January 29, 2012
Though we only had a day left at sea on the Weezer Cruise before porting back to reality in Miami, the unreal experience of being on a cruise ship with a handful of a few of the most interesting indie rock bands now and yesterday made the day resonant with promise. This day I made sure to capture a few songs of the live performances on video, as truly, even on the last day, I did not want this cruise to end.
The live shows began with none other than Yuck on the Lido Deck, at 1 in the afternoon. It was a nice sunny day as usual up there, making it easy for my amateur photography skills to capture the action. Though Yuck is a new band, from England no less, I always felt the band fit in nicely among acts like Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh (both also on board), as its debut self-titled album of last year recalls the sound of the grungy but perky early nineties college rock scene.
Yuck played twice during the cruise, and though both sets were similar, they were a “can’t miss” act not only for all the buzz that surrounded them, but the simple fact they played well. According to the album’s credits, the band produced the work from a mishmash of bedroom and studio recordings. The distinctive resonating guitar buzz, not to mention a palette of whooshing and whirring effects shone through just as well live as it did on the excellently produced vinyl record. Here are a couple of songs I captured live, with guitarist/singer Daniel Blumberg noting his special connection to the cruise ship and why it was a sort of homecoming to perform on board:
After the show, we had a date for the only activity we signed up for: beer tasting with the members of Boom Bip (Yes, during the cruise there was a trivia show, shuffleboard contest, a Q&A with Weezer, picture sessions with Weezer, but if a cruise can be so damn grand that one can still have a good time as to leave little room for regrets, it goes to show just how great a selection of highlights were away from the main attraction). It turned out the beer tasting was probably the best way to get your fill of drink at an amazing price. For $20 you learned about five different beers and got what seemed like unlimited refills. Paying upwards of $5 for a single beer is for suckers.
Everyone seemed loaded up on beer by the end of it, even our guide, a cruise ship employee from Turkey. We were allowed to straggle as long as we wanted and socialize, as the beer kept coming. I of course had to approach the Boom Bip guys to compliment then on the show I caught, something I already touched on at the top of this post: Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap (Day 2 of 4). As I noted on the second day, Boom Bip were a delightful surprise to see live, as I had not heard of them prior to this cruise. Too bad I never captured any videos. Thankfully MattNorman was on board to record a video of a show I missed a day earlier, here they are in the Criterion Lounge:
Feeling buzzed, we prepared to go see the Antlers next, at 5:30, I went up ahead to the Criterion Lounge, as my wife needed to lie down after all the beer. I grabbed the vinyl record of their new album, Burst Apart, which I brought on board, so I could have the band members sign it (Did I mention what a great piece of quality vinyl it is? Thick, 180 gram weight and super clean sound… Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). After their sound check I had a chance to briefly speak with each member, and they were all quite friendly and flattered by my appreciation. As we spoke, I had them sign the record. Here’s what it looks like autographed (they had to focus their scribbles in the center of the album because of the darkness of the ether that surrounds the central path on the cover):
I found a table off to the right of the stage with a clear view, as the fans on the floor decided to space out to the music seating cross-legged and even lying prone on their backs. The Antlers were clearly a highlight band for us to see on the cruise, and it was awesome to have had the chance to see them three times on board the ship. To be honest, I was unsure just how well the band would translate live and delighted to find them improving on some their songs in a live setting, as noted yesterday (Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 3 of 4]). Here they are performing one of the lighter tunes on Burst Apart. The video opens with frontman Peter Silberman and keyboardist Darby Cici discussing the cruise for a bit before the start of the song:
The show included similar songs to the band’s prior shows, including another excellent rendition of “Rolled Together,” so I was not complaining.
For the next show, all we had to do was sit tight and chat with our neighbors at the table. Soon enough, Lou Barlow had climbed on stage for his 7 p.m. show. He was very chatty and even had an ongoing conversation with a female fan who lived in his city of Los Angeles. However, what began as appreciative chatter and even dinner plans later on land degenerated throughout the set into awkwardness, as Barlow nervously laughed, muttering “stalker” under his breath. It made for an entertaining show at least and good-natured humor. But, most importantly, the music… Barlow indeed made good on his promise to bring his ukulele on board and break out several songs from Weed Forestin, as it came up during our interview ahead of the cruise, back in December (Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ [soon to be reissued on LP]: an Indie Ethos Exclusive [Part 1 of 2]). He began the show with some of the most luscious ukulele strumming I have ever heard to songs like “New Worship,” “Whitey Peach” and “I Can’t See,” among a few others. Even though it was a week ago, I am recalling from a memory that now seems so distant, it already feels like a dream. I also did the usual irresponsible journalist thing throughout the cruise, not obligated to write a story for a publication or for money, I never bothered to write down the songs he played. I wanted this to be primarily a vacation experience, and I was going to fully take-in these rarely performed songs (so I made no video either, sorry to say), but I did take a picture of Barlow strumming the small, four-stringed instrument as evidence. For the fans who responded to my in-depth coverage of Weed Forestin, I do hope Barlow will begin bringing the uke along to shows in the future. He said he had practiced the songs in his cabin right there on the ship, including some songs he had not played since the eighties, around the time he first recorded these tunes, in the privacy of his bedroom.
About halfway through his set, he switched to acoustic guitar for newer songs and ended the show with the smart version of “Natural One” that he did during his first solo show on day two of the cruise, as documented here: Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap (Day 2 of 4).After dinner, the final full show of the night for us was Barlow’s other band besides Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh. The show started on time, as usual, at 10 p.m. at the Palladium Lounge. Barlow certainly became the MVP of the cruise, having performed bass and vocal duties in Dinosaur Jr. on two nights, two solo shows and three shows fronting Sebadoh. This marked his last show at the end of the cruise, just a half day before porting into Miami, where, that night, he would play in Dinosaur Jr. at the Miami club Grand Central with Yuck opening the show (Read a live review of the show at the Consequence of Sound website). The fact that I felt too tired to even attend that show offers testament to the notion that Barlow was the Weezer Cruise’s MVP. Counting the night before where he played in Sebadoh at the same club (see this “Miami New Times” review of that show). That makes nine shows in less than a week. Insane but a shining example of just what a prolific artist he is, as he also holds court in many side projects beyond the bands he played with during Weezer Cruise-related events.
The Sebadoh show began with noise and bass issues, but the band pushed through, determined to play their music. After a few songs, things got patched up on the technical side and Sebadoh barreled through for nearly an hour and a half. I captured two songs on video. Below you can watch “The Freed Pig,” which, according to Wikipedia, documents Barlow’s frustration with Mascis and his poor treatment within Dinosaur Jr., just before Mascis fired him. It’s interesting, just the night before Barlow sang the backing vocals for “The Wagon” with Dinosaur, the first song released by Dinosaur Jr. since Mascis kicked him out of the band they formed together. The next night, here he was, more than 20 years after breaking off with Dinosaur, singing the song that celebrated his “release” on a cruise ship where he pulled double duty performing in both bands with an ease that showed no tension whatsoever. Here’s “the Freed Pig” preceded by two minutes or so of Barlow commenting on the cruise experience and how having both Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh together in the context has been a dream of his, as bassist Jason Loewenstein tried fixing his instrument:
Finally, could there be a better tune to end this series of posts with than “Soul and Fire”…
January 28, 2012
It was up early for Cozumel, get off the ship and get hoarded by residents dressed up in cartoonish outfits that mocked their own culture to take pictures with you, walked through a Duty free mall, got bombarded by sales people for all kinds of duty free. Outside, more stores, people selling the typical souvenirs. It was just a taste of what we had to put up with since we had not booked an excursion. I already touched on this brief Mexico stop in the first post (Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 1 of 4]), so I’ll spare the recap and jump forward to the shows, which is really what the cruise was about for us.
