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Sebadoh at Underground Arts

It’s been six years since Sebadoh put out their last record, so it would seem that the release of this ninth

full-length, Act Surprised, is long overdue. But actually, that’s relatively quick for the lo-fi indie rock

legends. After all, there was a 14 year gap/semi-hiatus between 2013’s Defend Yourself and its

predecessor, The Sebadoh, so really, six years is nothing. Besides, the trio – Lou Barlow, Jason

Loewenstein and Bob D’Amico – have a pretty good reason.

“Lou is always being taken away and abducted by Dinosaur Jr. for these fun and exciting next-level

rock’n’roll tours,” chuckles Loewenstein, “so when we get him back we have to relight the fire.”

That’s exactly what the trio did, recording 15 new songs with Justin Pizzoferrato, the engineer behind

many Dinosaur Jr. albums. Recorded at Sonelab in Easthampton, Massachusetts it marked a change in

approach for the band, who had not only produced the previous record themselves, but who also gave

themselves a bit more time than usual to get everything finished.

“In the past,” says Barlow, “we would write in the studio and the songs would develop on the road.“

This time, we did some rehearsals a few weeks before recording,” adds Loewenstein, “which we almost

never do. So we got a chance to not use the first take and took time to finesse things, which we also don’t

usually do, so that was a good step.”

And while Loewenstein admits that the album became something it wouldn’t have done had Sebadoh

self-produced it, as they did with Defend Yourself, he learned to just go with the flow while they were

making it.

“I’ve done a lot of recording for other bands as well as the last Sebadoh record,” he says, “so it was a little

bit strange giving up the science and the tech sides of the recording process. I had to try to leave Justin

alone and let him do his thing, trusting that it would be okay. I really enjoyed working with him and he’s a

perfect fit for this band.”

“I’ve always wanted to work with Justin on a Sebadoh record,” adds Barlow. “We were able to finish a

record as opposed to handing it off in the final stages to the Dinosaur Jr. machine.”

“Besides his technical skill as an engineer,” says D’Amico, “his temperament is perfect for the

personalities in the band, and we all were comfortable working with him. He's a musician and he works

that way – thinking like a guy in the band and the engineer simultaneously.”

It’s true. As such, this is a collection of songs that recalls the classic Sebadoh sound – that iconic fuzzy,

jangle of guitars that’s both joyful and wistful at the same time – but which also takes their sound both

forwards and sideways. It sees Barlow and Loewenstein singing and harmonizing together more than ever

before to create what D’Amico terms a “real ‘sound’.” Barlow and Loewenstein each wrote seven songs,

while D’Amico wrote penultimate track “Leap Year” – a hyperactive mush of angular rhythms that

reflects the odd, slightly dystopian world that we all seem to be living in right now.

“To state the obvious,” says D’Amico, “we're living in a surreal time in this country. There are folk tales

about leap years and their disconnection from reality – and 2016 was a leap year that won't end.”

Similar themes flow throughout both Barlow and Loewenstein’s compositions, too. The former are

slightly more mellow, gentle affairs, all written and recorded exclusively on 4-string guitar – “electric and

acoustic 12 string guitars I have modified and use with alternate tunings.” Barlow explains. As such, lead

single “Celebrate the Void” is oddly soothing in spite of the fact it rushes off in a flurry of guitars by the

end, while both “Medicate” and “Sunshine” shimmer with glorious poignancy and self-examination.

“Those two songs are subjects I’ve been mulling over for a while,” says Barlow. ““Medicate” is about the

two shortcuts to mental-ease and spirituality we try to take: drugs and religion. These have become forprofit

enterprises that have little to do with changing the root causes of our problems.. “Sunshine” is about

finding beauty at home as opposed to trying to buy it or hiking up a mountain to find it.”

Loewenstein’s focus is similar but his songs are more turbulent, a reflection of the anxiety he says he feels

most of the time and which you can hear in the frayed, bass-heavy “Stunned” and “Battery”. That’s

something he says is compounded by these days of advanced technology, especially the increasing

dominance of mobile phones and the internet in our everyday lives.

“Lyrically, the theme is being overwhelmed by all the inclinations of modern living and trying to find

release from it. All this modern technology causes new problems – new social problems, new anxiety

problems and new quasi-addiction problems for people. So it’s a whole new dynamic and as an anxious

person before technology, it makes me even more anxious.”

Tangential to that is his song “Raging River”. With its reference to 9/11 and tin foil hats, it shines a light

on the prevalence of conspiracy theories, but more importantly addresses the double-whammy of constant

misinformation and a lack of critical thinking.

While Sebadoh isn’t an overtly political band, that’s something Loewenstein says acts as a metaphor for

the America that has a shady businessman and reality TV star as a president. “Somehow, sociohypnotically,

we’ve had the rug of facts and truth pulled out from under us by the actions of this weirdo,”

he says. “Which is remarkable. But as chaotic and horrible to question what is true, the fact is we should

have been questioning it all along.”

To that extent, Act Surprised is a vital album for the modern age. And while it retains the quintessential

hallmarks that have defined Sebadoh throughout their remarkable 30 year career, it’s also a record that

finds the band refreshed, rejuvenated, exploring new directions and right up there with the band’s very


“I'm really proud of this record,” says D’Amico, “and I really enjoyed how we went about it. I think it

sounds different from the rest of the Sebadoh catalogue in some ways, so I hope that we can make the old

fans happy but gain some new ones as well.”

Venue Information:
Underground Arts
1200 Callowhill St
Philadelphia, PA, 19107