Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Random Rules: Lou Barlow

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The shuffler: Indie-rock balladeer Lou Barlow, known largely for his two bands, which have recently reunited: the sloppy, indie-punk Sebadoh, and the feedback-laden, heavy Dinosaur Jr. The latter continues to tour intermittently behind last year's Beyond, and Sebadoh recently performed its 1993 album Bubble And Scrape at Pitchfork Music Festival, in honor of its recent remastered, expanded reissue.


Timestoppers, "I Need Love"

Lou Barlow: I'm surprised this is even labeled. A lot of these are untitled, unknown. I just hoard stuff. And some of the stuff I get—I would have to enter all the names into it, and I just don't bother to do that. And if I like it, then I'll star them later or try to figure out what it is.

The A.V. Club: So you must like this one, huh?

LB: I don't know; this one's okay. This isn't one of the standouts of the time. I would buy all the compilations like Pebbles, Nuggets, anything. Back From The Grave, all the Back From The Grave records.

AVC: What's the flimsiest excuse you've used to buy one of those compilations?

LB: I would buy a lot of them just based on the covers, like, "That's a funny promo shot." They'd have those great promo shots of the bands when they were 16 years old, holding up their basses. "That's pretty cool!" [Laughs.] Or even regional [reasons], like, "Wow, Connecticut! I wanna find out what was going on in Connecticut in 1965."


AVC: What's surprised you the most from buying records that way?

LB: Some of that stuff is so poorly recorded and played, but so beautiful—these incredible moments come through. "This sounds like a kid shaking a tambourine in a hallway." And the band is in a closet, and they can't really play, and he's just singing. They're doing their best version of whatever was big at that time, like, The Zombies. The stuff that tries to sound like The Byrds or The Zombies can have this incredible melancholy. Like, "Oh my God, how old were they?" They must have been like 14 or 15. Really crude stuff, but these moments… It's great.


AVC: Is that where your attraction to the lo-fi aesthetic stems from?

LB: That's the way all music has ever appealed to me, you know? Just from the beginning, I really liked playing around with tape recorders. And then when I got into punk rock, I only really liked—the rawer it was, the more I was into it. You know what I mean? And then when I finally got into The Velvet Underground—I was like 14 or 15 when I found it. And even that wasn't raw enough; I just wanted raw stuff, always.


A low-fidelity recording, although it's a limited fidelity, it can be incredibly textured, [but] it's all there. I think people do a really good job of recreating that now, especially.

The Music Machine, "Double Yellow Line"

LB: The Music Machine is my favorite rock band ever. This is one of those things—visually, when you see them, it's like, "What the fuck?" They all wore black, they all had Beatles haircuts, but they dyed it black. And they all wore one black leather glove. And they had one hit song in 1966, called "Talk Talk." It was literally like a minute and 40 seconds long, and it's fucking incredible. It's this pounding thing, and they tuned way down, too. But they were also using some of the most sophisticated recording that they had in L.A. Like, they had a six-track studio or something. But they also tuned the bass way down to C, I think. I've never really figured it out. They say that's what it is. But it's really low and bass-heavy. The bass player actually went on to produce Fleetwood Mac and stuff. And the lead singer is this classic '60s eccentric who's now a born-again who lives in a garage in High Desert. Like Sky Saxon, but less… went off on his spiritual journey after the '60s, you know. But he's got this incredible voice, the most ridiculous lyrics too, like really funny. You can tell he kind of made them up on the spot, really pretentious, really, really funny. But just heavy.


And they play so well, too. That's the other thing. It's so heavy for the time, heavier than The Beatles, heavier than The Stones. Every song has that feel that "Helter Skelter" has, but it's just like one band, and all the songs kind of sound that way. And they do all these amazing, incredible covers too. They did a really good cover of "Cherry, Cherry" by Neil Diamond that sounds great. It sounds like the garage-rock song that it is, you know? I love the fucking Music Machines. I love them.

The Silver Apples, "Oscillations"

LB: They were a two-man band from the late '60s, in New York. One guy played synthesizers and the other guy played drums. Have you heard them? They're pretty well-known now. My band The Folk Implosion sampled them.


AVC: How hard was it to get clearance for that?

LB: Well, initially, the record company didn't want to clear it at all, because they were like, "Who are The Silver Apples? They're never going to find out." I was like, "They're totally going to find out. That's a pretty well-known band; this is well-known to thousands of people. [Laughs.] Everybody I know knows The Silver Apples. We can't not clear these samples."


The Silver Apples had this resurgence maybe 10 years ago. They've been having this constant resurgence, because they're fucking great, so people get to know about them more and more. This is even 10 years ago or longer, but Simeon from the band had a new Silver Apples together, and I think I met him somewhere briefly, and I was like, "Hey, we sampled your song. You should go get your money!" [Laughs.] And I think they actually worked something out.

