Among the most underrated linchpins of '90s rock, Sebadoh never birthed any generational touchstones like Nevermind or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Even so, they're often mentioned in the same breath as the considerably more successful Pavement for pressing their hissy bedroom tapes to vinyl and pioneering "lo-fi" as an indie subgenre. Of course, both bands abandoned the aesthetic almost as soon as they established it, and much like Pavement, Sebadoh produced less than half of their discography outside a proper studio.
In a phone interview with the Scene, founder Lou Barlow says the early Sebadoh records were born more out of comfort than audacity. After finishing a three-album stint in the late '80s with Dinosaur Jr., the other legendary indie staple he helped found, Barlow had no desire to relive his frustrating experiences with recording studios.
"I realized that if I was ever going to get the music out that was in me, or feel comfortable doing it," he says, "I was going to have to do it myself."
Since their initial breakup in the late '90s, Sebadoh have managed to reconvene every few years with slightly modified lineups to support a series of reissues from their catalog, each complete with an extra disc of demos, B-sides, rarities and live tracks. This latest tour commemorates the band's two best-selling selections: 1994's Bakesale, due out April 4 on Domino Records in Europe. (Sub Pop, which released Bakesale in the first place, is handling the stateside deluxe-edition reissue, due June 14.)
Bakesale was Sebadoh's official transition from cassette-lagged, home-recording fuzz-folkies to a mean, clean, streamlined power trio. While Bakesale is undoubtedly their best-known album, and Barlow almost always performs a song or two from it while playing solo, he seems to have mixed feelings. "It doesn't have the sonic depth that I like in records," he says. "When I listen to Bakesale and Harmacy I hear really great songs that weren't really fleshed out, or lack depth. As a collection of songs, Bakesale is kind of my favorite, although it's not my favorite Sebadoh record."
Obviously his own worst critic given the popularity of these records, Barlow attributes their shortcomings largely to Bob Fay, the drummer who joined the band after original member Eric Gaffney quit in 1993.
"We were trying to make big records with a tiny drummer," he says. "Had we taken Sebadoh back into the basement instead of trying to dress it up, [Harmacy] would have fared better in the long run."
Purposefully omitting 1999's unpopular album The Sebadoh, this last wave of reissues marks the last stop on Sebadoh's backtrack through their decade of output. Now that the band's run out of catalog to recirculate, fans worry the band may have run out of reasons to tour. But when probed about the possibility of a new record, Barlow sounds surprisingly upbeat. He describes the momentum of Sebadoh's most recent lineup and tour (comprised of original members Barlow, Jason Lowenstein and newcomer Bob D'Amico on drums) to be "as good or better" than that of Dinosaur Jr., who've produced two critically acclaimed records since reuniting in 2008. The only difference, he says, is that Dinosaur Jr. has a manager that more or less calls the shots. Sebadoh's move forward would have to be entirely self-motivated.
"[A new record] seems like it would be possible," Barlow says. "The thing that really keeps us apart is the 3,000 miles between Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles, California. We'd really have to make a very concerted and deliberate effort to get together and write the songs."