Lou Barlow Interview

Lo-fi hero speaks

Dinosaur Jr crafted some of the most influential guitar strumming of the past two decades or so, leaving behind them a trail of blown out ear drums and inspired young grunge kids.

For Lou Barlow, however, some of the memories won’t be so sweet – continual arguments between himself and slacker tyrant J Mascis led to the songwriter exiting the group.

Embarking on a series of diverse solo projects, Lou Barlow carved out a niche for himself as a lo-fi guru. Loved and respected by a raft of fellow songwriters, it came as a shock to many when Barlow agreed to hoist his bass again and let Dinosaur Jr roar.

Still pursuing solo ventures, it seems that time has mellowed his famously divisive relationship with J Mascis. “J’s not the tyrant he used to be and our manager tells me they want me to write songs on the records” he explains “so I do my best to oblige”.

However Barlow’s songwriting style has itself changed from those first home-recorded Sebadoh excursions. “In the beginning I thought the scale of the songs I was writing didn’t fit with dinosaur – two chord songs written on ukelele. J was composing epics and seemed annoyed by me so I didn’t feel comfortable bringing things to him and subjecting myself to ridicule” he says. “Now I have 15 years of writing songs, releasing records and doing OK behind me.. so I have an ego, more or less”.

His new album continues Lou Barlow’s stance of using his own name on recordings. After years of side projects and pseudonyms, the songwriter seems confident enough to stand free from the masks and let fans see him for the talent he really is. “I was trying to simplify things, that’s all. I don’t feel particularly exposed. I think using my own name is lame, the name doesn’t roll off the tongue but I was convinced by friends and family to resist my urge to further complicate things and confuse my fragile fan-base and keep it simple”.

Featuring some crystal clear production ‘Goodnight Unknown’ seems on the surface to be a world away from the scratchy, murky world of Sebadoh’s early home recordings. However it seems as if Lou Barlow’s stance on self-production remains the name – only technology has accelerated. “I recorded most of the music on ‘Goodnight Unknown’ by myself in my rehearsal space on a mini-disc 4 -track. Transferring the results to my computer and layering over the tracks – I use cheap equipment and know only the bare essentials of recording techniques” he admits.

Lou Barlow – The Right

“To finish the album I brought the songs in progress to a proper studio, added some vocals and drums.. but it was conceived in a lo-fi way” Lou Barlow insists. “The last three Sebadoh records were recorded in studios by professionals so I don’t know if lo-fi typifies the Sebadoh catalogue. I think it’s important to remain open minded and use the tools at your disposal”.
Not that this means Lou Barlow is about to start unleashing Pro-Tools creations on the unsuspecting public. Using the internet the workaholic singer has managed to find an audience for his home taped doodles, and this aesthetic has trickled into ‘Goodnight Unknown’. Speaking to ClashMusic Lou Barlow reveals “’Take Advantage’ was recorded in my laundry room. Recording at home or a space where I feel comfortable and is something I have always done and will always do”.

With Lou Barlow currently playing support slots on tour with Dinosaur Jr it seems as if the singer has finally managed to reconcile the two strands of his career. Growing more accomplished without losing the uniquely personal strain that made him so loved, Lou Barlow has crafted one of the finest albums of his solo career.

Lou Barlow – ‘Goodnight Unknown’ is out now.

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