Rearview Mirror: Sebadoh
Trying to create the sound of riding a razor’s edge between a trainwreck and grace.” That’s how guitarist Jason Loewenstein describes the process of creating indie-rock icons Sebadoh’s first batch of new material in 14 years.
Earlier this year, news broke that Loewenstein, founding bassist Lou Barlow and new drummer Bob D’Amico had 20 songs in the can that would become the five-song Secret EP (released this past summer) and Defend Yourself, the group’s long-awaited follow up to 1999’s The Sebadoh.
Perhaps it was just a matter of sonic ergonomics for this reappraisal to reach its full stride.
“We never really ended the band so I do think that a new record was inevitable,” explains Barlow. “We started the ‘reunion’ shows back in 2004 as a duo,
knowing that we would eventually need a drummer. Our shows with [founding member Eric Gaffney] went well, but it was clear that making new music with him would be difficult, if not impossible. When we toured in support of the Bakesale reissues with Bob D’Amico on drums, the pieces fell into place.”
After adding D’Amico—the former drummer for the Fiery Furnaces who also plays in Loewenstein’s side band, Circle of Buzzards—Sebadoh felt ready to return to the studio.
“I personally like his energy and felt it worked well with the Bakesale/Harmacy period and did improve those songs,” proclaims Barlow. “‘Skull,’ ‘Rebound,’ ‘Careful,’ etc. Working on new material was a blast. He and Jason have been playing together for over 10 years so they already had a connection. We cut our teeth on the old Sebadoh material and really dug into the new stuff. It was quick and immediately satisfying. So, I’d call it another phase—a particularly good one.”
The band employed the same methodology that they utilized in the late ‘80s on a battered four-track machine for such new numbers as “Beat,” “Oxygen” and “Can’t Depend.” Those songs harbored a strong aural connection to the material that they were working on 20 years ago around the time of their masterful fourth LP Bubble And Scrape.
What made these sessions different, however, was the trio’s use of Bandcamp to get the new material out before signing to the Joyful Noise label, a move that both Barlow and Loewenstein have mixed emotions about.
“Well, it’s not really fully DIY nor does it result in much, if any, revenue,” Barlow states of Bandcamp. “It’s an easier way for musicians to make their music available, but it’s not a fairy tale, magic way around the inescapable fact that people won’t pay for music much these days.”
“Bandcamp’s usefulness to a band like ours is debatable,” admits Loewenstein. “Yes, there were a lot of people checking out the record at Bandcamp
[but] nobody was buying [it], and we needed to make back the $300 we spent making the EP! Now that we are on Joyful Noise, we are literally millionaires!”
As for the actual music, Barlow cites simplicity as the leading catalyst for the new songs. “[We] work with what we have available—which isn’t much,” he says. “Neither Jason nor I have collected much gear. We use what we use live. We just kept the energy that we had for the live shows. I’d like to think we have challenged ourselves more melodically and structurally but, basically, it’s the same as it ever was.”
Elements of country music are also prevalent on portions of both the Secret EP and Defend Yourself—a sound Barlow states has always been an ingredient of the Sebadoh recipe.
“I grew up on country music,” he professes. “Jason and I listen to it all the time. Perhaps it’s a little more overt on the new material, but that’s only because we are owning it more, having more fun with it. The point of country music is to be natural, honest and carry on traditions of strumming, picking. Many of my songs are recorded in four-string alternate tunings. Jason’s guitar style is influenced by classic banjo. My ancestors came to the U.S. in the 1600s. Jason has a very strong connection to Kentucky—it’s a part of us.”
“I recorded all of the basic tracks in Lou’s rehearsal space in California on my gear,” Loewenstein adds. “Then Lou and I recorded our overdubs at home. I have always been into DIY recording and started doing it professionally in 2001, working as the house engineer at a commercial studio before assembling the gear that would become the Jakerock Mobile Recording Unit. Recording studio fees are the biggest expense in making an album, so knocking that out of the picture is a big deal. Lots of money left over for trips to petting zoos and amusement parks!”