Dinosaur Jr. took the stage on the outdoor Lido Deck, just as the sun began its descent, at around 6 p.m. It was not nearly as crowded as Weezer‘s Miami sailaway show, and neither was the crowd screaming. Here comes some serious riffage and guitar noodling by frontman J Mascis. And, man, these guys know how to pile up the volume. Just look at the stack of amps on stage:
As I noted during my de-virginizing Dino experience on day one of the cruise, we came unprepared, without earplugs. We tried for a view further back and it still stung the ears. I think the further away, the louder the music was. But that is indeed the element that creates the unique sound of Dinosaur Jr. It’s a din so loud, a sort of aura of piercing fuzz coats each and every note. It creates an almost aural hallucinatory effect of multi-tracked instruments. No recording ever does it justice. It can only be experienced in person and without earplugs for that real effect. Though it’s probably not healthy.
Early in the show, Dinosaur offered many of their “hits,” per se, though they were never as radio-friendly as contemporaries like Weezer or even Nirvana. They were a strange sound to come out of the late eighties, a time when New Wave and the most atrocious of pop music staled over the air waves. Depeche Mode, New Order and the Cure were breaking out of the college/underground scene. In 1987, the same year as the Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me hit single, “Just Like Heaven” began getting noticed, Dinosaur Jr. responded with their own surreal take on the same song, on its second album, Your Living All Over Me. It almost felt like some sick joke then, and it reeked of revolt. They played it early in their set on the Lido Deck, listen for yourself:
Early in the show, bassist/vocalist Lou Barlow kept asking “Are we moving yet?” This was a “sailaway” show, and he would always be disappointed between songs that the ship had not unmoored itself from the dock. By the time night fell, the ship still had not moved and Barlow had given up checking, but here was Dinosaur tearing into one older tune after another. They performed lots of gran, old stuff from the debut album Dinosaur, like “Mountain Man,” and “Gargoyle.” Here’s that last tune:
As you will note, Mascis has certainly refined his guitar solos over the years. He does amazing work just standing there working those strings. It is no wonder none other than “Rolling Stone” magazine named him one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” (he was ranked number 86). The proof was there show after show. He would just stand there and rock back and forth while his hands were transported somewhere else.
After a quick dinner, the next show I caught that night happened to be Mascis performing his only solo show of the cruise, back at the Criterion Lounge. Though he played acoustic, he would still veer into some distinctive, loud fuzzy solos thanks to an effects pedal. Toward the end a violinist accompanied him, and they gelled in a nice, surprising way. I am unfamiliar with Mascis’ solo work, but it certainly seemed as distinctive an interpretation of singer-songwriter stuff as you would expect from him. I had a couple yapping next to me, so it was difficult to focus. The girl tried to take a video, but someone from the production crew stopped her. I was trying to “get” Mascis’ solo show. I arrived late to only catch the last few songs and did not grab enough flavor to pass firm judgement, but he certainly proved himself as distinctive. I wished he would have had another show, but there was only one night left of the cruise after this.
After the too-brief show, I took off to get my wife from the cabin, as she was had spent the Mascis show readying herself for the 80s Prom Night capper. Then it was finally off to see a Weezer show at the Palladium Lounge. It was clearly a night for the hardcore Weezer fans, as the show advertised was to include B-sides and the entire Pinkerton album. As a non-fan, I did not go in with high expectations, and it turned out I selected some bad seats ahead of the cruise (you had to pick your seats for one of two Weezer shows at the Palladium when you booked your cruise). We could not even see the drummer. An usher invited is to the pit, as she knew our view would be quite obstructed but we preferred sitting. Down in the pit, the hardcore Weezer fans screamed and sang along, and the band gave as much verve to straight up pop rock that they could. Most people know Weezer for 90s hits like “The Sweater Song,” “Buddy Holly” and “Beverly Hills.” The band is among the least edgiest of alt-rockers of the day, and the music does not veer far off track from that, even during B-sides.
As promised, Weezer performed some obscure B-sides that the fans ate up. The repertoire even included a cover of a post-Pixies Black Francis’ “Los Angeles.” After the set of B-sides, during which I dozed off a little, the band paused for an intermission. The wife suggested that we catch the Antlers on the Lido Deck, and that was that. Not to look the gift horse that put together this cruise in the mouth, but I was here for the other bands, and I can totally appreciate Weezer for putting this event together. It will live on forever as one of the best live rock experiences ever in my memory. Weezer was great standing up out on the Lido Deck, as the cruise set sail, but it gets pretty dull in a theatrical setting, and the Pinkerton album, which the band was going to play in its entirety after intermission, is far from a great work in the alt-rock canon, I hate to report.
I like music that burns slowly and explores dynamics with much more patience and subtlety. That’s why, instead, we found cozy comfort up there on the Lido Deck, in the dark, windy night, as the cruise ship cut through the Florida Straits, listening to the Antlers during a sparsely attended show. The highlight was getting a little more familiar with the band’s super slowburn of an epic live take of the one of the lowest of keys songs on the band’s new album, Burst Apart: “Rolled Together.” It begins with almost a slow, pulsating throb of a shadow of humming synth buzz coming from Darby Cicci’s tower of keyboards that whahs and quavers. Lead guitarist Tim Mislock plucks out a few rhythmic notes with a drawn out patience capping them with an odd, swooping strum that sounds as though the notes have tumbled, ramshackle to the floor. Drummer Michael Lerner clicks out a languorous, slowcore beat with his drumsticks before he starts to delicately tap out the beat on his kit. The whistling, synthesized drones swell up a notch and frontman/guitarist Peter Silberman begins to hushedly sing “Rolled together with a burning paper heart” repeatedly. With every refrain, the music slowly grows louder. Within his rhythmic chant of “Rolled together with a burning paper heart,” Silberman throws in an occasional “Rolled together but about to burst apart.” Those are all the lyrics to the song, as it builds and builds, until Silberman howls and screams the lines, while plucking out a minimal, but soaring melody on his guitar that fades and echoes until he repeats it over and over. The song is minimal but powerful, like an entrancing chant that portals you into the music. I nearly wept it has such a simple gorgeous quality of pure crescendo. The wind swaying the few lights on stage and the pitch black of night only enhanced the effect.
Especially because of that song, the Antlers remind me of the Verve during its A Storm in Heaven era, in the early nineties, before they succumbed to a more traditional, dull rock sound. This live version of “Rolled together” captures the pinnacle of the best kind of ambient rock, up there with the dreamiest of Spiritualized music. The Antlers’ live version blows away the recorded version of the track, as live it always seems to end with Silberman screaming out the words, as the music turns epic from almost nothing. I never recorded it on the cruise (I would have missed experiencing it by working the camera), but the only YouTube clip I found that equals the performances I saw of the song can be watched/heard here (though the beginning few seconds, all important to the set up of spasmodic finale, are missing):
For me, that song alone was one of the sublime highlights of the cruise, and the band played it during all of its performances. But whatever fuels the creation of such a performance certainly spills over to the rest of the Antlers experience live, and their shows quickly became my favorite memories of the cruise.
