Best Of ’99: Sebadoh Close Gap To Create New Album

Eclectic indie rockers say spending more time together was key to The Sebadoh.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Monday, Feb. 22.]

Sebadoh frontman Jason Lowenstein has discovered a funky, new twist to an age-old adage: The band that spends time together, he says, makes its best music together.

Before starting work on their eighth album, The Sebadoh, the geographically challenged indie-rock trio broke with routine and started hanging out in the same town and under the same roof.

Both principal songwriters in the band, bassist/guitarist/singer Lou Barlow and bassist/guitarist/singer Lowenstein, who live a couple thousand miles apart, agreed to come together for this latest effort. That time spent working side by side, Lowenstein explained, added a new intimacy to the sound of the record, which is set for release Tuesday.

“All of the songs on the record would have sounded like total horsesh– if we hadn’t spent time that way. The strongest song in the world would have suffered,” Lowenstein said. “I’m not embarrassed by our early records, but now I can see where we’ve left holes in our creative process.”

Lowenstein and new drummer Russ Pollard reside in Kentucky, while Barlow calls Los Angeles home. But Barlow said Pollard and Lowenstein lived in his house during the recording of the album. Spending the time together gave the group a chance to hash out the new tunes as a unit, which resulted in some special moments on such songs as “Colorblind.”

“In any kind of relationship you have a flow of conversation and you know how to talk to people, and that also happens musically. You start to listen more to what people are saying and playing,” Barlow said. “On ‘Colorblind’ there’s a whole middle part there that came out of us jamming together. … We were always good friends and stuff, but I think we never really gave ourselves time — time to f— up and to get it back together.”

Facilitating the increased communication between band members was producer Eric Masunaga (Push Kings, Sebadoh). Both Lowenstein and Barlow said Masunaga encouraged the band members to talk to each other — by not saying anything himself. That left it to the threesome to articulate what sounds they wanted to hear.

The sounds — though forging new ground in places — are not radically removed from what Sebadoh has come up with in the past. Rather, the tracks tend to reflect the contrasting preferences of the two writers. While Lowenstein’s compositions lean toward the rowdier side on such songs as “Cuban,” Barlow takes a more melodic tack for tunes including “Sorry.”

Sebadoh released their debut LP, Freed Man, in 1989, after Barlow left his job playing bass with guitar-rock act Dinosaur Jr. Over the course of their previous seven albums, the group has flirted with pop on songs such as “Ocean” (RealAudio
excerpt
) while mixing up lo-fi ballads like “Willing to Wait” and chaotic noise-pop tunes such as “License to Confuse.”

One track on the new album, the acoustic “Tree,” went through a reworking process between conception and recording.

Barlow had originally written the song for his sister’s wedding at his mother’s request a couple years back. But for the album version of the song, he broadened what he termed the initial “Hallmark” tone of the lyrics.

For his part, Lowenstein said the album opener, “It’s All You”
(RealAudio
excerpt
), typified his lyrical approach of merging several ideas into one.

“My lyric writing usually alludes to a few different stories. ‘It’s All You’ is about trying to keep your own identity while bending yourself and putting someone else in the center of your life,” Lowenstein said.

“I’m married now to a woman I’ve been with for four or five years now,” he added. “It’s normal human sh–, but I think you get paranoid about losing your identity and worry too much.”