When you say the word “Sebadoh”, your average person isn’t necessarily going to register what that means. Does it mean anything? Those of us who are into indie rock know better, though, don’t we?
To legions of fans, Sebadoh is a legendary American indie rock band originally hailing from Westfield, Massachusetts.
They are known for their adherence to low-fi production aesthetics along with bands like Guided by Voices and Pavement, who managed to gain traction during the 1990’s despite their less polished sound, due to, one might suppose, their curious and unique brand of songwriting.
This certain rawness that Sebadoh possessed, in turn, helped usher in a concept that is still alive today, which is that bands don’t always have to aim for maximum gloss for their recordings to gain a substantial following. This ideology might be summed up best with the Sebadoh track, “Gimme Indie Rock” (1991). The lyrics will give you the lowdown on how it all came to pass.
Band History and Formation
The band formed in 1987 by Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr. bassist) and Eric Gaffney (Grey Matter, No Preservatives), after Lou had a falling out with J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr over creative differences – namely, Barlow wasn’t getting his time to shine in Dinosaur, where he was relegated to bass and occasional screaming. So, after some initial dabbling in his own recordings with the Weed Forestin’ and The Freed Man cassettes, Barlow found himself “out” of Dinosaur Jr, giving him more time to focus on his own songwriting. Here is Lou (pictured left) with Dinosaur Jr. in 1985.
As he and J Mascis had butted heads to the point where Barlow actually was kicked out of the band, Sebadoh became a way for Lou to express his anger towards J in his first slew of songs for Sebadoh, and this swath of resentful songs directed at J lasted years after he left that band, with such songs rearing their ugly heads several albums into the band’s career.
Sebadoh eventually came together as a three-piece with drummer Eric Gaffney and bassist Jason Loewenstein, and had an overall different M.O. from Dinosaur Jr. That being, Sebadoh featured the songwriting skills of each of the three songwriters, who each held creative dominion over their own compositions, making Sebadoh a much more eclectic band than Dinosaur Jr. ever was.
Rising Out Of The Mists
After a tour with punk-funk oddballs fIREHOSE (post Minutemen band, RIP D.Boon), Sebadoh was signed to the famous Seattle-based record label Sub Pop, after the so-called “grunge” boom in 1991, and the band’s profile began to rise.
As fans began to become aware of Sebadoh, they also became aware of the stylistic differences between individual Sebadoh songs, which added an unpredictable element to records that fans liked, or had to get used to, in any case. The band was, you might say, “challenging” to get to know for a new fan who didn’t know what they were getting into.
What made Sebadoh such a diverse band, you might ask? Well, the band was very collaborative, so certain characteristics of each songwriter found their way into the other songwriters’ songs, making them more interesting and diverse as well.
As a trio, Sebadoh also lent itself to a more emotionally raw, stripped down type of band, coming from a background of punk rock and hardcore but with a thinking man’s philosophies built into the songs themselves, resulting from being under the influence of certain substances, one might suppose. So, what we end up with, sometimes, is punks who liked sometimes to record slower songs with four-track recorders, as is on full display in The Freed Weed album.
Collage and Home Recording
One thing about Sebadoh that must be said is their penchant for the low-fi aesthetic, that we have previously touched upon. This was one of the first bands that made it big while at the same time releasing albums literally made on tape recorders in their basement. And even when the band was in the studio, they basically treated it like their basement, adding odd sonic elements like sound collage into their recordings that most bands had not done very much up until this time. This influenced bands like Nirvana, and specifically Kurt Cobain, who always liked to rock the t-shirts of bands and artists that influenced him, including Sebadoh, Daniel Johnston, The Pixies, and Flipper, to name a few.
This was all part of the movement to bring the underground to the foreground, or mainstream music culture. It was all part of the dream that many of these bedroom artists had, which was to get mainstream exposure, while still retaining their essential uniqueness and essentially sticking it to the man. Music, up until bands like Sebadoh came along, had always been about technical proficiency, and less about raw emotion, energy, and honesty.
Bands like Sebadoh, through their wild and wooly low fi indie musical catalog, was able to hitch a ride to a more mainstream audience, just by virtue of the fact that they were a great band, and they weren’t doing music to pander to anyone but themselves. They weren’t Yes in terms of technical prowess, but it didn’t matter to music fans anymore.
Since their formation, Sebadoh have certainly not been idle in the recording department. They have released almost a dozen full albums that they have made during their tenure as a band, including fan favourites Bakesale, Harmacy, III, The Sebadoh, and the list goes on.
In addition, the members of Sebadoh have been active with other projects as well, with Jason Loewenstein being part of The Fiery Furnaces and Circle of Buzzards, and Eric Gaffney being part of Animal Friends and Jesus Christ, and then Lou Barlow being part of The Folk Implosion and Dinosaur Jr, not to mention solo projects the band members have been involved in.
When it comes to Sebadoh albums, and songs, every fan has their favourite. The band has had many singles, and those singles have received airplay and so could be considered “hits”, but really those tracks that made it to TV and radio are merely the tip of the iceberg with this band. Most real fans I think tend to dive deep when it comes to Sebadoh, and there is plenty to dive into. This goes for any band with an extensive back catalog that has been around for many years – Sebadoh is staring down three decades themselves as a group, and continues to resurface with new music. It ain’t over yet.
What’s Up These Days with Sebadoh
Fair question. The band has been on hiatus since their last album, Defend Yourself (2013), with no new tours to report. If there were any, they’d probably be here on the Sub Pop page for Sebadoh’s tour dates. That doesn’t mean that the bandmembers of Sebadoh have been doing nothing. On the contrary, Lou Barlow posts stuff on Facebook nowadays, much of which is quite interesting if you’re a fan of the band. Jason Loewenstein has a website called Jakerock that he keeps up with, so that’s worth a look. And Eric Gaffney has fieldsofgaffney, his Bandcamp page.
Thanks for reading this little overview of Sebadoh!