After that show, we braved the disco near the casino for the 80s Prom. It was super crowded, and people certainly embraced the theme night with gusto. Many had touted this as the highlight night. At his solo show the following evening, Lou Barlow spoke about nursing a hangover after hitting the dance floor, but me and the wife are more the introverts than the lives of the party. If the description of “Rolled Together” above does not show it, let me say I’d rather be transported somewhere metaphysical via music than dancing in a crowd, so we went upstairs to the Lido Deck to end the night with another Wavves show, at around midnight. The band was more subdued but cohesive. Most everyone else was below deck either dancing to memories of the eighties or singing the songs of the era during an Ozma-hosted karaoke event in the Criterion Lounge. We just laid out in deck chairs as the Wavves spewed their smarmy, rebellious punk rock into the night. The final day would prove to be our party day, with never-ending glasses of beer during a beer-tasting event hosted by none other than Boom Bip. (This series of post continues here: Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 4 of 4])
January 27, 2012
As I noted yesterday, during the first day the Weezer Cruise, I left my camera for the most part in the cabin to enjoy the cruise as a pure spectator experience (Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 1 of 4]). The next day the camera came out to document a few of the many great indie bands and musicians on board this unique four-night cruise.
The first band we saw that afternoon, at 4 p.m. was Boom Bip (pictured above), which needs a new name like the Sea Eats the Sky or Kaleidoscopic Soundscapes (kaleidoscopic images unfolded on the giant screen overhead as the band performed on the Lido Deck). The trio of musicians produced an extraordinary din of post rock grooves that recalled everything from Neu! to Explosions in the Sky. They began just as we sat down to have lunch behind the stage. I was looking out at the ocean, and I could not help but notice the waves out there reminded me of the cover art to Ride’s album Nowhere. Maybe it was the music, an odd sound to hear on a Carnival cruise ship, if there ever was one. For a trio of musicians, they had an awesome, grand sound that still had a nice driving, drone-rock quality. Nothing less than entrancing… if you listened to it. It was instrumental but mighty. I would later meet and chat with the band’s founder, Bryan Charles Hollon (pictured above on the keyboards). He was pleased that I had noted the references to Krautrock masters in the music, like Neu!, as well as the all-around post rock vibe of the band, which also recalled Mogwai. Turns out Mogwai has remixed their stuff:
Hollon also said he is longtime friends with Stuart Braithwaite, one of Mogwai’s guitarists. Of course, it would turn out Boom Bip are better known outside of the US and have a long catalog to show for it (mainly available in the UK on Lex Records). They were the only band I did not know before going on the cruise that also won me over as a fan. Unfortunately, a need for rest and a prejudice to over-indulge in the bands I already knew meant I missed getting to know other bands with respectful attendance. Over the course of the cruise I only got tastes of Keepaway and Sleeper Agent that showed potential, but not enough to pass serious judgement. But both sounded worthy of seeking out recordings (and I purchased a cool Sleeper Agent T-shirt on board). But I definitely hope to catch up with Boom Bip in the future.
Next show after Boom Bip on the Lido deck, at 5:30 in the afternoon, was the Wavves. We just chilled for a moment on deck chairs and then the show started right on time following a very precise sound check with the band. All the shows we saw throughout the cruise started like clockwork and sound was never an issue, except maybe at the artists’ discretion (Dinosaur Jr. was loud on purpose). I only witnessed one problem with buzz shrieking from an amp during Sebadoh’s last show, on the final night of the cruise, but even then, on-stage, frontman Lou Barlow gave props to the sound throughout the cruise. I’ve never seen so many shows, one after another, run on time with great sound. It certainly seemed the show’s producers, Sixthman, knew what they were doing. Also, though the bands were certainly of the anti-establishment ilk, they showed great professionalism when it came to logistics.
That said, Wavves gave a show worthy of the punk rockers they are. Frontman Nathan Williams started the show by showing gratitude to a mysterious character named Willers. He told the crowd about the difficult day before, as he said, he had took in too much mescaline. Willers apparently came to his rescue and brought him to his cabin, leaving him a note that said “Your cat looks just like mine” and his Twitter account info. Here’s a video of that show, with Williams still asking for Willers before the band tore into “Idiot” and “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl”:
It was a fun concert with great attitude, yet the band remained affable and connected with the audience. Williams dedicated a song to a little kid (one of the few on board) and expressed appreciation to a man who yelled out “I enjoy your music!”
“Thank you, I’ll take that. That’s very nice,” Williams said, acknowledging the man with odd, mock sincerity.
Drummer Jacob Cooper at one point seemed so annoyed by all the banter between songs, he yelled at bassist Stephen Pope to “shut up,” as he seemed eager to tap out the next song. Here is an image of the band blowing their dirty beach rock jams out to sea:
That evening also marked the first Lou Barlow solo performance. It was a nice, low-key show at the Criterion Lounge, toward the back of the ship, which seemed to have already begun when we got there, even after we skipped out on the Wavves early. About halfway through his show, Barlow began asking how much time he had left, as he basically improvised the set list and even took requests. At one point Barlow expressed regret for not having his ukulele, something he referenced in my first interview with him before the cruise (Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ [soon to be reissued on LP]: an Indie Ethos Exclusive [Part 1 of 2]). Not only is the uke an appropriate instrument for a cruise, but it would have facilitated some selections from Weed Forestin. But the requests rolled in nicely, and he did a creative version of his one big hit single, “Natural One” (from one of his many side projects, the Folk Implosion). He ended the show with “Day Kitty” which, as he set up in the introduction to the song, revealed a lot about his life, love of cats and children. It was a fun, revealing show at the end, and the audience offered hushed attention, for the most part. Here he is taking on a Dinosaur Jr. song, early in the set:
After the show, it was off to dinner with more people: John from Atlanta and a couple from the Boston area wearing good ugly sweaters. The guy wore a printed Tupac sweater and the gal some hideous purple flower-print thing decorated by sporadic fake amethyst gem stones. Great efforts indeed. I had left my “ugly” sweater in the cabin, expressing I could not believe it was the Ugly Sweater Night already. It’s the second evening, and the Weezer cruise already felt as though it was passing fast.
During this dinner we stayed for the entire meal, all the way through to desert (heck, it was lobster night), but that meant missing bands. In the Criterion Lounge the Nervous Wreckords played a full set and Ozma had begun its set, which would bleed into Yuck’s show at the Criterion. Yuck were one of the star attractions of the cruise for us, so we had to catch them on the first night. They brought on the hypnotic white noise, which has the unfortunate effect of sometimes making one feel sleepy (it did not help that we had full stomachs), and we were sitting in the back at a cocktail table, watching everyone sway to and fro. It seemed a more choppy night at sea than usual. Max Bloom, one of the guitarists, asked for seasickness pills on stage, but the band made it through their set. The floor was cleared to make way for standing room, and it was too crowded to even get a good snapshot, much less make a video, so I offer a later picture of Bloom with the band outside on the Lido Deck.
As the band packed up their gear much of the audience straggled to chat. It was a pretty packed show. Seeing as this was the night of the first Weezer show of Pinkerton and B-Sides at the Palladium Lounge (we found that we had a pair of those randomly distributed “golden tickets” at check-in but chose Yuck over the headliners). There must have been other fans of Yuck like us who skipped Weezer to see them. As the band packed up, I went down to the cabin to grab the now out-of-print first edition Yuck record, which I had brought with me so they could sign it. They were all friendly but pretty aloof. I did speak with singer/guitarist Daniel Blumberg a bit. He praised the Silver Jews as an influence, but he also seemed tired of talking about his band, seeing as 2011 was a breakout year for the band on many a critic’s list (check out this “Rolling Stone” article). He was actually more interested in talking about his little known passion for cinema (turns out he is a big fan of the Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski). Seeing as he signed my record on a cruise ship, here’s the appropriate note he wrote on the back of the record as we chatted:
Here’s the front after the rest of the band signed it (Blumberg also did the cover art, by the way. He was amused when I told him it wound up on “Billboard”s “10 Worst Album Covers of 2011“):
Then it was just back to the cabin, where I considered seeing Sebadoh, but, man, had the crowd grown rowdy. My wife told me that while I had been upstairs meeting the members of Yuck, some guy was knocking on cabins in the nude to use a phone. She heard yelling outside like “Dude, you’re naked!” and “Bro, I was just trying to get laid! She took my beer! I paid $8 for that beer, and I chased after her, and I look down, and I’m naked. She took my beer, and now I’m not even going to get laid!” That was a good enough note to end the day on. Still, more action-packed nights lay ahead… (continued in “Weezer Cruise over, back to reality – a recap [Day 3 of 4]”).
