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.