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Cognitive Dissonance

Oct 23, 2013 Issue #47 - September/October 2013 - MGMT Bookmark and Share

During the protracted gestation period since the release of 1999’s eponymous The Sebadoh, Lou Barlow would often say, “We’ll be back when our fans want us back.” Though they were not releasing material, aside from the occasional piece of tour merchandise and last year’s Secret EP (which was only available for digital download and at shows), the band stayed busy, both as a unit and with sundry side projects. Barlow reunited with Dinosaur Jr., and bassist Jason Loewenstein backed The Fiery Furnaces on bass alongside current Sebadoh drummer Bob D’Amico.

Now they’ve reemerged with Defend Yourself, their first proper album in over a decade. It harks back to the classic sounds of Sebadohtender Barlow ballads, balls to the wall Loewenstein rockersessentially the yin and yang that endeared the band to so many fans throughout the ‘90s, with the artistic growth you’d expect from a band 14 years removed from their last album. There is a maturity evident throughout Defend Yourself that is lacking in the albums the band made while they were in their 20s and 30s.

For Barlow in particular, the album was a cathartic one. While making it, he was encountering some of the most devastating emotional upheaval of his life: a divorce from his wife of more than a decade. Barlow’s songs, such as “I Will,” “Separate,” and “Love You Here,” are plaintive, desperate numbers clearly written from a deeply ambivalent perspective.

“Almost all of the songs on the record had melodies from a year and a half [ago], but once all the personal stuff went down, it was like, ‘There it is, okay,’” Barlow laughs. “And the lyrics wrote themselves within the space of a couple of weeks.”

Barlow had been with his partner Kathleen for more than 25 years, and the couple has two young children together, which makes the process of separation all the more agonizing.

“Obviously people change and you have to face, ‘Is this the rest of my life?’” he says. “You can call it a midlife crisis if you want, but it comes down to personal decisions. But if one person’s enacting the change and the other’s resisting it, there’s gonna be something tragic about it. And having kids is really hard. The transitional period is a bitch. I don’t even know how it’s going to resolve. I’ve never been much of a risk taker in life, whether it was creatively or romantically. It was always about reconciliation. [The divorce] is a good thing for me though.”

Barlow’s personal issues aside, Sebadoh find themselves in a position similar to Dinosaur Jr., who reunited in 2005 and have released a trio of excellent albums since-a legendary indie rock act with a built-in fan base. But Barlow notes crucial differences between the acts, although he certainly hopes Sebadoh’s reunion follows a similar track.

“Dinosaur have this weird Teflon thing,” he says. “Sebadoh’s more vulnerable. There are more faces to the band. You have the strength of Jason’s material, which is stunning. It creates something complicated. And fans kind of want things simple. But Sebadoh have always been something that flew in the face of that. We always changed directions quickly, and we’re always in transition, and that leaves us kind of vulnerable to people just deciding that we suck. But I’d be happy if our old fans love this record and come out to our shows. We’ve been doing this for over 20 years. That’s a long time.”

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s September/October 2013 issue.]


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