(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
January 26, 2012
I feel as though I have plummeted back to a gray planet earth after finding a portal to a land of rainbows and unicorns. It has been a few days since the Weezer Cruise ported back into Miami, and the memories feel so distant and unreal that I may as well have dreamt it all.
In my earlier post about booking a cabin on the cruise, I had noted how surreal the line-up on the Carnival Cruise ship Destiny sounded (I have booked a cabin on ‘The Weezer Cruise’). After a glimpse at the bands that had signed up as entertainment, I signed on for the cruise with little expectations. I was never prepared to be disillusioned, underwhelmed or even over-impressed. I just wanted to take a cool, long overdue vacation.
Having worked for a cruise line during my college years and taken many a cheap vacation on the sea as a result, I felt I was over these ships. Little did I know that an inspired charter company called Sixthman had recently begun taking over ships for crazy theme cruises that make the journey the destiny. Speaking to one of the staffers on board I learned the line-up was purely curated by Weezer. Besides the titular rock group, which burst onto the scene via college radio in the early nineties, the line-up included a brilliant mix of alternative rock icons, up-and-coming buzz bands and stellar but obscure indie rock acts:
- Dinosaur Jr.
- J. Masics
- Lou Barlow
- The Antlers
- Free Energy
- Boom Bip
- The Nervous Wreckords
- The Knocks
- Sleeper Agent
- Yacht Rock Revue
Gene Ween and Dave Driewitz (a good part of Ween) had to cancel for undisclosed reasons, just a few days before sailing (I heard chatter and speculation from some that it was nerves, but the Sixthman crew I spoke to about it were mum).
Sixthman facilitated the indie rock music festival-on-water whose only port was the Mexican island of Cozumel. The island’s main purpose was to offer a respite from all the exhausting shows on board and a chance for Carnival to host some shore excursions. For the wife and I it offered a great chance for some authentic Mexican food (La Mission for lunch) and tequila. We actually bought a bottle of a distinctive liquor made from herbs in the Yucatán called Xtabentún (it’s legal) at a tequila bar in Cozumel’s downtown area after a few free samples of tequila.
But indeed it was the shows that provided the main attraction. On day one, we had to rush over to the port because—of course—my life on land is a hassle with too much to get done. We cut the lunch on board very close, according to the lady at the check-in counter. I just had a dab of pasta, salad, two cookies and coffee (I was not on the boat for the food). Weezer’s sailaway show started soon after the ship made it out of Government Cut and into the ocean. As they played their hits on the Lido deck I noticed a Celebrity cruise ship in the distance as the sun set. It was the weirdest scene, as Weezer even threw in a very faithful rendition of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” among their hits. There was no way being on that fancy Celebrity cruise ship could have been better. The show upstairs ended too quick.
Then came time to get acquainted with ship. Making sure we got ginger in because the ship was moving, we visited the sushi bar in the casino. People were in a hurry to get trashed it seemed. As we entered the elevator, I saw Nathan Williams, frontman of the Wavves staggering just outside the door like a wet, traumatized cat. He could not keep both feet on the ground at the same time. As the doors to the elevator shut, he took a few giant steps and crashed into a sign, falling into it and knocking it over. I thought it boded well for an interesting cruise, indeed.
Heading back to our cabin on the seventh floor, the so-called Empress Deck, security stopped to ask for our pass. For what? In order not to disturb the artists. So we had to walk around from the other side of the ship where we ran into the MVP of the cruise, Lou Barlow (he was on board playing bass in Dinosaur Jr., fronting Sebadoh and performing solo). He and his wife were just about to walk into their cabin. They clearly were not the rock stars needing protection. We spoke a moment and reminisced about our phone conversation that resulted in the two-part interview on this blog, especially this part: (Lou Barlow keeps spirit alive returning to band that kicked him out [Part 2 of 2 of Indie Ethos exclusive]). He seemed a bit embarrassed, as if I had stripped him naked. He said that a fan put the interview on his Facebook declaring: “Best interview ever!” He said he was surprised at what he told me, noting he had begun drinking a glass of wine before dinner, and his wife was scolding him in the background about what he was saying. They both laughed about it though (just as he was laughing in the interview), but in the end, he was like, “whatever,” noting he takes full responsibility for whatever he says. His wife then proceeded to share her own TMI, embarrassing him further, but I can respect off the record stuff. They were super nice, and it was too bad we didn’t have more time to chat on the cruise, but we also did not want to intrude, and we were there for the concerts.
That even we started with the low-key but impressive Yacht Rock Revue at the Criterion Lounge. They appeared to be creatures who slipped out of some portal to the seventies hidden somewhere out there in the Bermuda Triangle. They had the facial hair, style, swagger and polyester that could only exist in that era. I think I remember them as a six-piece. On stage they had all kinds of keyboards, horns and percussion in addition to the expected rock instruments. I did not have the camera on me on the first night, and I did not take notes. The best way to enjoy the cruise was not to worry so much about documenting it. They did incredibly faithful renditions of songs by Hall and Oats, Steely Dan, Three Dog Night, etc. There was also “Silly Love Songs,” “What a Fool Believes,” “More Than a Woman” and “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
We needed dinner and after some dancing, we left the show early to try and get seated with other cruisers in time to catch the Antlers. Everyone we met and talked to was great on board the ship, and I have some cards to stay in touch. We had to bail on our desert to make the Antlers show at the Palladium Lounge. They had just begun and were sounding amazing. The band’s dreamy, sincere music made for the perfect accompaniment for heading out into the Florida straits in the pitch black of night. We sat on couches in the balcony above the stage with our feet up, and I even took off my shoes, just sat back and enjoyed the clear view of the band at the half-filled venue.
After the Antlers cleared the stage, a giant stack of Marshall amps were brought out to surround J Mascis during the Dinosaur Jr. show. Sure enough, the music practically hurt. Having only seen Barlow in Sebadoh and solo in the past, it was impressive to watch him rock out on bass in a band that had a swaggering stage presence (I was also unprepared for the volume of a Dino show). The band never bothered with any stage banter; it was all about firing the assault of crunchy, pulsing songs with an aura of dissonance, pausing to readjust, tune, etc., then another assault.
We had to leave early because we did not come prepared with the required earplugs. My wife left first, as she felt a headache coming on. We were frantic for the exit and a security guard noticed, so he pointed out an emergency exit. My wife headed to the room, but I plugged my ears up with tissue paper from the bathroom. I heard a few more songs, until I got worried about the wife, and I was just about to leave when the band started “I Feel the Pain,” one of my favorite songs. A small group moshed among the couches on the first floor and some idiot ran to the edge of the stage to dive into the crowd, which parted, and he planted his face on the edge of the couch’s back. Two security guys pulled him out with prejudice, his nose bleeding.
We took the first night easy, all things considered, ending it with a walk outside, as people watched Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein on the giant screen outside on deck chairs and in blankets. We could have theoretically seen Keepaway on the Casino stage, but that was the most awkward of the venues. There was smoking in there and the stage was makeshift with difficult views. Still, now feeling the ache of desire to continue on with the live shows on the boat, regret has set in. But there were many more shows ahead, and I do have many live pictures and even videos to prove it, (continued in day 2 of 4).
