Lou Barlow - 1994

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I interviewed him over the phone for my college newspaper. This was a good one! My questions are in bold; his answers are in plain text.


Sebadoh is a three-piece musical combo from somewhere in Massachusetts who recently released what I would call its sixth full-length album, Bakesale, on Sub Pop records. The band also played to a full house at Cat's Cradle a couple of weeks ago. At some point, I interviewed Lou Barlow, the "mastermind" of the outfit, over the phone on a balmy Autumn evening. I had a list of questions but, as usual, they sucked, so I'm kind of glad that I didn't get to a single one of them. That Lou - he's a talker!


Could I speak to Mark. please?

MY name is Mark!

This is Lou Barlow from Sebadoh.

Oh. Hello, Lou.


How are you doing?

Pretty good.

What's going on today?

"MY name is Mark!" That's pretty funny.

Oh, stop.

I need to start doing that: "Is Lou there?" "MY name is Lou!" "Well, good! I called the right person!"

What have you been up to today?

I'm doing my laundry.

Are you in Massachusetts?


Where are you?

Austin, Texas. I'm not in Boston, Mass. I'm in Austin, Tex.

What's going on in Austin? Are you playing there tonight?

No. We played there like a week ago. In order to explain exactly why we're in Austin, I'd have to give you a very boring, detailed speech of where we were and where we've been, and I'd rather not do that.

Oh. Who are you staying with in Austin? Do you know someone there?

We're staying with the people at the lovely Roadway Inn.

Oh! That's nice. Do you have to pay for your hotel rooms, or does Sub Pop?

Sure enough.

You have to pay for it?


Okay. I just thought maybe as big rock stars, someone else would cover that.

Big rock stars?

Well. sorta.

Are you laboring under some kind of misconception that Sebadoh is a rock.. is sort of like rock stars? I mean, maybe we will be one day. I don't know. People are very prejudiced against rock stars. And I always take offense to that.

Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it as an insult.

Okay. Some people do, you know.

No, I wasn't. I wouldn't do that.

A lot of people say that with like this amazing twinge of condescension.

Do you encounter that? People do that to you?


How do you react to that?

How do I react? I usually don't.

Does it piss you off?

Hmmm. no. It just puzzles me. It makes me realize that life is difficult. It's like. wow. For every amount of success I have in my life, there will also be an equal amount of loss in some other way. And being successful musically has taken a lot out of the way that I can deal with people - the way that I can talk to them. `Cause people sort of approach me with a lot of prejudice now.

What do you think they expect of you?

They expect a rainbow of things, from the most boring label details about who I'm signing with, blah blah blah, and where we were last week, to people telling me that I'm subverting people's consciousness with evil rhythms.

Is that second one true, or are you kidding?

Yeah! No, it's true!

People say things like that?

Of course they do.

You mean, like Christian people? Or -

Yeah, I would say that Christianity might be at the heart of it, even though those people might not be Christians. Kinda residual Catholic guilt.

Does that sort of thing - the people who do that sort of thing, does that hurt your feelings or do you just -

No! It makes me realize how powerful music is, and how many different ways things can be interpreted. And how you have to respect that. You have to respect and you also have to expect that you have no control over how people are going to take anything you do. And you can never assume that anyone understands what you're saying. And you can also never assume that people DON'T understand, `cause a lot of times, people DO understand. There are a lot of very compassionate people in the world who do understand things, and you're never truly alone. Blah blah blah.

I know that applies to what you're doing, because you actually write about your life and your feelings, but do you think that applies to - I don't think that many bands do that.

I think they would all disagree. At least a good number of them. Everybody thinks that they've got something to say. That's part of the whole thing. There are many people in the world who are convinced that they're going to be rock stars, and they never will be. You know?

Mmm-hmm. Is that something you want to be?

Is it something I want to be?


What do you do?

What do I do?


I play the guitar. And I would love to move to a city and just play with a band who would like to tour. And I wouldn't care how big we got or anything. I just would love to have a stage and to play for people.

What's that? You would just play at one stage?

No. I mean I would love to just be able to play on a stage every night or every couple of nights, and go around and play.

You mean tour, or stay in one place?


I would really like to be able to live in one place and be able to play in one city five nights a week.

Is touring draining?

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I really wouldn't want that. Hmm. Yeah, touring is a little bit draining. Yeah. You lose your voice - Every night is a whole different deal, pretty much.

Is it exciting at all to be in a different town every night? Facing all these faces who really love what you're doing?

