Released in 1994, Sebadoh’s seventh album Bakesale was a triumph for alternative rock. The record found co-songwriter Lou Barlow delivering soul-baring tunes about a bad relationship – and his narrative confessionals earned him no shortage of comparisons to songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King. (Bandmember Jason Loewenstein also wrote six of the album’s tracks.) But after six records of messy lo-fi punk, folk, and hardcore, Bakesale marked a deliberate move into pop-friendly terrain, and it remains the group’s critical and commercial high point.
Seventeen years later, Sebadoh are giving Bakesale the deluxe-reissue treatment via Sub Pop, the band’s label at the time. The two-disc set, out June 14, is stacked with a remastered version of the original record, along with 25 rarities, outtakes, and singles from the era. To celebrate one of the finest alt-rock albums of the ’90s, SPIN has a stream in full, plus first listens to four bonus cuts: “Not a Friend,” “Rebound,” “On Fire,” and “Social Medicine.”
SPIN caught up with Barlow to revisit the making of the album, how anxiety (and weed) helped fuel his creativity, and his infamous meltdown at England’s Reading Festival in 1994.
In the liner notes to the reissue, you admit that you didn’t revisit the record at all.
Yeah, although I eventually did listen to it just before we rehearsed [for the tour.] I was actually really surprised by how much I liked it.
What sounded good to you?
A lot of times when you record something, the album becomes less about the music and more technical. So I hear lots of technical flaws, or sometimes I wish my vocals were stronger.
In retrospect, what are Bakesale‘s strengths?
It’s a straightforward album. That’s the beauty. There’s a lot of empty spaces and I think a lot of other bands would’ve been tempted to fill those in. I could understand why someone would want to plug in and start their own band after hearing it.
Part of why the album connected with fans was because of your emotionally raw confessionals, and you’ve said that the album was written at a really anxious period in your life.What was going on?
I was probably high when I said that [laughs]. I don’t know, it was a really urgent time. All those songs were written during a big breakup. And if I wasn’t stoned while I was writing, I was in a very tender, romantic, soul-baring place, writing for someone specifically. I thought making these songs would help them love you again.
I remember being inspired by this band Godflesh, actually. They were a really heavy metal band, really nihilistic. I think it was the band’s singer Justin Broadrick who said that he would get high, and get to this level of anxiety and fear and write from that place. That’s definitely where I was coming from.
In the liner notes for the reissue, it sounds like you look back on the era after the album’s release pretty fondly, saying it was one of the happiest times of your life.
Well, I just had this awesome life living in Boston. I was living with my then-girlfriend, now my wife. We lived downtown. There were good record stores and guitar stores. We’d go out to eat every night. I’d play music all day. And then when the record became successful, we didn’t really have to worry about money. Want to go on tour? Great, let’s go on tour. It was a cool feeling.
Before Bakesale, you played in Dinosaur Jr. and then J Mascis kicked you out in 1989. Would Sebadoh have been a priority for you if it weren’t for this sort of blessing in disguise?
I dunno. I always have tried to be in a couple of bands at a time. The first Sebadoh songs I write while I was still in Dinosaur. I mean, getting kicked out definitely gave me the boost to tour and record.
Did J ever formally apologize to you?
Jay is like Fonzie. He has a hard time saying I love you, and he doesn’t always remember. I think maybe he came to a Sebadoh show once and I screamed and yelled at him, but I could’ve been really drunk [laughs].
There’s that infamous story from your performance at the Reading Festival in August, 1994, where Courtney Love confronted you for smashing your guitar on stage, saying you were mocking Kurt Cobain. Were you freaked out?
Yeah! I was already totally freaked out by playing a huge festival like Reading. It was a terrible gig – 25,000 people! And by the time Courntey did that, it was the cherry on the freak-out cake.
How was Sebadoh’s set?
It was terrible [laughs]. We were at a signing booth with Pavement before our show and I thought it would be a good idea to start drinking. After three Red Stripes, this guy says, ‘Hey, Lou! Want some speed?’ I’d never had it before and I thought it would help me focus because I was so hammered. But my body just freaked out. We got through five or six songs, maybe. And I did this long rambling speech about the first time I threw my guitar onstage as a kid. And then I threw it across the stage. I’ve never been good at playing live in front of people.
Are you planning to reissue Harmacy, the follow-up to Bakesale?
I guess so. I’m not into that record. I hate it so much.
It was overproduced.I mean, there’s some good stuff on it. There’s a ton of songs on it. Maybe it’s not that terrible. I don’t know…maybe that’s my basic impression of it at the time.