If you got the Tree of Life (unlike Sean Penn), time now to upgrade to Le quattro volte. The film may be from Italy, but you need only know the language of images to understand the film, which is nothing less than profound in expressing man’s connection with nature and the earth without relying on spoken or written language. Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino deliberately omits subtitles for the length of the hour-and-a-half film. When the inhabitants of the small Italian village where the film takes place speak, they speak from a distance, far enough away from the camera to make it impossible to see facial features. The only person given full face time is an old goat herder (Giuseppe Fuda) who only coughs, apparently struggling with what will soon be revealed as his dying breaths.
The film is so delightful as a subjective experience (you will have to bring something to it to get something out of it), it feels like giving away spoilers to describe anything that happens within it. Suffice it to say, in Le quattro volte life begins with death, perpetuating in a cycle that goes so far as to express disintegration into the air. It is a sublime statement that only words will cheapen (maybe that’s why this review will be brief).
Those who find no plot in the film are missing the forest for the trees. In my experience appreciating abstract and experimental films, I have never seen a film without literal narrative that still manages to tell a story so concrete yet profound by purely associative images. The film’s statements are indeed clear despite the lack of literal cue signs and feels far from an abstract work. If anything, I would call this film down to earth in a purer sense than most Hollywood films.
If you can think, you can make out the film’s statement and find entertainment value, lest you fear you are paying for a cinematic experience to watch paint dry. Despite not having dialogue or even a musical score, the film still has moments of suspense and even slapstick. The only active and controlling aspect of narrative is the camera and the splices between the sequences. Frammartino uses placement and rare pans and, on one occasion, focus effects, to generate genuine moments of intrigue.
The film does nothing sexy or flashy. Not that there is anything wrong with films that do it (go see Drive or, heck, even the James Bond film Quantum of Solace for well-done sexy/flashy work). But this is life on earth that people do not pause to respect often enough. This is romanticized dirt. There’s nothing over-the-top that takes your breath away. The film holds your attention to the movie itself.
The magic in Le quattro volte lies in the gaps or edit splices. It’s all about the associations and the bigger picture that results. There are some key moments in the film where Frammartino uses slow fades to dark to mark the cyclical changes referred to in the title (literally translated in English, the film’s title means “the Four Turns”). The first of these is probably the most startling, and even includes a heartbeat.
Sound also plays an important role in the film, so do not expect a silent movie, which leans on the association of images for its story-telling, with music only adding decoration or supplemental embellishment. The sounds of the village, the country and even voices—though they never say anything—still carry meaning. There are many details to take in with this film, but its brilliance is not in forcing it down the viewer’s throat. Le quattro volte is as close to a meditative experience, without dragging out the pace, as I have ever seen.
The paces of the frames are so deliberate that a viewer ready to exercise his or her associative skills and analytical mind will clearly understand the film’s agenda by simply knowing this is a movie concerned with the connections between life and death. Even better than that, just as the film does not feel forced, the more relaxed and prepared you are to just watch the film without over-thinking, the more you will get from it. It is indeed a grand statement that offers a profound insight on the fleeting presence of a man on earth. Like any spiritual experience worth having, words will only cheapen the film’s ultimate message, so I’ll pause here.
Le quattro volte is Unrated, runs 88 minutes and opens Sat., Jan. 21, at 4 p.m., in South Florida at Miami Beach Cinematheque, which loaned a blu-ray screener for the purposes of this review. It’s already available for purchase (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon), but, as always, those who have an opportunity to see it in the theater should do so.
Lou Barlow keeps spirit alive returning to band that kicked him out (Part 2 of 2 of Indie Ethos exclusive)
January 17, 2012
Before labels like “alternative,” “emo,” “lo-fi” and “grunge” became easy go-to words for lazy rock writers, somewhere in the northeast of the United States, a trio of teenagers began making indescribable music they liked. It was 1984, and these were the top 10 singles of the year:
1. “When Doves Cry”…..Prince
2. “What’s Love Got To Do With It”…..Tina Turner
3. “Jump”…..Van Halen
4. “Karma Chameleon”…..Culture Club
5. “Like A Virgin”…..Madonna
7. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”…..Yes
8. “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)”…..Phil Collins
9. “Footloose”…..Kenny Loggins
10. “Ghostbusters”…..Ray Parker, Jr.
(check out the bottom 90 here)
Was a revolution in popular music ever due (like today’s pop music scene). It was among these hits that Lou Barlow, J Mascis and Emmett Jefferson “Murph” Murphy III created a little band called Dinosaur Jr. while attending college in Amherst, Massachusetts. After an odd debut album in 1985 that went nowhere and may have just been ahead of its time with its mix of shoegaze, goth, hardcore, country, folk and classic rock, soon enough Dinosaur Jr. would become an iconic group of the nineties-era alternative rock scene.
Nowadays, Dinosaur Jr. is one of a handful of bands referred to as touchstones of an era that also produced Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Pixies. Dinosaur has found a resurgence recently, as the original line-up has not only returned (that was already two new albums ago) but has maintained itself for an up-coming third album, so despite Barlow’s strong language below (pardon the “F” bombs and read the entire Q&A before drawing conclusions, cyber people), he and his mates have certainly found a way to maintain a creative spark among any so-called artistic differences. It must also be a good thing that Barlow stays busy with his own solo music, other collaborations, including a resurrected Sebadoh, the band Barlow created practically alongside his gig in Dinosaur Jr. Now, it too will record a new album (read the scoop at Backstagerider.com).
If you read Part 1 of this interview with Dinosaur Jr.’s bassist/part-time vocalist Barlow (Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ [soon to be reissued on LP]: an Indie Ethos Exclusive [Part 1 of 2]), you will have noticed I have already touched on the relevance of the band during the popular years of alternative rock, as well as the slightly lesser known Sebadoh. Barlow was with Dinosaur Jr. for its first three, and arguably most acclaimed, albums. He was then kicked out, the circumstances of which, Barlow is refreshingly candid about in the Q&A below. Likewise, Barlow also offers his feelings about working with Eric Gaffney, the other half of the original Sebadoh, the band Barlow started after Dinosaur Jr. Finally, Barlow shares his regret of having Sub Pop reissue Sebadoh’s Bakesale on vinyl (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon … you’ll also be supporting Barlow and Sub Pop). Why would he regret having reissued the record often referred to as the definitive Sebadoh record? Read on…
Part 1 of this interview ended with Barlow, noting “the power of Dinosaur Jr.,” which takes us right into part 2…
Hans Morgenstern: You guys are getting along good right now, right?
Lou Barlow: I don’t know… whatever. (laughter)
I heard you were “kicked out of the band” when they signed to a major label. Can you explain what happened there?
That’s not why I was kicked out. J was just like, ‘I’m sick of this. I can’t deal with this anymore.’
Just me hating him. Me just making him feel weird (laughs), so he kicked me out of the band, and they put out a single on Sub Pop and they signed to a major label.
You guys got back together in 2005. Did you ever think, 10 years ago, that the original Dinosaur would ever get back together, tour and record new material?
No, but when it happened I thought it was a good time. It made sense to me when it happened, but I certainly didn’t think that … maybe two years before, that I would have been like, ‘No, never!’ But I would go to J’s solo shows, and we did a show together at a benefit, and we sort of reunited our hardcore band for one song at a show, and I thought, maybe J’s kinda open and into things, and he can deal with this.
You even recorded together.
Yeah, we’ve done two records together.
Is a third record coming?
Yep! J, he’s totally on fire. He’s writing new songs.
But you also wrote Dinosaur Jr. songs, right?
