Post-punk pioneer and Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow talks to HUCK about balancing touring with home life, recording in a DIY practice space and not caring about being cool.

Post-punk pioneer and Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow talks to HUCK about balancing touring with home life, recording in a DIY practice space and not caring about being cool.

A founding member of Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow found a life playing in hardcore bands around Massachusetts in the early ’80s. Now a father, the forty-seven-year-old songwriter and self-professed ‘band clerk’ has a wealth of musical history to look back on; including solo records, sold-out shows and flopped record label deals. After being infamously kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. following personal clashes with frontman J Mascis, Barlow began new trio Sebadoh as a fresh musical output.

Defend Yourself, Sebadoh’s first album since 1999, is a stirring fix of earthy indie rock. Self-recorded in a rented rehearsal room, the record is phlegmatic and alluring, juxtaposing dark lyrical depth and lazy jubilant melody. Having rejoined Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow co-wrote the album with bassist Jason Loewenstein; their first self-recorded offering since 1994’s seminal Bakesale. We caught up with Lou to find out more.

How did Defend Yourself come about?
We recorded most of it in the spring of 2012. We had about two weeks together between all of my recording and touring with Dinosaur Jr., then we spent two weeks recording the basic tracks of the record. I found some time at the end of 2012 to record my songs and Jason [bass] did the same. Then we put the finishing touches on the record earlier this year. It wasn’t a strict amount of time to work on it, but we did have time to think about it.

You recorded Defend Yourself yourself in a practice room. How was that process?
Well the last Sebadoh record was recorded in a couple of studios and we had a pretty big budget to do it. This one was much more about the three of us and there was no outside influence. We did it as efficiently as possible and we produced it ourselves. My songs were mixed by Wally Gagel, but other than that it was just Jason that did it all.

It sounds like it worked out.
Yeah I think our best work comes out of that approach. Studios are fine and they can be a great challenge, but it can be very clinical and they lack the personal intimacy of doing something yourself. We’d much rather be comfortable.

How much time did you spend writing the record?
Well I came to the recording with about seven or eight ideas; guitar chords, all sorts of lyrical concepts and stuff like that – but nothing finished really. Then we sat for the two weeks we were recording it when I banged all my ideas together and put them into shape with Bob and Jason. Between recording the songs and recording vocals I conquered how I wanted to sing the songs and what they were going to be about.

‘Oxygen’ and ‘State Of Mine’ sound like Sebadoh’s most poppy songs ever. It sounds like Defend Yourself as whole has this youthful, upbeat tone to it.
I don’t wanna disagree with you because that’s great, but I think for me it’s fairly a dark record. I actually find it reminiscent of Bakesale. Although I would say there’s an energy to it and when I hear it, I hear us having a lot of fun. The overall lyrical theme is darker but musically you’re right, there’s definitely an energy and a spark behind it.

What do you focus on at home when you’re not away with Sebadoh or Dinosaur Jr.?
I haven’t been home for a week or two in a really long time, so it’s hard to say what I do. I mean, today I’m just spending my day doing domestic stuff and organising flights. Sebadoh is a self-managed band and it’s very hands-on. I find myself doing a lot of clerical work. I’ve always done that. I think I’m always struggling in things, mostly in striking a balance between keeping everything under control and then also finding time to write songs.

How has songwriting changed for you?
I’m not a very imaginative writer, so I tend to have to draw from my own experiences, which is always the way I’ve done it I guess. But now I have to plan things out and be pre-meditated about what I do. That impulsive way I used to write when I was younger and didn’t have children – I could have spent a day writing impulsively off the top of my head! Now I have to budget my time. Now I’ll have three hours to come up with a bunch of ideas. I’d actually like to get back to writing more impulsively.

How do you remain inspired?
I really like writing songs, I love finishing songs, I love working on them. The fact that I like it inspires me. The other thing is that it’s really what I do – it’s not a hobby. It never has been for me. It’s how I’ve chosen to spend my time.

What are you listening to at the moment?
I liked a lot of garage rock that was happening for a few years. The first band I found who I thought were remarkable were The Black Lips. I was really excited about Animal Collective for a while too. I thought Panda Bear’s solo record Person Pitch was one of my favourite records of all time for a while. I’m always listening to stuff.

Are there any goals you want to achieve with Sebadoh?
No, other than playing some sold-out shows once in a while. But that’s as far as I’m gonna go. I’ve been in bands that went through so many different stages of popularity and in a lot of ways I’ve reached all of my ultimate goals; which were to play shows and be able to go on tour. I don’t have any grand plans, I would just like to do well and survive. I think what J Mascis has with Dinosaur Jr., I’d like to have that with Sebadoh some day.

Did you ever think of giving up in those down periods of popularity?
No, you just power through. I didn’t start a band in order to become everybody’s favourite one. The idea originally was to be a part of it – to belong to some big family of bands and musical influences. I guess that I have achieved that. There’s a part of me that wants to say that I’m still not there and I have a lot of work to do. And there’s a lot more to do – there’s still one more place that I haven’t played yet.

Defend Yourself is out now on Domino Records and can be streamed on the Sebadoh Soundcloud.