found a way to develop and push the boundaries of music.
I had the opportunity to drop him a few questions via email due to the double disc, 41 track resissue of the Sebadoh's seminal album "III" in June and discuss his career path thus far.
How did it feel to be championed as the faces of alternative rock which became the fore-runners to grunge and lo-fi when you started out with Dinosaur Jnr? Was there added pressure on the band to consciously do something different or was it a natural process?
We were young and obsessed with music. The thought that we were forerunners to anything wasn't really on the table. We were following bands that, to us, had already made history. The birthday party, the meat puppets, the minutemen, the cure (the list is endless). We were trying to be good, in retrospect it seems natural but at the time there was a lot of internal pressure to play with bands we liked and make music we liked... I left the band before we were championed as anything. Or if we were I wouldn't have noticed. Too nervous, too angry.
When Dinosaur Jnr finished and you began Sebadoh did you make a conscious decision to take a different direction, to put that period behind you?
At first i was content with the idea of recording at home with a ukelele and a cassette four track, making music scaled to fit my life. Dinosaur was so huge soundwise and emotionally that i didn't even want to attempt anything that could be compared to it... I spent my first year away from the band continuing in the direction of 'Poledo' (the piece that closes 'You're Living All Over Me') and working with Eric Gaffney as an acoustic-based duo. That changed soon enough but even then i was committed to doing something very different to dinosaur. We improvised often and stuck to the idea of short songs, switching instruments and supporting each other as equal songwriters. Which isn't what went on in Dinosaur.
With Dinosaur Jnr now back and touring, it seems like a curious time to reissue the Sebadoh album, what were your reasons behind doing it now?
Eric and I began debating the reissue long before the Dinosaur reunion seemed even remotely possible. We've been wanting to reclaim the early Sebadoh albums for a long time... It took Eric and I two years to resolve our issues and reach an agreement about the content of the reissue. It is interesting that I resolved my issues with Dinosaur in the same time frame but it wasn't planned.
Each of the projects you've been involved with have all been different, Folk Implosion more eclectic than Sebadoh which, in turn, was slightly mellower than Dinosaur Jnr. How differently, if at all, do you approach the song writing for each project?
Folk Implosion was a collaboration with John Davis and later with Imaad Wasif. My chemistry with them determined how the songs were written and what we wrote about. Sebadoh is where I brought what I felt were my most concise songs, the songs that I felt said something clearly (messages to friends) with melodies and song structures that could be learnt by the band in a day, remembered the next and toured a week later. After Dinosaur I wanted to be sure that I communicated with my partners and whatever audience we might find. The first step was to turn down, start listening and reacting.
Are you planning any new material for Sebadoh and/or The Folk Implosion in the near future?
The Folk Implosion is defunct... Sebadoh is always floating as a possibility but there are currently no plans being made.
Having been a late comer to your work myself and initially hearing you with the Folk Implosion, where should a Low Barlow beginner start with your back catalogue?
It depends. There's the acoustic based lo-fi stuff. The best of which can be found on the 'winning losers' CD under my then solo name Sentridoh. Sebadoh III is a personal favorite. It's a good mix of lo-fi and my first electric songs that evolved into the full-band that recorded 'Bubble and Scrape' and 'Bakesale'... 'Bakesale' is fan-favorite. Folk Implosion can be an aquired taste, it started very light hearted and spontaneous but became the venue for the most textured recordings i've made. The most Hi-Fi. The last record we did 'The New Folk Implosion' was poorly received but i think it's a good combination of most of the styles i've flirted with over the years. Sebadoh/Dinosaur flavored indie-rock, old Folk Implosion sample based songs and acoustic songs. I have a website with over 50 mp3's on it that span the beginnings to the most recent of my work... it's the best way to taste without spending any money. I do it all myself, artwork etc.
Are there any bands that you've seen or heard recently that have made you sit up and take notice, maybe even influence you in the future?
Animal Collective are very inspiring. As are Howling Hex (but that's Neil Haggerty from the Royal Trux. He's been around as long as I have). Both have the quality of making what could be called experimental music into something soulful and memorable. Which is what I originally wanted to do and maybe did on records like Sebadoh III. I became the dreaded singer-songwriter over the years but bands like this remind me that I still have a lot of work to do.