Yeah. On the second record, I did two songs on that record. On the reunion records, I did two songs on each record.
But nothing on the first album [Dinosaur]?
He masterminded that record. It was amazing. Amazing songs. Fuckin’ amazing. But he really wanted me to sing. He didn’t really want to sing, so he sort of assigned songs for me. But I wasn’t really at the same spot, songwriting-wise. I was only starting to write songs, but he was amazing when he was 19 years old, freshman in college. He was on fire. He fuckin’ did all these amazing songs and said, ‘sing this,’ and I’m like, OK! (laughs). It was amazing. He was really into it, really inspired.
How has these past few years felt with the old guys in Dino? Is it more comfortable than it was back then?
Oh, yeah, definitely. But it’s the same (laughs). J’s not really into it. He’s not into anything really. He’s not into the way I play, he’s not into my songs, he’s not into Murph playing drums, but he deals with it, you know? (laughs) He’s like, ‘I guess other people like what’s going on here.’ He came to a point in his life where he understood that other people liked things that he didn’t really like, and then he would tolerate the things that other people liked that he didn’t really like (laughs), which is an amazing thing for someone to go like, ‘Hey, wait, I don’t like this but other people do, so I’ll guess I’ll do this because other people like it’ (laughter). He actually did that, which is, for him, an amazing, incredible leap.
How did the restart of Sebadoh come about?
We never really stopped playing, so I think there was a reissue of Bakesale, and Domino Records in England were like, ‘You’ve got to do this. We’ve got to reissue this record, we’ve got to reissue this record. We’ve got to.’ Then, finally, I’m like, OK, let’s do it. Let’s reissue the record. Then Sub Pop in the US wanted the record, but they didn’t want to release it. They wanted to do it digitally, then I had to tell them they had to do it physically. It was horrible, and of course it didn’t sell for them at all, and they lost a ton of money on it again (laughs). It’s kind of sort of tragic. It was awful. It was awful trying to convince Sub Pop to do a record that they would [lose money on]. I was like, come on, do this for me. I know you’re going to do a lot of money on it, so please do it, and they did it and then we toured. But we’ve been touring like every three or four years since we broke up, actually. We never broke up, actually, let’s put it that way. I think the interest in the band has never really been that great, so whatever. We do it when we can do it. Like when our schedules allow.
How would you describe Eric Gaffney’s role in the band? He was your first member of Sebadoh and co-wrote many songs on the first album. He even rejoined in a resurrected Sebadoh that toured in 2007 and 2008. Why is he no longer a member?
He doesn’t really like to play drums at all (laughs), which is really what I like him to do … to be inspired and play drums like he really likes it. We did a reunion tour like a few years ago, and he played drums, but he wouldn’t play the drums, you know? We would try to teach him songs that he didn’t know, and he wouldn’t learn them. It was kinda like being with J and Murph. They’re really just not into learning… They’re not into me. They’re not into my stuff, so it was hard to like really get Eric to play songs that he didn’t actually play, on the original recordings, so it’s very difficult. He wants to be the leader of a band and play guitar, which is awesome, which is great. I’d love to be in a band with Eric Gaffney, but I would need him to give as much effort as I give to him. I need something reciprocal from him, and he’s really not into that.
Is he doing anything right now?
Eric is awesome. He’s a great musician, and he writes really interesting songs, but he’s just not into collaborating, and that’s my thing. With Sebadoh it’s really about collaboration. It’s about people working together, and Eric’s not really into working together. … If I want Eric Gaffney to learn a bunch of Bakesale songs, and he won’t learn them, where am I at? What do we do with that? Like we would literally, on the tours that we did, we would say, ‘Eric, here’s a song,’ and we gave him like a few songs, like ‘Love is Stronger Than the Truth,’ from a record that he didn’t play on. ‘Here’s the song, I would like to play it, and people would like to hear it.’ He fuckin’ wouldn’t learn it (laughs). We’d be halfway through the tour, and he’d still be stumbling through the fuckin’ breaks. What do you do with that? What do you fuckin’ do with that? In the meantime, he’s showing us new songs, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, man, bring it on. Fuck yeah!’ We’re like fuckin’ into anything that he brings, but then you try to bring something that he doesn’t know, and he’s just like, ‘I don’t know…’”
Where does this rock star attitude come from?
I don’t know, man. Everyone I know is a fuckin’ rock star… but not like Jason Loewenstein. Jason Loewenstein’s fuckin’ awesome. He’s into it. He does his best. The other people that I know like J and Eric and Murph, like those guys are like, ‘Hey, I’m not into this, so I’m not doin’ it.’ (laughs).
It’s going to be fun socializing with them on the cruise ship.
No, no, no. They’re awesome. They’re awesome people. I’m just sayin’ on a creative level … In my opinion, if you’re a musician, you fuckin’ play music, and if someone says you play a song, you fuckin’ learn the song, and you play it. No matter what your opinion was. If someone shows you a song, and you say, ‘I don’t think that song is very good,’ you don’t say that (laughs). You play it. You take it as a challenge. You say, OK, I’m going to try to add to this song in a way that might make it better or more interesting for myself. You don’t shut down and not give to it. You take it as a challenge. If you were given something that you don’t respond to, that’s a challenge to make it interesting for yourself. Not to make the fuckin’ person that handed a piece of your soul to you… every song that someone hands to you is a piece of their soul, and you make the fuckin’ best of that. You’re making a huge risk by handing something creative to someone else. If you were a friend, and also if you were a fuckin’ good person, you say, ‘OK, thank you, I will do my best.’ You don’t just say (in dumb voice): ‘I don’t know man, I’m not feeling it.’
Are you thinking about Eric when you are saying all this?
I’m thinking about J, I’m thinking about Eric… uhhhh (he sighs) it drives me fuckin’ nuts about some people.
What happened recently that has caused this to bubble up?
No, whatever, it’s happened my whole experience. Every record that I’ve ever made, except when I worked with Jason Loewenstein. He’s fuckin’ awesome. Jason Loewenstein, Bob [D’Amico], [Imaad] Wasif, the people that I worked with in the Folk Implosion, great. Although that’s different. Eric Gaffney, J Mascis, Murph, those, those guys are (dumb voice) ‘I don’t know man.’ (laughs) You’re, really? Really? (Cracks up).
It sounds like it’s going to be a long tour…
No, no, dude. It’s all good (laughs). I’m just explaining to you. This doesn’t bum me out to the point that I’m not going to do what I do. I’ve just discovered with musicians that I’ve worked with, you’ve got the guys that synch, you’ve got the guys that go, ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t like this. I don’t feel like playin’ it’ or you’ve got the guys that go, ‘Hey, I don’t like this. I don’t care. I’m going to fuckin’ play it coz I’m a fuckin’ musician’ (laughs). ‘I’m going to focus and do it, and I’m going to do my best, and if I don’t like it, I’m going to try to do something that I do like on it.’ There’s collaborators and there’s fuckin’ people that are not collaborators, and I’ve dealt with both and I deal with both, and I will continue to deal with both (laughs).
In the Freed Man [Sebadoh’s debut album, when Sebadoh was just Barlow and Gaffney], you can tell there is a clash going on there.
Yeah, cause he played his own songs, and I was trying to involve him. I desperately wanted to be in a band with him, and I was just trying to involve him in the process and think, naively, that I would gain his trust (laughs). I was trying to gain his trust basically. Just looking back at it, it was amazing I just spent so much time trying to gain his trust … and then make him a collaborator. But I think when people are not collaborators, they’re not collaborators, unfortunately. You can’t make someone collaborate (laughs). As he collaborated with me, I thought that then I could collaborate with him, and that’s not really the case. That’s a big lesson that I learned.