I find that actually more disturbing. People who are sort of just faces. The way that they look at me. The way that they think. A lot of people make the assumption that I'm a lot smarter than they are, which goes back to this prejudice thing that I was talking about. People who look at me like I know something they don't know. And that just makes me sad, because a lot of those people are probably smarter and funnier than I am when they're relaxed, you know, and it's just too bad that they can't be relaxed around me, and it's too bad that I can't enjoy those people for probably the nice people they are, because they feel too uptight or too intimidated by me. But there's never any way around that. It's something that will never change. It's like part of human nature.

So they set up a sort of wall between themselves and you?

That's okay. That's just natural. I set up the same wall around other people. I see myself do it, you know? To people who I respect, or people whose music I like, I see myself do the same thing. So I'm not saying it in terms of like, the boy in the plastic bubble, like you know, "CAN'T YOU TALK TO ME?" It's totally not like that at all. It's just like this realization that people in general - WE put up walls. Everybody does.

That's the only sort of relationship you could have with people you only see for one night, though.

Yep. True.

There's so darn many people in the world. And it's impossible not to limit yourself to a few people who you can be really honest with.

Yep. Yep. That's true. Kinda strange thing, but kinda fun too.

Kinda fun?

It's so bizarre, yeah. It can be great just from night to night. Some nights, there can be this really amazing mix of people, you know? Just for whatever reason, we just get this real strange mix of people, and everybody just talks a lot. It's great, you know?

Yeah. That's the feeling that I've got at uhhh. I guess, let me see, one, two, three.


Three of the four Sebadoh shows I've seen were a lot of fun, with everybody talking and joking back and forth.


Mm-hmm. Yeah. A lot of fun. One of them - I don't know if you remember last year at Chapel Hill, you had just woken up? Do you remember that at all?


That one was kinda strange. But the other three were a lot of fun.

That one was really weird. I woke up and I walked out on stage and I was like, "Huh?" I had no idea what was - I did that a couple of times. I did that in Chicago. I went to sleep downstairs and then woke up and went down and played and immediately picked a fight with a guy in the front row! Well, he picked a fight with me, and I ended up pinning him to the wall with my guitar! I bummed out the entire fucking audience!

What was he doing? Yelling at you?

Oh, yeah! I came out on stage and he was like "COME ON, LOU!" You know, some guy jeering me, which happens all the time. It's not a real big deal. And some nights, it doesn't happen at all, you know? Whatever, you know? I'm sort of used to it, but you know, just depending on the night, depending on my mood, and, it seems to be, depending on how soon I woke up before I played, I can just be really super over- sensitive. I can be really quirky and put on a really heavy "fuck with me" vibe. Like, "Come on! Fuck with me!" And people oblige me, and everything kinda deteriorates!

Do people still try and get you by shouting stuff about Dinosaur Jr.? (Barlow was ejected from that band.) I know they did that the first time I saw you play.

Yeah. That's one thing I think will never bother me.

Really? It never did, or you've just gotten over it?

No! It definitely did at certain times, like on the very first Sebadoh tour, where we were opening for fIREHOSE. There were sort of times like in Denver, there was this kid who just stood out in the middle of the audience screaming, "Where's J and Murph?" and was just giving me shit, you know, really majorly. And then we kinda launched into this improve jam, you know? And I started screaming over the top of it about Dinosaur and shit. And after I stopped, I looked out to see if that guy was still in the audience and he wasn't! That was a couple of years ago. But recently, he came to a show we played in, I think Minnesota or something. He said, "Remember me in Denver? I was that guy yelling at you about Dinosaur?" And we have a tape of the show.

Hey! Speaking of which, do you remember by any chance about three years ago when you played Chapel Hill and a guy came on the stage and sang "Land of the Lords"?

Yep. We have that on tape, too. That's on the same tape.

Really? That was me!

What's that?

That was me.

Oh, cool!


We have that. That's really good! The tape of that is fucking amazing!

I never, I'd like to hear it. I mean, I don't guess I will, but -

That's really one of the best -

That was fun. I had a good time.

It sounds really good on the tape, too, actually. That's funny that that's you. You didn't do "Gimme Indie Rock," did you?

No, that was another guy. He was just singing about smoking pot. He couldn't remember any of the rest of the words.

No, it was like.."started back in.." and they'd just make it up. It was really, really funny. The words that they made up are really, really hilarious.

The whole show was really really hilarious! That was during your grunge phase or something. Just really, not grunge, but you were really noisy that night.

Yeah, it WAS during our grunge phase!

Oh, okay.

You're right, `cause it was all just like "VROME-BOME-KUUUUHHHH!!!!"

