Is indie rock dead?

It’s a question I ask myself-admittedly neurotically-at least every day. Okay, okay, so indie rock still technically exists, in the sense that independent labels still pump out the preferred jams of radio-eschewing music geeks and anybody cool. But the indie rock that I am referring to, when I look in the mirror and curse myself for being born fifteen years too late, is that melodic cocktail of raw, earnest energy that came out of the ’80s and early ’90s.

“College Rock,” they called it in the magazines, “Indie Rock!” screamed lo-fi rockers Sebadoh in their 1991 classic, the appropriately titled, “Gimme Indie Rock.”

Indie Rock. The phrase itself is like music. I wonder if it still means what I think it does.

This is where Eric Gaffney comes in. Eric Gaffney is one of the coolest guys on the planet, a multi-instrumentalist and Sebadoh co-founder, rad enough to play under hot stage lights in a purple vintage suit. After leaving Sebadoh in 1993, Gaffney kept busy with other projects until this year, when he joined his former bandmates for their first original-lineup tour in over a decade.

When I realized that Eric Gaffney was going to give The Varsity his only post-reunion tour interview, all I could think of asking him was whether he’s as scared of change as I am, if indie rock still has a place in the media circus, or if I could at least assemble some kind of covert plea for reassurance. Luckily, he played along.

The Varsity: First things first: how does it feel to be touring with Sebadoh again after fourteen years?

Eric Gaffney: Well, now that the tour is over it is different than it was. Let’s see, it was sort of as if not that much has changed since then, different van, different amps and drums, but we’re the same. We were louder than in the past, no denying that, and the experience of playing a dozen sold-out shows [including a jam-packed Lee’s Palace gig in March that Gaffney cites as a favourite] was new for me, compared with the last I left it. I wrote a tour diary blog on Myspace ( if anyone wants to read it.

V: Sebadoh was a major pioneer of that lo-fi indie rock aesthetic that became so popular in the 90s. In what direction do you think music is headed now?

EG: I don’t like to think about where music is heading. I read books about such things, 20 years after the fact. We’ll see where it leads us.

V: Do you think “indie rock” even exists anymore?

EG: In my head it does, same as punk, new wave, jazz, folk rock- as in, anything I experienced, was a part of, whatever. I don’t follow trends or go where everyone else is going usually. Recorded music can exist forever as can a memorable musical event, so as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t the same as fashion. What’s on the radio, clubs, and in magazines and on TV and online currently is subject to trends, payola, [and] circumstance, none of which affect good music or [musical] eras which are infinite as applied to memory. In all, I have never been too fond of the “Indie Rock” label. Because it was another era (like hardcore was) and because I was in Sebadoh [during that time], it counts for something, but doesn’t mean a whole lot in certain respects.

V: The music industry has obviously changed a lot since 1993, in terms of technological accessibility and the mp3 revolution. Do you own an iPod?

EG: No, I don’t own an iPod but I’m all for it. I’ve seen a few in use, I’ve recorded on pro tools a few times, I administer a website, things like that, but I guess it can detract or distract, depending on what your aesthetic is and how adept your ears are.

V: What are you listening to these days?

EG: Today I listened to the first X album 5 times in a row, only side one. “Suspect Device” (SLF) and “Vicious” (Lou Reed) and “I’m not like everybody else” (The Kinks) have been recent favorites. The only band I’ve noted in the past month since returning to SF from the tour was seeing So So Many White White Tigers and partying with them afterwards. Good time.

V:Finally, and this one is important: which do you like better, cats or dogs?

EG: I don’t play favourites. I like dogs a lot and cats just as much. There are more dogs in San Franciso than cats, but still, quite a few cats here too.