I then ask Barlow whether this conversation is going on too long for him since I only requested 15 minutes. Then, he reveals, indeed he can cope fine with artistic differences while continuing to work with Dinosaur Jr. A member of Dinosaur was at his home all along during the interview, watching the two children Barlow has with his longtime wife. “Murph, the drummer of Dinosaur Jr., is watching our kids right now,” Barlow says. “He’s awesome.”
Sebadoh performs in Miami on Wednesday, Jan. 18, with Jacuzzi Boys and Plains supporting. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, on sale here, or $20 at the door. All ages are welcome. After a long weekend at sea on the Weezer Cruise (Edit: You can now read a 4-part recap of the event here), Lou Barlow returns to the same venue as bassist with Dinosaur Jr. Yuck will support at that show, also all ages, on Monday, Jan. 23. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26 in advance, on sale here, or $30 at the door.
Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ (soon to be reissued on LP): an Indie Ethos Exclusive (Part 1 of 2)
January 16, 2012
Ahead of his many appearances as part of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and as a solo artist on the Carnival Cruise ship Destiny during the Weezer Cruise singer/guitarist Lou Barlow spoke about the misnomer “prince of lo-fi,” the up-coming vinyl reissue of Weed Forestin and Sebadoh’s debut Miami show ahead of the cruise. He spoke with me from his Los Angeles home, a few days before a tour with Dinosaur Jr., in early December. I was expecting to have just about 15 minutes. We ended up speaking for nearly an hour and covering many more subjects. Barlow even offered some candid insight into the dynamics between he and his longtime bandmates in Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. (wait for part 2 of this interview).
Founded by Barlow in the late eighties, Sebadoh has long existed in the shadows of many more popular acts of the nineties alternative rock scene. Their height of exposure came while on the Seattle-based label Sub Pop, probably the most famous independent label during the rise of the so-called grunge rock scene. The band signed a deal with the label in the early nineties, just as the label’s most famous product, Nirvana, had flown the coop to ride high on MTV buzz while crossing over to a major label, DGC, an off-shoot of Geffen Records, distributed by Warner Bros. Meanwhile, Barlow’s former band, Dinosaur Jr., also enjoyed MTV popularity in support of albums on the major label Reprise, also distributed by Warner Bros.
Sebadoh carried on as a curious but well-respected band fronted by the man cast out as bassist and sometime singer of Dinosaur Jr. just before Dino signed its major label deal. Sebadoh’s “size” fit Barlow just fine, as he prefers the inherent low profile approach of an indie label. He even enjoys being his own roadie and piling into the van with just his two other bandmates, currently longtime bassist Jason Loewenstein and new drummer Bob D’Amico (who are both also key to The Fiery Furnaces). Still, Sebadoh were no less influential or important to revitalizing rock. Even before Sebadoh signed to Sub Pop, and only had its second album out on the even smaller Homestead Records, Superchunk took three songs from Sebadoh’s all Barlow-composed collection of home-recordings, Weed Forestin, to fill the majority of an EP called “the Freed Seed” in 1991. Weed Forestin had only arrived on the scene a year earlier, but there it was, celebrated by another band that was also important to the indie rock scene of the early nineties (Superchunk’s frontman, Mac McCaughan, still owns and operates Merge Records, which most famously became the first indie label to earn the Album of the Year Grammy in 2010 with Arcade Fire’s the Suburbs).
The humble start of Sebadoh was just an alternative venue for Barlow to give life to his songs, which were often rejected by Dinosaur Jr.’s frontman J Mascis. He recorded them at home on a 4-track cassette recorder with Eric Gaffney providing percussion. Homestead Records would compile the works, first released as cassettes, on a 1990 CD entitled the Freed Weed. The first 23 tracks on the 40-track disc, covers Weed Forestin and the last 17 tracks are the Freed Man, Sebadoh’s first official album, which saw commercial release in 1989. According to the Freed Weed‘s credits, the songs were recorded in 1986-88. Sometime this year, Barlow says he promises to officially reissue Weed Forestin on vinyl. In recent years, earlier Sebadoh reissues have been released by Sub Pop Records in the US and Domino Records in the UK, but Barlow says he plans to release Weed Forestin as a very limited run on vinyl, independently. “Five hundred,” he says with a laugh. “Get ‘em while they’re hot.”
OK, so there is a hint of sarcasm to that last statement, but I offer my surprise at such a low pressing. “That’s all we need,” Barlow insists. “No more than 500 people want that record.” During our conversation, Barlow notices how serious I am about this album, and he tells me he cannot believe I am as interested as I say I am in this record, an obscure introduction to Sebadoh if there ever was one.
We argue back and forth a bit. I plead my honest curiosity, sharing a story of how a dear friend of mine from my early college years, who happened to have abused enough LSD to turn schizophrenic, turned me on to the album. “The first generation of the people that really found it and felt that it was speaking to them, those people are real sensitive people,” Barlow says. “They really found something. It was not just, ‘Hey, man, this sounds pretty good, you should check this out.’ It was more like, ‘No!’” he says with a laugh and continues in a raspy voice, ‘This is amazing. You should hear it.’”
There is a purity to Weed Forestin, as it presents Sebadoh at its most raw and intimate. It is also on of the more obscure and probably most rough-around-the edges Sebadoh record in the band’s catalog. It can even be seen as a genuine goof with heartfelt intention, filled with experimental tangents and sincere, soul-stirring songwriting.
The subtleties that many take for granted are testament to the album’s character. The album opens with what sounds like a split second of orchestra, then four notes of a swinging guitar line with a muffled, tapped beat before the song “Temporary Dream” begins. Made up of some meandering whistling and a steady snare beat, where Barlow sings varied versions of “On my way to temporary dream,” before voices start screaming “Dreams! Dreams! Dreams!” the song picks up, stumbles and stops. It’s a defiant statement against whatever may have existed on the tape first and hinted by the album’s blink-and-you-might-miss-it opening. The track provides the perfect set-up for the album, with a beginning that alludes to the patch-work quality of leftover music recorded over on tape. The past and the present are experienced as one.
“New Worship,” a true, guitar-oriented song, follows with a distinct, seesaw rhythm. Barlow sings in his typically earnest, hushed voice, as the song drives on. After he sings “All my friends are killing me,” a higher-pitched, almost gnome-like voice repeats the statement, adding, “They think I’m a genius,” before dissolving into a whir of reverb. The song picks up the driving beat, and the melody comes to life with exuberant strums before grinding to a halt. No song on the album lasts longer than three and a half minutes and most are just under two minutes. They may be sketches but breath with amazing life, pulling back the curtain of the catchy, dynamic, punchy music of later-era Sebadoh.
With “Subtle Holy Gift” the distortion around the music makes the song sound like it’s coming from the inside of a big, old, wooden boat, drifting on a still ocean. Barlow offers two tracks of vocals, one in his regular tone, the other a falsetto, that harmonize with every other line, until the chorus, when they overlap. The sound is so distorted, the guitar strings sound as though they are being scratched instead of strummed.
“Whitey Peach” opens with nothing but tape hiss, Barlow states “5:20” (it’s a subtle enigma that probably means nothing, but an enigma nonetheless) and then some disjointed guitar playing begins, sounding as if recorded from a distance, and once it catches a groove, the first word from the softly sung “Hey, girl, do you see the thing I see?” is also used as an accompaniment by a second vocal track, just a whiny, soft quavering “heeeeeey,” which reappears with each line, as the song rambles along like something from a hundred years ago. It’s not because the music’s style sounds dated, but the tape these songs were recorded on sounds like it is on the verge of disintegrating, and these are the voices of ghosts. The acoustic guitar rumbles and reverbs but also glistens and chimes. A variety of taps and beats appear here and there to spice things up.