It was hilarious! All the quiet songs from the record were just blasted! It was really funny. Really funny! That was like the best concert. It was so funny.

That was definitely like one of the best sh - Like, that sort of typified what the best shows with Eric (Gaffney - used to be in Sebadoh. Quit.) were like. You know, where we were all just like, "WHATEVER!" and having a good time, and playing a lot of really weird songs - really really heavy metal stuff.

Yeah, it was really cool.

Yeah, I was just playing pretty loud and doing a lot of lead guitar and screaming. That was really fun. That was the same tour with that guy in Colorado, `cause we came out on stage and no one knew what to make of us, and we pretty much responded to whatever audience we had. In Chapel Hill, it was like. it was beautiful! There was just a really good vibe. It's really funny how all the cities can be totally different. Like there are some cities that are just like Sebadoh-friendly, you know? And then other cities that are Sebadoh-unfriendly, you know, where we always get this bizarre vibe going. And it seems to be completely random.

What is Atlanta like? I used to live near Atlanta, and everybody around there seemed to be really mad all the time.

When we played in Atlanta, it was a really tense show, and I tripped on acid! We played there at a really big club, and I totally - I think I was super-super-sarcastic. And somebody came up to me after the show and was like, "You know, I drove here eight hours, and you suck! I hate you!"

God! What do they want?

And then we played I Tallahassee a few nights later, and I talked to this woman and she was like, "You know, I saw you in Atlanta and my heart was broken. You broke my heart. You guys ruined everything that I thought you were. But I came to the show tonight, and you've been redeemed. I like you again. I'm really happy. I'm happy I came down here because I was all set to be disappointed again." Yeah, Atlanta was really weird. And Athens is always kinda like. it's not too bad.

It seems like they would be Sebadoh-friendly. College town -

Yeah. They would be. But it doesn't matter! If we have a lot of fans in a city, and we get these people who really love us, like that's the thing that I find out the most whenever I really get into fights with people! Afterwards, someone comes up to me and says, "Look, I just wanted to tell you that he is the biggest Sebadoh fan in the world, and he wouldn't have meant to do this tonight, but he's just really passionate about you guys. That's why he did that. He doesn't hate you." Like, I've had that happen to me two or three times. And I don't get into a lot of fights, but that's happened with a bunch of them, where people come up afterwards and like, "You know that guy.." You know? So it's really weird. So it doesn't matter how big of fans they are, sometimes, depending on the vibe of the show or how much I've had to drink or how much they've had to drink or whatever. There can just be real weird little interactions. Maybe it's all drug-induced, like my mother would say. "Now, if you just stop smoking pot and drinking, everyone would understand everyone else! That stuff makes you retarded!"

Do you still do the crazy sort of shows? Do you still ever go out there and go, "Whatever!" or do you have a set list now?

We play songs.

Because last time you played Chapel Hill, when you were asleep, you did have a set list for a while it seemed like, and then you stopped playing and Eric did a bunch of songs. And so I was like, "Hmm." And then I saw you two night later in Atlanta, and again, it just seemed like, "Whatever!" which may have been wrong, but you had the girl from Jack O'Nuts come up and sing "Gimme Indie Rock" -

O, I was tripping at that show!

Oh, that was that show?


That was funny. That was a good show. People were yelling at you at that show.

Yeah. And I was yelling back.

Okay, so that was the show! So I WAS there! Alright. Damn! You see, I thought you were talking about a Masquerade (club in Atlanta) show.

No no no.

Yeah, this was at a club I'd never been to.

Yep, we played with - It was like Polvo, Jack O'Nuts..

That was a good show! Oh well.

Well, I have to get my laundry.

Oh, okay. Well, thanks for talking to me.

No problem.

And ummm. Okay, have a good'un!

What's that?

Have a good'un? That was just slang.



See ya.

Reader Comments

All throughout reading the interview I pictured both Lou and Mark in urine-stained BVD's sitting on a stack of dirty magazines. Also, both phones were greasy. Good interview though.

that is hilarious. i've never heard of any other band that would consistently let members of the audience get up on stage and sing...well except for flipper, but that's it really. funny stuff, turning "gimme indie rock" into a pot anthem. well, it kinda was anyway, what with the "started smoking pot, thought things sounded better slow" line.

of all the interview's i've read of Lou's this has got to be one of the funniest..i know from having met him several times over the past decade that he can be a totally sweet fellow or just sorta blow you off..guess he was havfing a bad trip a few of those times..

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Lou Barlow's many fine work can be buy here - just click four times!

You said it man -- nobody fucks with the Prindle. Which is unfortunate.