Lou Barlow is the Charlie Brown of indie rock. Like the bald-headed little kid with no kite-flying, football-kicking, or baseball-game-winning fortune, but loads of determination, Barlow applies himself 100 percent to any number of projects at once. The onetime Dinosaur Jr. member leads two bands, the touring behemoth Sebadoh and the studio-oriented Folk Implosion. And no matter how much he gives, little is returned. Sebadoh currently doesn't have a record contract, and Folk Implosion's latest album, One Part Lullaby, sold poorly. Good grief, indeed.
Still, nine months after its release, Barlow is hitting the road in support of Lullaby. His Folk Implosion partner, John Davis, decided to stay home ("John is one of those people who can't really tour; he can't really be happy on the road," Barlow explains), leaving the daunting task of pushing the record to Barlow alone.
"We never put ourselves up as this touring promotional machine kind of band," he says via phone. "We always wanted it to be a recording project, a collaboration between the two of us [so] we can do whatever we want, play every instrument, and that kind of stuff. I think with the last record, it was obvious that we had to do something, just to let people know the record's out and that we care about the songs. I've taken that responsibility myself."
That decision has left some confusion as to what exactly Barlow is representing
"No one's really seemed to arrive on a consistent way to advertise the tour," he laughs. "One city says "Lou Barlow,' another says "One Part Folk Implosion.' I played in Amsterdam, and they actually had a Sebadoh poster taken from an old promo photograph. It seems people have a hard time getting their heads around exactly to what I'm doing. But it's very simple, really. I'm playing a lot of the new Folk Implosion record. I'm trying to spread the word on that record a little bit before it fades into history."
Folk Implosion formed in 1993 as an extension of Barlow's friendship with Davis. Primarily designed as a lo-fi, studio-only outfit and as a vacation of sorts from Barlow's full-time position with Sebadoh, it's Folk Implosion, ironically, that has experienced the most commercial success. Its 1995 song, "Natural One," which was featured in the film Kids, was a cult hit. Lullaby, a progression of that, is a bigger, fuller, more cheery pop album than anything else in the Barlow canon.
Barlow says it just fell in place that way, and he was happy with the results -- at least at first.
"Since I'm now ready to move on, I'm getting a better idea of what I want to do for the next record," he says. "So I don't think too much about the last one. I've reached the point where there's this infatuation with something I've finished -- "Oh, this is great. All the hard work was worth it.' And then one day, out of the blue, you'll hear it and be like "God, this sucks!'
"It's weird how that happens," he continues. "You have a love affair with a record, and one day you wake up and you just don't love it anymore. Or I get an idea for the future, and a lot of that means separating myself from what I did before. I want to make sure that whatever I do is definitely nothing like what came before it. That's a standard I try to hold myself to."
Barlow plans to spend the rest of the summer writing songs. So far, he says, the demos have taken on a new dimension.
"[The demos] are really noisy," he says. "I kind of like things like that anyway. I'm hoping [they become] more minimal and rougher, with a less layered vocal presence. Just closer, as opposed to beating the record with effects, which is pretty much what the last one sounds like to me now. I'm hoping the next record will be a little more grainy with less stuff."
When asked if the next album to be released bearing the Barlow name is going to be a Folk Implosion one, Barlow laughs. "Unless we get dropped."
To clarify, he says whichever of his various projects gets scheduled first is the one for which he writes. Yet spotting the differences between a Sebadoh song and a Folk Implosion one -- when stripped to their cores -- isn't an uncomplicated process.
"It seems that, whenever I write something on acoustic guitar, it generally becomes a Sebadoh song," he explains, adding that experimental sketches usually wind up as Folk Implosion tunes. When told that the more melodic tracks on Lullaby, once rid of their studio-generated clutter, sound like Sebadoh songs, Barlow concurs: "When I really did strip them down to learn how to play them by myself, they just became my songs. I think they fit in really well with the Sebadoh songs I've written."
Bringing along a four-track machine, on which he's "rebuilt" many of the tracks, Barlow says some of the songs on this tour sound "totally different than the album."
"[The songs] are totally stripped down and really minimal," he explains. "Other things I do just on guitar. With Sebadoh, we toured for probably a year and a half. I've never done a solo tour, and I sort of realized when I started playing these shows that I have so many songs to play. I don't limit myself to only Folk Implosion songs in the show. I'll play Sebadoh stuff or whatever people want to hear."
This really isn't as desperate as it sounds. In a way, it's mere musical therapy for Barlow and probably more restorative than a nickel session at Lucy's makeshift booth.
"It's just been such a fucking weird year," he confesses. "The music itself hasn't really changed, and the way we do it certainly hasn't changed, but just watching people's perceptions change and see that translated into people not buying the record. I always feel like I'm struggling. When I first started writing songs, they were revelatory to me. There were lyrical twists in them that had a lot to do with growing older and all the revelations. But now that all the revelations are over, it's like "What do I really want to write about?' It's a lot tougher.
"I don't necessarily think I've grown at all," he sighs. "I'm still at the same point of just trying to find songs."
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