"... makes me feel really paranoid. But that's good. I deal in paranoia. I trade on paranoia. --Lou Barlow

being in-between
by m bates

1998 finds Lou Barlow in transition. The most obvious change is the move early this year from Massachusetts, where he's lived since his youth, to Silverlake, right here in Los Angeles. Folk Implosion, his collaboration with friend Jon Davis, is signed to a major label. Sebadoh, the band for which he has released some of his best-loved work, has had its longest gap between releases this decade. Most dramatically for Sebadoh, a Louisville native named Russ Pollard has replaced Bob Fay as the drummer. Bob was the longtime back-up drummer who would tour and record with Lou and Jason Loewenstein, Sebadoh's other main (and too-often overlooked by Lou-adoring fans and writers... such as myself) songwriter, whenever the erratic Eric Gaffney would chose to "quit" the band.

Bob became Sebadoh's fulltime drummer in 1994, when Gaffney made Barlow and Loewenstein an offer they couldn't accept, to record separately and not tour with the band. Bob's solid but fairly standard drumming style was oft-criticized among fans, but for his bandmates came as a relief following in the footsteps of Gaffney, a great, wild and powerful drummer (one of the few truly comparable to Keith Moon) who would at some shows willfully play drum rolls all the way through songs. After the tour for Sebadoh's 1996 album, Jason and Lou felt strongly that Bob's limitations were affecting the performance of the song material. Avoidance of the issue for too long resulted in a nasty situation which required some time afterward to recover the friend relationship that had been there from the beginning.

Sebadoh is also in flux to a certain extent because of the no-man's-land the band now inhabits: they are one of the biggest underground bands but do not yet sell the number of albums that one could consider mainstream. Hopes were high for Harmacy, which on the heels of Folk Implosion's hit single "Natural One" did register Sebadoh its greatest promotional exposure and commercial success, being their first album to chart in the US, but came up short of gold. Of course this is an enviable situation for a rock group to be in, but also precarious in terms of music business. Nowadays once-valued (and variously valid) characteristics like history, pedigree, credibility, and sincerity are commercial handicaps. The industry wants something "new."

But the business side is besides (or against) the point: the music. Lou has made a name and a living for himself minutely examining the cogs and gears of relationships-- love and friendship-- that are no longer running right, providing the postmortem for good things gone bad and then just gone. This rawness and complexity of emotion is set to two- or three-chord songs executed with simple guitar strums, and voiced in an passionate but not overwrought style that perfectly suits the beautiful melodies. Understandably, this package does not appeal to everyone. "Too much angst," goes the cry. But for an audience of boys and gurls (including myself) that has grown in numbers too large to be described as cult, Lou's music is an important part of our lives. The fact that Lou can identify with his subjects' points of view while maintaining a soul-baring, tight focus within his own lyrical voice (e.g. "Freed Pig," a vehement tirade against J Mascis begins, "You were right") may be what makes his music so much more immediate and truly personal for fans. It's this connection with his subject that sets him apart from two of the traditions he is product of and heir to: the confessional, navel-gazing folky solipsist and the finger-pointing, aggressively anti-everything punker.

Inspiring a small legion of fans that connect with, and therefore possess some of the same introspective, self-aware but caustically sarcastic tendencies, while not something Lou has ever complained about, can be a challenge. Many of these fans don't want him to "clean up his act" on record. Some worry that a happy marriage and a move to sunny Southern California will prove to be the end of Lou's muse. He debunks some of that thinking in the following interview, and some of it with the amazing newly-written songs he unveiled during the performance that followed. I'm along for the ride, waiting to see what happens. I know that Lou is determined to not give up the twistedness, the rough edge, and I love that he can still just totally freeze me to the spot with a few words, a melody, a few strums that carry with them a world of pain and confusion. I also love that he can sing about a love that isn't broken. Maybe it's maturity: more happy songs slipping into the set; the expressions of worry about hearing loss should the rock n' roll lifestyle continue too long; the move into a nice house that won't ever see snow. And it's entirely valid for some people to be dissatisfied with the effects of these changes on Lou's music. But I think that it's a great indication that our twisted folkcore indie rock savior can grow, that everything I've loved isn't a dead end.