Most songs on Weed Forestin are sung hushedly, as if not to disturb anyone outside of the bedroom. The songs have a vibrant, varied quality, defined by the earnestness of youth (Barlow says he recorded the tracks between the ages of 19 and 21). It’s a contrast to Sebadoh’s later studio-work, which garnered more notoriety on the college music radio charts and from other musicians, at least. With proper studio equipment and regular members who contributed to the songwriting, Sebadoh became a more polished, though still grungy project, which even took rare but notable hard, abrasive turns into screaming hardcore, a genre that defined the punk sound that first brought Barlow and Mascis together in high school. Their group with two other band mates and Mascis on drums, Deep Wound, only recorded a self-titled EP on an indie label. Then there was Folk Implosion, which gave Barlow his biggest hit, “Natural One,” released on the Kids soundtrack, peaking at 29 on the Billboard singles chart in 1995, higher than anything Sebadoh ever released. Here’s the video for that as a refresher:
But before Folk Implosion went on to release four albums and Sebadoh broke out on its own, there were the homemade recordings later released as Weed Forestin, and that is what I am most curious about (no better time for that seeing as the vinyl reissue is on its way this year). When I first met Barlow, back in 1997, in North Miami Beach, during an in-store at the long gone Blue Note Records, I expressed my deep affection for the Freed Weed. As he signed the CD booklet for that, he suggested I go check out Smog. When I remind him of that meeting, he laughs. “See, look at me, selfless, even back then: ‘You like the lo-fi? Go get a Smog record.'”
On with the Q&A…
Hans Morgenstern: You remember that in-store at the record shop Blue Note?
Lou Barlow: That was amazing. That was a really cool record store.
Otherwise, you’ve never, ever toured down to Miami.
Not really, no. I did that one show at the record store and that’s it … It’s so weird. Miami is this weirdly ignored place. It’s like Miami and Montana, it’s like the two places that nobody plays, although I don’t really understand why. I don’t get it. Miami I think is just like a whole other culture unto itself. There’s something about it that is so unique. It’s almost like touring South America or Mexico or something … I’m excited to be back there actually.
No challenges really. The problem with it was that when it was mastered originally they put way more hiss on it than was on the original recordings. I think people really like the hiss. They will probably really hate the reissue because the reissue actually sounds like what I recorded, so people won’t like it at all, which is sad, and that’s why we probably won’t even sell 500. We will only sell like 250 or 300 coz people won’t like it (laughs). I’m kidding. I’m sorry.
You’re right, though. It’s true that the hiss is a very important part of it.
The hiss is a big part of it, but a lot of the hiss was really added by other people and not me.
So when you first heard it, you were like, ‘What the hell? Did it really sound this crappy?”
Yeah, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
But now, you’re fixing that. You’re doing what George Lucas did with Star Wars.
No! No, absolutely not. He ruined it. He went back and changed things. No, I’m not changing anything. I’m just taking the original recordings, and I took them to an amazing mastering studio, and we just made them sound like they sounded. We don’t change anything. It was presenting what I listened to and what I know as Weed Forestin, what I know the songs to sound like.
What did you record it on?
A Fostex 4-track.
What is that orchestral sample that keeps appearing throughout the album?
I don’t know. I listened to the radio a lot, and I still do. One day I was listening to a classical radio show, and I just hit record and play… and I hit stop. I had no idea what it was, and it was so beautiful, and I took that little piece and I just went crazy with it. It’s possibly from something well-known.
It sounds like Wagner.
Really? (laughs) If it’s Wagner that will be really heavy … I don’t know if I could deal with that … Someone knows, but the people that listen to my music don’t know. Only people that really like real music know (laughs).
As I researched what you’ve been up to lately, I noticed you being called the unofficial prince of lo-fi music, but it wasn’t like you set out to create a new genre with your music.
I didn’t create anything, no. There was already lo-fi before me (laughs).
It’s not bitter … It’s very wary, cautious… um, maybe bitter. It’s a little bitter, but I’ve heard much more bitter in my life by other bands that people don’t call bitter. I don’t know. I mean, that’s fair, I guess, yes.
But there’s also some wisdom.
I was trying to talk myself through my life. I was trying to understand what I was experiencing, but I don’t think … but, there’s some bitterness.
But then there is some hopefulness, like “I Believe in Fate.”
Yeah, well, there you go. “Anyone can be your brand new love” (a lyric from another Weed Forestin song, “Brand New Love”).
But in “I Believe in Fate,” you sing, “Some girl I don’t know is waiting to marry me.” Now you’re a married man. How long have you been married?
26 years or something (he laughs).
Are you kidding?
We’ve been married since… ’95? We were married since the day we met. I met her because of the music. When I wrote out the original lyric sheet, I wrote out, ‘A personal plea to a special someone.’ I was writing those songs for a girl I didn’t know. Someone that would hear that and understand me and that would want to be with me. It was for a girl (he laughs). On one side there was these love songs and on the other side it was meant to be what I was thinking about philosophically and what I was struggling with on a sort of spiritual level. Originally, on the record or the cassette, one side was the relationship songs, the songs about love, and the other side was meant to be the philosophical side where I was struggling with philosophical issues and almost, like, political issues, struggling with the power of charisma. How you get one asshole male with an incredible amount of charisma who changes the world, who can change the way people think, who can sway people. I was just very torn between these things.
So your wife is one of the original Weed Forestin fans?
The thing is, on the Dinosaur Jr. record You’re Living All Over Me, the song I put on there, “Poledo,” in that sort of noise collage, that song was the genesis, and Weed Forestin was the outgrowth of that. “Poledo,” that was the beginning of it and then, when I elaborated on it, that was Weed Forestin.
Are you playing some of these songs on the cruise?
I could do it…
Oh, come on.
Yeah, fuck, why not. I’ll bring my ukulele (laughs). Absolutely.
No better place for a uke than a cruise ship.
There you go. Perfect (laughs).
How does it feel to be part of the entertainment on a Carnival cruise ship?
It’s fucking awesome.
How did you wind up booked on a cruise?
Rivers Cuomo [Weezer’s frontman] really liked Sebadoh. He really liked the Bakesale record, and I met him a few times, and we hung out a little bit. We’re kind of from the same area of the country. He’s from the middle part of Connecticut. We’re from southern-western Massachusetts. Sebadoh got asked to do it pretty early on, and then Dinosaur was asked to do it. With Sebadoh, we were like, yeah, we’ll do it, and Dinosaur weren’t getting enough money, so Dinosaur asked for more money, and then J didn’t really want to do it. I think J is getting paid for his solo shows as well. I’m playing solo shows for nothing (laughter). It’s just amazing, man, the power of Dinosaur Jr.
Up-date: you can stream the entirety of the brilliant Weed Forestin album, now credited to “Sentridoh,” by visiting Sentridoh’s Bandcamp by clicking through the image of the new album’s cover art here:
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Part 2 of this interview is available here:
Barlow shares much about working with Mascis in Dinosaur Jr. and Gaffney in Sebadoh, as well as the perils of reissuing vinyl.
Sebadoh performs in Miami on Wednesday, Jan. 18, with Jacuzzi Boys and Plains supporting. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, on sale here, or $20 at the door. All ages are welcome. After a long weekend at sea on the Weezer Cruise (Edit: You can now read a 4-part recap of the event here), Lou Barlow returns to the same venue as bassist with Dinosaur Jr. Yuck will support at that show, also all ages, on Monday, Jan. 23. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26 in advance, on sale here, or $30 at the door.