10 December 2013


Photography by Eleonora Collini

There are so many reasons why we should all love Sebadoh (and why they are in my top 3 favourite bands of all time). First of all their music. Starting out as a four-track project of Dinosaur Jr’s Lou Barlow and Eric Gaffney in the late '80s, after teaming up with Jason Loewenstein, they became one of the most influential American indie rock bands of the '90s, releasing masterpieces such as Bubble & Scrape and Bakesale.

After Gaffney’s departure and a few line-up changes, sadly Sebadoh went on a hiatus in 1999. Many things have happened since then: Barlow has been one of the most prolific (and talented) musicians of the last couple of decades, playing in Folk Implosion and Dinosaur Jr (with whom he reunited in 2005, after being kicked out of the band by J Mascis in 1989), and making a solo career both under his name and his moniker Sentridoh; Loewenstein played in Fiery Furnaces as well as putting out a solo record.

Following reissues, reunion gigs, and a long-waited EP released via Bandcamp last year, Barlow, Loewestein and new drummer Bob D’Amico are finally back with the excellent Defend Yourself, which came out on Joyful Noise last September.

And if their music wasn’t enough, Sebadoh are really the most friendly, down-to-earth, candid and funny people to be around. Still admirably pursuing the DIY ethic, they genuinely don’t seem to realise how legendary they’ve been.

I hung out with them for a while before they played their second show of Defend Yourself tour at Scala, London (Photos). We discussed their 30-year music career, their relationship with social media as well as their take on the Spotify/Bandcamp culture and the evolution of the music industry.

Eleonora Collini: Did you guys self-produce Defend Yourself?

Jason Loewenstein: Yes, we recorded the new album ourselves. Lou has his rehearsal space in California. Bob and I are in New York so we recorded our basic tracks up there. Then we all finished our parts at our space, Lou at his, I at mine, Bob did the percussions and overdubs at his place…

Eleonora: I guess that’s what is called self-production!

Jason: Yes, that’s the future. You can just open up your computer and all of sudden you are recording stuff (laughs)

Eleonora: Last year you released the Secret EP via bandcamp and then you were considering the fan funding option for the new album while looking for a US label. How did your deal with Joyful Noise Records come along?

Jason: That was through Lou’s acquaintances.

Lou Barlow: Yeah I did a flexi disc with them where I played an acoustic song. Actually they also did a cassette boxed set with the first three Dinosaur Jr’s albums last year. And then they insisted on putting out the Secret EP on vinyl as we had just made CDs, and we said OK. So that kinda seemed natural to release the new record with them in North America.

Eleonora: To me Defend Yourself, like in a way The Sebadoh, seems more of a collective, homogeneous effort in comparison with some of your earlier works. How has your writing process changed?

Lou: I don’t think it has.

Jason: Yeah I don’t think it has changed. Most of the basic tracks were recorded at the same time with the rest of the band so that might have helped to make it sound more homogeneous. Also we were writing songs right away and then recording them as soon as we had finished them. And we were just playing them once and recording them straightaway, and that was pretty consistent (laughs).

Eleonora: When you guys write your own songs do you just come up with a guitar riff or something and then the rest of the band add their instruments, or do you write them entirely on your own?

Lou: Most of the times they are already done so to speak, the skeleton is done when the rest of the band record them.

Jason: Yeah we don’t write collectively. We just write our own songs and then we play them together.

Eleonora: Bob, is the instrumental track “Once” on the new album yours?

Bob d’Amico: (pause) It is (collective laugh).
Lou Barlow
Lou Barlow

Lou: You are supposed to talk about it!

Bob: Ok. I wrote it when I was in the woods upstate New York, in a cabin and then these guys made it sound good, thankfully.

Eleonora: Do you guys ever get somehow envious of each other’s songs and wish you had written them? Or do you ever feel forced to play songs you don’t like?

Jason: I mostly don’t even like my own songs! But yeah there are some Lou’s songs I wish I had written.

Eleonora: Especially you, Lou are very active on your website, Facebook, Instagram and so on. How important is the interaction with fans for you?

Lou: I think it’s very important. You don’t want to be too overeager and insist “please like my page” or be pushy about it, but we have always had pretty good contact with our fans, in the early days too. People that were fans became our friends earlier on, as people that liked our band weren’t not so typical also (laughs), so our music made friends for us. And that’s what I have always liked about music, it’s a means to connect with people. So I think it’s important to continue that. And I like social media.

Jason: I think if a band think it’s important to do Facebook and that kind of things, that’s going to f**k them up! I mean using it as a marketing tool and stuff.

Eleonora: Well but it’s a marketing tool in a way…

Lou: Yeah it could be but I think what Jason is trying to say is that it has to come from a natural place, and it does come from a natural place for us. Also personally we can get a bit isolated, so I think that social media can show people that you are alive and that you care.

Jason: Or that you are alive and you don’t care (collective laugh)

Eleonora: I have always liked your DIY ethic even for your album artworks. Who did the new album’s cover and what’s the idea behind it?