AVC: Do you mostly have '60s music on your iPod?

LB: You just never know what vein it's going to be on. I swear the last time I put it in, it was all country music and Turkish music, one after the other. And now it's totally on this '60s kick. It's funny, though—it would be a pretty good '60s mix.


AVC: What Turkish music do you have?

LB: Sebadoh went to Istanbul last month. We had these incredibly gracious hosts, and they were like, "Have you ever heard any Turkish music?" I was like "No!" They were like, "Great, I'm going to bring you a DVD with like a million mp3s on it." And she did, and I swear, like fucking 75 percent of it is amazing: All this amazing '60s psychedelic stuff, and then weird singer-songwriters from the '60s who of course you would have never heard of, doing these really involved '60s production things with really prominent male vocals. The only thing I can think of is something like Leonard Cohen, a big singer-songwriter from '69. Even Serge Gainsbourg, kind of, the Turkish version of that, totally in Turkish, and incredibly well-played. Using traditional instruments, too. But for some reason, those bands, or the way people play together—it's got a really heavy groove.


AVC: How does Turkish '60s psychedelia differ from American '60s psychedelia?

LB: Really aggressive. It's really dense. It just sounds a little bit out of control. It's not out of control, but it sounds that way. It sounds like everything they're playing is a rave-up, not just the rave-up part. A lot of '60s stuff goes through the beginning, and then you have the rave-up, like The Yardbirds-style, early Jimmy Page, the rave-up. Eric Clapton. Not so much The Who, because their stuff is pretty much like a rave-up all the way through, but kind of like that. A lot of it is in Turkish, which is awesome. That stuff is so much cooler when you don't know—when it's being sung in a different language. Especially Turkish, I'm not really familiar with it.


AVC: How musical is it?

LB: I think it's really musical. And then there was even some newer stuff on it.

AVC: What's the current Turkish music sensation?

LB: I don't know if anything really can be a sensation there. Everything happens on these cliquish levels. Within Istanbul, there's a ton of people who are totally hip, like the hippest people you could ever meet. They're really into Gang Gang Dance and have cool haircuts. They obviously have friends who go to Brooklyn regularly. They're in the loop.


Moose, "Last Night I Fell Again"

LB: [Laughs.] I was obsessed with any band that sounded like… There was that period, what would that be, like, '90? It was like Ride, Slowdive, Pale Saints. My Bloody Valentine was starting, all their stuff was getting super-blurry-sounding. And there were all these bands that had one good song. Like Chapterhouse had one good song, and the rest of their songs were the worst. These English bands with amazingly lush production. And this Moose band sounds totally normal now.


AVC: When's the last time you listened to this?

LB: Seven years ago, maybe. If I digitized it, probably five years ago.

AVC: Do you still have a connection with it?

LB: I like the production on all this stuff; I like the shoegazer—really echo-y, layered production. With the Sonic Youth guitars on it like, "Nee-nee-nee-nee-nee-nee." It sounds like something that could be around right now, I think. There are a lot of shoegazer things going on right now.


Ride, "Unfamiliar"

LB: That's so fucked-up. Ride had a five-song EP. What was it called? Fuck, I can't remember. This song is on this EP with a shark on the cover. That's all I remember.


AVC: Is that why you bought it?

LB: No, I just loved Ride. This is actually the pinnacle of their career. Just after they did Nowhere, and before they started listening to too much '60s music and not putting as much shit on their guitars, and getting more basic, and taking the effects away, which I wanted nothing to do with. [Laughs.] They were really cool, too, because they were jangly, but also really distorted.


They were really cool. Really young, too. They looked like little rich kids, kinda—I don't mean to say that in a really horrible way, but they did, they looked like young English rich kids. But they were fucking fantastic live. Really loud. These really nice harmonies and this wash of guitars. I love this EP that this song came off of. Today Forever! That's it.

Brendan Benson, "Cold Hands (Warm Heart)"

LB: Holy shit, it's the first song I actually bought off iTunes. Really, really nice song. I haven't heard the whole record. I only got this one song. It's almost too polished. I don't like to hear a lot of music that's this polished, unless it's a particular song. And this particular song is really good, I thought.


AVC: Do you tend to cherry-pick individual songs off iTunes?

LB: I cherry-pick a lot of shit in general. I rarely get full records. Even my favorite records, I'll be like, "Um, not that one." [Laughs.] "I never wanna hear that song again. I don't think I'm going to be surprised by that one again."


Devo, "Mecha-Mania Boy"

AVC: They're suing McDonald's. Did you hear about that?

LB: No.

