Folk Implosion Biography
Barlow’s prodigious creative energy has manifested itself in 20 albums. From an early gig playing bass in Dinosaur Jr., to leading indie rock standard bearer Sebadoh and releasing cassettes of his lo-fi home taping solo project Sentridoh, through to scoring a Top 40 hit with “Natural One” from the Kids soundtrack with Folk Implosion, his quality to quantity ratio has been inordinately high. This is especially impressive given the variety contained in his discography -- each of those bands and projects had its own distinct identity, as defined by Barlow and his collaborators.
A change in collaborators is in large part of what makes The New Folk Implosion, well, new. All past Folk Implosion releases were a product of the collaboration between Barlow and John Davis. With Davis retired (“he never really fully embraced being a musician as a lifestyle”) he decided to call the album The New Folk Implosion.
“It is good to actually separate it from the John Davis era, which had its own special flavor and feel,” Barlow says.
Also new is Barlow’s approach to his songs falling under the Folk Implosion moniker.
“Before, I’d sort of split things up,” he explains. “I’d keep my folk or rock-based stuff, I’d do that with Sebadoh. The studio experimentation or experimenting with beats and writing in the studio or fully collaborating with somebody else, I saved that for Folk Implosion. But now I’m doing songs that would’ve become Sebadoh songs or Folk Implosion songs and putting them under one name.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an artist who has christened some projects with made-up words (Sebadoh and Sentridoh) and another with a riff on another band’s name (Folk Implosion, i.e. the diametric opposite of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), this creative shift is both random and urgent. The Melvins, whom Barlow and Sebadoh drummer Russ Pollard had befriended, asked the pair to tour as an opening act, playing songs from whichever of Barlow’s projects they cared to.
“We decided to do it, but I figured the best thing to do would be to reform the Folk Implosion with Imaad Wassif, who was writing songs with Russell at the time as Alaska. I thought it would be interesting to have him play guitar, because I’d known Imaad for years and always liked him,” Barlow explains. “We threw the band together in about 10 days, learned a bunch of old Folk Implosion stuff and went on tour with the Melvins. And it really came together. Once we got back from being on tour, we decided that we were a band and started writing songs.”
This seeming lark follows a few years of uncharacteristic inactivity for Barlow, however. About this period, Barlow says simply, “The last three years, post-One Part Lullaby and The Sebadoh where just really strange, dark and disappointing times.”
Here’s where songs like “Pearl” and “Easy,” – and the urgency behind the album come into focus.
“I really wanted this one record to express everything I wanted to say at that moment,” Barlow says. “Obviously working with Imaad and Russell really closely writing the songs and discussing things with them was very much a collaboration, but I had to step up as being the mastermind of it and making it into what I really wanted. And they really encouraged me -- ‘Lou, you got to do what you really want to do’ -- because they had just seen me struggle for so long, especially Russell.”
Through that difficult period, one of the most prolific artists in rock was left with, as Barlow says, “This feeling of just wanting to just quit entirely. ‘What the hell is this for? Why do I want to share this pain with people?’ With The New Folk Implosion “I definitely wanted to get back to why I wanted to do it,” he says, “which is the same old story, ‘I’m doing it for myself.’ This record is for me. It’s an expression of something I did with my friends and it’s something I’m proud of because I did it with my friends.”
None of this is to say that the album is inaccessible or esoteric. Quite to the contrary, with Wassif’s guitars churning over pensive basslines and Barlow’s strongest-ever vocals, it’s a cohesive, melodic and alluring disc, if a little dark.
“The feeling that I had,” he says, “the feeling of the last couple years that the record is describing is just something I can’t contrive something out of, or make a story out of it’ As far as trying to craft this Rolling Stone 5 Star record, where you have 12 songs, this uptempo song, this slow song, here’s the ballad… Screw it. What the lyrics are alluding to and the feelings I was talking about are so intense for me, that I didn’t want to do that. All the lyrics are about a transition. Leaving something and moving on to something else. Struggling with physical and mental addictions. It’s about the struggle. I know when I hear it, I hear a catharsis.”
The sense of release is palpable on the new album. The simmering energy that begins with the opening chords of “Fuse,” through the imploring of “Releast” finally dissipates in the to the last lines of the last track, “Easy”: “The fight is over…”
I began writing “Easy” literally five years ago and it’s gone through so many mutations,” he explains. “It’s a song that I would attempt and be so dissatisfied with it, to the point where I couldn’t tell why I kept pursuing it. That particular lyric, “The Fight Is Over,” I had a really strong intuition about it, and the song’s strength. Every time I tried to record it, my performance wasn’t worthy of the song.”
Until now. Here, the song has the feeling of a classic. With Pollard’s brushes snapping lightly against the snare, Barlow’s imbues the closing line with a straightforward passion, giving it the feeling more like a declaration than an acquiescence. It’s as if in writing songs like “Brand Of Skin” (“what brand of skin do you occupy”), Barlow has figured out how to be comfortable in his. And with that acceptance has come recognition of his legacy as an indie rock icon, The Man Who Launched A Thousand Home Recordings.
“It seems like the way I influence people is more on this theoretical, philosophical way,” Barlow says, “and they seem to pick up on the fact that it’s about empowerment, about being empowered in your personal life to survive situations, and if you’re a musician, them being empowered to record their own songs or express themselves artistically. That’s perfect. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”