September 18, 2013
Where In The World Is Eric Gaffney?
The strange days and weird nights of Sebadoh’s lost member
I noticed Kurt Cobain wearing a Sebadoh t-shirt during an interview and wondered what it was. I’d heard the word Sebadoh uttered by the resident alternative rocker chick a couple of times on the bus home from Jr. High and wondered what it meant. I’d see the ax through the heart t-shirt in the rock n’ roll merchandise catalog that came to my house and wondered who they were. That weird word piqued my interest and I needed to know what this band was all about but these being pre-internet times, I couldn’t find a grain on ‘em. All I knew is that they were an indie rock band from the same fields and forests of Western MA as I was and one of them used to be in Dinosaur Jr. Finally, at an FYE in the Holyoke Mall, I stumbled upon the Sebadoh section and picked out the CD that looked the coolest. That record was Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock and it changed my life for the long haul.
I remember being totally taken aback when the first track “Cry Sis” hissed out of my cheap boom box speakers. The abrasive tinny sounding hardcore sounded nothing like the description Jenna gave me on the back of the bus. I instantly deferred to the liner notes and as “Brand New Love” began playing I saw that “Cry Sis” was an Eric Gaffney song and “Brand New Love” was written by Lou Barlow and they sounded like two radically different bands. Then, after getting my hands on a beat up copy of Bubble & Scrape and hearing “Bouquet for a Siren”, I felt molested. I didn’t know music like this existed. Sebadoh was what I’d been looking for. Gaffney’s songs were unpredictable, veering wildly from weird damaged folk ditties to swirling psychedelic freak-outs while Barlow’s stuff would rein things in with his trademark lo-fi pop. Their styles seemed to compliment, challenge, and even threaten one another and the dichotomy made those early Sebadoh records inspiring and exciting. They were from the next town over and they didn’t sound like anything else out there.
I continued obsessing over this band and scoured the media for more information with no luck until I noticed a small article in Guitar Player magazine of all places. Inside, it described how Lou Barlow had formed Sebadoh with Eric Gaffney in Northampton, MA in the late 80’s after being kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. With a slew of self-released cassettes full of hissy 1-minute songs written on a ukulele, they crawled out from under Dinosaur’s shadow and became a “real band.” Directly under their picture it read: Lou Barlow, Jason Lowenstein and Bob Fay. What!? Who the fuck is Bob Fay? What happened to Gaffney? When my friend down the street finally got an internet connection I went on a serious “Sebadoh history” tear and learned how he’d quit the band on the eve of their ’93 tour and hopped a Greyhound bus west. My jaw went slack. All that time I’d been anticipating the day that I’d go see ‘em live and witness Barlow and Gaffney taking turns at the mic and giving each other dirty looks and he wasn’t even in the band anymore. I’d missed out. I’d missed the bus so to speak. This was the first time I found myself riddled with frustration and confusion at the hands of Eric Gaffney, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Bakesale got me thinking that maybe Gaffney’s departure wasn’t going to be felt as strongly as I thought but then I heard Harmacy and started to mourn publicly. All the weirdness was gone and it sounded (and it kills me to say this) predictable. I needed to find out what had become of this guy. I remember being ecstatic when I found a Fields of Gaffney record at Turn It Up in Northampton and figured he was mounting a comeback but slowly realized there was nothing planned. He didn’t tour as far as I could see and other than a 7” single for Sub-Pop, the man was a ghost. The next 11 years were somewhat of a blur but I do recall waking up from a bad dream in 2010 and learning the only way I could get a Gaffney album was through mail order CD-r’s from a street address on an old Angelfire page. I didn’t even know that Angelfire still existed. Was he the lone person keeping it in business? I checked my calendar to make sure I was in the right decade, confirmed that indeed I was, and quickly blacked out. After being resuscitated I was shocked when the doctors told me that the year was 2012 and they had just been given the news that a man by the name of Gaffney was rumored to have gone ballistic on a website called Bandcamp and released 10 albums full of demos, spoken word stories and even some actual new songs. “Only thing is,” the doctor said under his facemask, “the guy wants to be called Jesus Christ now.” My eyes darted around the room as confusion set in once more. I knew I couldn’t be the only one troubled by these shenanigans so when I saw he was playing a gig in Northampton under the moniker “The Chicopee Family Moose Project” I knew I would attend and I knew I would have to grill this motherfucker once and for all.
I arrived early, sat to the left of the stage, and finally witnessed this guy play his music after 15 years of torturous anticipation. At this point it wasn’t even a matter of enjoying the show. It was a matter of principle. I told a mutual friend that I had some things I wanted to talk to Eric about and after the show, I was introduced. We ventured outside to smoke and I suddenly began spilling out questions like a busted pipe. I could see my enthusiasm was both flattering and overwhelming for him so I regained what little composure I could muster and we smoked in silence for a bit. He seemed pretty cool, albeit on the verge of complete insanity, but that’s about what I expected/wanted. I asked him if there was a chance he would ever reunite with Lou and Jason and tour like he had in 2007 during the re-issue of The Freed Man and his mood quickly shifted. “No way!” He shook off the question like a bad smell. “Why?” I countered. He made a negative remark and took it back immediately, muttering about how he shouldn’t talk like that. His head dropped 30 degrees and he seemed… disappointed in himself. After some more small talk I could see he was becoming fidgety so I just blurted out, “Let’s do an interview! Who knows, maybe I can turn it into a story and get us both on Pitchfork.” His facial expression said that he wasn’t into it so I quickly offered to buy him a beer and that seemed to spike up his mood again. Once inside and halfway through a pint of Sierra Nevada he explained that he didn’t do interviews “live” anymore because his mouth tends to get him into trouble. He suggested I email him some questions and he’d answer them and send them back to me. I waved the idea off contesting that it took all the spontaneity out of the thing and that it’d be like lip-syncing but it was no use. I could tell his mind was elsewhere by then and he probably wouldn’t be back so I conceded and wrote his email address on a bar napkin. I sent off my hastily prepared list of questions later in the week and in a couple days I received his responses to about ¾ of them, refusing to answer my question concerning his Jesus Christ alias.
