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Hoppin' Up and Down 

Catching up with Eric Gaffney and vintage Sebadoh

Wednesday, Aug 23 2006
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Listening to "Showtape '91," the nearly 12-minute compilation of self-deprecating concert intros that closes the bonus disc of demos, remixes, and outtakes that's part of the recently reissued/remastered/expanded version of Sebadoh's III, is good for a load of laughs. Revisiting the 23 tracks that appeared on the original 1991 album — a confusing-yet-compelling, famously lo-fi sprawl of ragged, sensitive grunge-folk (written mostly by Lou Barlow) and hardcore- and psych-rockÐinspired noise jams (written mostly by Eric Gaffney) — is a reminder of both the Massachusetts trio's skewed vision and just how much it influenced an entire era of indie-rock, even when the members were mocking that scene with their 1991 single "Gimme Indie Rock."

The reissue's accompanying booklet shows that though history seems to have anointed Barlow the king of Sebadoh, it's the all-but-forgotten Gaffney who actually founded the band, wrote the bulk of its early material, and brought Barlow into the fold after he'd gotten the boot from Dinosaur Jr. It's a point Gaffney makes, graciously but quite clear, when he writes in the liner notes, "Thanks Jason [Loewenstein] and Lou, for their songs and for being in my band in the first place."

"I started the band with Lou playing bass, me on guitar, and then we met Jason," the 38-year-old Gaffney states via e-mail, his preferred method of communication. "There would be no Sebadoh if it weren't for me, period. But when Jason and Lou learned to relax and play their songs in addition to mine is when we fully became a group."

Although he's occasionally been portrayed as a mercurial kook who quit Sebadoh after 1993's Bubble & Scrape because of personal instability, Gaffney split because he was averse to the hype that began to swirl after III, and because he was fed up with the power struggles (mainly between he and Barlow), ego clashes, and money issues involved. That decision, of course, left Barlow and Loewenstein (and a succession of drummers) to reap rewards when later albums — including 1994's Bakesale and 1996's Harmacy — further swelled the band's visibility, stature, and bank accounts.

Gaffney, meanwhile, pursued a solo career. He self-released the cassette-only Lights Up & Spins Around in 1998, then later that year formed the trio Fields of Gaffney, which has since released three full-length albums — none of which are too far removed from the rough, shambolic, yet engaging sound of Gaffney's Sebadoh work — via tiny labels or Gaffney's own Animal Friends mail-order label.

In recent years, Gaffney, who lives in San Francisco, and Loewenstein have reconnected; Loewenstein played drums for Fields of Gaffney during a handful of shows in New York last year. And when Domino Records first proposed reissuing the out-of-print III, Gaffney, Loewenstein, and Barlow hammered out the details — a process Gaffney says sporadically dredged up old tensions. "There were some business issues to clear up at first. Then it took us nearly a year to sign the contract, and then to agree to the double CD ... I didn't want a second CD at first ... it seemed like it would be too much, but no one seems to mind the two-hour listen."

Still, Gaffney seems pleased enough with the entire experience that he hasn't ruled out a III-era Sebadoh reunion. "We might reform for some shows or a tour, but no news yet."

Until that happens, Gaffney's continuing with his own thing, playing shows that include plenty of songs from III, as well as prior Sebadoh albums, in addition to his solo material (including new songs from a 27-track, as-yet-untitled album due this fall). "I have a bunch of records to think up, and would like to reach a wider audience and spend time in studios," Gaffney concludes. "I have at least 20 records to write and release before I'm gone."

About The Author

Michael Alan Goldberg

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