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Interview: Sebadoh

Jason Loewenstein and Lou Barlow
Jason Loewenstein and Lou Barlow
Courtesy Photo

In August of 1994, Seattle’s Sub Pop Records released Bakesale, the seventh album by Massachusetts-based band Sebadoh. Consisting of founding member (and former Dinosaur Jr. bassist) Lou Barlow, multi-instrumentalist Jason Loewenstein and Bob Fay on drums, Bakesale would go on to be the band’s most commercially successful album, and is considered by many to be the epitome of what an indie rock album should be. From the low-fi recording process to the sullen slacker undertones, the album became the blueprint for would-be indie-rockers in the nineties and beyond. Like most seminal albums, Bakesale is being reissued by Sub Pop Records on April 4th 2011, almost 17 years after it was first released onto the unsuspecting flannel-wearing public of America. As the band prepares to reunite and tour for the third time since they ceased recording new material in 1999, I had a chance to catch up with Jason Loewenstein as he prepared for his trip to Los Angeles where Sebadoh will be rehearsing for the upcoming west coast tour.

Your solo album At Sixes And Sevens came out in 2002, what have you been up to since then? Have you been behind the boards recording bands?
Jason Loewenstein: Well, since I’ve been living in New York I’ve started recording more and more on my own gear. I have a modest collection of gear which is very portable. I have this funny business model where I really don’t have a studio per say; I have a place that I can mix in my house, I have a mix room there but all the gear has to go to somebody’s rehearsal space or something like that. It’s very raw and it also fits in the model of the new 21st century broke musician, because I’m really cheap.

So who’ve you recorded thus far? I know you’ve Done Fiery Furnaces right.
JL: That’s definitely my most notable so to speak, like they really came out on a real label and everything else. The other things I’ve done that are known at all; there’s a band from Louisville called Coliseum, sort of a post hardcore kind of band. I’ve recorded a couple of their records before I moved up here. And they’ve gone on to be on Revelation Records. Those are the ones that are probably the most publicly aware type stuff. And then a lot of really good local New York stuff. There’s a group called The Dust Dive, who are really great and I’ve gone on to work with a bunch of their side projects. It’s a lot of small-time stuff. Bands that normally wouldn’t get the kind of attention that I can give them are able to do that, because it’s too expensive to go into a real crazy studio.

Do you remember Truman’s Water?
JL: Yeah, they’re a fantastic San Diego band. They were great.

Didn't Truman’s Water cover a song off Bakesale and didn’t Sebadoh in turn cover one of their songs?
JL: I think that they covered us and I think that that legend came out because we played a handful of shows with them back in the day, and I think that because that had already happened we started trying to play one of their songs live during that time we were playing shows with them. We never recorded it or anything.

To my knowledge you haven’t released another solo album since At Sixes And Sevens right?
JL: No, that’s the last sort of official release of mine. In the meantime the last couple of years I’ve had a band called Circle of Buzzards, which is just Bob D’Amico, who’s the new Sebadoh drummer, and I. Just him on the drums and me on the bass; It’s sort of like, do you remember a band called Godhead Silo?

JL: They’re a bass and drums, kind of just fuzzy bass duo, really loud. That’s kind of what we’re going for. And there’s also this band called Ohm right now that kind of does what we do. The guy’s sort of an eastern religion guy, so the songs are like 10 minutes long, like a mantra, and they’re really droney and meant to get in you in some sort of zone I’m sure.

Has Circle of Buzzards released anything? Have you guys been on the road or do you just play around New York?

We’ve played a handful of shows just in the northeast here. There’s a few songs sort of demoed up but we really haven’t made a record yet or anything. At www.jakerock.com there’s really easy links to all that stuff and there’s a lot of free music for Circle of Buzzards out there.

So how come you haven’t gotten off your ass and done another solo album?
JL: I’ve made a lot of other songs in the meantime, but I let myself get really bummed out after that frankly. The timing was a little bad, like we waited a little while after it was released but then we did a couple of US tours and played tons of shows and stuff and it just wasn’t clicking somehow. And the record labels were like, “You’re a legacy act and blah blah blah,” and I was like “What are you talking about?” I kind of took it personally and got bummed out frankly. There definitely will be more, because I think I’ve snapped out of this feeling sorry-for-myself phase.

You guys just did a Sebadoh reunion, what was that four years ago?
JL: Yeah, we did a couple of them. We did one with Eric and then we did one before that that was just with Lou and I. In the meantime I got plenty of free time even with Fiery Furnaces, when I get to play with them. There’s plenty more songs where that came from, but I just had to get my head out of my rear end so to speak.

Who’s idea was this to do the reissue and subsequent tour, or was this all part of the plan?

JL: The reissue’s just part of the plan so to speak. Just because the age of some of these records, there’s a re-licensing; it’s all just sort of business stuff that can be done. We always planned on reissuing these things. Our labels were pretty good to us, but now we’re able to package them in a more astute way and put in our observations as having 10 or more years between to think about what the hell the record’s supposed to mean. It’s a good time to repackage stuff when it’s this old.

