Progress Report

Progress Report: Lou Barlow

NAME: Lou Barlow
PROGRESS REPORT: Releasing his 2nd solo LP, Goodnight Unknown, “deconstructing” his songs for live performance

Releasing your sophomore solo record might be nerve-wracking, unless you’d already released a ton of other LPs with Sebadoh, Sentridoh, Folk Implosion and Dinosaur Jr. For songwriter and serial project-starter Lou Barlow, finally slapping his birth name on an album (2007’s Emoh) was a way to cut down on the clutter and start over, or at least get back the feeling of starting over. “The idea of using my name for the Emoh record was a desperate attempt to simplify after the confusing amount of side projects and bands I’ve had,” he says. “It seemed my discography was working against me.”

His discography probably wasn’t working against his solo material as much as working alongside it. Barlow says he demoed for Goodnight Unknown in the fall of 2007 before recording in earnest at the start of 2008, whenever he wasn’t touring or working with Dinosaur Jr. His recording philosophy — keep it sounding “more like the things I like” — remains consistent across his work. His songwriting method has two parts: he keeps a journal to pinch lyrics from, but tries to keep melodies in his head, recording only the ones that he remembers later. “Some of the best songs, in my opinion, are ones where I just started playing and singing spontaneously and something cohesive occurred. That happens once in awhile,” Barlow says. “But I also really enjoy tweaking ideas over a long period of time and finding the heart of a song.”

Now that recording’s over, Barlow is teaching Goodnight Unknown to his new bandmates, Tom Watson and Raul Morales, who currently play with Mike Watt as The Missingmen. Because of the way he layered the songs (Barlow recorded almost all of the tracks himself), he must “deconstruct” them for a live setting. Of the new tracks, he’s most pleased with “Gravitate.” “It sounds like a good combination of my least accessible Sentridoh stuff and my most successful Folk Implosion stuff,” he says. There are other ways he’s been digging through the past. Barlow recently bought an iPod, and though he says he listened to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch for most of the time he was recording, the iPod’s been for “playing on random every evening,” rediscovering music he already loves. It seems to fit someone who’s been able to juggle different projects easily, but Barlow says he’s only recently learned to adapt. “When I was younger it seemed to take me longer to recover from work periods,” he explains. “But now, yeah, I’m more comfortable with everything and have grown into a certain amount of faith in the process — escaping that fear that each song may be my last, but rediscovering the urgency somehow.”

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Tags: Lou Barlow