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Lou Barlow
Photograph by Marina Chavez

St. Lou-natic: Lou Barlow held it down with Sebadoh, Sentridoh and Dinosaur Jr.

Boom and Bust

With Sebadoh and Folk Implosion gone, Lou Barlow ponders the future

By Michael Alan Goldberg

BETWEEN SEBADOH, Folk Implosion, Sentridoh and Dinosaur Jr., Lou Barlow has cobbled together a sprawling and impressive songbook 15 years deep. But when it came time to brush up on the old tunes for a long overdue solo tour, he went out of his way to spare his famously fragile psyche.

"I did a search on the web for lyrics to my own songs," says Barlow, calling from his L.A. home. "It's just that I have to function off the memory of the song and other people's versions of the lyrics because it totally freaks me out to actually listen to the stuff I've done. It brings back so much heavy shit that I'd need almost a whole day to just sit around and muse about it."

The past few years have coughed up a lot of reflective and uncertain days for the 36-year-old musician. Things were looking pretty good. Folk Implosion had a couple of hits and a lucrative deal with Interscope. Sebadoh was atop the indie-rock heap via a decade of acclaimed albums and relentless touring.

And then it all came to a grinding halt. Sebadoh's contract with Sub Pop expired after 1999's The Sebadoh, and band mate Jason Loewenstein had settled down in Kentucky, rendering it impossible for him and Barlow to get together. Things were even worse in the Folk Implosion camp. The group's excellent One Part Lullaby failed to meet Interscope's sales expectations, and early last year co-founder John Davis abruptly quit the band.

Now, like a freshly laid-off dotcommer, Barlow suddenly found himself facing a dwindling bank account and a dubious future. Instead of hitting the job boards, he hit the bottle, hard.

"Then one day I was like, 'Oh shit, I drink a lot?!?'" he chuckles. "All the shit that was really fun and seemed sort of harmless--well, now it's like, 'This is hurting me; I'm actually now damaged!' I didn't think it would actually happen, but I'm feeling it in my bones and in my brain.

"But instead of being all fucking bitter and cranky about it, like, 'I gotta go to AA; I gotta find philosophy; I gotta become a Scientologist ... ,' I just came to terms with it. Plus I kept writing all the time, and stuff just accumulates."

Barlow got it together with a Three-Step program of sorts. Step One was becoming computer literate and constructing a website (www.loobiecore.com) where he could offer fans MP3s of his collected home recordings. Step Two was a bit more difficult: the release of those songs on an album earlier this year. Preparing for the worst, Barlow insisted that no review copies of Free Sentridoh Songs From Loobiecore be sent to journalists.

"Shit is so fucking cruel sometimes, and I cannot deal with people callin' me Paul Westerberg or Bob Mould right now," he says. "I'm afraid of it. I just feel like I'm at the same place that I've always been, and I don't wanna hear 'Lou's lost it.' That shit bugs me."

The worry, of course, was for naught. The album proves Barlow to be as sharp, creative and wistfully beautiful a songwriter as always. But it's the still-in-progress Step Three--the resurrection of Folk Implosion--that should complete the comeback once and for all.

Free from Interscope, the group now includes Sebadoh/Alaska drummer Russ Pollard and Alaska multi-instrumentalist Imaad Wasif, and they're wrapping up a new album that's decidedly heavier and more guitar-based than the band's previous incarnation. Barlow credits his new mates' enthusiasm as critical to his musical revival, giving him hope for the road ahead.

But for now, Barlow is taking the solo route, finding comfort in a stellar body of work he's amassed even during the darkest of days.

"The healthiest thing for me to do on a day-to-day basis is to wake up and play music until I pass out, and when I'm doing that I'm at my happiest," he says. "Even if I'm drinking a lot of whiskey."

Lou Barlow, Fixture, Alaska, Early Mart, Xiu Xiu and Bunkbed perform Thursday (Oct. 10) at the Gaslighter Theater, 400 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell. The show begins at 6:30pm, and tickets are $8. (408.866.1408)

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From the October 3-9, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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