Sebadoh were something of the “Beautiful Losers” of the ’90s indie scene. Lou Barlow emerged from Northamption hardcore act Deep Wound, and later Dinosaur Jr., having famously been acrimoniously dismissed from the latter. He’d certainly borrow from J Mascis’s pop instincts, as well as Deep Wound’s wanton aggression, throughout Sebadoh’s existence, while perfecting the art of the sensitive yet self-deprecating indie ballad.
Eric Gaffney co-founded the band with Barlow, and the pair collaborated on The Freed Man and Weed Forestin, which were inchoate versions of what Sebadoh would evolve into. Gaffney recruited Jason Lowenstein, and they cohered into a full-fledged band, although the trio often swapped instruments early on, with no clear-cut frontperson.
The trio created three great indie rock albums in III, Smash Your Head On The Punk Rock, and Bubble And Scrape. Around this time, Gaffney was unceremoniously let go from the band, replaced by their longtime friend Bob Fay on drums. The move enabled the band to create their most consistent album to date, 1994’s Bakesale. It moved them into the category of “ones to watch,” as the industry was still hungry for more Nirvana and R.E.M. style breakthroughs.
Most who were in their early teens or younger in the ’90s remember Barlow from his breakthrough side project with John Davis, Folk Implosion, and their ubiquitous 1995 hit “Natural One,” culled from the Kids soundtrack, which was a ubiquitous clip on MTV’s Buzz Bin at the time. It ultimately seemed to serve as an albatross for Sebadoh unfortunately, as the stakes were high for 1996’s Harmacy, and its sales were underwhelming despite a large marketing budget.
1999’s The Sebadoh found Russ Pollard assuming the drummer mantle from Bob Fay, and he indeed raised the stakes of the band’s sound. They were tighter than ever throughout The Sebadoh, with some great tracks to match. Unfortunately their audience, particularly in the U.S., dwindled, and the band went on an extended hiatus following the album’s tour, with Barlow often saying in interviews thereafter, “We’ll come back when the people want us back.”
They reunited a few times in the ’00s, once as a duo with just Lowenstein and Barlow, and later as a trio with Gaffney joining the mix, primarily as a means to promote reissues of III and Bubble & Scrape. The reunions were enjoyable, but for those who’d been there the first time around, something was definitely missing.
The band again reconvened a few years ago, this time with longtime Lowenstein and Fiery Furnaces drummer Bob D’Amicio in tow. Sebadoh sounded utterly revitalized while playing a nice cross section of their formidable back catalog, and even decided to record some new material, releasing the Secret EP, available only at shows and via download on Bandcamp. The material on this EP was rather amazingly commensurate with some of the band’s finest moments.
They’ve been holed up in the studio since working on a new album due for release later this year. Barlow has claimed in interviews that it harks to classic Sebadoh sounds, which was also the case on the EP. It provides hope that a new generation of music fans will be exposed to one of the truly seminal bands of the ’90s. It also provides us an apt moment to look back and discuss their catalog. So let’s get to it.
Start the Countdown here.