For over ten years now Lou Barlow has been releasing music with Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion. It's been a decade which has seen band members come and go, as well as a constantly evolving sound to his music. Now Lou is touring the UK with his new band, The New Folk Implosion, stripping the music down from the drum machine-laden sound of the old Folk Implosion's later material. I caught up with Lou in Nottingham and Leeds to talk about The New Folk Implosion, linguistics, self-discipline, and being Bob Mould.
Since John Davis has left the Folk Implosion, you've got together The New Folk Implosion, what are the main differences between the two bands?
Well, I didn't want to do a layered, sample driven record, I wanted to totally cut it down and play live again.
When John left, was it an amicable departure?
Yeah, he'd been drifting out of being involved in music. We had a very interesting collaborative run together, and there was a real cycle to it, and it was over by that time. He was really disillusioned by the music business and very confused by all things musical really, so it was best for him to just go home.
Is he still making music?
I think he's starting again but I'm not really sure, he doesn't really contact me. I think I remind him too much of the confusion, you know, it's hard. It's not an easy life, well for me it is, but it's not easy for everybody.
So, from now on is The New Folk Implosion going to be your main outlet for your music, or are you going to have various different bands going as in the past?
I don't know honestly, the two guys in my band now have their own band that has a life of its own and I don't know where that's going to take them, but I know that wherever it does take them they have to follow it and I'm not going to hold them back and make them be in my band, so I can't really say what the future is. I just wanted to focus on this one, get this band together, write songs and make a record that I'm happy with, which I did, and then go on tour, then I don't really know what will happen.
Are there any plans for more Sebadoh material?
Not any plans really, Jason (Loewenstein, Sebadoh guitarist) is out on tour with his own record, which I think is really important for him, to do his own thing, as he was sort of in my shadow for a long time. Actually I took him out on tour when he was 15 years old so I've been kind of like his big brother for a long time and it's time for him to do his own thing, be his own person, discover himself. Maybe after that, after he's cool with that, maybe we'll get back together.
There was a point in the past where you were releasing music quite prolifically, whereas between the last Folk Implosion album and the new one there was a four year silence. Did you make a conscious decision to take a long break?
Well, it was the end of a couple of partnerships like the end of Sebadoh, or at least Sebadoh had kind of got to a point where Jason needed to do his own thing, then John left, so I though I should wait til it felt right and I ended up waiting probably far too long, but I just waited til the songs came together. I don't treat it like a career, like "Don't let them forget about you Lou", they can forget about me. Which they mostly have (laughs), but that's what I did, I'm going to go home and curb my drinking you know, i've been touring since I was 19, living on the road, it's not the most healthy or mature lifestyle. It took me to the age of 33 or 34, where it became time to take stock.
Are you one of these writers that can just pull songs out of the air, or do you really have to be motivated and work at it?
It changes all the time. It's different now as I've written so many songs and I don't like to repeat myself, so if I play the same chord progression I won't do the song. Now I'm really fed up with the guitar, so I switched to bass. I really am very hard on myself when it comes to writing. I never just go "hell yeah, I'm just the best", I can't just string words together, everything has got to have blood on it for me to be happy with it.
How long can it take for you to finish a song?
Sometimes it'll take 5 years, lately I let it happen really slowly, I just don't even push it in anyway. It's good to push, but you know, when I first started writing songs it seemed like a miracle that you could record on to tape and have them sound different, and now it takes me a lot longer to feel that way about it. I think when I get home from this tour I'm going to start writing every day. I used to be really incredibly disciplined, but then I felt like that was feeling forced to me, so I backed away from that approach and these songs for The New Folk Implosion record, I let them come together real slow, week by week month by month, then when I could play with the guys we'd structure them and change them, and now we're changing them every night when we play them it's like whatever's on The New Folk Implosion record was just that stage of the song, and now they're something different.
On your website there are loads of works in progress and complete songs that you've gone on to release on the Loobiecore CD, what's your take on the whole downloading music issue???
Well, it's been disastrous actually, I mean I give my songs out for free, I feel that's the way it should be. I don't really have a problem with it myself, but honestly, from an economic point of view, it's going to be a real challenge for me to be able to make a living in the future. People aren't buying the records, I don't know if that's neccesarily attributal to downloading it, it could just be because where I'm at and what I've already done, it could just be a matter of my time's come and gone, but it's gonna be a challenge to figure out how to continue to travel, and have people give me enough money where I can actually go into studios and do stuff.
But then the more that I think about it, the more I think it's probably better that I just do everything myself anyway. That's how it seems to be going. The more I do myself the better; if I do it myself I'm happier with it. The less people I involve the better, and so I'm kind of going back to that, and maybe out of that I'll be able to figure out a way to book my own tours and find people that won't lose money by putting out my records, because at this point, everybody that's involved with me is losing money. I can't deal with that and it really bothers me. I don't like the feeling that anyone's doing me favours, so I have to really do the opposite to what I did in the last five years, which is just sit around and wait for things to come. I have to go home and make some definite steps to becoming more self-sufficient.
