Rowdy and Introspective

Jason Loewenstein showcases his solid, eclectic sound

click to enlarge DO IT YOURSELF: Loewenstein's solo album - features him as one-man-band. - TIM FURNISH
TIM FURNISH
DO IT YOURSELF: Loewenstein's solo album features him as one-man-band.

As a 10-year member of semi-legendary outfit Sebadoh, Jason Loewenstein basically attended a full-blown graduate course in Indie Rock 101. He joined the band too young to legally drink, or even remain in some of the over-21 clubs they played before and after their set, and played an increasingly involved role in their process as the trio grew from van-touring unknowns to bus-riding critical darlings.

Now, as a singer/songwriter and leader of a group that bears his name, Loewenstein is back in the van.

"It hearkens back to the first couple of Sebadoh tours I ever did, actually. It's back to scrappin' again, in a lot of ways," he says, "but that's cool."

It goes without saying that any kind of touring is a learning experience. A decade on the road in a band that played such a large role in making college rock hip, and keeping it valid, must've taught Loewenstein considerably more than a thing or two. Most important — how to write good songs. Loewenstein never received the hipster adulation showered on band founder Lou Barlow — nor did he aspire to it — but by Sebadoh's last couple of albums, Loewenstein's gritty and dissonant-yet-catchy rock was a constant and equal yang to Barlow's eloquent pop yin.

"I joined that band knowing I was gonna be supporting other writers ... I kind of preferred being in the shadows. I still got a fair amount of recognition, so I was psyched," says Loewenstein. "Lou was more of an inspiration, somebody I learned to write songs from, to a certain degree, so feeling like I was competing with him was never a consideration."

Given Sebadoh's famously unstable framework and Barlow's myriad side projects, it was almost fated that Loewenstein would start recording his own stuff at some point. His first solo 7-inches and EPs were released under the name Sparkalepsy; in 2001, he began recording the batch of tunes that would comprise the first Jason Loewenstein full-length on his own eight-track reel-to-reel, playing every instrument himself. A longtime aficionado of home demos, Loewenstein felt fairly comfortable tracking the record on his own, though he concedes the idea of tackling a complete solo project was a bit intimidating.

"I guess it was a little more daunting than liberating. It was daunting to record, because I've been recording for a long time, but I never really finish songs completely. I'd do demos and bring 'em in to [Sebadoh]," he says. "When I finished these songs, it was the first time I heard them as actual songs."

Loewenstein hauled his 8-track around the country with him as he traveled, recording parts of the album in Washington state, Louisville, Ky., and even an old cabin deep in the Kentucky wilderness ("no phone, one and a half stations on the TV," he says). That the resulting album, At Sixes and Sevens, sounds like it was recorded by a full band is surprising enough; that it showcases a solid and cohesive, if eclectic, feel is astounding, considering the various locations in which it was laid down.

"The setting didn't have too much to do with it," Loewenstein says. "Maybe in a way it lent itself to the more quiet songs, 'More Drugs,' 'Mistake' — some songs were easier to do because I was all alone. But in general, it has more to do with the mindset than where you are."

At Sixes and Sevens, released late last year by Sub Pop, is both pretty close to what fans of Loewenstein's Sebadoh stuff might expect, and an exhilaratingly original rock album in general. It's rowdy and introspective, weird and hooky, disparate and coherent. It's also jammed with nervy, electric songs that scream for live interpretation. Hence Loewenstein's return to the road with the van, the full band (featuring drummer Bob D'Amico and bassist Kevin Mazzarelli), and the D.I.Y. itinerary. In addition to the songs from At Sixes and Sevens, the three-piece will be working out new material, with a collective eye on recording as a proper group in the not-too-distant future.

"Hearing these two guys push the songs out, that's where I can see that it would really make a positive difference to have them on it," says Loewenstein. "Things just swing so much better. I'll drag these poor suckers down to the cabin in Kentucky."

For weeks, info circulated that Loewenstein was going to play Tampa Bay. It turned out to be misinformation. He is not playing this market.

What?Gainesville's too far to drive for a killer rawk show? Wuss. Stacy Mathis does it, like, three times a week or something. Well, how about Orlando, then? This Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10, O-Town's Central Florida Fairgrounds (4603 West Colonial Drive) will play host to more high-quality Christian indie, emo, and modern rock bands than you can thump a Bible at.

The Cornerstone Festival has been an annual event in Bushnell, Ill., for 20 years now, and it's so popular that they're spinning it off into regional concerts like this weekend's shindig. Now, we all know that most mainstream Christian rock used to suck like the dickens, but anybody who's walked through the door of an independent record shop in the last two years has probably heard of some great bands that labels like Tooth & Nail and Solid State are unleashing upon the nu-punk scene.

Friday's lineup features four stages. The bands start at 5 p.m. Acts include Brandtson, Norma Jean, Embodyment, Dead Poetic, The Benjamin Gate, Over The Rhine, Five Iron Frenzy and Mercury Radio Theater — in all, 21 bands will play. Things get off to an early (10:15 a.m.) start on Saturday, when 44 acts will perform. Headliners and notables include Pedro The Lion, Further Seems Forever, Squad 5-0, Denison Marrs, Ester Drang, Zao, Copeland, Living Sacrifice, Blindside and the incomparable Starflyer 59, among a ton of others. For a complete schedule and ticket information, check out www.cornerstoneflorida.com.

Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].