Folk Implosion outward: One band's road to the record stores
October 01, 1999
By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- Lou Barlow, singer-songwriter in the alternative-rock band Sebadoh, formed a duo with his solo-performer friend John Davis. That was in 1993 and they called it The Folk Implosion. They meant for this side project to be just that.
The Folk Implosion was supposed to be the musical equivalent of that car you have sitting in the garage -- you tinker with it every weekend, but never take it out for a cross-country road trip.
One 1994 full-length album later ("Take a Look Inside"), The Folk Implosion was steadily following the course set for independent, obscure rock bands. It was known only in circles that don't watch MTV or tune in to modern-rock radio. Until, that is, a grim little film by the name of "Kids" burst onto mainstream screens, the band's reputation with it.
Thanks to The Folk Implosion's 1995 soundtrack for "Kids," a controversial look at drug-abusing, sexually promiscuous, remorseless teens -- anything but the polished, sophisticated adolescents of "Dawson's Creek" -- the band was suddenly hot. Especially after the hip-hop-tinged single "Natural One" stormed pop radio.
"We didn't expect it," says Barlow. "We were thrilled to have a hit and to have a song floating into the air out of cars. Someone told John they'd heard it at Giants Stadium and that was pretty thrilling for us.
"That kind of validation was nice. It was especially sweet because we didn't do anything within the normal promotion process. It was the song itself."
So what happens next?
If you're Barlow and Davis, you follow the credo of underground music by giving major labels the bird, temporarily at least. You release the low-key "Dare To Be Surprised" instead of another soundtrack in 1997. And finally you sign with Interscope Records two years later. When you're ready.
"We'd had some experience in Major-Label Land with the 'Kids' soundtrack," says Davis. "By the time we decided to sign with Interscope, so much time had passed since 'Natural One' and we'd had so many discussions and our decision was such a long process that we were nonchalant about it."
That's how a part-time band finds itself promoting its September major-label debut, "One Part Lullaby" -- an album Rolling Stone describes as a "CD that takes sardonic low-fi minimalism and makes it into transcendentally tinny pop."
Barlow and Davis say that bright pop sound on the album, some of it recorded in Barlow's Los Angeles home, mimics its Southern California spawning ground.
"The record is prettier and more emotionally direct," says Davis. "That came organically, because we wanted to use more acoustic instruments. We appreciate making a connection with an audience rather than identifying with a specific style. So we put more of ourselves into the album and drew that out."
Barlow and Davis say that when working on their first Interscope release, they tried to sound as little like a cohesive band as possible. The smooth vocals and seamless harmonies of the Backstreet Boys weren't for them.
"We've never had any problem not sounding like a band," says Barlow. "The first session we did for this record, we financed ourselves. We spent about $10,000 and laid down a bunch of songs. But it sounded like a band and that was discouraging. It was flat and we didn't like it.
"When we approached our next sessions in my house, we decided to completely go for things we couldn't even perform live. We went for a studio approach, really layering and cutting things down."
"We always strive to make records that sound good to us," adds Davis. "We have very exacting tastes."
Creative freedom is the name of the game for The Folk Implosion. Without it, says Barlow, his band would implode. That's why the duo was hesitant to jump on the first deal offered to it on the heels of the "Kids" success.
"We had a lot of offers that if we'd taken them we wouldn't be happy," says Barlow. "We didn't sign immediately with the label (Polygram) that put out the soundtrack. It wasn't the logical step for us. We entered a period where we worked really hard. We went on tour and recorded, instead of doing what was expected. No, it was about John and me doing what we wanted."
"We were in a situation where we had a hit," Davis says, "but we hadn't figured out where we wanted the band to go and what we wanted to do. We needed time to think about it. We ended up in the right spot."
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