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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.
“To state the obvious,” says D’Amico, “we're living in a surreal time in this country.   There are folk tales
about leap years and their disconnection from reality – and 2016 was a leap year that won't end.”
Similar themes flow throughout both Barlow and Loewenstein’s compositions, too. The former are
slightly more mellow, gentle affairs, all written and recorded exclusively on 4-string guitar – “electric and
acoustic 12 string guitars I have modified and use with alternate tunings.” Barlow explains. As such, lead
single “Celebrate the Void” is  oddly soothing in spite of the fact it rushes off in a flurry of guitars by the
end, while both “Medicate” and “Sunshine” shimmer with glorious poignancy and self-examination.

“Those two songs are subjects I’ve been mulling over for a while,” says Barlow. ““Medicate” is about the
two shortcuts to mental-ease and spirituality we try to take: drugs and religion. These have become for-
profit enterprises that have little to do with changing the root causes of our problems. “Sunshine” is
about finding beauty at home as opposed to trying  to buy it or hiking up a mountain to find it.”
Loewenstein’s focus is similar but his songs are more turbulent, a reflection of the anxiety he says he
feels most of the time and which you can hear in the frayed, bass-heavy “Stunned” and “Battery”. 
That’s something he says is compounded by these days of advanced technology, especially the
increasing dominance of mobile phones and the internet in our everyday lives.
“Lyrically, the theme is being overwhelmed by all the inclinations of modern living and trying to find
release from it. All this modern technology causes new problems – new social problems, new anxiety
problems and new quasi-addiction problems for people. So it’s a whole new dynamic and as an anxious
person before technology, it makes me even more anxious.”
Tangential to that is his song “raging river”. With its reference to 9/11 and tin foil hats, it shines a light
on the prevalence of conspiracy theories, but more importantly addresses the double-whammy of
constant misinformation and a lack of critical thinking.
While Sebadoh isn’t an overtly political band, that’s something Loewenstein says acts as a metaphor for
the America that has a shady businessman and reality TV star as a president. “Somehow, socio-
hypnotically, we’ve had the rug of facts and truth pulled out from under us by the actions of this
weirdo,” he says. “Which is remarkable. But as chaotic and horrible to question what is true, the fact is
we should have been questioning it all along.”
To that extent, Act Surprised is a vital album for the modern age. And while it retains the quintessential
hallmarks that have defined Sebadoh throughout their remarkable 30 year career, it’s also a record that
finds the band refreshed, rejuvenated, exploring new directions and right up there with the band’s very
“I'm really proud of this record,” says D’Amico, “and I really enjoyed how we went about it. I think it
sounds different from the rest of the Sebadoh catalogue in some ways, so I hope that we can make the
old fans happy but gain some new ones as well.”

Black and Blue Artist Management
North America - Steve Kaul / CAA - 
Rest of World - Russell Warby / WME -
North America / Dangerbird Records -
UK & EU / Fire -
Australia / Poison City -
Japan / Vinyl Junkie -
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