Lou: I did it. I just started scribbling, and then things kinda fell together. My girlfriend is a fashion designer so she helped me along the way as she has a good visual instinct. Somehow it just came together. We had just finished our record and I just started drawing.

Eleonora: How do you think your performing skills as a band have improved?

Jason: We have a very good drummer now. I think that’s what it’s really all about, I am not kidding. And also we hadn’t played much together over the last few years, we were just playing separately. But I don’t know, I think we are better now, we are more experienced as we are older guys.

Lou: We are more relaxed now too. Personally the more relaxed I am on stage the better I play. I think that helps a lot.

Eleonora: Lou, I have always been surprised that in many interviews you said how little you like Harmacy. It may not be my favourite Sebadoh record, but there are some pretty amazing songs on it. So I am just curious to know what you really don’t like about it.... 

Lou: I think it’s because so much happened around it, there was so much expectation as Subpop, our then US label had put a lot of money into it so there was a lot of pressure. The label then actually sort of collapsed after the album came out and they seemed to blame us for it. And also when we started the record we were told straightaway by our engineer that we should fire our drummer. And to me that just cast a huge shadow, because of course we didn’t fire our drummer but while recording it we realised that we should have fired our drummer, so it was very painful. I love the songs from Harmacy, I love playing them now, but it’s just that there was so much pressure surrounding that album, that it’s hard for me to have any positive association with it.

Eleonora: Another question for Lou…your lyrics have always been very open and confessional. Do you find that letting out your emotions is somehow therapeutic?

Lou: Yes I think so, I find that it is. Also if I don’t sing about things I have had a direct experience with, I find it very hard to remember the words. But if it’s something that follows logically and I have experienced directly then I don’t. If I was singing from someone’s else point of view or I was trying to be particularly clever, I would have a difficult time remembering the lyrics.

Eleonora: Bob, you played with Jason on his solo album's tour and then you both joined the Fiery Furnaces. But how did you guys actually meet?

Jason: Through mutual friends. A friend of mine came to my aid and played bass on my solo record, and he said he had a drummer and wanted me to meet Bob.

Bob D'Amico
Bob D'Amico
Bob: Yeah before we did the Fiery Furnaces stuff, we started playing as Jason’s solo band. He played all the instruments on that solo record but he needed a band for the tour, so myself and this guy Kevin went on tour with him. Then I began playing with the Fiery Furnaces and as they needed a bass player I recommended them Jason, so he started doing that and we did that for a while. Finally he and Lou asked me to play with Sebadoh when Bakesale was reissued a couple of years ago.

Eleonora: And then you formed Circle of Buzzards together…

Bob: We don’t play together very often, just a couple of times a year. It’s a really ambition-free band.
Jason: Yeah we refuse to release a record, we refuse to do any recordings, we refuse to take money for any gigs….

Eleonora: What was the point of starting that band then?!

Jason: Well, we have t-shirts!

Eleonora: And do you at least sell those?

Jason: No! We give them away!

Bob: We actually did a tour recently, in New York and opened for each other. It was Circle of Buzzards first, then Lou solo, and then Sebadoh. That was fun.

Eleonora: Lou, have you ever spoken to John Davis since Folk Implosion split up?

Lou: Never. He quit the band almost on the day that One Part Lullaby was released and he never spoke to me again. He had his solo record out and I know people that know him, so I kinda tried to keep a sort of stalker eye on him just to know what he was doing and that he was doing well, and yes I think he’s doing well. I think he’s teaching, English or something, and like I said he made a solo record which is quite beautiful.

Eleonora: By the way, have you heard the cover of “Natural One” that Shearwater just did for their new covers album Fellow Travelers?

Lou: Yes I did and I like it. It has Jenn from Wye Oak singing on it. She is a really nice person. Wye Oak have opened for us before, they are really great. So yeah I hope they put it out as a single and it becomes a huge hit (laughs).

Eleonora: Your long-time collaborator Imaad Wasif posted on his Facebook that the two of you along with Dale Crover (of Melvins) were recording a couple of songs that would come out later this year under the name of Tres Padres. Can you tell us about it?

Lou: Yeah, we are going to put a new single out soon, another non-profit band (laughs). We got free studio time at Dave Grohl’s space and we recorded two of my songs there.

Eleonora: And what about Dumb Numbers? You played on their debut record, right?

Lou: Yeah. Adam Harding is the mastermind behind that project and I played bass on a few songs. Some of the recordings that are on the album are actually almost six or seven year old, that I almost forgot which songs I played on when the record came out (laughs).

Eleonora: I think it’s a pretty good album!

Lou: Yeah it’s cool.

Eleonora: And now the question you are all going to hate....what is Eric (Gaffney), a.k.a. Jesus as he calls himself now, up to these days?

Jason: He kinda embraced some animal cause, he’s feeding animals instead of humans…. Hold on, are we talking about the original Jesus or diet Jesus? Jesus zero!  Kidding aside, I don’t know what he’s up to at the moment, he just decided it was the time to step out which was kinda good for everybody I think.

