Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interview: Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Folk Implosion)

Lou Barlow with Sebadoh @ Bowery Ballroom in April (more here)
By the time J Mascis retired the Dinosaur Jr. name in 1997, few music fans would have guessed that one day you'd be able to catch them on the road again, let alone with original bassist and co-founder Lou Barlow. Now six years deep into the reunion of original members Mascis, Murph and Barlow, Dinosaur Jr. have released two critically acclaimed albums, Beyond and Farm, and are about to embark on a tour performing their third album Bug in its entirety (tickets are still on sale for the 6/23 NYC date). Henry Rollins will also interview the band onstage as part of the show.

Barlow's other band Sebadoh recently finished an East coast tour in April in support of the upcoming Bakesale reissue (which you can preorder here), a deluxe edition of the classic album that will be released on June 14th on Sub Pop. In September, Sebadoh will head to Australia for the first time in twelve years for a few performances. I had the chance to talk to Lou over the phone on Monday about the upcoming Dinosaur Jr. tour, new Sebadoh material, and the awesomeness of the Jesus & Mary Chain's Psychocandy.

So is Dinosaur Jr. preparing for the tour that’s coming up right now?

Yeah, Murph, our drummer is coming here tomorrow, or actually tonight and we’re gonna start jamming tomorrow and rehearsing for the tour and maybe work on some song ideas.

You guys have been back together a while now, is it comfortable to just get together, practice, record, go on tour?

Yeah, you know, we’re kind of a strange band the way it operates but, it works.

So how did the idea to do a tour for Bug come about?

I mean, it seemed like the next thing in line. We did You’re Living All Over Me when we first reunited like six years ago, that was sort of the first reunion. And then we did two new records and now it’s like--since we’re not really working much this year, what would make this tour special? What would make it kind interesting or extraordinary, and we thought maybe doing that record would be that. 

How did the Henry Rollins get involved?

He’s a huge J Mascis/Dinosaur Jr. fan. I mean he’s just totally into it. And I think probably our manager was brainstorming ways to make the shows more special. And I think Henry came up somehow, I wasn’t really—it was something I was told later, “We’re gonna get Henry to do it!” “Great!” [laughs] “Sounds awesome.”

So with the Bakesale reissue coming out did Sebadoh consider doing the same thing, playing Bakesale front to back?

We probably could’ve done it, that’s what people wanted us to do a couple years ago and we did the Bubble & Scrape record instead and now no one wants us to do any records [laughs]. So I think we had a window of opportunity where we could have done that and we just didn’t do the Bakesale record. We had reunited with Eric Gaffney in the band and he represented a whole other era of the band and music. And as a drummer and such he didn’t really drum on the stuff that’s on Bakesale and so it didn’t really make any sense. So we did Bubble & Scrape and that was it.

Is that the main reason why Eric wasn’t on this last tour?

Yeah, that’s totally the main reason. You know, his real passion is playing guitar and singing and for him to come and do this tour he would really have to make a huge—we’d really have to rein him in and I just don’t personally really wanna rein that guy in [laughs]. You know, it’s either you’re 100% with it or it just wouldn’t be right.

Lou in April @ Bowery Ballroom
When I was at the New York City show, the 2nd of the two, you mentioned you’d probably come back in November and you’d have some new songs. Is that still the plan? Do you guys plan to put out a new album?

Yeah, it certainly won’t be out by November [laughs]. But we’re gonna do a tour in November and we’ll see how that goes. I’m going to do this Dinosaur thing until the middle of July and then the rest of the year I’m just gonna be touring off and on with Sebadoh.

So now that two of your bigger bands have gotten back together, is Folk Implosion next?

No. My original partner in that band, John Davis totally retired from music, I actually haven’t heard from him. He really just dropped out and I kind of kept the band going without him and there wasn’t much interest in that particular lineup of the band or the record we did. It just wouldn’t make any sense. I mean, I don’t know what it would take—John, I doubt he would ever even consider playing again.

Right – so if Sebadoh is going to do new stuff and Dinosaur’s done a couple of albums, do you feel it’s important to do new material when you get back together? Because it’s like a band like the Pixies have been touring sort of endlessly without doing anything new.

Yeah… I mean, that’s the Pixies, they’ve always seemed like a particularly cynical band to me [laughs]. For Dinosaur to [reunite] and even as cynical as Dinosaur might be… really both J and I share that we just want to be legitimate and I think we would have grown really tired of it if we had only kept doing old stuff. If we didn’t make the effort to do something new and give ourselves something new to chew on, and sort of revitalize the tour--I mean to me, that just seems miserable. Creatively you have to at least expand in some way. Especially when you’re making good money doing it and people are into it because it’s the band, to me it’s almost like a goodwill gesture towards the fans. Like, “thanks for coming to see us again!” [laughs], “we’re gonna play some new songs.” And let’s do a true, proper rebirth, rather than a reunion that’s just sort of an oldies circuit.