After finishing this article I sat on it for months feeling despondent and discouraged, believing it to be a vicious failure. I regretted not spending more time on the questions and subsequently sank deeply into a dark funk. “I blew it!” I screamed internally. Case closed. I tried hard to forget this mishap but the idea for a story on Sebadoh’s lost member kept intruding my thoughts, along with his constant pro-Christian diatribes and militant vegan Facebook posts (we’d become “Friends”). It was only recently, after questioning The Lord Jesus (his FB handle) about one of his rants and having him respond “Find something else to do,” that the cobwebs of shame began to clear. Damn, the more I thought about his command to find something else to do the more it made sense! For better or worse, I needed to finish what I so foolishly started in order to move on with my life. So, for good or ill, here’s the interview with E.G. It’s been a long strange trip, I’ll tell you that much, but it’s in your hands now.
CoverMyEars (CME): So, what have you been doing since the 2007-2008 Sebadoh reunion tour?
Gaffney: Other than watching the world unravel, braving four winters alone in a cottage, re-learning how to play guitar, and wondering what happened to the life I used to have? Not much. In ’07, after Lou and I finished working on the III and The Freed Man reissues, we toured as Sebadoh for the first time since 1993. That afforded me the ability to say “so long” to San Francisco and move back to Western MA, for better or worse. I was stuck in SF for the better part of a decade and although I’m a big fan of Northern CA, the city itself had become too expensive, other than the affordability of tacos and red wine.
It seems Gaffney ran into a string of terrible luck following the Sebadoh tour of ’07.
Gaffney cont.: After playing the Pitchfork Festival with Sebadoh in 2007 I had a bicycling accident and fractured my shoulder blade and collarbone. I was in a sling with a head full of morphine, codeine, and muscle relaxers for months. Then my mom died of leukemia so it was a real rough stretch. I’ve adopted a cat since, and got back into recording and putting out records by myself. I’ve been looking for a record label to get my music out but nothing doing. I’ll keep going though. I’ve always thought of myself like a Timex watch. I just keep on going.
CME: What’s your favorite Sebadoh record you guys did?
Gaffney: Probably the ones I titled. Bubble & Scrape, Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock, Sebadoh vs. Helmet and Rockin’ the Forest. What Lou and I did together at the beginning was really the best, the Freed Man times. The “electric” version of the band started in my garage around 1989. Jason was like 17 or something and he’d ride his bike over. When we started doing the 3 piece thing I really didn’t want to play bass for some reason so I started playing drums for the “Lou songs.” Sebadoh was musical chairs circa ’90-‘91. We would switch instruments every couple songs. Our shows were tiring and often embarrassing in my opinion. I wanted to lock in on one instrument, one role.
CME: Your lyrics get bizarre at times. How much has LSD or other drugs influenced your writing?
Gaffney: Not much. Acid was a mid-80’s thing for me. I’ve left drugs behind for the most part, kind of like driving lessons which I took in 1984 and then no longer needed. However, I do enjoy beer and wine… and aspirin.
CME: In an interview with A.V. Club back in ’07 you said if Domino wanted to release a new Sebadoh album with the 3 original members you would do it. Do you still feel that way?
Gaffney: No. I left Sebadoh in 1993, twenty years ago. The reunion tours and reissues were only a thing for that particular time, not now. I’d be into a Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock reissue though but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
CME: So what’s next?
Gaffney: Getting on a label and getting a publishing deal for my books. I’m looking to do limited edition cassette releases, short run stuff. The president of Domino records told me that kids want music for free these days so… I just did a split 7” single called Stop Eating Animals with Happy Soul Records in the UK. I don’t know what’s next. I guess I should care right?
And just like the trash on a Thursday, he was out. The man’s an enigma, that’s for sure. A true all-American original. Difficult? Yes. Touched? Absolutely, but what would you expect from the guy who wrote “As The World Dies The Eyes Of God Grow Bigger?” Will he ever find that idyllic record label to release his current batch of animal rights oriented music under the name Jesus Christ? No, but for some reason I wish he would. Why? Well because… I don’t really know anymore but the world needs more Gaffney songs in it even if they are nothing more than rants about meat eaters and re-mixes of early 90’s breakdowns. They’d be welcome in these perverted times when too many “indie” acts seem ultra self-aware and over practiced… a little Gaffney madness is like a breath of fresh. To quote the man himself:
“Please leave me alone in the land of crayons. I know soon I’ll forget who I am.”
Where in the world indeed.
UPDATE 4/1/14: Since this article was published in late Sep of ’12, Eric seems to have disappeared from public life. I received a Facebook message from him shortly after putting this up on Covermyears.com complaining that the article drove up traffic to his site but didn’t affect sales. Then, after Pitchfork used my story as basis for a short feature on his current Bandcamp releases, I wrote him, congratulating him on the renewed interest in his stuff and his new 7” single and never heard back. Shortly after that he de-activated his Facebook account and stopped updating his Bandcamp site. Further attempts at contact have been unsuccessful and I fear Mr. Gaffney may have gone off the reservation once more. Par for that terrible course. God speed you son of a bitch, god speed.
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