The freed band

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For 1999's The Sebadoh, the story was much the same. Sub Pop had contracted with Sire Records, a Warner subsidiary, for promotion and distribution. "Basically, they were going to do the same things that Sub Pop did," Loewenstein recalls, "but they had more connected people working in their company for radio and this and that...sleazy promotions. We were just hoping that at least we'd get into more Wal-Marts so that the kids in the Midwest could get our records without having to mail-order."

But Sire's promotion machine was quick to dismiss the band. "They basically dropped us a month into their promotion. I think we were just disappointing for them."

At the same time, the band's relationship with Sub Pop had cooled. Though not a bitter breakup, Loewenstein explains that "we just sort of exhausted our tenure with them. The company had been through a million changes; they grew and then shrank again with the state of the industry. I'm not really privy to the inner workings of the label, but I do know that a lot of the personnel that they had from day one are all gone now, and I think that's a big sign. People who stuck with it through the coldest days around there and then got to enjoy the success of the label are gone now."

Freshly dropped and coming off multiple disappointments, the three members went their separate ways and took a contemplative break for much of the past year. Loewenstein says they never questioned their choice of careers, but began to re-evaluate with whom the band had associated itself professionally. "The whole thing makes you rethink, like, 'Does anybody around us really know what they're talking about?'"

Loewenstein packed his things and moved to New York City with his wife, two dogs, and potbellied pig to reflect on his past and future and to study a bit of farm-animal behaviorism as well. "[The pig is] an enormous burden, he is. But he's also magic. He teaches you life lessons every day. Like don't eat a lot, and be nice. 'Cause he wants to eat all the time and he's really grumpy. You can sort of see how that looks to other people by watching him," says Loewenstein, laughing.

The time off has obviously done much to clear his head. Kept busy playing music with friends in a trio currently billed as Hot Carl ("The name means something very lewd; it's kind of stupid, like teenage sexual things."), recording on his eight-track at home, and polishing his Internet skills, Loewenstein is assimilating well to the New York lifestyle...almost. "It'd be a lot better if I was a big rock star or something like that, where the money was just rolling in droves. I haven't had to work in a long time because I lived in a really, really economically different place." Loewenstein's even put in applications at several temp agencies (for Web tech jobs; he also writes and maintains Sebadoh's official Web page, to soften the Big Apple-size blow to his pocketbook. "But it's interesting. There's just so many people doing cool shit here. It's refreshing; there's just a million people being creative and not being weird and competitive with each other."

But now Sebadoh's vacation is over, and the band is facing the challenge of striking out again, trying to win over an industry that has never been especially kind to it. The three will meet in San Francisco prior to its South by Southwest venture to refresh their memories (eight albums is a lot of songs to remember) and chemistry, then will spend two weeks on the road (including an enviable SXSW slot -- a Saturday-night showcase at the large La Zona Rosa venue alongside Modest Mouse) before hitting the studio for three days to record what may well be a demo tape to shop to labels. All this baby-band hustling is a slightly strange proposition for a group with a name and a large back catalog. "We just got a manager for the first time, and she mentioned the word 'demo' to me," Loewenstein says. "I was like, 'How about our eight records?' I got all offended at first, but the climate's changed so much, I think maybe it is a good idea to sort of show what we're up to."

When questioned about what they're looking for in a label and whether they're leaning toward the indies or majors, Loewenstein is unsure. "We'd like to be promoted, y'know," he admits. "That's kind of what this whole trip is about. We're gonna see who's interested, what resources they've got, and try to pick the best plan. 'Cause we'd like to be promoted, but we don't want to be in a situation where people are trying to kick us onto the radio again -- that seems a little ridiculous for our band. "It seems like after 10 years of playing together, we have a pretty good clue who our audience is, we have a pretty good clue what we want to do, and it just seems like everyone says, 'There's a billion possibilities out there, kid.' Which is exciting because you want to make a living off your music, but it's a lot of hot wind, I think."

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Brendan Kelley