Sebadoh could be the greatest grunge band you just couldn’t get into. Don’t feel guilty for looking past them though, somewhere between Nirvana and the mythologizing of the ‘90s, Sebadoh managed to escape being picked apart by fans and music critics alike.

Yet they’re still one of the most cited bands of their generation and manage to tour the world and sell out venues pretty consistently.

Not that frontman Lou Barlow would validate any of the above statements; he remains throughout the interview a quietly spoken but insightful subject.

He agrees that Sebadoh have remained relatively unnoticed in their career and is not surprised that it is news to most that he is in another seminal ‘90s band, Dinosaur Jr.

“It was a very exciting time for me, but talking about just bands, I don’t think the music coming out in the ‘90s was that great” says Barlow after questions about the decade currently trending, “there was actually a dip in music quality.

Many may consider that a debatable statement, but as Sebadoh and like-minded groups like Sonic Youth began their careers in the late ‘80s, it is easy to see the ‘90s as just the payoff of earlier hard work.

“It was a very exciting time for me, but talking about just bands, I don’t think the music coming out in the ‘90s was that great.”

Low quality was the drawcard of the Westfield band’s grunge sound, but there is so much more to be said of the three-piece, whose honest lyrics perhaps fell upon ears more interested in their power-pop melodies and fuzzy guitar.

An interesting way of looking at their quiet success is that for all the masculine imagery that rock bands of the same peak era put into their music, Sebadoh always presented a much more gender-equal view. One need only listen to ‘Mystery Man’ or ‘Skull’ from Bakesale to hear that.

“That’s cool of you to notice… thanks,” responds Barlow at the mention. “Jason (Loewenstein) and I were the main songwriters in the band and I don’t know… women were a huge part of our lives, between our mothers and our sisters and our girlfriends and friends,” he continues. “And we do like to consider how other people feel; we like to consider the whole picture. Not that we would say we were aware of it.”

They were, as Lou Barlow states, always much too ‘introspective’ of a band to create or even consider that much discussion.

So, is there any concern over Rolling Stone ‘Best Bands of All Time’ kind of lists? Barlow doesn’t hesitate to laugh, “I don’t know. I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I’m very proud of Sebadoh. We’ve always been very true to ourselves, and how that fits in with everything else I don’t know. I’m happy that we’re still even able to be touring and making music. That always amazes me.”

Which it should do, three years shy of the bands 30 year anniversary. After a moment Barlow continues, “I always approach everything like it will last forever. Sometimes it doesn’t, but when I was at the beginning of my career I never imagined a time when this would all end.

Which brings the conversation around to Sebadoh’s new album Defend Yourself out now. The album is thirteen classic Sebadoh tracks, and as Barlow has said elsewhere, “another lot of break-up songs”.

“I’m happy that we’re still even able to be touring and making music. That always amazes me.”

When asked about writing in a time of transition Barlow says, “I don’t need [an event] necessarily but it just happens that when I’m working on a Sebadoh album there’s always something crazy in my life going on.”

Having previously said that “simplicity is at the core of Sebadoh” Barlow begins to elaborate on that notion ,

“I personally like really simple music. I love ‘60s garage music and The Ramones. I like when songs are immediate. When I hear a song, I like to hear the lyrics and for them to register. So as a listener of music, I guess Sebadoh kind of represents what I would like to hear.

The album title, Defend Yourself is taken from a track and Barlow explains the decision. “During recording of the EP, Jason and I had both written songs called ‘Defend Yourself’, and it was this phrase that just kept coming out.

So after a while we all just realised ‘there’s the title’ you know? I like it because it can mean to defend you or it can mean telling someone else to defend themselves. It’s defensive and offensive.”

Apart from the lo-fi sound and pop melodies that have always been the signature of a Sebadoh track, it is good to hear that the band is still as interested in ‘considering the whole picture’ as they always were.

With a new album brings another American tour and Barlow reveals that they will be heading to Australia in March of 2014. There was a planned festival spot that fell through but they will be playing the capital cities as in their previous Australian tours.

“Dinosaur Jr is a good festival band because of the lead guitar, but with Sebadoh the songs are too short, I would love to make Sebadoh a festival band someday though” says Barlow after a short discussion over Sebadoh’s introspective lyrics perhaps being more suited to your bedroom than with thousands of people all around you.

“I think you can be a festival band if you play introspective music, you just have to have a lot of people like you” reasons Barlow.

So while the Internet catches up on near thirty years of Barlow’s solo efforts and side projects, Sebadoh will still tour to those fans subjective enough to have stuck with them.

Defend Yourself is released on September 17

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine