HARDCORE “The whole root of what I do” says Barlow (center, with Robert D’Amico and Jason
Loewenstein), “is closer to country music than it is, you know, math rock or something.
Some things just don't go as planned, though you can't say that would surprise you if you've been listening to Lou Barlow's music for any fraction of the past 25 years. In Sebadoh's diary confessional, "Kath," which was recorded through a bedroom blanket of tape hiss over ghostly acoustics, Barlow finds refuge with his true love while "waiting for a storm in Paradise." That song pops up on Sebadoh's III, in 1991, when the young Western Mass band's creative volatility was starting to peak. Barlow's quiet songs about the ruins and spoils of daily love and life were juxtaposed with Eric Gaffney's noisy attacks on form and function and common sense, as if it were all some kind of schizo mixtape. In a good way, Sebadoh helped to lower everyone's expectations.
The band's commercial high-water marks - 1994's Bakesale and 1996's Harmacy - are getting the reissue treatment this year, hot on the reissue heels of their more formative work. The rollout's been a little shaky, but if anyone's equipped to deal with a few bumps in the road, it's Barlow.
>> READ: "Interview: Lou Barlow talks the talk" by Matt Parish <<
The reissue program started with the band's European label, Domino Records. "They were kind of spearheading this whole thing," says Barlow over the phone from his home in LA. " 'We've got to reissue all this stuff before CDs are dead, and it's a really important record for the label.' " Meanwhile, Barlow's contacts at Sub Pop were saying that they were on board for a Bakesale reissue, so he got to work on the package. ("I sort of guilted them into doing it.")
A year later, with a tour set up with Bakesale co-mastermind Jason Loewenstein and drummer Robert D'Amico, and the Domino release date announced (April 4), the Sub Pop reissue still isn't out. (It's now due in June.) Nonetheless, the group are on their way back home this week, hitting the Paradise tonight (March 24). It's their third reunion tour by Barlow's count. He's been a regular workhorse for the past several years, since rebooting Dinosaur Jr. with old friend J. Mascis. And he's busy at work on new material. "In fact, I just got a new studio set-up, and yesterday was the first day I got all the mics working at once, so I recorded a song."
Bakesale broke out as an unexpected hit in 1994. Gaffney had left the band after 1993's Bubble & Scrape, and Sebadoh had already begun to jettison the very lo-fi approaches of the early records. By most standards, however, the record still sounded raw, and legions of indie-rock pitchmen continued to peg the group as homespun pioneers and visionaries, a kind of punk-folk hybrid. Was it all a clever scheme to subvert genres? Barlow shrugs at that notion and notes an explicit forebear. "The very first Meat Puppets recordings were like the craziest hardcore ever. To my young ears, they were the pinnacle of hardcore. They were the best. They made the craziest, angriest, evilest-sounding records. But they also made these really dramatic switches with the style of music that they played. They were a hardcore band that mutated into a country band, and that made a huge impression on me."