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January 16, 2007
Part III: Eric Gaffney sets the record straight

Way back in early fall - you remember fall don't you? - LAS began a three-part series that looked at the making of Sebadoh's lost-and-found, lo-fi classic album Sebadoh III, a scrappy little mutt of dog-eared noise and affecting ballads, with refreshingly honest lyrics. Only one catch: Part III of our III feature, namely Eric Gaffney, had not responded to our inquiry. We gave up on him, thinking that maybe he'd been eaten by wolves or was, pardon the pun, truly lost at sea, perhaps drowned in a boating accident somewhere in the Atlantic off the coast of Sebadoh's Massachusetts home.

Out of the blue one day in January, I got an e-mail from Gaffney; as it turns out he had better things to do than answer a bunch of inane questions about an album that came out 15 years ago, like making a new record, which he unabashedly plugs. Along with with the pitch for Uncharted Waters, Gaffney's reply held the answers that we were looking for; that, in essence, we're all looking for. It provided the closure we needed to move on with our lives. So, here it is, the last piece of the Sebadoh III puzzle.
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LAS: How would you describe your working relationship with Lou on Sebadoh III? Reports say it was contentious, but the result was an album that many consider a classic, a touchstone of '90s indie rock. Did the creative tension that existed between you two influence how III turned out?

Eric Gaffney: Creative tension? When wasn't there any? I played my songs in the studio, Lou contributed 4-track songs and 2 studio numbers, one on my suggestion. Contentious? Sure, at times, just like any interesting working musical relationship but for us, not for III any more or less than any other record we did.

LAS: When III was finished, what did you think of it? Could you have imagined that we'd be here 15 years later talking about it in such reverential tones?

Gaffney: I hated III for a long time. I thought it was a piece of garbage back then. I felt that I could've done better with my own, especially with the lyrics and vocals. We worked very fast you know. It's a great record though, I like the reissue better than the original as I finally added many 4-track "gems" in this time. I had no hand in the initial mixing process; if I had, it might be different, tough to say. III is a ground-breaking indie rock masterpiece, right? That's the buzz from the hype machine? I'm not one bit suprised it's doing well all over again, after all it's our baby isn't it? Deformed and mutated nonetheless, but perfect and presentable.

LAS: Listening to it today, despite its lo-fi treatment and haphazard, almost anarchic, sequencing, it doesn't sound the least bit dated. Are the songs just that good that they transcend trends and the fickle nature of audiences? Or was there something else inherent in your recording techniques, or the raw openness, and honest expression, of the lyrics that helped make it timeless?

Gaffney: III is the most un- lo-fi record we ever did. The best sound quality of any of our records because it was recorded at Fort Apache. Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock and Bubble & Scrape (back when I was making up album titles daily) were both recorded at a messed-up studio in an old slaughterhouse near the U-Mass football stadium in Amherst, Mass. on a lousy board. III is timeless, we've established that. I like the "raw openess," too and I think you should use that phrase more often.

LAS: There's a sense that III was a transition album for Sebadoh, with one foot in the lo-fi past and an outstretched hand reaching toward a more polished studio sound. Was this a conscious effort on your part, or Lou's, or was it a band decision, or did it just turn out that way?

Gaffney: It came out that way because Lou and Jason had 4-track material and I had studio material comprised of our early live set of my songs. I continued to do 4-track recordings, so did Lou, it's just that it was good to record in a real studio, doncha think? We spent the budget for III on recording it. No frills. $1,200.

LAS: "Supernatural Force" is a real beast of a song, with those demonic vocals and the fuzzy guitar distortion making it sound evil and impenetrable, and yet it also has a tender side. Did exploring this sonic duality come naturally for you personally, and Sebadoh as a band? And why does it seem to emerge so forcefully in III?

Gaffney: "Supernatural Force" sounds "evil and demonic" but has a tender side as well you say? Gee Whiz. The gruff vocals were a joke. I sang it clean later but the gritty vocals stayed. Have you heard "Stored Up Wonder," the demo on the reissue? That's how the song was intended to sound, sans gruffness.

LAS: One of the things fans relate to with Sebadoh is your willingness to expose yourselves lyrically. Did you ever feel that there was a time when you took it too far, that a song was more revealing than it should have been?

Gaffney: Yes and no. Sometimes when you put together a record, especially with us, there were limited resources and no hundred thousand dollar budgets to insure everyone was happy with selected material, the takes, overdubs, content, whatever. We just did what we did. Words strung together to tell a story or mumbled over musical accompaniment aren't necessarily "revealing," per se.

LAS: How much unreleased material did you have to wade through to choose the songs for the bonus disc? And what factors went into your decision-making? Looking back, were there some songs you recorded at the time that you wish had made the cut for III?

Gaffney: Knee deep in the muck, I picked songs of mine from the early Sebadoh "band" period that fit in. I could have put on dozens of 4-track songs on III at the time but it never occured to me. III was a "band" record I thought and so should be performed and recorded that way, which under my direction for my songs and a few others, was. The end result was a good mix of everything in my opinion.

LAS: III was conceived and the record evolved in a practice space where you were constantly hassled by a local gang called "The Kings." What would they do to harass you and how did you deal with it? Did you ever confront them?

Gaffney: We weren't constantly harassed. It was a few times. They shot a bb at my garage door with Lou rehearsing inside for the Weed Forestin' era shows early on, but missed. Two years later they were at it again, mostly banging on the back of the garage and smashing windows on our front porch. We had my stepfather hide in the bushes one night in ambush for the gang. I guess he scared them away for good.

LAS: One of the great live stories about Sebadoh is the one where Jon Spencer calls you guys "feeble" during "Gimme Indie Rock." What were some of the worst or funniest experiences that happened on stage during the early days of Sebadoh?

Gaffney: Highlight for me was our appearance at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania back in 1992. It was in an old stone building, the kids were ecstatic and the cops broke up the show for no reason. I had a cop onstage turn off my amp and I turned it back on, but not a second time as they were going to arrest the band or so it seemed. The show ended. It was very strange.

LAS: In a way, Jason seemed to be caught in the crossfire during the recording of III. And yet, from the liner notes, it seems he had some incredible musical chops that really salvaged songs, like the Minutemen cover, "Sickles And Hammers." How did he interact with the band back then and did he kind of end up being the glue that held things together?

Gaffney: Yeah, the Minutemen cover was my last minute idea... the last thing we recorded for III, as a duo: Jason and I after the mics were 1/2 down during the last five minutes of basic tracks for III. I was impressed by his playing on that one. How did Jason interact with the band back then? We knew Jason was talented from the beginning; he played blues on his acoustic on Main Street Northampton, tore the drums apart, kept the band together with his bass prowess. I wouldn't say that he was the glue that held it together necessarily, all three of us were.

LAS: When III went out of print, did you fear it was lost forever, or were there always plans to reissue it at some point?

Gaffney: I knew it would eventually be reissued, or hoped it would. I had a lawsuit with Homestead, sued 'em on my own, but we never got the masters back, so the III legacy has been a bitch from day one really, but nobody has to know that.

LAS: Are you happy with how the reissue package turned out?

Gaffney: Yes, and I contributed many "lost gems" and new artwork to it, as well as the liner notes. BTW you forgot to ask about my new record, Uncharted Waters, pick it up at a Tower Records near you.

---
For a recap of the previous two articles in this three-part retrospective, with each of the members revisiting the album in their own words, check out the Jason Loewenstein and Lou Barlow interviews.

SEE ALSO: www.sebadoh.com
SEE ALSO: www.dominorecordco.com

--
Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other articles by Peter Lindblad.

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