As a artist though, the internet can also be a blessing........
Oh yeah, it's amazing. It feels like when I was copying my own cassettes, I can make it work that way. It's totally a blessing, because it makes everything more immediate, now I can totally design my own artwork, and totally do every aspect of it, and the more I do it the more I'm into it. It feels like the way it felt when I first did it. It's becoming less and less complicated which is really great for me. It's terrifying, as far as like, how difficult it is to get people to take my new stuff seriously,or to separate the stuff I did in the past and to take what I'm doing now, but I can totally see something coming together at the same time.
I read on your website that you weren't too happy with the reviews for The New Folk Implosion album...
Yeah. It's not that I was unhappy as in they should be better, it was that the reviews were by and large extremely condescending and cruel, but then if I think about it, that's where I'm at right now. I am Bob Mould. I was the young upstart for a while, but now I'm old, now I'm those other guys.
Basically the critics are listening to it once and comparing it to previous work without really reviewing it for its own artistic value....
Yeah, you have to give it the extra listens. Now I think it's really difficult for people to even take the extra listens, as there's somewhat of a renaissance going on now with rock bands, and people are a little bit over the whole sampling thing. It has changed club life and night life and how people process their entertainment, but it hasn't really altered the cycle of bands. There's so many bands now, it's crazy! Now there's a lot of younger bands doing things that are more or less what I was doing, the whole lo-fi thing is coming back...
It's all circling upon itself.......
Yeah it is, it's difficult. It's difficult to get older and be a musician.
It's difficult getting old full stop!
That's exactly right! That's why whenever I'm on this subject, I have to say "this is the way it is for everyone", this is just how it is. But you know, I kind of go by an act of faith that as long as I'm following my own thing, there will be people that take it seriously. And I guess I'm finding that out now; I have a new record out and I'm touring again and I'm back in touch. It's not all about the reviews and all that shit, it's more hands on than that, and I'm blessed to have anybody interested in me.
Would you say that you have kept people interested by changing your styles, for example the Kids soundtrack, which was way different to anything Folk Implosion had done previously....
When I did the Kids soundtrack, I was in the middle of my infatuation with hip hop; It was the time beats were starting to come in, shoegazer bands were starting to put in beats, like Curve, you know, and the kids soundtrack was me being influenced by those other things. Now I'm getting back to basics and playing drums. I mean honestly, I'm being influenced by newer bands who make live music, making bass drums and guitar sound good again, and also the way that younger kids are discovering Gang of Four and sixties garage music, that's what I've always been into forever!!
So, you did the Kids soundtrack, but now I hear that The New Folk Implosion are actually starring in a new film, Laurel Canyon?
We did it for the money!! We have no artistic input into the film, the music we played were terrible versions of terrible Sparklehorse songs. I know there's good Sparklehorse songs, but the songs we played are not them. The music is awful!!
Has it been well received?
It hasn't disappeared! It actually seems to be making its way around the country, I'm really surprised. It actually seems to be making the rounds. It's interesting.
Do you have speaking roles, or are you purely playing music?
We had speaking roles, we were meant to be English, we have very few lines thankfully, but we had to do the English accent. They dressed us to look like Coldplay, dudes in jeans... There was an actor who was our main singer, and we were the backing band. The funny thing about the movie is that all the Americans are supposed to be English, and all the English, like Kate Beckinsale and Christian Bale are meant to be American.
Did you have a vocal coach??
Yeah, they tried! But then in the end we end up just imitating friends of ours, but by the time you speak your lines you don't even know what your saying. You're repeating them over and over again, everyone's telling you a different way to say it, and in the end it's all nonsense.
Would you do another film?
If I could talk as myself, yeah! But the English accent made it extremely difficult to relax and enjoy myself, but I probably wouldn't relax anyway - being in a film and having 60 people looking at you and hoping you don't fuck up is terrifying!
Did at any point you just stop and think, 'How did this happen? I'm in a film...' It must have been surreal...
Yeah, it was very surreal! It was cool in a way to be there, to see how it works. It was interesting too that most of the people who worked on the film, the lighting people, the sound people, they were all musicians, all of them, and not just wanky ones, they had really good taste - ex-punk rockers turned cinematographers... and they really loved the fact that we were real musicians and they treated us really well. Working in the film industry, they really have this romantic thing attatched to musicians and the musical life, which was interesting to see.
Lou Barlow may be unsure of how The New Folk Implosion are going to carry on in this current musical climate, but by the shows I saw in Nottingham and Leeds there are still many people interested in The New Folk Implosion. The ramshackleness of Sebadoh gigs were gone, and in their place were shorter sets that focused on songs as opposed to jamming. Set lists were changed throughout the gigs, possibly there were no set lists. Songs such as 'Creature of Salt' and 'Pearl' stood up better than the old songs that were played throughout the tour, songs such as 'Pole Position' and 'Insinuation', and showed a band that were enjoying touring, rather than putting up with it solely to sell records - a feat which is lost on even the youngest, freshest bands who are making a name for themselves at the moment. It seems growing old maybe isn't so bad after all.