I’m with you. What about your solo work, are you planning a follow up to Goodnight Unknown?

Yeah, I am. There’s not much interest in it [laughs]. That didn’t do so hot and people weren’t really into it, so I kind of got the message [laughs]. For now, Dinosaur actually, I think we’re gonna do another record. So you know, I can write some songs for that and I really enjoyed playing with Jason [Lowenstein] and our drummer Bob [D’Amico] so it would be really good to have some stuff to chew on with that too. I think I’ll kind of focus my songwriting on that, just to see if I can put some good band stuff together. And if I give the solo thing a rest, maybe people will care later on. I’m not sure.

So I follow the Sebadoh twitter feed, you said in a tweet you were listening to the new Panda Bear album. What else are you listening to these days? Are you staying active on music?

Yeah. I got this new Electric Wizard LP and it’s pretty awesome. They’re kind of— my favorite band that isn’t Black Sabbath that sounds like Black Sabbath [laughs], I guess that would be Electric Wizard. And they’ve got this new record that’s pretty intense. I bought a single the other day by this band called Reading Rainbow that I really like. I bought another Mississippi record, it’s a compilation, you know that Portland label [Mississippi Records] that reissues world music and blues records, like 78s. They do an amazing job and make these incredible compilations. So I happened to find one and I just buy those pretty much whenever I see them.

And we’ve got a really good radio station in LA finally, one that upped their signal, KXLU and they’re a really awesome college radio station that plays a lot of new stuff. They have a bunch of crazy DJs and it’s great, that’s pretty much like every day I hear stuff I haven’t heard before and I love that.

I don’t know if you heard about last night, but they did a tribute show to the Our Band Could Be Your Life book

Oh yeah, yeah.

Wye Oak did Dinosaur Jr. songs.

What’d they do? That’s pretty cool.

You know, it’s such a blur, it was like fourteen bands. But it was great. [update: Wye Oak played "Sludgefest" & "Tarpit"]

Yeah, I’ll just ask them [laughs].

Wye Oak performing Dinosaur Jr. songs on Sunday (more here)
It kind of reminded me, because there were a lot of really young indie bands playing all these punk bands from the ‘80s—there definitely seems to be some kind of connection between the two eras. What do you think that is with the younger indie scene going on right now?

I just think it’s like one continuous thing. You know we were what they are, which were young people synthesizing our influences and making music. I mean, as far as older music went, we were really into the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, MC5, Black Sabbath, and all the post-punk, Joy Division, New Order, all that shit was really influential for us. We became part of that flow, so we were lucky enough—like Dinosaur Jr and maybe Sebadoh a little bit, to be part of that flow to new music, just sort of influence people. And now there’s always—to me, there’s always incredible new bands and there’s always great music happening. Whenever anyone says, “you know [bands] these days they only care about fashion.” I’m like, yeah well some do [laughs], but some don’t! There’s still people who really care deeply about music--and love music just as much as we do--making music. That’s to me the connection. I toured with Wye Oak, and they’re a good bit younger than us but you can just feel the love of music coming off of them. And they are just not the only people like that.

So my last question, I’m going to try to ask everyone I get to interview, is there any record you feel particularly nostalgic about?

I guess lately, the first Jesus & Mary Chain record Psychocandy has kind of—it seems like it’s sort of having a resurgence in influence lately, just how noisy that record is. People say they like Jesus & Mary Chain, but it’s usually the Jesus & Mary Chain that came after that which is much more mannered and kind of like drum machine based. But that first record, it’s just absolutely [squealing] this fucking monumental scream, you know really incredible. I just love that record, I love it. And I’ve been hearing it a lot lately and thinking about it. And also Seventeen Seconds by the Cure.

What’s great is watching the videos of when Jesus & Mary Chain first formed, and it was like a riot broke out at every show.

J and I saw them play in Boston for, I think their first US show possibly… and it was just boring [laughs]. There was no riot, no riot at all, it was pretty lackluster. But it was still awesome because it was them. They came out with their mushroom haircuts and their black clothes and it was awesome. They weren’t, you know, they weren’t really very good but it didn’t matter because they made an incredible record.

Thank you Lou for doing this interview!

Dinosaur Jr.'s upcoming tour dates can be found here, and Sebadoh's here.


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