An Interview with Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.

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Lou Barlow Interview - The Santa Barbara Independent

Veteran Indie rocker, Lou Barlow hasn’t let COVID slow him down. With a subscriber series that he put to bed in December, new music alongside archival releases, a holiday special, a new solo album as well as a Dinosaur Jr record on the way, you could say that Lou has been as busy as ever.

Lou is the long time bassist of Indie Rock outfit Dinosaur Jr, a band that has a stable of classic albums, classic songs and has influenced droves of bands that have come after them. Today, I’ve got Lou with us for a chat. We talk about his early influences, recording the first few Dinosaur Jr. albums, his thoughts on streaming and the importance of being a good dad and husband above all else.

If you would like to learn more about Lou Barlow, you can head over to his website here or his Bandcamp here. If you would like to learn more about Dinosaur Jr., you can head over to their website here. Enjoy this interview with Lou Barlow. Cheers.

Andrew:
Lou, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. It’s been some year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to keep your mind off the ever-raging dumpster fire that is 2020?


Lou:
I had a subscriber series I was working on until December. Monthly releases of archival and new music (new original songs, covers etc.) I did a bunch of acoustic livestreams starting last spring and into the summer, then I switched to concentrating on completing a solo LP using songs from the subscriber series. Once that was finished, I focused on making handmade sleeves for a special edition of the vinyl. I also started making videos with my wife; we did “Lou Barlow and family Alliday Special” posted it on YouYube etc. I also put a Christmas EP on Bandcamp of songs from the show. Currently working on a Valentine’s Daybspecial and making a video for one of my new songs on the upcoming Dinosaur Jr. LP. My solo LP is called Reason To Live and will be released in May.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you get into music?


Lou:
I was obsessed with Pop music as a kid, and I bought my first record when I was 6 (Hotrod Lincoln by Commander Cody and His Lost Airmen). Took guitar lessons at 7, hated the lessons but liked the instrument. Had a guitar class in school in 6th grade; the teacher taught the class how to play “Stairway to Heaven” at a very slow, deliberate pace to accommodate our beginner level skills. Because of his all-inclusive teaching style, I was able to learn. Through the repetition, he gently enforced some complex chords. After moving from my childhood home in Jackson, Michigan to western Massachusetts, I discovered college radio and heard underground New Wave and Punk music when I was 15. I was inspired to try to form a band with a kid I ate lunch with in high school; we then put up a flyer in a local record store asking for a drummer, J Mascis responded and that was the beginning.

Andrew:
As an artist and bass player, who are some of your earliest influences? As you’ve evolved musically, how have those influences changed?


Lou:
I was inspired by the simplicity of Punk Rock. Before hearing Punk, I never felt I would be a musician and was far too intimidated by the complexity and athletic level of playing that seemed to be what music required. Johnny Ramone would be the first player that truly inspired me to develop my own style and value strumming and the density of the sound over traditional technical expertise.

Alexander Clam Bell — Baby J Mascis and Lou Barlow in Deep Wound, their...

Andrew:
Your first band was called Deep Wound. Tell us more about that band.

Lou:
That’s the band I formed with J Mascis, in 1983. Extremely fast, Hardcore Punk Rock. We played about 10 shows and released a 7” EP.

Andrew:
You’re one of the founding members of Dinosaur Jr. Tell us how the band came together.


Lou:
We formed out of the ashes of Deep Wound. J switched to guitar (from drums) and I switched from guitar to bass. We began playing in late 1984.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about You’re Living All Over Me. That album is iconic within genre. What do you recall about the recording of that record? Looking back, do you feel it still holds up? Or are there things you wish you could change?


Lou:
I love that LP. When we finished it, I realized we had made something very, very good. The first Dinosaur Jr record was J throwing a bunch of styles at the wall: Folk Rock, Punk, Metal, angular Post-Punk and New Wave to see what stuck. He seemed to write the songs for You’re Living All Over Me after understanding where our strengths were after playing live for a year or so. Murph and I were able to lock into the songs in a way that brought them to another level. It was an incredible thing to be a part of. An added bonus was being able to bring my tape experiments to the LP, which I felt tied us to the 60s in a cool way. “Poledo” was my ode to “Expecting to Fly” (an experimental piece that Neil Wound contributed to the second Buffalo Springfield LP).

Dinosaur Jr. celebrating 25 years of 'You're Living All Over Me' with a  special NYC show (and other dates)

Andrew:
In the late 80’s you left the band. What can you tell us about what happened there? Did you keep up with your old bandmates at all during that time?


Lou:
I was fired from the band in 1989. I listened to Green Mind a lot and was very impressed. I haven’t really heard the others.

Andrew:
What were you up to during your time away from the band? In 2005, Dinosaur Jr. regrouped. What’s changed for you all since the first go-around that allowed things to stick this time?


Lou:
I played music with Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion during that time. I was asked to rejoin Dinosaur Jr in 2005. I’ve found the reunion of the band to be 100 times more enjoyable than the original. We are older, wiser and kinder to each other.

Andrew:
Since there formation in 2005, the band has released four alums, Beyond, Farm, I Bet On The Sky and in 2020, your newest record Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. How did the process compare to the old days of making records together? What’s changed for you all as a band creatively?


