On Saturday the test pressing of Defend Yourself, Sebadoh’s first record in 14 years, blasted over the speakers at 11 record stores across the country, which were handpicked by the lo-fi pioneers. The listening parties – and in one case, an in-store acoustic performance of the record from frontman (and Dinosaur Jr. bassist) Lou Barlow at Origami Records in Los Angeles – were the perfect way to celebrate Defend Yourself, the band’s return to the studio, and the official beginning of their relationship with Joyful Noise Recordings, according to Barlow.
“The first record I did for Joyful Noise was a reissue of an early cassette of mine I’d made, and it came out in a Dinosaur Jr. box set,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Cassettes and vinyl are obviously very important to them. When we signed with Joyful Noise, the fact that they were small and really curated their releases appealed to me a lot, and they had the idea of the test-pressing listening parties. Back in the day, Sebadoh would organize these record bake sales, where we’d have these big packs of the test-pressing and test CDs. They were mailed around to all these people who’d then listen to the record for the first time that way. These listening parties were very much in keeping with our history.”
Barlow, Jason Loewenstein and Bob D’Amico are now split between Los Angeles and New York City, but the introverted, isolated nature Sebadoh adopted in its infancy as a band in the woods of Western Massachusetts remains a creative quality they benefit from, one that Barlow describes as the “stubborn and anti-social” driving force behind the fuzzed-out strains of Defend Yourself.
Staying self-contained is important to the band, Barlow says: “Any band that I’ve been in that has any longevity, it’s been very much about three people without a lot of influence from the outside. That was certainly the case with Dinosaur Jr. Sebadoh kind of functions the way Dinosaur Jr. did, in that we’re a little unit. We’re a very friendly band, especially when we play live, but creatively, we’re very stubborn, though we’ve always had this thing where any time ideas were brought up we absolutely supported them. There’s no discussion as to whether or not a song should or shouldn’t be on a record. We don’t critique each other’s work, just support each other without question. That’s worked for us. Our best records are because of that.
“One thing I’ve learned from the Dinosaur Jr. reunion records was that sticking to the formula wasn’t a bad thing,” he says. “In a lot of ways, the way that people listen to music now, the way that things have kind of trended, it’s turned it back to the sound we had in the Nineties. I didn’t feel like if we did Defend Yourself in the most comfortable and natural way to us that it would come out sounding dated. It came out sounding as fresh as anything we’d ever done.”