At a 1992 Los Angeles performance, the Whisky's marquee advertised the appearance of "Sabado," the Spanish word for Saturday. Sebadoh's Lou Barlow chuckles when he thinks about it, "If people think our name means Saturday, that's pretty cool. If it's gonna be close to the meaning of any word, it might as well be that. I'm happy with the fact Sebadoh's a name that can't be negotiated into any real meaning, because that meaning will come as we play as a band."
After hundreds of homemade two- and four-track recordings, two "studio" records and assorted singles, Sebadoh still sounds like a band that's discovering itself. Rooted in the explosive energy of hardcore punk, prone to minimalist experimentation, and open to just about anything in between, the constantly evolving trio's latest release, Bubble And Scrape (Sub Pop) might not sonicall resemble anything the band records next month or a year from now. This manic group -- capable, exciting and strange -- is leaving room to explore itself and its sounds in the future.
Eric Gaffney, for example, barely even knew where his songs for Bubble And Scrape were leading while he was recording them. "It's kind of an experiment," he explains. "Something I'm very interested in doing is leaning toward the idea of improvisation or spontaneity. A lot of the music was being done right on the spot, for basic tracks anyway. There were no restrictions in the studio, especially if there was no idea what I was doing."
Jason Loewenstein and Gaffney collaborated more during the recording, since they're neighbors in Northampton, MA, while Barlow lives in Boston. Loewenstein remains amazed at Gaffney's studio results months after Bubble And Scrape's recording. "After being with (Gaffney) in the studio," he remembers, "I could not figure out what his ultimate goal was, but those songs now sound pretty cohesive to me."
Barlow's songs reflect a more traditional songwriting approach, musically and lyrically similar to the singer/songwriter style he's been praised for on earlier Sebadoh releases like 1989's III (on Homestead) Barlow's the band's tightest songwriter, the one who reinforces melodies with poignant guitar overdubs ("Two Years, Two Days", "Forced Love") or bittersweet backing vocals ("Think"). "I'm starting to get sick of my soft approach to things," he muses. "I want to incorporate some more aggressive stuff."
Almost logically, Loewenstein seems to filter his bandmate's disparate approaches into his own evolving style. "Lou really likes to be in control of his songs," Loewenstein says, "and Eric's more completely on the other side, with a very open-ended kind of thing." Loewenstein also experiments with home taping and "doing things that aren't real songs." Loewenstein's "Happily Divided" has the folksy taste of a Barlow ballad, while "Flood" is an assaultive rock sprint conceived spontaneously in a session with Gaffney. Gaffney remembers, "It was just another one of those days where I was like 'Okay, what are we gonna do now?' and Jason just came up with that really great riff on the spot."
Gaffney continued to meddle with his songs well after the recording process, changing song titles like "Susperia" to "Fantastic Disaster" on a whim. "I was punishing myself for naming it after such a stupid move," Gaffney explains. "I didn't really name it after that movie, but I sort of borrowed it." Other titles changed too, like "Ice Cold Gin" and "Agitated Radio Pilot", which became, respectively, "Telecosmic Alchemy" and "Emma Get Wild".
Gaffney's untitled collage that precedes "Bouquet For A Siren" (once "Serf To Cliff") appears to be a nod to early Sebadoh material like The Freed Man, where collage played a larger role in Sebadoh's development.
"Maybe that's there to mess with anybody who wants a cohesive album, from song to song to song," Gaffney quips. "That's got to be the world's worst marimba playing on that." Barlow also enjoys providing new listeners with the unexpected, one reason why he is particularly pleased with Bubble And Scrape.
"We're functioning like we've always functioned," Barlow comments, "but it's
really strange how people all of a sudden get bugged by the way our songwriting
really swings. I find it really interesting and I think some people are really
limited and can't swing between the two extremes. I suppose, in a way, that
we're becoming more of a regular rock band, but I'm not sure about that."