Peel it the [expletive deleted] down
Learning about Jawbreaker with Adam Pfahler
Other potential titles for this article would include "I Wish You Were My Dad" or "Now I Just Need To Interview Chris". I decided to go with the Jawbreaker song for the title (editor's note: just like the transcripts of Nixon - explitive deleted), though. It's from their b-sides, rarities, outtakes album that was released not too long ago. It's called Etc. It's really good and I listen to it way too much.
Kurt: How's the response been to the Etc. album?
Adam: It's been great. People have been very complimentary. They've been almost emotional in their response to it. A lot of people who bought it knew us from before and they were reminded of the old days. The thing starts in 1988 and goes through all the way to the end. If you listen to it all the way through you hear the progression or regression (however you want to look at it). If you saw us back in the day you're reminded of the shows, maybe. Some people very close to me who I wouldn't have expected to feel that way were very frank about their emotional response to it. I was very pleased about all that.
Kurt: What's your favorite song on there? Do you have one?
Adam: If I was going to point to a couple of songs that made me want to do this thing, it was probably the outtakes. Then, "Kiss the Bottle" and "Sea Foam Green". Those were the ones I thought deserved to be heard. For the uninitiated, you have to get through some pretty rough recordings until those kick in, but I'm asking people to be patient. A lot of this is out of print so I wanted to put it out there all in one place. Get all my ducks in a row and then shoot them dead once and for all. A lot of that early stuff on the album was left over demo stuff that I threw out there because we just had it around. But "Sea Foam Green", "Housesitter" and "Kiss the Bottle" were recorded for other things and they ended up being really great songs.
Kurt: Did you ever imagine Jawbreaker would be this big all these years later?
Kurt: Is it annoying or is it cool?
Adam: I think it's great. I imagine it might become more tiresome for Blake because he's out on the road and doing this other thing which I think is succeeding on its own merit. I think there's a lot of crossover. Even he admits that people come up to him and tell him, "Oh, I had this great experience getting back into Dear You and now it's my favorite record." I'm sure he loves to hear that. He's told me so. The first time Jets To Brazil went out, I was worried there was going to be that guy screaming "BUSY!" at them. That first trip out must've been a pretty rough one. It's not annoying. How could it be? It's incredible. I know how lucky we are that people are still paying attention. I think that if your band breaks up you wonder if you're going to be one of those bands that completely fades into obscurity or if people continue to buy the records every once in a while. Or if you're lucky they're really into it and still--
Kurt: Paying fifty dollars for it on e-Bay.
Adam: That, or they just go out of their way to come in and see me at my store. These guys came in the other day and they were thanking me for being a part of that band. It wasn't awkward or embarrassing. I was just really happy to hear that. Don't think I don't love to hear it. The guy rolls up his sleeve and shows me his Jawbreaker tattoo. What am I going to say to that? I'm not going to be freaked out by that. It's amazing.
Kurt: Was it the four F's?
Kurt: Cool. Going with that vein of looking back over things, I'm curious as to what your parents thought of it. I'm sure at first they were typical parents and thought you were fooling around, but now looking back how do your parents view it differently?
Adam: When we were playing in the garage, they were tolerant. They were sort of annoyed, but they were pretty tolerant. My sister's an artist and she moved out when she was 18. She moved to New York in 1979 to do performance art and do films and such. So, she was living a way alternative lifestyle. My father was one of the original surfers back in the day. He was in Bruce Brown's first documentary in 1958. He led sort of a weird, nomadic life as well. My step-dad was an ex-hippie, so he was into it. He was a huge influence on me, musically. They were into it, though. But they probably never thought it would go anywhere. And when it finally did they were very proud. My dad still wears Jawbreaker t-shirts wherever he goes and anyone that comes up to him and says anything about it, he'll have an hour conversation and is very proud about the legacy. So they were always cool about it. My grandmother came and saw us in Al's Bar in Los Angeles in 1989.
Kurt: How old was she, then?
Adam: She was probably about 70. So they've been pretty cool. My brother plays music and is an actor. Everyone is sort of like that. They're very proud.
Kurt: You're originally from L.A., correct?
Adam: Yeah. I'm from Hermosa Beach, originally. I grew up there and then moved around a lot. I lived on the west side, I lived in Santa Monica and then Pacific Palisades. Beach communities, mostly.
Kurt: Did you surf?
Adam: A little. Coming up I did some boogie boarding and body surfing. I was a beach rat. I skated. I didn�t get too much into surfing until much later.
Kurt: My brother-in-law is from the Marshall Islands out in the Pacific, so he surfs. He lived in Hawaii for a number of years, too, so he's a big surfer. It's not like he's famous or anything, but he just loves surfing.
Adam: It's a great thing to do alone or with friends.
Kurt: Yeah. And a lot of people practically use it as transportation out there in the islands.