Did you think that Bakesale was going be this big touchstone for indie rock when you were recording it?
JL: No, absolutely not. I thought we were doing kind of good work, but at that time we were doing a lot of touring and then coming off the tour and writing then just going into the studio. So there wasn’t a lot of time to think yourself into a corner. Or try to think about what your impact is going to be. That seems like a bottomless pit for any kind of an artist. I had no idea what kind of staying power it would have. But it’s very nice to know that people still think there’s something important in there.

During the previous Sebadoh reunion tours, how many times would people scream out, “Play Bakesale!”?
JL: If you’re going to take an average when people yell out songs, most of the time it’s either from Bakesale or Harmacy. Or they’re just trying to be record collector guys that are yelling out something incredibly obscure.

After Bakesale was released in 1994, I remember seeing you guys perform live on 120 Minutes, and I think the song they aired was “Give Up.” Do you remember anything about that set?
JL: We did about a half dozen songs, but I remember I think they showed that one first for some reason. Those kinds of situations especially back then were really unnerving for me, but we had been playing so much that it was less intimidating than I thought once we got started. And I was really shocked about Matt Pinfield’s candor frankly. I’d watched 120 Minutes for years, there were certain moments where you’d see something that you really wouldn’t see anywhere else, before they made it as a development ground for their regular commercial shit eventually, in my opinion. So I digress; I didn’t have a ton of respect for Pinfield, until we sat down with him. He was one of the most knowledgeable record collector types I’ve ever met in my life. Like Lou has a real knowledge of early hardcore stuff, like really obscure stuff and they were just chatting away about all this stuff. That was the most memorable thing to me that he was a real music fan.

Have you seen him lately at all around New York?
JL: I haven’t, my wife seems to catch his show when she’s driving around here, when she turns on the radio. But I never see him no.

Yeah he’s out there. I interviewed him at CMJ a few years ago and he’s still going. He’s out there.
JL: You mean out there in terms of he's kind of flakey or. . .?

I think the word on the street was he had a horrible cocaine addiction after he left MTV and Columbia. What you said is true though, he’s just this frenetic ball of knowledge, especially when he’s all wired-up.
JL: I was going to say, he’s a very wired man so I can’t imagine that being useful.

In this digital age album art is becoming a thing of the past, how important is it for you to have the image correspond with the record?
JL: We try to make the artwork as interesting as we can, that was half the fun of records back in the day. A little less now; with MP3’s you can only throw in one image with the file. I think its super important, but that’s how we came up. People who were born more recently, they’re whole idea is without the image, so I have to make space for their reality but for me, on iTunes I spend half my time looking for the artwork to put in the thing so that when it comes up I’m at least reminded. It’s really important to me and it makes me like a real anal retentive guy with the MP3s, because it bums me out when it comes up and there’s just nothing there.

Fans of Bakesale know that the cover art is a picture of Lou as a baby reaching into a toilet. But who came up with the images on the inside of the album? Like the guy balancing on a bicycle rim.
JL: I contributed that, but I must admit I ripped that out of a magazine. I was like, “That’s an incredible shot.”

And you’re getting ready to leave for rehearsals right?
JL: That’s right, tomorrow I leave for California.

So what are you doing today in preparation for your trip tomorrow?

I’m running all around New York to pick up all kinds of stuff. I unfortunately have diabetes so I have to pick up a bunch of insulin before I go. I have a flight case for my guitar I have to go pick up the innards for that.

What guitar are you bringing, the Gibson SG or the Telecaster?
JL: I’m bringing an old Mexican Telecaster that I’ve had for a long time. Yeah it’s a really cheap ass guitar and sometimes it doesn’t sound that good but it’s my buddy. And Lou has apparently bought himself a new Rickenbacker bass out there so I’m just going to use that. And we have a new drum set that we bought on Eric Gaffney’s insistence for our last reunion tour, because the set we had wasn’t good enough for him. So we went and shelled out for a brand new beautiful Ludwig kit that’s sort of in the Ringo style; I can’t describe it very well. There’s this sort of pattern on Ringo’s drums and this is like the Ringo model. So Bob’s going to have a real nice drum set out there. And Lou apparently has a very nice jam space. I don’t know what that’s going to mean, because jam spaces are never that nice.

Where are you guys going to be staying at, with Lou?
JL: We are yeah. I can’t believe he’s offering this because he just had another kid, but he’s offered to have me and Bob stay there so I guess they have enough room still. He lives out in Silver Lake so we’ll definitely be staying with him.

Does Jason Loewenstein have a message for the children?
JL: Sebadoh’s for the older brother. We’re your older brother’s band.

For more info on the show visit:http://directory.sandiego.com/event/sebadoh-the-casbah.html