Lou Barlow back to getting emotions out through Sebadoh

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

Trailblazing ’80s indie bands Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh have one common denominator: Lou Barlow. After three decades in the business, Barlow is back playing with both bands and working at the peak of his powers. Sebadoh plays The Loving Touch this Thursday, and Barlow is confident the newly rejuvenated band will exceed expectations.

“I’m trying to play the best versions of these songs that we’ve ever played, and in my own little world, I feel like I’m achieving that,” Barlow, 48, says. “The pressure’s off and I have so much more fun. I’m much more in control of myself, and I feel like I enjoy it more.”

Barlow formed Dinosaur Jr. with singer-guitarist J. Mascis in 1984. The band’s original lineup released three acclaimed independent albums (“Dinosaur,” “You’re Living All Over Me” and “Bug”), which combined influences as diverse as speed metal, garage rock, and psychedelic pop.

Barlow and Mascis butted heads often, and Barlow was kicked out of the band after the release of “Bug” in 1988. He went on to refine lo-fi garage rock with Sebadoh, and he later achieved brief commercial success with Folk Implosion in the ’90s.

No matter what band he’s playing in, Barlow’s frank lyrics have always been his calling card. “The Freed Pig,” the opening song on Sebadoh’s first post-Dinosaur Jr. album, pulls no punches in documenting Barlow’s torrid relationship with Mascis.

“With no sick people tugging on your sleeve / Your big head has that ‘more room to grow’ / A glory I will never know,” Barlow famously sings on the track.

“I always write from the same spot, negotiating changes in my life and using music as a way to get through that,” Barlow says of his songwriting instincts. “I write from pretty direct experiences because very early on I was influenced by hardcore punk and the confessional nature of that stuff, so that’s something I carry on in my work.”

Sebadoh returned to the studio in 2013 after a 14-year recording hiatus with a new drummer and Barlow’s most personal collection of songs yet. “Defend Yourself” concerns itself explicitly with the breakup of Barlow’s 25-year marriage. He says after all these years the project continues to give him a unique forum to explore his deepest emotions.

“With anything I’m doing I just want to feel a sense of possibility, and with Sebadoh I just feel like there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” he says, adding that he doesn’t want fans to see the band’s current incarnation as a nostalgia act. “Reliving anything is never really an issue. I never thought of it that way.”

To the surprise of his fans and Barlow himself, he has also been busy performing with a reunited Dinosaur Jr. In 2005 he and Mascis resolved their two decade grudge when they approached each other at a benefit show and spontaneously reformed their old hardcore band Deep Wound.

Dinosaur Jr. has since cut three albums with its original lineup, with plans to record and tour again in the near future. Barlow says he never expected to reconnect with Mascis, but he’s grateful the two have forged a new-found bond.

“I was really estranged from the band for a long time, and J. and I were never close,” Barlow says. “It’s kind of interesting to be in the band for this long and continuing to do it because it’s just, it always feels like we’re moving forward somehow. That band was always extremely important to my musical growth. It’s sort of where I cut my teeth. Having it be a part of my life now as I’m getting older has been really rewarding.”

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.


8 p.m. Thursday

The Loving Touch

22634 Woodward, Ferndale