Originally published in MOO Magazine (March 1996)
Sell out. That’s what the kid at the local record store should be saying when you go in to buy Jawbreaker concert tickets. Instead, the two-word phrase has become the battle hymn of the die-hard punk republic when Jawbreaker’s name is mentioned. Following in the hardcore tradition of many of the early East Coast punk bands (i.e. Fugazi), the members of Jawbreaker often vowed that they would never sign a contract with Mr. Big – a major label. Then, after releasing three successful albums and a few handfuls of impressively penned pop-punk singles, Jawbreaker divorced itself from the punk community by signing with DGC, as in the David Geffen Company, DAVID GEFEN home to bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and Nelson. Needless to say, the kids of Gilman Street, where most of the newly discovered punk giants (Green Day, Offspring, Rancid) got their starts, haven’t fully embraced Blake Schwarzenbach (guitar/vocals), Adam Pfahler (drums) and Chris Bauermeister (bass), but that didn’t stop Jawbreaker from releasing Dear You, one of the most brilliant albums, lyrically and musically, of 1995. Schwarzenbach recently took some time to call MOO from his California home and discuss the state of Jawbreaker.
First of all, thanks a lot for releasing one of the best albums of last year.
I’m trying to be patient. I figure it takes a while with people. But I’m still on the throes of youth backlash thinking that it’s too soft. But thanks for that..
There are elements of shoe-gazing rock on Dear You. However, I’m not really up on that scene. I read an article on Jawbreaker in BAM in which the writer mentioned the whole shoe-gazing thing.
In that story, where that came out, I was throwing around that term loosely. I don’t really know what shoe-gazer rock is either, other than the few bands that I like that might be in that category, but probably aren’t technically. So I just meant that it was a little more internal monologue, kind of low-key, for us, which is relative, because we used to be super-fast. So our shoe-gazing might be a little aggressive to other people.
The thing that has always struck me about Jawbreaker that your lyrics are very honest. Do you ever write a song that is based on fantasy rather than reality?
Like a fictional narrative as opposed to something that has happened? I have done character voices – written songs about a hypothetical character. Although good characters are all reality based anyway. I’ve definitely gone on the fantasy tip. I actually love that, it’s great. I’m sick of singing about myself, I’m boring. I want to have characters in songs, people that might address issues that I have, but aren’t as dumb as me. It’s really easy to sound cheesy – “I’m a character in a song.
Do you have separate personal things and one for journals, one for lyrics?
No, I just have a bunch of them and I keep losing them or misplacing them. It’s really fucked. The entries are in five different books,” so to read them sequentially by day, I have to have all five books and keep ping-ponging.
Once a song is recorded, it becomes a piece of history to which everyone in the world has access. Is there any piece of lyrical history that you’d like to take back and stick in your notebook?
Anything that I’d like to put behind us/me? We used to all be that way as a band. We were in denial of everything that we had done previously. We usually worked about an album ahead of ourselves, which was really tough live, because when we had an album out, we wouldn’t be playing it live, we’d be playing the next record. As a result, we hated our older stuff, because that’s all people wanted to hear and we were bored. Now I think it’s kind of interesting. It is really different. I look at it and go “Wow, I was really young.”
So where are you now are you still an album ahead?
We are right there. Now, when we practice, we just do new, unwritten stuff. We’re trying to get ahead again, but we toured so much this year that there was no time for writing, really.
Did you think that you’d ever be able to make a living in a band?
We never thought that. Everything has been a landmark for us. Getting a show was a really big deal. Getting our first tour and all that kind of stuff. I was in a band in high school with Adam. When we went to college, we knew that we wanted to do a band. But our idea of bands was playing at your friend’s house or at a party or something. It took a long time and we applied ourselves 15 percent because we were in school.
with a college degree, I suppose you had career plans to fall back on in case the music thing didn’t work out.
My super long shot was to be a writer, which has been a dream of mine since high. school. Living in New York and taking writing classes with struggling writers, I came to realize that, yeah, teaching would be pretty cool. (laughs) Maybe I’ll get lucky in 20 years and do something.
Do you still hope someday to be a writer?
Absolutely. I’m glad I have that, because if I were dependent on rock, I’d be dead. There’s nothing to do on tour but read and write. You play an hour out of a day.
what do you think about the current state of education? Are you satisfied with the education you received?
I was pretty fortunate. I was really lucky to have good teachers or to find them. But I know a lot of this has to do with being in punk rock and being out here and seeing the scene; a lot of kids don’t have that at all. I didn’t know how pervasive that was, but I’m in a liberal cradle; you think that education would be pretty sharp in Northern California, but I know so many kids that drop out of high school because it’s horrible.
