Interview: Sebadoh

Sebadoh - Photo by Michael Caswell

Sebadoh - Photo by Michael Caswell

More than two decades after its inception, indie rock band Sebadoh is back on tour – this time in Europe – after a reissue of what is arguably the band’s best record.

Fans can expect the set list to fall evenly inline with these recent events: earlier this year, Sebadoh reissued 1994’s “Bakesale,” with plans for a reissue of 1996’s “Harmacy” in the coming months. As a result, the emphasis on this tour will naturally be songs from those albums.

“We really had a good reaction to it in the states,” bassist and original member Lou Barlow said of sticking to tracks from those albums while playing in the U.S. “We’ve had two tours so far and people were really positive about that, and I just have the sense that we were kind of making people happy when we played, which is, you know, really nice.”

Additionally, he admitted there is a consistency to the order for a few different reasons.

“We’re kind of playing the same set every night…more or less because, I mean, we have Bob D’Amico who’s playing drums who is not…he’s kind of new to the band, so, you know teaching him 40 songs as opposed to 30…? I mean we’re just trying to be realistic.”

D’Amico, who is perhaps most well-known for his role as the drummer of the Fiery Furnaces, came to the band via guitarist Jason Loewenstein, who also toured with the Fiery Furnaces.

Practicality aside, Barlow said there is also a very real appeal for the band in playing the same thing every night – one that keeps it from getting boring.

“Dinosaur Jr. doesn’t really vary its set from night to night and there’s this certain strength to that, you know,” he said of one of his other bands, which he and original guitarist J Mascis formed prior to forming Sebadoh together. “If you really can hone things…it can be powerful, and you can really kind of dig into the songs more…I kind of like the ritual part of that.”

And because the songs are so familiar to the band, Barlow said that is also makes the live set more enjoyable, both for the audience and the band members.

“Traditionally Sebadoh…wasn’t real reliable as far as what kind of vibe we were gonna create when we played. We could have amazing shows and then other shows that just didn’t really come together,” he explained. “This particular thing, I mean, we’re a bit older and wiser and I don’t know, we just kind of get down to it. Enjoy the songs, play the songs.”

That’s not to say the band didn’t or couldn’t enjoying playing before, but Barlow said there is a level of comfortability he’s found within himself and the music which wasn’t present in the 90s. Back then, he said he was a nervous performer, a trait which sometimes lent itself to manifesting as either aggressiveness or defensiveness.

Now that he’s older, Barlow said he no longer is subject to feeling this way.

“I feel much safer on stage,” he said. “I feel like when I’m on stage I’m actually some place where I can relax and I kind of know what to do…it’s kind of a haven. Whereas before, when I was a kid, it was hostile territory.”

Yet there are always pros and cons to anything, and the exchange in attitude and energy also is accompanied by an exchange in the way feel of the times. Arguably, while things are much more relaxed and fun, they may not be as exciting and new.

Referring back to the mid 90s, around the time of the release of “Bakesale,” Barlow said musically, things were happening for him all over, in Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr. and another project of his, Folk Implosion.

“When your band kind of, becomes bigger, and all of a sudden you’re playing sold out shows, and there’s sort of an excitement around the band, you know, it’s kind of enchanted, you know. It’s sort of an enchanted period,” he shared. “I was really at a real creative peak, you know. I was producing a lot of stuff that I was really happy with. So I do look back at [that time] and all of the things that were happening around that as kind of a golden age.”

Even though those days are behind him, Barlow considers himself lucky to function as a musician in so many capacities – not only in writing but in the performing aspect.

“I can play, like, festivals to 20,000 people with Dinosaur Jr., and play to a full club with Sebadoh, and I can play to, like, 100 really awesome people at a small venue and play acoustic and have a real, you know, amazingly intimate night,” he said. “I’m kind of able to, I kind of do all those things, and to me, each one reinforces the next, or facilitates the next.”

Especially now that he’s also a family man, Barlow has found it’s important to have those different options and a certain kind of flexibility to the music he makes.

“It’s hard. I’m just working at it. Always evolving. Trying to make it work with my wife and with my family,” he said.

Which brings him to what he feels is one of the hardest things about being a musician – particularly now that he is older – and that is striking that balance between a career and a personal life.

“The biggest challenge seems to be being close to the people that I care about and that I take care of, and then also, you know, immersing myself like I need to into my music and allowing it to like take me over,” he said. “It’s like a real balance. Trying to figure that out is like the biggest challenge, like, trying to be a good father, good husband, and then also follow the ideas all to their bloody conclusions.”

He also admitted that his life as of late is relatively “kid-centric,” which limits the possibility of seeing much live music or going on extended tours. Yet that will come in handy when Sebadoh takes a break from touring in order to work on new material.

“I’m writing songs, you know,” Barlow said, addressing the question of new Sebadoh material on the horizon. “I think when we get some time or when the focus is off of touring all the time…I’m thinking that we’ll get together and try to work out some new songs. But there’s nothing, like right now…I think our biggest priority is playing the songs really well. So we’re doing that right now, and then I think when the touring kind of ebbs a bit, [we’ll write more music].”

This is good news for fans who have been waiting more than a decade for Sebadoh to produce something new. Of course, writing new songs can be scary for the band, particularly because it opens the members up to criticism from fans who have certain expectations, but Barlow is not concerned with this, because he said the validation is still there, and it’s what keeps him going.

“I put out records and somebody tells me it’s really good and they tell me really good reasons why it’s good and I believe them. It makes me feel better, you know? And it makes me more, it just kinda keeps me, it’s like a real source of energy,” he said. “It’s amazing to feel satisfied and I feel that with making music and writing songs I find that even if it doesn’t set the world on fire, it’s still seems to just make a difference.”

Sebadoh plays tonight at Festsaal Kreuzberg in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00

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