Lou:
The new records have all been recorded at J’s house following a method similar to the early days. J records demos that explicitly lay out the drum parts and song structures. Then Murph and I attempt to recreate what he envisions with slight variations according to our styles. I write two songs for each LP and attempt to collaborate with Murph and J as much as possible on the drum and guitar parts. I’m not sure much has changed!

Dinosaur Jr. - Wikipedia

Andrew:
DinosaurJr. hasn’t put out a new record since 2016. With all this downtime, can we hope for some new music soon?


Lou:
A new record is coming in 2021!

Andrew:
Let’s touch on your solo work now. You’ve released some great records in that regard as well. Emoh, Goodnight Unknown and Brace the Wave are really strong albums. How does your process as a solo artist differ than when you are working within the confines of Dinosaur Jr? Any new solo work on the horizon?


Lou:
My solo LPs are a completely different process. I base them on acoustic performances and record and play everything. I have a solo LP coming in May and I am recording all the time.

Andrew:
Let’s switch gears a bit now. Tell me your thoughts on the current state of the music scene these days? What’s it like out there for an indie artist?


Lou:
I like Spotify and am continually impressed by new artists I’ve never heard popping up on playlists. The music scene seems to chug along despite whatever doom people predict for it. I occupy a unique spot as a veteran Indie rocker, so I can’t speak for what it’s like for young bands. I have a core audience I release records for and supplement that with being in a successful, long-term Rock band. I don’t think I’m qualified to speak to what the current state of music is. I have a unique, very fortunate position within it (other than the pandemic rendering me unemployed!).

Review: Lou Barlow, 'Brace The Wave' : NPR

Andrew:
There are a lot of artists out there whom are fantastic, but get stuck in the underground, while others go on to great success. What is it about our culture that causes this to happen? Do think the general public is truly listening?


Lou:
No, the general public isn’t listening and I don’t think that really matters. People who love music and support bands are in a minority, but there are still enough of them to keep underground music alive. The interesting thing about now, as opposed to 30 years ago, is that bands are playing to an international audience due to the Internet etc, so you can be unknown but still known. There’s only so much room for bands in the mass popularity realm. Underground is limitless.

Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by capitalism and the never- ending barrage of social media. How has this affected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?


Lou:
Most definitely helped. Good music has a way of finding people. I also think fans have more power now because of social media. In the past even small record labels could bend the marketplace to their will through advertisements and influencing critics. Now people can filter through thousands of artists on streaming platforms and find what they like. I’ve noticed a wave of female artists finding audiences they may not have found otherwise because capitalism has a way of prioritizing a larger group of male artists.

Andrew:
One of the disturbing things I’ve come to learn over time is that streaming services like Spotify simply don’t pay well. What are your thoughts on that? How do we as fans help?


Lou:
Plays on Spotify are not equal to radio play. Eventually they will arrive at some kind of pay structure that is fairer for artists, but in the meantime, I don’t think expecting to be paid by Spotify in the same way you were paid pre-streaming services is realistic. 1 million plays on Spotify is not in any way equal to 1 million plays on the radio. Fans can help by using Bandcamp to purchase the music and merch. Go directly to the artist if possible.

Dinosaur Jr.: Tour Dates & Tickets, News, Tour History, Setlists, Members,  Links

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?


Lou:
I’ve got kids so I have to go for what is convenient meaning: I can’t go looking for records and CDs, I need instant access. I listen to Spotify almost exclusively because my kids also have it and we share music that way. Having a massive collection of music at your fingertips is incredible. My favorite music is music I haven’t heard. Spotify always has and will always have undiscovered gems.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?


Lou:
I love the first Ramones LP and about hundred others I can’t even think of right now! The Ramones were incredibly original and incredibly normal at the same time. They always remind me that you don’t have to be a genius to create brilliant music that stands the test of time.

Andrew:
All musical possibilities aside, what else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Lou:
I have no other hobbies. No other interests beyond being a better father to my kids and better husband to my wife. This definitely informs my music.

Andrew:
Last question. In a world that’s been so confined by the constraints of big business and the alienation caused due to the internet age, how do artists find their footing these days? What advice would you have for younger artists?


Lou:
My advice always is: do something weird. Do something that is as unique to you as possible and if you keep doing it, over and over and over again, and someone might eventually notice. This takes a lot of energy, so it’s pretty rare. You can always imitate other music and if you can really sing and play, you might find an audience as well. I chose the first option and it’s worked out OK for me.

Lou Barlow Covers Kacey Musgraves' "Glittery": Listen

Interested in diving deeper into the work of Lou Barlow? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. After losing his life-long vinyl collection in 2014, Andrew began his vinyl collection from scratch again when he met his future wife Angela in 2015. Andrew’s love of music only further blossomed as his collection spanned all genres possible. After amassing 5,000 albums, Andrew knew it was time to finally follow his dream, and thus, Vinyl Writer Music was born. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict, for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island with his wife Angela and their four cats, Oliver, Patrick, Charlie, and Kevin. Andrew works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night. Andrew is also the admin of several Facebook groups dedicated to music.

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