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The Freed Men

Sebadoh undo their indie shackles and unleash another album on their confused and devoted fans

It’s nearly impossible to talk about the “indie ethos” without
mentioning Sebadoh. For the last ten years, the fluid trio has been
the quintessential lo-fi band, modestly recording in a basement and
slowly working its way up the stairway to the main room at Sub Pop
and Sire Records. They’ve witnessed band-member departures,
writer’s block, bad blood, misnomers and reams of press, but have
always emerged as singular and defiant as they were back in 1989,
when Lou Barlow formed the experimental act in direct response to
his dismissal from Dinosaur Jr. But to the current (and what
appears to be permanent) line-up, all that indie cred is a load of
crap.

“It seems like a misnomer,” quips Barlow at the notion that Sebadoh
are, indeed, the lo-fi monarchs of the indie empire. “It’s not
really important to us, and we’re not going to cater to people’s
personal politics.” What is important to Barlow (guitar, vocals),
Jason Lowenstein (bass, vocals) and Russ Pollard (drums) is that
the music reaches out to more than just some bespectacled,
fanzine-editing indie-snob who gets offended when his favorite
little band goes “mainstream” (read: earns a living). “If you
record and put something out, you should be prepared for the idea
that maybe more than one person will wanna listen to it,” explains
Barlow. “And then you have to accept the fact that that could be a
million or two million. Or whatever. It’s all the same to me.”

It’s this blend of passionate bitterness and fundamental apathy
that defines Sebadoh. Loyalists argue over whether Lowenstein’s
angry punk tunes are more earnest than Barlow’s broken-hearted love
songs, but over time, the two divergent styles have found common
ground. “I think our fans are confused about who’s writing the
songs that they like sometimes,” says Lowenstein. “It seems that
Lou gets credit for my tunes and I get credit for his tunes. But
I’ve always imagined that they were really close.” Barlow concurs:
“I think that passion and anger get confused. I mean, I just think
that passion can make you grit your teeth in the same way that
anger would.” And though avid fans may fight the notion, The
Sebadoh
‘s fifteen new tracks clearly exhibit a merging of the
minds.

Whereas 1996’s Harmacy expanded on the pop sound — and
sales success — of 1994’s Bakesale, it proved a creative
disappointment for the band. Recorded at the same time that
Barlow’s side project, Folk Implosion, was enjoying commercial
success with “Natural One” (off the Kids soundtrack),
tension and the impending departure of drummer Bob Fay permeated
the studio. By the time the sessions were over, it seemed that
Sebadoh would be, too. But with the introduction of Pollard, the
aggression and momentum that fueled Sebadoh’s previous seven albums
swiftly returned.

“I thought it was gone for a while, but then it started to pick up
its own energy,” recalls Lowenstein of the period between
Harmacy and The Sebadoh, during which time the
band negotiated a joint contract with Sub Pop and Sire Records. “I
mean, every record we’ve done is like a transitional record. It’s
like we’re always in motion. But I never lost the idea that you can
get aggression out in songs, you know. I thought that was gone for
a while, but it always comes back.”

“Back” this time means hard and heavy, and where Barlow used to
tread lightly, he stomps his feet. Where Lowenstein shouted in
anger, he articulates in iambic pentameter. “This is the one, this
is ‘the Sebadoh,’ finally,” Lowenstein states emphatically. “It’s
taken ten years to make this into a band.”

Though, one might argue, it’s the ornery nature of once and future
fans that really makes Sebadoh a band. “I saw this little kid at
the record store like two years ago,” says Lowenstein. “He had a
friend with him and he points to the Sebadoh section and goes,
‘They’re evil. Don’t buy their records.'” He laughs. Obviously,
having staunch adversaries is as flattering as having dogged
patrons.

But, whether they have mainstream success or college-rock
credibility, the indie trinity are grateful for what keeps their
embers burning. “I don’t see any bands that really seriously
undermine themselves as actively as we do,” says Lowenstein. And,
quips Barlow, “I just feel lucky that I’ve managed to fuck myself
up for so long.”

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