AVC: McDonald's put out this Happy Meal toy that looks suspiciously like a member of Devo, complete with a red Energy Dome hat.


LB: [Laughs.] Awesome. Did Mark Mothersbaugh notice it when he was doing the music for a McDonald's commercial? "Wait a minute! That'll be $2 million, now." [Laughs.]

I love Devo. There's nothing not to like. Other than some of their stuff is so sexually regressive, all the lyrics and stuff. My wife and I sat down and watched all of their videos once back-to-back; got really stoned. This was a while ago. And at the end of it, we were like, "God, I don't feel good. Devo hates sex. My God!" Really angry lyrics about sex. A lot of it. Most of it is really very sexually oriented and very angry. It's a lot to take. [Laughs.] The beautiful thing about them is they're not like a joke at all. They're really deadly serious. Really, God, they're so fucking intense. Watching the DVD of all their videos back-to-back, then I watched it with the commentary. Those guys are fucking smart. Smart and angry.


AVC: A dangerous combination.

LB: I realized only recently they were actually at Kent State University when the shootings happened. Like, "Whoa, okay." You get a bead on where they're coming from. "Whoa. These guys wanna tear it down. They're really angry."


AVC: Now they're taking it out on McDonald's.

LB: Good for them. Choose your battles.

Jolie Holland, "Sascha"

LB: I don't like it too much. It's got a lot of saxophone on it.

AVC: You aren't a fan of the sax?

LB: Not on a modern recording. Jolie Holland has a beautiful voice. I really like a lot of her songs on this one particular record. It's kind of jazzy. I'm not usually totally up for her, but I like her voice and lyrics, so. But a well-recorded saxophone is just a fucking nightmare. I like it when it's an old ska record, when it's a thing in a room. Not when it's right up to a $3,000 microphone. I hate that. It's too sensuous; it's too close.


The Residents, "Tragic Belles"

LB: There are 40 songs on [The Commercial Album] and there are only a few songs that I really like off it. But it was like, "Well, if I take the seven songs that I like off of it, it's almost like buying the whole record, so I might as well."


AVC: Are you glad you did?

LB: No, because there's 40 of these Residents songs, and a lot of them are really, really annoying. And for some reason, a lot of the stuff I download off iTunes is a lot louder than everything else. So we'll just kinda be chilling out, having a good iTunes night, and a totally obnoxious Residents song will come on at twice the volume.


AVC: What makes for a "good iTunes night"?

LB: Well, like actually right before this, it was flowing really well, it was going from Moose into Ride, and the '60s stuff. There are some times where it moves according to a logic, you know? But there are certain things on my iPod when they pop up that I'm like, "I gotta get rid of that!" It's too loud. Many things on the Commercial record are great, but it's like 40 songs, and it's just a lot to have in your mix.


No Trend, "Teen Love"

LB: This is from '83, '84. They sound a lot like Flipper. This song is probably six minutes long. It's pretty amazing, because it's a spoken-word thing over the top, and this guy is telling the story of a drunk-driving accident that kills two teenagers. And it's really sarcastic, like, [Adopts a sneering, Henry Rollins-like voice.] "She was well-educated by the standards of the time / He was a football player possessed of a…" You have to hear the song for me to even explain. It's a really sarcastic song.


The Carter Family, "My Dixie Darling"

LB: I got close to probably 500 country songs off my friend Jason [Loewenstein]'s music hard drive. And it's all like hit country songs from the '40s through to the '60s, which I never feel I have enough of, because I love it so much. The weirder, the more I haven't heard of the person, the better. It just gets better and better, the deeper you look, the better the music is. I find. So he gave me like 500 songs. It's fucking great.


You can't hate The Carter Family, man. "Fuck the Carter Family, it sucks! What is this shit?" [Laughs.] It sounds clear, it sounds really nice.

Val Stöecklein, "Sounds Of Yesterday"

LB: My daughter, who's 3, has a little friend in preschool, so we went over to have dinner with this kid and his parents. The father turned out to be this rabid record collector, and really into all this obscure '60s and '70s stuff. He's got all this vinyl, and he was kind of cool, and we were hanging out, and he was like, "Have you ever heard of Val Stöecklein?" He was in a band called The Blue Things, and he ended up kinda writing a hit for that band and moving out to L.A. and then just having this tragic set of circumstances whereupon his wife splits up with him, and he makes this incredibly self-pitying solo record using all the L.A. musicians of the time, who appear on Gene Clark records and stuff like that. The record is called Grey Life. We were listening to it on vinyl, and some of it sounds amazing. It sounds like Gene Clark, or that kind of weird country/pop crossover. The Byrds influence thing, the late '60s. So there's this whole record by this guy, and then he killed himself, a few years afterward. Tragic story, and a really sad record.