It’s probably not all that unusual out in California, but around Columbus, there is a group of straight-edge kids who all live together in an old dental frat house, and they put on shows in their living room with some pretty decent bands, even some bands that are on the Revelation label. I admire them for that it’s pretty cool.
There are certain collective houses in Berkeley that do that. It’s a little weird because there’s a fraternity element there. I don’t know if they are still doing it, but they used to have all those Gilman and punk rock bands play. It was pretty intense. You bring together these two tribes that are pretty volatile. There was this house in Connecticut when I went to school in New York that used to get the best bands. They’d have a show every weekend. They would have Fugazi and all the East Coast bands that ere starting at that time.
That’s the way these kids are. They don’t pocket very much of the money they make. I think they cover their expenses, and then give the bands the rest of the cash they make.
That would be a good thing in San Francisco. There are some places, some houses, that do shows. I think all age shows are really difficult here. There’s one place that does them semi-officially. No one can keep a club open because they can’t sell liquor (at all-age shows), and rent is so ludicrous here. I also think a lot of it is club owners and bookers who are trying to make a living at it, or who are just bottom-line assholes. It’s strange, because if you look demographically, it’s kids who buy records. A lot of times, you’re talking about newer bands who are playing smaller rooms where it’s not an established band. All-ages shows are in everybody’s best interest, because it’s the kids who go out to shows.
Now that you are on a major, and all the things associated with that, like ads in Rolling Stone, videos on MTV, your CD being available at every corporate mall record store in America, you must have been offered some really horrible tours with bands like Bush, Candlebox or Alanis Morissette.
We have. But that was happening before. I think there’s usually a band that, you can tell why they are asking in lame instances, and I think it’s usually looking for credibility. They wonder, “Who’s the punk band that we can take out with us?” When you sign a contract with a label, it doesn’t affect your touring at all, or at least it shouldn’t; that’s still your own enterprise. We just went to Australia and it was a pretty monster tour (including Rancid, Sonic Youth, the Amps, Rage Against The Machine, etc.), but the bands were great. It was a cool festival, I’ve never been to one of those Lollapaloozas. If it was this bill, I would go, because I actually liked every band.
Romy Hoffman from the Australian band Noise Addict, who also played at that festival, said she was star-struck during the whole thing because she was hanging out backstage with all these bands that she loved.
That’s how I was for two weeks.
I’ve heard that you’re going to be part of that Warped Tour this year (also rumored to be performing: Bad Religion, Social Distortion, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and 311). Will you take part?
I don’t think so. We’ve talked about it. We have friends that are going on it. It sounds kind of fun to be touring with friends. But it’s still an outdoor, skater-oriented kind of thing which is cool, but I don’t know about festivals in general.
I always hate asking this question, but I’ll try it once more: Who are you listening to now? Who do you think more people should listen to?
Unwound. I think it is the best band in the country. A lot of people know about them, but sometimes people don’t, and I’m kind of amazed. I have been going to a lot of shows lately. I just saw the Peechees the other night and they were pretty rad..
I’ve read that your contract allows the band to record singles with other labels and to participate in side projects. Do you have any plans to take up Geffen on their offers of letting you record outside the label?
We need more material. We don’t even have enough for Geffen. I’m playing drums in a band now. We’re not really sure of our name, but we’re rad. I did a song for Milk Cult with the guys from Steel Pole Bath Tub. I played guitar and sang.
Would Dear You have sounded differently if you hadn’t had the large budget that Geffen gave you?
I don’t know. It may not have sounded as clear. The songs are the songs. We played those live, and I don’t think they sound that different. I’d accept the blame for that.
You’re probably sick to death of answering questions about Jawbreaker “selling-out” to the Big Man, David Geffen. I’ll keep it short: I was just wondering if you’ve encountered any uncomfortable situations?
There’s always ambiguity with fans, or former fans, where you see people you’ve known for a long time and they are pretty hard-line on the subject. It’s been pretty uncomfortable in a couple of instances where you are not really sure that people are cordial, but you get the feeling that they don’t like you anymore.
Does it happen everywhere, or just around your hometown?
Everywhere. It’s not really specific to one area. We’ve toured for a long time, and we know people in most cities. There’s usually a little hardcore group that’s always there. Most people have stuck by. A lot of people are coming around on this album now, but when it first came out, it sounded different enough that a lot of people thought, “Oh, they blew it,” or “I don’t like you guys anymore, you’re not hard.” That has been cyclical with us. Every album we’ve done, there has been this three-month recoil where people think, “This isn’t anything like the last album.”