Lou: Yeah he’s so active on Facebook! I don’t know he must have finally got a computer now as he isn’t at the library or that kinda shit anymore, as he’s on like 24 hours a day! (laughs)

Jason: Yeah I haven’t spoken to him in ages, I think he even unfriended me on Facebook.

Lou: He actually joined my fan forum which I found pretty funny. It seems that the more time goes by the more people want to talk about Eric, as a lot of discussions on my forum are about him. But yeah he joined my forum and made some snotty comments on there.

Eleonora: Haha, really?

Lou: Oh yeah he’s a jerk (collective laugh). We knew that and we loved him for that. But all I can say is that he’s a lovable jerk and we only wish the best for him.

Eleonora: If you had to choose only one record you wish you had written, what would you pick?

Jason Loewenstein
Jason Loewenstein
Bob: The Ballad Side of George Jones

Jason: All Things Must Pass by George Harrison

Lou: (Turn on) The Music Machine

Eleonora: What do you think of Spotify?

Jason: I am not entirely sure. Is it like a subscription to listen to all the music you want, right? Is it like a radio station?

Eleonora: It’s a subscription to listen to the songs you want, though not everything is on there. But I think musicians get paid for each play…

Lou: We got paid a really tiny amount. It’s something extremely controversial. For instance David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven was seeing like a million plays for his songs on Spotify…

Jason: and then he got like a dollar?

Lou: Yeah. The thing is that Spotify is not like a regular radio station, as if you get one play on a big radio station it means millions of people in just one shot, that’s why radio royalties are so much higher than Spotify royalties, so they can’t really be compared to each other. But there is an interesting debate going on about what you should get paid for Spotify. Musicians tend to simplify and have their strong opinions on things, but I think there is a lot of money lost and the battle is raging on. David Lowery is really against it and so is Thom Yorke. I think these people are convinced that if you listen to something on Spotify then you won’t buy the record, but I know people that actually buy the record after listening to it on Spotify. People don’t realise that back in the days there were bands making music but nobody could have access to their songs so they have never gone anywhere. I think it’s a very interesting argument but I am not sure how I feel about it.

Bob: I don’t’ know much about it but it seems like the cat is out of the bag. Like Lou said most people aren’t paying for music anyway. It’s easy for me to say that as I am not David Lowery, who somehow has been spoiled…

Lou: He just wants to be paid more for his songs, it’s like saying “I want more” which is fine, but my opinion unfortunately is that if you choose to be a musician, you are choosing one of the most difficult and unlikely ways to make a living, possibly. It’s a huge risk. And no one should expect for the world to somehow magically sweep in and make things easier for you. And by being a musician, basically you are asking that they steal your music (laughs) and it has always been that way. And even from records, we as band have never made much money from record sales ever, we have always got paid more from playing shows and that’s it.

Eleonora: And what about Bandcamp? Lou, you seem to be putting out a lot of your stuff there!

Lou: That’s another thing…..to be honest I don’t know what makes that any better (laughs)

Eleonora: Though you should get paid for your songs on there a bit more as the whole point is downloading stuff from there, no?

Lou: None actually sells. The problem is that whatever does sell, Bandcamp is taking a bit of income from those few sales, they are retaining it from hundreds of thousands of bands. That’s where the profit is generated and that’s really where it goes. And that’s like Spotify, as people there are making money by whatever contents the bands provide, or not making money, but musicians don’t actually get much profit from it. And Bandcamp is basically the same.

Eleonora: But today people have access to music more through things like Bandcamp and Spotify, whereas something like 20 years ago it was mainly just through records…..

Lou: Actually making a record back then was very difficult. The percentage of records that were actually selling was incredibly low and getting on the right label that was able to provide a good distribution was extremely rare. Records were selling more in a way but there were less bands making records. Now everybody can make a record.

Eleonora: I think selling records is even more difficult nowadays though.

Lou: It is, but at the end of the day you get more exposure to your music. As if you make music people actually want to hear, they will find you online and you will benefit from it. But if you have a band that’s struggling, then you’ve just chosen to fail (laughs). Either you have a backup or you don’t. Personally I don’t have a backup so I work all the time and try to play as many shows as possible.

Eleonora: Speaking of backups…Jason how is your recording studio in Brooklyn going?

Jason: Lately I have been busy with these bands (Sebadoh, Fiery Furnaces), but yeah if I am not doing music stuff I am pretty much busy working in my studio. It’s a very low-key thing. I travel wherever the band is which makes it very cheap and comfortable, and I am having a good time with those people that aren’t necessarily very well known but are people that I like, essentially.

Eleonora: Great. Thank you very much, guys! Is there anything else you want to add?

Jason: (grabbing my dictating machine and making a funny, scary voice, while we all laugh) F**k the men, f**k the music business, take it over man, take your 70% back man!

Originally published on The 405

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