Mending Old Fences with Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.

Friday, 10 August 2007

When I first spoke with Lou Barlow, it was under very different circumstances than the second time around. The last week of February in 2003 found the singer, songwriter and bassist contemplating what was to happen next as, with the record of the moment, The New Folk Implosion, in the can for a new label and a national tour looming, he was trying to figure out if he was where he wanted to be as he walked up the streets of San Francisco toward the band’s rehearsal space. While he was very open to conversation and very hopeful for The New Folk Implosion, he was also very pensive regarding the outcome of his newest venture and how the album would be received after the success of the “Natural One” single that got the band its first exposure on the mainstream modern rock radio of the day. Would it work twice? With the idea of a Dinosaur Jr. reunion not even a glimmer in anyone’s eye at that time, and Sebadoh on hiatus, Barlow had a lot of personal stake riding on both the release and subsequent tour behind The New Folk Implosion. As he walked, even then, he intimated that he wasn’t sure what the future would hold exactly, but he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to secure what he called his “punk rock middle age” and find a viable means of making music that would be both profitable and gratifying. Four years later and circumstances have changed; Sebadoh’s touring occasionally if not yet ready to record, and Dinosaur Jr.—touring and with a new record, Beyond, to promote—is back much to the joy of indie rock fans everywhere. With the memory of my last interview with Lou in mind, I thought I’d ask him if he’d found what he was looking for.

Lou Barlow: Hello?

Bill Adams: Hey Lou, it’s Bill Adams calling. Is now okay for the interview?

LB: Yeah sure. Now’s fine.

BA: How’re you doing?

LB: I’m okay, how’re you?

BA: I can’t complain. Where are you right now?

LB: Minneapolis. Where are you?

BA: Right now I’m in Waterloo, Ontario.

LB: Oh. Okay.

BA: So how’s the tour been going so far?

LB: It’s been going really well.

BA: Cool. Now, you guys are hitting Toronto as part of the North By Northeast conference right? But I remember talking to you years ago right before The New Folk Implosion record came out and I remember you saying at the time that you didn’t really envision Dinosaur Jr. ever reforming—what changed?

LB: Well, Merge Records put out a bunch of reissues for the first three Dinosaur records and right around that same time it just happened to work out that I’d seen J a few times at shows and things—we’ve got a lot of mutual friends and things like that. I’d seen him a few times and it was…okay, you know? I don’t know, I felt like, for me anyway, there were a lot of those same old hard feelings. I met his wife and all, found out about what he was doing and this and that, and it wasn’t like it used to be. We actually did an impromptu reunion of our old hardcore band for one song at a show that both Sebadoh and J both happened to be playing in 2002 or 2003. J’s manager is really ambitious and driven and he was the one that asked J that, if he convinced Murph and I to do the reunion, if he’d do it. I guess J said at the time that he wasn’t really into it, but the manager persisted and called Murph and I and we were psyched to do it, and then J just kind of went along with it.

BA: I gotcha. As I say, I remember that conversation we had pretty well and, at the time, you weren’t really sure what you were going to do next. I remember you saying something to the effect of, ‘I’m trying to figure out exactly what I want to do in order to secure my punk rock middle age,’ back then. Is this still heading in that direction? Or is this genuinely a do-it-for-love kind of thing?

LB: [silence for a second] Um, I’m sorry [chuckling] that was kind of a long question. I missed some of it—there were people talking next to me. Can you tell me, what was that again?

BA: At the time of The New Folk Implosion release when we spoke, you weren’t sure what was going to happen next, but you were just trying to figure out how to secure your “punk rock middle age.” Is this part of it? Or is this genuinely a do-it-for-love kind of thing?

LB: Um, [chuckling very nervously] I don’t remember saying that anymore… I don’t even know what I was saying….

BA: It’s okay, this was a while ago anyway. You were in San Francisco at the time. It’s not all that important….

LB: I’m just puzzling over what I said at the time now. [Still chuckling nervously] No, this is like, ‘Do it for love, do it for money,’ you know? Those things generally go together for me so I’m very fortunate that way. For this, for me to revisit the Dinosaur songs and revisit the musical chemistry that I have with Murph and the way that he plays drums and then J [sputtering, stammering]— J’s a really interesting…person with an interesting style. He writes some really good hooks and…I don’t know. [Chuckling spastically] I really like playing and collaborating with other people and being in as many bands as possible. I feel like that’s what keeps me pretty lucid and fresh. There are a lot of reasons that we’re doing this and love is there—money’s there too—but for me, I can’t really choose one over the other; they all sort of conspire to move me [clearing throat] and conspire to inspire me.

BA: I gotcha. So with this new record, was it a matter of already having a bunch of songs so you ran with it? Or is this a matter of Dinosaur Jr. being a permanent entity again?

LB: I don’t know. You know? I was very surprised that J wanted to do a record and he did have a bunch of demos so we went about the business of fleshing them out and then maybe in the second or third session that we did, I introduced a few ideas and those became songs which sort of fleshed out the rest of the record. So far the touring has been going really well though, and it’s great to have new songs to play.

BA: So what’s next for you personally? More of your own records?

LB: Yeah hopefully. I did a Sebadoh tour just before this one and that one went really well too, so I’ll probably fill in some gaps doing some Sebadoh stuff.

BA: Any chance of another Folk Implosion record?

LB: No. Of all the things that I’ve done, I think I’d have to say that it held the least interest. I don’t think people really miss the Folk Implosion. I loved doing it at the time and I was really into it, but as time wore on and people didn’t really seem into it, I sort of lost interest in it too. You kind of need that interest to make reunions worthwhile you know [chuckling]? There has to be that interest and, of course, with Dinosaur there was and with Sebadoh there was too. Folk Implosion not so much and I don’t really see it taking off again.

BA: I see what you’re saying. I know you’ve got a ton of interviews going on at once so I just wanted to say thank you very much for taking a couple of minutes to talk to me.

LB: No problem.

BA: See you when you hit Toronto.

LB: Cool.

BA: Thanks again.

LB: No problem.

BA: Talk to you later.

LB: Bye.

For Dinosaur Jr. Tour Dates, click here:
For a GRIP of live Sebadoh mp3s, click here:

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