Northeast Underground

Lou Barlow talks Dinosaur Jr, making a new album, and what it's like to return to Western Mass

Dinosaur Jr (Photo credit: Brantley Gutierrez)Back in March of 2011, I sat down for a conversation with alternative musician Lou Barlow (see photo, middle) prior to an appearance by his group Sebadoh at the Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton.

Since that time, Barlow has returned to the Pioneer Valley on several occasions, including an appearance at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton with Dinosaur Jr for a concert benefitting the Whole Children organization of Hadley, and a second appearance at Pearl Street with Sebadoh in August featuring the group touring behind its first newly recorded music in 14 years.

Now fresh off the release of Dinosaur’s newest album, I Bet On Sky, the third record since the original line-up’s reunion in 2005, I caught up again with Barlow as the bassist prepares to join guitarist J Mascis and drummer Murph on stage Wednesday for another show at Pearl Street with a portion of proceeds going to The Common School in Belchertown.

“I love Western Mass,” Barlow said during his call in from Los Angeles. “Every time I return there, the drive up from Westfield, I take [Route] 10 to Northampton. It’s just a lovely ride through the rolling hills to Easthampton and into Northampton. I love the Valley.”

And the Valley has proven to be a fruitful location for Barlow. I Bet On Sky was recorded at Mascis’ home studio in Amherst, and Barlow contributed two songs to the release – the up-tempo rocker “Rude” and the more riff-orientated “Recognition.”

“I’ve always wanted to do a Ramones-style song with Dinosaur,” Barlow says. “A simple song that could’ve also possibly been a Sebadoh song, but I just wanted to do it with Dinosaur and have a J Mascis lead in there. So my song ‘Rude’ I kind of had this idea of a Ramones-style song with a real country melody to it, and I picked together a song on acoustic guitar that seemed to fit that pretty well. I demoed the song here in LA with my friend Dale Crover from the Melvins.”

I Bet On Sky - album coverHe adds, “‘Recognition’” was another one that’s on the record that I did. I’m a semi-closeted Queens of the Stone Age fan. I think they’re just a great hard rock band, one of the best modern rock bands, if not the best, and I had a riff that reminded me of Queens of the Stone Age. So I thought that would be really interesting to see if Dinosaur could pull that off.”

If early audience reactions to Dinosaur’s new material are any indication, the band seems to have risen to the challenge. According to Barlow, the group has been playing more new songs on tour than ever before. And set lists have been well-received, with a few surprises from throughout Dinosaur Jr’s career and beyond being played live on stage.

“We’re playing probably the best cross-section of songs from all the different eras of the band,” says Barlow. “We’ve been playing ‘Start Choppin’,’ a big kind of hit from the band in the ‘90s. We’re also doing a Deep Wound song from the very first band J and I had together. We’re spanning the band’s career I think.”

Another treat for fans has been a music video Dinosaur Jr completed for the new track “Watch the Corners.” The treatment for the video was written by the comedy website Funny or Die, and features an appearance by actor Tim Heidecker, who is known for his work on such Adult Swim shows as “Tom Goes to the Mayor” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”

“If you want to make a video where no one knows how old and ugly the band is, that was the way to do it,” Barlow laughs. “Just throw a bunch of good-looking teenagers in the video, a sort of well-known comedian [Heidecker], and keep the band as low-profile as possible. In that way I think it achieved its goal.”

Watch the video for the new Dinosaur Jr song “Watch the Corners” here:

Still, despite all this focus on new material, Barlow notes that there’s another event on Dinosaur’s calendar that will see the band looking back into its past instead of towards the future. On December 1st, the band will be playing a special show at Terminal 5 in New York City to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its 1987 album You’re Living All Over Me. Special guests like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and guitarist Johnny Marr have already been announced as participants in the concert, and Barlow is excited to revisit one of his favorite records.

He says, “It’s going to be cool. It’s my favorite Dinosaur record. Everything really came together for us sound-wise. We’re rehearsing [for the show] in Easthampton, and we’ll throw together some ideas and see how we can make it something unique and special.”

In addition to his upcoming plans with Dinosaur, Barlow also can’t wait to get back into the studio with his other band Sebadoh to follow-up on the material the group recorded for its “Secret EP,” which was sold during stops on its recent summer tour, as well as possibly work on some songs for a solo release.

“[Sebadoh] has a bunch of material that we’re working on,” he says. “We put out an EP earlier this year, and we’re going to do an LP for next year. Solo stuff, I don’t know. It depends. I always have stuff. I just have to sit down and finish it.”

As for any final thoughts he’d like to leave with fans in Western Mass who are thinking about attending the Wednesday show at Pearl Street, Barlow wants to give a shout out to one special person in particular who’s been there from the very beginning.

“I just want to say hi to my mom,” he says. “Hi mom Barlow.”

Dinosaur Jr with opener Hush Arbors, Nov. 28, 8 p.m. $25, Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl St., Northampton, (413) 584-7771, http://www.iheg.com/pearl_street_main.asp.

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