Adam: Yeah. Oh hey, let me tell you a funny story about my mom. My mom was in line at the supermarket and this is in the mid-90s. Some guy is reading the cover story in Rolling Stone about Nirvana or Pearl Jam. She taps the guy on the shoulder and doesn't know him at all. She says to him, "Excuse me, who do you think is better: Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Jawbreaker?" Like we're in that same league. Like we're selling that many records or he'll even know who we are. And of course the guy's like, "Jawbreaker? Who's that?" And of course the guy spends the next five minutes listening to her talk about her son's band.
Kurt: My parents would probably just disown me. It's a nice feeling to know you can come home and not be harassed about it.
Adam: Yeah, I think that if I had dropped out of college or something they might have been bummed. If I became a dope fiend they wouldn't have been as supportive. We were getting it done. I was working, going to school and doing the band.
Kurt: Did you go to NYU?
Adam: I did for a year and then I transferred back to UCLA and I got my history degree there.
Kurt: Hey, I have a history degree too. And of course there's the other guy in Jawbreaker who got the history degree, but we won't mention him.
Adam: Yeah, we know him. Chris is getting his PhD right now.
Kurt: I knew he was going to Purdue, which is in Indiana, where I am right now.
Adam: He's in Hanover, Germany, right now. He's doing his doctorate. He's a total academic. I always knew it would come to that with that kid. He was an avid history freak. He's doing medieval German history.
Kurt: I never really thought of Purdue as a place to study history, much less that type of history.
Adam: I think he just wanted to get out and go back to where there's some weather. But apparently there's a pretty good program that he's in.
Kurt: Hey, I know that a lot of the songs that Blake writes are almost like stories, and one of the songs that intrigued me the most on Etc. was "Sister". So did he literally take his sister out on the road with you guys?
Adam: Yeah, she flew down from Nova Scotia.
Kurt: Why was she in Nova Scotia?
Adam: That's where his mother lives. He goes up there every year. He does his down time there. Yeah, but she flew down and saw us do a couple shows in New York City. She saw us at the Grand and at ABC No Rio. She was just a kid. She was 12 or 13. It was great fun having her along. We had a really big fight in the van on the way to Chris's mother's house in Connecticut while she was in the car. There was half an hour of total silence. Someone turned to his sister and said, "Well, this is the rock and roll lifestyle. Check it out!" It was really embarrassing.
Kurt: So she just did those couple shows and not the whole tour?
Adam: Yeah, just those couple of dates.
Kurt: Was she cool with it? Did she actually want to do it? Because in the song it makes it sound like she thinks you guys are stupid.
Adam: She was probably seeing and listening pretty innocently. To look at what your big brother does when essentially it's like, "it's a living." We drive around, plug in and talk to people. It's not tough work.
Kurt: What do you do now?
Adam: I own a video store in the Mission District called Lost Weekend. I own it with the old drummer from Engine 88, Dave, and the Jawbreaker tour manager, Kristy (sp?). I've known her since like, 1989 when we played at Smith College and she booked us a show there. She ended up being our tour manager, but after the band broke up no one really had anything to do and we were like, "Why don't we try opening up a store?" and we did it and that was five years ago.
Kurt: You just decided to do it in the most expensive part of the country.
Adam: Well, it's funny because it was right before that internet boom took hold. We got a space here for a dollar a square foot. The rent we're paying is nothing compared to what the people are paying now here. But it worked because the store's paid itself off. It's not tough work so it frees me up a lot of time to play music and hang out with my girls.
Kurt: Is it a typical video store or do you specialize in specific types of genres?
Adam: It's typical in that we have all the new releases. Anything you'd want to pick up at Blockbuster we have here. But we have a lot more DVDs than they have at Blockbuster or Hollywood. And we have a lot more foreign films, classics, film-noir, cult films, etc. It's a good store.
Kurt: Speaking of cult films, have you ever seen a really horrible B-movie called Phantom Of The Paradise?
Adam: Sure. Paul Williams. Please, don't get me started on Paul Williams.
Kurt: I've watched it a few times and it's one of those movies my friends and I all watch whenever we can because it's so stupid.
Adam: Yeah, there's plenty of that going around. There's a lot of those cult films I like.
Kurt: My favorite part in that movie is when the guy gets all pissed off and throws down his guitar and it starts to feedback and it's not even plugged in.
Adam: Nice! Way to pay attention to detail. But I totally know that movie.
Kurt: What are some of your favorite movies?
Adam: I love the movie Blade Runner, Bad News Bears. There are so many.
Kurt: Are you into older movies or do you like some of the new releases coming out right now?
Adam: Not really. I'm sort of behind on the new stuff. There's some things I'm kind of excited to go see. I want to go see that one with Jennifer Aniston. I'm looking forward to Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. George Clooney made it. It's about the guy who created the Gong Show and the Newlywed Game. In his book he claims he was a CIA hitman. It's really absurd.
Kurt: What do you think of the Lord Of The Rings movies? Have you seen the first one yet?
Adam: No. We have it here on DVD, but I haven't checked it out yet. I was watching a little bit of it with my older daughter, but she was getting a little freaked out so we had to stop watching it.
