B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with (given our ties to oxen)?
Lou Barlow: I love ducks. they’ve got everything but hands… Do I associate myself with ducks? as I get older will my relatives only purchase duck-related gifts for me? no.. I don’t think I’m a duck.. I admire ducks, but no animal is as complex and beautiful as a human being… In fact, most animals are assholes. They’re all scrambling, suffering or bloodthirsty… Watch a bunch of ducks long enough and their pettiness will be revealed. Humans, at the very least, have the potential to rise above their instincts, right? I’m too literal to take on a spirit animal.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Barlow: Music gives me goose bumps. It makes my hair stand on end. I learned the basics of guitar when I was seven and when I heard the Ramones I realized I could make my own primitive noise and like-minded people would possibly like it… I was fortunate enough to ride the coattails of an actual genius (J Mascis) to semi-obscurity. The world of music is vast so even semi-obscurity is enough for one to cobble a life out of it. Music is alchemy, you can turn nothing into something of value…
B&L: What’s the making of a great show?
Barlow: Anything from over-the-top, circus-like performances, to a person hunched over, banging a bucket, moaning… If either of those approaches contain honesty and direct communication a great show occurs.
B&L: Let’s talk about the sonic differences that exist between Dinosaur Jr. and your solo stuff, which is what you’ll be showcasing at this upcoming show. How does DJR inform or inspire your solo endeavors?
Barlow: Playing dangerously loud music definitely makes playing quiet seem pretty special; playing quietly makes playing loud feel outrageous and powerful… Swinging between the two is very satisfying and each inspires the other.
B&L: Is variety and the ability to switch gears from loud to mellow something you appreciate – and perhaps part of the recipe of successful longevity in the music business?
Barlow: I don’t know if anything other than just -not stopping- is the secret. It seems like I may have had better results by doing exactly the same thing for the last 30 years… I’ve actually managed to kill my momentum at several points by switching gears! I’m continually starting over which suits me personally but I don’t think it has done me any favors career wise (laughs)!
B&L: From a cathartic point of view, do you get the same sort of thing out of both arrangements? (Heck, add Sebadoh to the mix…)
Barlow: I get the most out of playing acoustically; particularly with my little 4-string guitar (modified baritone ukulele). That feels like the most personal, unique thing I can offer… Playing in bands, or even solo (with a regular 6 string guitar), invites comparisons to the Beatles, Led Zep, etc… and nothing tops that stuff amirite? It’s all chicken scratching in the shadows of giants. When I’m whispering songs about masturbation while raking my fat fingers over a tiny 4-string guitar I know I’m in my special place.
B&L: Speaking of “the solo stuff”… What’s new in the world of recorded material? What have you been up to? Anything in the hopper?
Barlow: I just recorded two songs in a basement here in Greenfield, MA with a local rhythm section… It’ll be released sometime soon. Here’s an acoustic demo of one of the songs:
I’m primed to record much more this year and I’m gonna find a way to do it!
B&L: Let’s talk about your website for a second. Nevermind, I don’t know where to start… It’s a navigational masterpiece. Did you design it or did you hold a contest at the local grade school? That’s not a knock, I swear… HAHA
Barlow: Ah, no worries! It’s a mess, yeah… I learned a basic drag and drop HTML program and went nuts with a scanner. Then the program became obsolete and my web guru has better things to do than hold my hand thru another learning period… I haven’t touched it in 10 years as a result. I dig it though. I like how f-ed up it is; like my music. I made it for like-minded people… It’s another primitive attempt at direct communication.
B&L: Back to the music: Is songwriting an easy or arduous process for you? Are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants kind of writer, or do you schedule “office hours”?
Barlow: I fight for time to write. I would love to work it like a regular job but my bread and butter is touring and my time at home is spent with my still young children… So, it’s chaotic at home and alone time on tour is rare. I write songs over long periods of time… The beginnings generally happen on a day off on tour when I have a hotel room; then I expand on lyric ideas when I play back the music ideas I’ve recorded on my phone. If I’m lucky I can schedule recording time, and at that point I finalize arrangement and lyric ideas… I love the process.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
Barlow: So, so many… Too many to name: “Funkytown,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Dancing Queen”…
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform at the Word Barn on March 4th?
Barlow: Expect to see someone who loves playing but exhibits few traits of a ‘born performer.’ Someone playing an instrument that looks like a ukulele but sounds like a guitar. If you like my stuff and know song titles I will play requests.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Barlow: I’d have said ‘pain pills’ yesterday because my limited supply is depleted (after breaking my collarbone four days ago), but I’m doing ok with the OTCs today.
A dozen eggs goes a long way and never goes out of style…
Lou Barlow (of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh fame) will play a rare, intimate solo show when he visits the Word Barn in Exeter on Sunday, March 4th at 8pm. For tickets and information click here.