Sebadoh in concert at Reading Festival 1996. Recorded for BBC Radio 1 and John Peel on August 23, 1996. A taste of American Indie-Lo-Fi tonight.
Sebadoh formed in 1988 in Northampton, Massachusetts, by Eric Gaffney and Dinosaur Jr. bass player Lou Barlow. Along with such bands as Pavement and Guided by Voices, Sebadoh helped pioneer lo-fi music, a style of indie rock characterized by low-fidelity recording techniques, often on four-track machines. The band’s early output, such as The Freed Man and Weed Forestin’ (both released 1990), as well as Sebadoh III (1991), was typical of this style. Following the release of Bubble & Scrape in 1993, Gaffney left the band. His replacement, Bob Fay, appeared on Bakesale (1994), but was fired before the sessions for the band’s major label release The Sebadoh (1999).
The band then went on a 14-year recording hiatus, during which time members pursued other projects while occasionally touring as Sebadoh. The group, fronted by singer Lou Barlow, returned in 2013 with the Secret EP and a full-length album titled Defend Yourself, which were both self-recorded.
Lou Barlow was the bass player for alternative rock band Dinosaur Jr. in the late 1980s. While both Barlow and leader J Mascis wrote songs, Mascis’ material dominated the group’s output because Barlow was intimidated by the guitarist’s songwriting efforts. Barlow spent progressively more time recording his own songs at home. Barlow and Eric Gaffney released the Weed Forestin’ cassette in 1987 on Homestead Records under the name Sebadoh, which was a nonsense word Barlow often muttered in his recordings. Both Barlow and Gaffney contributed songs to The Freed Man (1988) cassette. Homestead Records head Gerard Cosloy heard the cassette release of The Freed Man and released it as a full-length album on Homestead in 1989. Soon after the cassette’s release Barlow was kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. Over time Sebadoh’s releases became a way for Barlow to address the issues of control that manifested as the tension in and his ejection from Dinosaur Jr; Barlow said “I got a lot of hatred out just by writing those songs.” Jason Loewenstein joined in summer 1989, the first release that he played on being the “Gimme Indie Rock” single in 1991. Only ten ‘band’ shows were performed throughout Western Massachusetts, Boston, and New York over the period 1989-1990 before the third album Sebadoh III was released.
After touring with Firehose in 1991, they signed to Sub Pop (Domino in the UK and City Slang in Germany) in 1992, and released the two EPs Rocking the Forest and Sebadoh vs. Helmet released just two months apart. These EPs had their track listings truncated and shuffled around and made into the American full-length release Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock. Their fourth album Bubble & Scrape was released in April 1993. The same year, the band’s “Soul and Fire” EP humorously described the band’s musical goal as “driving dozens of college-age lemmings off the cliff of limited imagination.”
Following Bubble & Scrape (1993) Gaffney left the band. His replacement, Bob Fay, appeared on Bakesale (1994) and the follow-up Harmacy in 1996. Fay was fired before the sessions for The Sebadoh (1999) and replaced by Russ Pollard, a friend of Loewenstein’s from Louisville. The band went on a tour to promote this album, including a stop in Toronto in March. The band then went on hiatus, with Barlow concentrating on his other project, the Folk Implosion, and Loewenstein working on material for his debut solo album At Sixes and Sevens, released in 2002. The two reunited to play concerts in late 2003 and early 2004.
So 33 years on and they’re still together. But as a reminder of what they were up to at Reading in 1996 – hit the play button, crank it up and you’ll find out.