Kurt: Yeah, I don't know how old your daughter is, but it's probably not a good idea to watch it unless they're teenagers or something. I dunno.
Adam: She's five years old.
Kurt: Yeah, I don't think she'd be ready for it. There's some pretty scary stuff in there for little kids.
Adam: Yeah, she wasn't down with it, so we stopped.
Kurt: Were you a big movie buff before you started running the store?
Adam: Yeah. When I was at UCLA I was sort of minoring in film. I took some screenwriting classes and production classes. I was always interested in movies. Now, of course, after opening the store I fucking hate movies. I'm inundated here. After you see a certain amount of movies you realize that they're all pretty derivative and most of them are pretty poor. I like going to the movies just to see a movie, you know? Just the ritual of it. But I don't have much hope when I go to the movies these days that it's going to be any good.
Kurt: No, I totally understand about being inundated. I mean, I don't own a lot of movies, but I do a zine and when you start getting 90 to 100 CDs a month, you start to realize how crappy most of the music is out there.
Adam: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. But now I'm going back to music and playing and listening to it. I realized I've been playing in bands since I was 15, so it's not like I left it entirely.
Kurt: What's the situation right now with getting Dear You back so that Blackball can release it?
Adam: Last I heard I'm getting it back.
Adam: Right now it's a matter of me getting a contract, signing it and then I'm done.
Kurt: On the website you were talking about how you had to pay a certain amount or something...what was that all about?
Adam: What I meant is that I'm paying them a royalty from our sales. When I sell our record, I have to pay them a royalty on it more than the royalties than the band would've made from it. Which is silly. That's the only way I could do it. I've been negotiating and begging these people. It's the only way I can do it. We won't make as much money, but it'll be out there and have my fucking logo on it, which will feel good.
Kurt: Are you going to throw anything extra on it like extra songs or movie clips?
Adam: For sure it's going to have the "Fireman" video. But I'm going to try and add some bonus stuff and make it cheaper than what they were selling it when they put it out. They put it out back in 1995 for like $16.99 or something ridiculous like that. That was way too much money. I'm not saying that fucked up our sales, but it certainly didn't help.
Kurt: Yeah, especially considering your fans were probably used to paying about ten bucks for a CD. Was the situation at Geffen one of those where you had a contact there and then that contact got fired or quit or something? Because that seems to happen to a lot of indie bands.
Adam: We got signed by Mark Case (sp?) who was working with Nirvana, Hole, Beck and Sonic Youth. We tried to get it in our contract that if he left we could get off the label. It's called "key man". Meaning that if your point dude bails, you can get out. We couldn't get them to do that, but Mark said he'd stick around and he did. We broke up and Mark was still there and then he left later and went to Grand Royal.
Kurt: On the Etc. album, was it hard to put together your thoughts for every song?
Adam: I asked people if they thought it'd be cheesy to do liner notes and everyone said that people wouldn't mind. I thought it might come off as too self-congratulatory or self-important, like this whole culture of revisiting old works on the DVD or "Behind the Music". I thought it might smack of that. So that's why on mine I just kind of blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. I definitely had to name-check people, too.
Kurt: Do you have anything else you want to throw in here?
Adam: Well, keep your eyes peeled for Dear You because that should be coming out soon. I think it's a good record that deserves to be heard and fuck anyone who doesn't think so.
Kurt: Oh, one last thing I wanted to ask, your daughter who is five, does she know about Jawbreaker?
Adam: Yeah. She knows.
Kurt: Does she listen to the music?
Adam: Yeah, I'm sure she's heard it, but she's really into classical music. She's kind of obsessed with it. I think that's something that's really cool about her because I haven't pushed that on her. She's just taken to it. I gave all these old Jawbreaker shirts to my friend who works at the video store and she made a quilt for my kids. They have a Jawbreaker blanket. It's got all the shirts on both sides and it's lined with this silky material. So when she goes to sleep at night she says, "Where's my Jawbreaker?"
Kurt: That's cute.
Adam: But she's seen me play with J Church. The other day when we got the artwork for the CD back I was showing it to her and she thought that was real neat. But she probably doesn't totally understand. She probably takes it for granted and thinks that everybody's dad plays in a band.
Kurt: Does she know Blake and Chris?
Adam: Yeah. Chris is great with kids. And Blake was really great with her. We went and spent some time on the East Coast and a bunch of us went to the beach and they got along famously.
Kurt: Wow. That's cool. Whenever I talk to bands who have kids, I always like hearing about it, because my parents aren't artistic or anything. I grew up with normal parents. They're business people. For me, I would love to have artistic parents. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wish you were my dad. *laughs*
Kurt: That might present a problem, though, because I'm 23 and you're what? Like 30?
Adam: I would've been 11 or 12. I was 12 years old when I met your mother.
Kurt: Well, I never thought I looked like my dad too much and the more I keep staring at the Jawbreaker albums, it just makes sense.