Lou Barlow

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY Cam LindsayPublished Jan 1, 2006

What are you up to?
Upcoming Sebadoh tour and recording a solo album.

What are your current fixations?
(Long pause) I saw School Of Rock on the plane recently and thought it was surprisingly good.

Why do you live where you do?
I live in Los Angeles because my wife told me to.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work?
The song "Coward" by Moonshake because you completely don't know where it's coming from. It's very noisy and blurry, but not really ambient. You can't figure out what the source of the music is. It's a piece of music that, when I first heard it, altered my reality.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig?
I saw a show, it wasn't really a hardcore show, it was before hardcore in about 1980. There were local new wave and punk rock bands. There was one that sounded like the Clash, another one like the Ramones, another like the Dead Kennedys and then a new wave band like the B-52's. That was the first show I ever saw and it was in a porn theatre during the day. I was either 14 or 15.

What have been your career highs and lows?
High: One time when I was home visiting for Christmas, I walked into the liquor store and my song, "Natural One," was playing on the local rock radio station. The vile, horrible, scourge of my youth rock radio station was playing my song, in a liquor store. At that moment, I thought this was as good as it can get.
Low: Getting really drunk on whiskey before we were supposed to play a radio show in Boston. Before the show, I ended up in a friend's hotel room and I made a horrible mess of the bathroom, in every way. I kind of see that as the beginning of the end of what was Sebadoh. That was in '97.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Sebadoh had just signed to Sub Pop Records and we were in Seattle, Washington. Seattle's a very political town, when it comes to music. Anyway, we came and played, and Eric Gaffney was in the band, and we were becoming pretty notorious for shambolic rock shows. Very hit or miss. This particular show was totally chaotic. The place was packed and occasionally, people would surge onto the stage. It was a weird show; there was a weird energy. Afterwards, some local guy came backstage and said, "I know you made $1500 for this show and you don't deserve it!" I told him to fuck off.

What should everyone shut up about?
Celebrities and celebrity.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
Dislike: Obsessive compulsiveness.
Like: I like that I'm not easily provoked by people. Someone can be very mean or sarcastic and I just won't pick up on it at all. I give people a lot of credit. It can also lead to a lot of problems, I suppose.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Don't take a lot of drugs. (Adopts an authoritative voice) "Don't take speed right now! It's 11 o'clock at night!" Things that involve a chemical poisonous nature.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I'd never kick someone out of my bed unless they weren't invited. I have kicked someone out of my band for his lack of care for his instrument. He just didn't care. There are people who are musicians who are serious about bettering themselves musically and striving to improve. And then there are people who, when it comes to music, are like, "Hey, this makes a good racket. This is pretty easy. Cool, I'm in a band, man!" Then when artistic demands start coming in, as they should, to improve, he chilled and became passive aggressive and lazy. At that point, I had to say, "That's it, you're not in the band."

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
The first thing I always think is that I wish I was born in Canada. It's a great place. It's better than the United States. Always has been, quite possibly, always will be. When I was young, living in Michigan, we would go over to Windsor and I would think, "Wow, it's a whole different place!"

What is your vital daily ritual?
I've begun running in sweat pants. It's great letting out all of these toxins. My body responds really well to it.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I'll go and listen to mp3s and if I like it, I'll buy the CD… and then burn copies for all my friends! On one hand, piracy has damaged my career, as far as people buying my records. A fraction of people now are buying them, but that could be for other reasons. Perhaps it's the dwindling quality of my work or that I'm simply falling out of fashion. My stuff sells drastically less now and I think it could just be because people can't afford it. CDs are so expensive. But I have no problems with piracy. I encourage it. I put up my own songs to download on the site. And I think that if people like my music, somehow, some way, enough people will buy my records or come to shows.

What was your most memorable day job?
Working in a nursing home.

How do you spoil yourself?
I do whatever I want. If I feel I deserve it because I completed a certain amount of work, I'll drink wine at noon or sit down and watch a movie. I listen to that little voice in my head and do whatever it tells me to do.

If I wasn't playing music I would be:
An orderly at a hospital or a registered nurse. It's about the only job, at my age now, where I could go to school for two to four years and become something like an RN. Even if I didn't go to school, I could become an orderly. Doing these jobs is a direct way to make life better for people. Whether it's taking a cold, steel bed pan from a 70-year-old woman, spreading ointment on the back of someone with bed sores or just talking to someone who's bed ridden, it's just an immediate way of improving the quality of someone's life.

What do you fear most?
Cars, car wrecks, car accidents. People every day are commanding these huge tons of steel and there's a lot of responsibility involved in that. A lot of people complain about other things that may or may not be killing us — alcohol, asbestos in the walls — but day to day, the most horrific reality is traffic and being on the road driving. People's lives are being destroyed constantly. It's just a holocaust out there. There are no solutions. Well, electric cars and very well planned roadways that are controlled by electric impulses or are computerized. Mass transit for everyone or bicycles only!

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
As a male and having grown up with images of women, the way they're portrayed in magazines… all of that stuff has a very Pavlovian effect on me. If in my visual field, I can become stimulated.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I just had one today. It's not the strangest, but do you remember the film Sixteen Candles? You know Long Duk Dong? He lives in my neighbourhood and I was running today and ran past him and he said "hello."

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
My great-grandfather because I never met him and I'd like to see what he was like. And burritos. My wife and I have our own recipe we use with the George Foreman Grill. They're very much our own.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I don't know if she would want it any different. I think she really likes the fact that I'm a musician. Although my parents weren't very creative themselves, they really encouraged me to do something creative. Other than that, she'd be really happy if I was a nurse.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
I think it would all be the same. When you die, even if you do have a horrible experience leading into your death, once it happens, it's all gone. That's it. It's not like you're forever living that agony. Though, I guess I'd prefer to be eaten by a wild animal.

Lou Barlow was one of the most prolific figures of American indie rock in the 1990s, releasing material as Sebadoh, Sentridoh and Folk Implosion. Though he saw his biggest commercial breakthrough come with the Folk Implosion on the soundtrack to the film KIDS, Sebadoh was his most beloved musical outlet. When their last album appeared in 1999, Barlow and co-songwriter Jason Loewenstein seemingly closed the book on the band. Now, after a five year hiatus, they are reforming for a tour in what they are calling "a two man, non-electronic, not quite acoustic band."

"We're playing with pre-recorded percussion on a four-track. It's actually drums, but not real drums," Barlow admits with a prankish tone. "We're playing to something pre-recorded but it's not sampled or electronic, which is generally what people do now with a laptop. It is electronic, but not necessarily electronic, in fact, they're analog and most likely will be played off my cassette four-track. So, in that way, it's not electronic."
Barlow is equally waggish in about the acoustic elements. "Not quite acoustic means Jason will be playing an electric bass guitar and I will be playing an acoustic guitar. The acoustic guitar will, of course, be plugged into an amp, so in a way, it will also be electric, but not."

As far as any new material from Sebadoh is concerned, Barlow claims he has no idea. He is currently recording a solo album that features Loewenstein on two of the tracks so far. A release date is expected in and around January of next year, on a well-respected label he greatly admires.
Cam Lindsay

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