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Sebadoh Speaks to the Bruised Souls of Sensitive Rockers

October 01, 1994|LORRAINE ALI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's more to Sebadoh than just warm fuzzy feelings and dulled ambition, but you'd never know it from some of the descriptions that have been applied to the band. From "sweet" to "lazy," the trio may never escape its title of sensitive slacker outfit.

After all, Lou Barlow does sound like he's ready to cry when he sings all crackly-like about bad relationships. And when Jason Loewenstein takes the mike, it seems as if his screams will crumble into a pile of weepy frustration.

And, yes, some of the group's low-fidelity tunes do sound like bent music-box melodies that the band tape-recorded between re-runs of "Three's Company." But then again, that spontaneous emotion is half the beauty of this Amherst, Mass., band.

The other half of the Sebadoh appeal is great songwriting. The group's material is written by all three members (the interchangeable third members are Eric Gaffney and Bob Fay, with the latter currently on board), and is rooted in both sappy love songs and obnoxious hard-core tunes.

The mix has made Sebadoh sweethearts of underground rock, speaking to the bruised souls of sensitive rock geeks and pulling in more tough-skinned listeners with the initial appeal of harmonious feedback. The group--whose Sub Pop Records release, "Bakesale," is currently the most played album on college and alternative rock radio stations around the country--will be at the Roxy on Friday.

"We're not just a sensitive band," says Lou Barlow, who founded Sebadoh in 1988 while he was still a member of the much acclaimed Dinosaur Jr.

"There are a lot of other aspects in the music, too. We can be pretty bitter and male and aggressive. We're a heavy rock band, and a lot of people seem to miss that. We have a history of being a punishing live act, aggressive and raw and improvising a lot."

Despite the omnipresent slacker references, Barlow, 28, actually has some goals for Sebadoh, regardless if his motivation is jealousy.

"If I see a band I really dislike and see how popular they are, I'm always like, 'Man, if they can get that popular, Sebadoh can too.' " he says, lightheartedly. "It's just really a macho thing. Those are just some of the twisted goals I set for myself."

The band works that twisted philosophy. Sebadoh's discography is longer than Greg Allman's hair. Since 1988, Sebadoh and its various side projects have released 53 albums and singles (not including compilation albums) on every indie label imaginable.

Regardless of the ton-o-Sebadoh stuff out there, the band still suffers comparisons to Dinosaur Jr., which Barlow left in 1989. But the musician openly bagged on Dino co-founder J Mascis in early Sebadoh songs, making the temptations to compare and contrast bands almost irresistible.

"There just has to be a reference point for people," says Barlow, who started his first band with Mascis in the mid-1980s. "It's funny though, those comparisons have waned, but I think we sound more like them than ever."

Though "Bakesale" is highly touted, the fuzzy-wuzzy noise band isn't likely to replace R.E.M. as rock's sensitive mega band.

"The more popular we get, the more I realize how small we really are," says Barlow. "I see how far we have to go to really entertain the idea that we're a popular band. At this point, it's a cool underground thing that's pretty manageable. It makes me realize how much time it will take if we want to be a big band."

* Sebadoh plays on Friday at the Roxy, 9009 Sunset Blvd., 7:30 and 11 p.m. $10. (213) 276-2222.

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