Lou Barlow of Sebadoh: February 1995


Sebadoh brings the low-fi to the University of Utah Union Ballroom on March 2. Loved by critics everywhere they have escaped the financial rewards less-deserving musicians receive. An article in SLUG will do little to rectify the situation, but it might help sell a few copies of their albums or convince the public to buy an advance ticket for the show. Lou Barlow is no slouch. In my high-tech home environment phone interviews are recorded using the latest in modern technology. As the recording process began Barlow immediately knew what kind of equipment I used.

Lou Barlow is no slouch. In my high-tech home environment phone interviews are recorded using the latest in modern technology. Issue 74, February 1995

Barlow: Would that be a AT&T gray answering machine?

SLUG: Yes, how did you know that?

Barlow: Someone else used on during an interview. With the preliminaries out of the way the interview commenced.

SLUG: In several interviews included with the Sub Pop press kit you refer to your father and country musicians. In one interview it’s if I sold this song to Billy Ray Cyrus I’d be a millionaire and in another it’s Randy Travis. Is your father a big country music fan?

Barlow: Yea, a lot of people are. A lot of middle aged people are. It’s what he listens to when he goes back and forth to work. It’s always on the radio—modern country stations.

SLUG: He just listens to modern country?

Barlow: Yea, the modern country stations don’t seem to play any old ones which is kind of a bummer. The really sad thing is that there’s really no classic country stations around here. I would listen to those. I get really sick of the new stuff cause they all sound the same. It’s really condescending.

SLUG: The cover of your new CD, Bakesale, features a picture of a baby looking into a toilet. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before. but is that you?

Barlow: Sure is. Everyone has nude photographs of themselves. Toilet photographs as well. There was one single I saw. I only saw it once about two years ago. It was an amazing cover of a single someone put out of a little kid reaching into the toilet. I thought that was such an amazing photograph that when I found my own photograph I was like, “hell put it on our front cover.”

SLUG: I talked to John Fredrick of the Black Watch the other day. He has a PhD in English and he was trying to write a novel. He gave it up because he found writing songs easier than writing fiction. Many interviews I’ve read with the members of Sebadoh have a lot of literary references. I wanted to ask – have you ever written any fiction?

Barlow: No, I can barely read. People sort of make the assumption that I read a lot because my lyrics are fairly literate. I sort of write in plain language and I think I make myself understood. Also I wear glasses and people kind of think that I read a lot. I don’t at all. I think if I ever had to face writing a piece of fiction, I would just be lost. It takes too much. I also don’t think I have much of the ego to create a whole world out of just my thoughts—some sort of alternate reality. I’m pretty much stuck here—stuck here in our present reality. I just have to write about things that I’ve felt and even then I can only manage about four or five lines about it. I’m pretty limited. I can only write like a song’s length about anything. It is easier.

SLUG: How much of the reams of press written about you do you read?

Barlow: (laughs) I read all of it if I have it. It’s a morbid impulse that I have. Usually Sub Pope will collect all of the press that we have and put it all together in the press kit and I will be compelled to read the entire thing. It’s usually pretty depressing—wow. I’m a total idiot. Jesus, I don’t explain myself very well now do I.

SLUG: With all the hundreds of songs you’ve written how do you decide what to play live?

Barlow: Well. there’s like a fraction of all the songs I recorded that we know how to play as a band. There’s probably 50 or 60 songs that we can play as a band. We kind of choose between all of those.

SLUG: How do audiences react to you live. Barlow: It really depends on the place. If we play some smaller places down south people can be really noisy and get really into it and be really noisy. But mostly it’s just really incredibly polite people standing there staring. I’m like are you people enjoying this? Do you like what’s happening right now? It’s kind of cool because there’s no kids jumping on top of each other or anything like that.

Over the course of the conversation I learned that Lou Barlow doesn’t make that much money from his music. His girlfriend. who he reported he will soon marry, works. He says he is psyched to play Salt Lake City because the band has never been here. He almost made it as a member of Dinosaur Jr. but the van broke down in Idaho. No rockstar mentality was present.  I asked my idiot questions and he answered them as best he could. He’s an exceptional musician and songwriter and also a nice guy. I’m psyched that Sebadoh put Salt Lake on their schedule. The other bands performing will be God Head Silo, State Of the Nation and Stella Brass. Tickets are $8.

Read more from the SLUG Archives:
Shadowplay: January 1995
Little Records: January 1995