"My mother insisted on buying me a tuner after she saw us play live," laughs Sebadoh's Lou Barlow.
Okay, technical monsters they're not. But over the course of five crudely produced independent LPs and numerous singles and EPs, this Boston-based trio has distinguished itself as a clever, reckless, oddly appealing blend of post-Sonic Youth open-tuned skronk 'n' roll and poignant, acoustic-based confessional songwriting.
As always, on their newest Sub Pop LP, Bubble and Scrape, everyone in the group--Barlow, Eric Gaffney, and Jason Loewenstein--writes songs and sings, switching instruments depending on the song's author. Hence the variance between Gaffney's "Emma Get Wild," which lurches like King Crimson crashing a B-52s jam, and Barlow's "Homemade," a skewed but stunning power ballad that evokes both the Pixies and Abbey Road-period Beatles.
Barlow, formerly the bassist of Dinosaur Jr., grew up in Michigan and Massachusetts and learned to play on a baritone ukulele, gradually evolving a love for hardcore punk, Joni Mitchell, and the Beatles. He still uses only four strings on his Gibson SG and ancient Mosrite 12-string (on which he doubles the E and A), tuning to D#, A#, C, and D#, and driving through a Mesa combo. As for the band's lo-fi, 4- and 8-track sonics, Barlow explains, "Maybe it's because my love of music is based on listening to realy horrible Fisher-Price turntables. I also like the atmosphere of '50s and '60s records more than modern recordings."
Despite all of Sebadoh's experimental noise textures and dissonant guitars,
Barlow remains a songsmith committed to honest expression. "This is me, this is
what I'm thinking--deal with it," he says. "And then to make that
beautiful--that's the killer. It's a crime to think that other things are more
important than lyrics and melody. When I play something for my girlfriend, she
doesn't say, 'Well, it's good, but the midrange is really weak on that second