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Sebadoh - Lou Barlow and smalltown America
Kenneth Foxe talked to Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow about Harmacy - the new album, growing up in small-town America, and fame or more appropriately Sebadoh's lack of it.

Listing the Ramones and Minor Threat as main influences, Barlow describes Sebadoh's music as "modest, punk rock, a folk rock kind of thing, folk funk, funk folk, a little bit edgy, heavy folk.

"Really all of those things, we're just like minimalists, which I like, I don't like structure, we don't really have that much of a sound as a sound, we sound like so many different things. In many ways we're not that far removed from a band like Oasis only they're much better at doing what they do, blowing it all out"

More often than not, however, critics describe them as the founders of lo-fi, a distinctly American kind of music which sounds at best raw, at worst badly produced. Barlow's real claim to fame came when thrown out of Dinosaur Junior in 1989.

"J. Mascis never really liked me," he insists.

The band, who set out to be alternative, are constantly criticised for their ability to produce two-thirds of a good album and no more, thus scuppering any chances of mainstream success. The new album "Harmacy" is the very same, sometimes brilliant, sometimes infuriatingly bad.

Lou Barlow "I couldn't do an album of all the stuff the reviewers like, to me it would be incredibly boring. I don't like all pop songs. I've never liked that, I don't think pop is the be-all and end-all of everything, I'm not going to change my music in any way that offends me.

"I try to do what I like, but at the same time I've always tried to play music for people, it's for other people. I don't want to be famous just for fame's sake, if people like my music, that's fine, I could deal with that, but money isn't fame - it's just success.

"You can get five stars all the time in" Rolling Stone" and not necessarily sell any records, it doesn't make any difference. It all comes down to whether people actually like your music; and the people who like Sebadoh and understand the punk rock and mellow songs split together. Those are the people that come to see us play."

1995 saw Sebadoh hit the big-time with Lou Barlow's musical score to Larry Clark's controversial film "Kids".

"The screenwriter contacted me years ago, he was going to make a movie, slowly it happened. I'm happy with the soundtrack, the film is not that great though.

"Sound-tracks, though, are in general awful, throw all these commercial alternative bands on a tape in order to promote them, I don't like these kinds of wanky bands, wanky pop music is terrible. It's all label politics, management, and companies. It's kinda weird, with "Kids" it was a creative decision to use us, and we scored it in a classical sense."

Lou Barlow's childhood couldn't have been more different to the characters in that particular film. His growing up influenced him greatly. "I grew up in small-town Massachusetts and as a teenager was straight-edge. Any place you live in, your environment influences you. It wasn't really that small though, big enough that I was totally anonymous and had no friends."

His adult life though has been slightly more interesting, "I did cocaine with Courtney Love in Reading, that was a really bad time. I was really drunk and very depressed."

But Barlow, now married, seems to have left his bohemian youth behind him.

"I've settled down a lot, I'm 30 and I'm that bit older, people who do drugs in music, that's very sad. It seems like a lot of bands that are really popular are very tortured people. I feel sad for them, they're under a lot of pressure, becoming famous really fucks with your mind. Fame really screws up the whole social order of things."

by Ken Foxe.