“People say that to me all the time, ‘But Lou, you’ve made great music.’ That’s just it, I’ve made great music.”
Lou Barlow is back. It’s an idea that bothers Barlow, especially as he’s likely to be lumped in with other returning alt-rock acts such as Evan Dando and the Throwing Muses. And the fact remains, he hasn’t released anything since 1999.
“That shit just totally depresses me because now I’m with them,” Barlow kvetches. “When I was putting out all my 7-inchers, going lo-fi and getting good reviews being the young upstart, it was OK for me to go, ‘I hate the Throwing Muses, I hate this shit. Whatever. Old school. The Pixies.’ I hated the fucking Pixies. Now I can’t say that kind of stuff because I am one of those people.”
He’s just bitching. In fact, he feels pretty good. You see, he’s reconstituted Folk Implosion after John Davis’ precipitous flake, and retooled the combo into a three-piece rock band from the sample-driven ethos of its former incarnation.
“It’s just funny over the years I’ve just come to hate how that sounds. Live too,” says Barlow. “I don’t like playing to a machine, so we’re working just as a band. It will turn out to be a completely different flavor. It has to be.”
The band coalesced when Barlow was invited to open for the Melvins, and Barlow can feel that influence. “Because we started as the Melvins’ opening band — that was the whole reason for getting the band together — and the songs we wrote directly out of that are epic songs and, to me, definitely bear the musical imprint of the Melvins,” says Barlow.
“It’s so cool, finally getting the record out, rehearsing and getting ready to go on tour, feeling how its changed even from when we recorded the stuff,” Barlow continues. “It’s different than anything that I’ve done, but it’s got it’s own flavor to it, and it’s like we’ll get better, and I’m starting to feel that sense of possibility, so I feel pretty happy about it.”
One reason Barlow is back is just that — he’s happy. In the wake of Sebadoh’s hiatus for the foreseeable future, and the implosion of his partnership with Davis (after Davis basically begged off touring the album), Barlow went into a funk. Whiskey and speed followed. Barlow doesn’t say what led him to such a fallow place, though he won’t deny the loss of his creative outlets had something to do with it. Always an intensely personal and somewhat confessional songwriter, he perhaps didn’t want to face what he was feeling — the loss of loved ones, his bands.
It’s not surprising then, that there several songs on The New Folk Implosion album that sound similar to different eras of Sebadoh, almost as if Barlow were retracing his steps. “I totally think of that when I listen to it. It’s like each song on the album has a different flavor, but a flavor of certain isolated Sebadoh songs that I really liked, ones that people don’t think of much, but I do,” Barlow says.
He’s also happy because now he has a band. They’re his friends, and they live nearby, so they can hang out, jam or rehearse any time. It’s quite a change from Sebadoh.
“Sebadoh were always kind of the un-band. We never really lived in the same town,” says Barlow. “When you’re in a band it’s kind of a big thing to be friends as well. I mean, we were friends in Sebadoh, but the only time we would see each other was when we were touring or rehearsing. I’m realizing I need to be in close proximity to everyone I’m working with, because that — I don’t know — it keeps me engaged.”
Perhaps the engagement part is what Barlow’s really missed, from the broken engagements of his prior musical identities to the surface-obsessed culture of his new California home. Because, you see, all this trouble started just about the time he recorded his last Folk Implosion and Sebadoh albums, around the time he moved from the right coast to the left. Coincidence?
“The sun has baked [the East Coast] right out of my head,” says Barlow, neatly sidestepping the implication. But he does admit, “It’s frightening to be here. It’s the beast. Really. If you have any negative feelings toward show business, they will be amplified. When I go into Hollywood or stuff, it’s fucked up, and I understand why this scares the shit out of people … it’s just a whole different energy and it’s so concentrated here, all the media is here in my fucking backyard, all the commercials are from here, all the fucking shows, all the movies, it’s the center of this propaganda that the U.S. is pumping out into the world.”
Stepping back from his balcony overlooking the valley, Barlow adds, “It just takes me awhile to get comfortable in any situation.”
So maybe we don’t say he’s come back so much as that the engine’s primed again and ready to put some great music into the present tense.
The Folk Implosion will perform Friday, March 14, at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit). Alaska and Mia Doi Todd are also on the bill. For more information, call 313-833-9700.Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]