If there's anyone that could teach Alanis Morrisette a thing or two about real love and hurt, it would be Jawbreaker's Blake Schwarzenbach. The sure-fire way to tell that a singer is faking their emotion is to read their interviews. Failed relationships, remorse and struggle are recurring themes in Jawbreaker's four album history, but the topics are handled with real emotion and sincerity. Dear You, Jawbreaker's latest, is a rarity in that it is full of real honesty but has serious commercial potential. By the way, did you know that Alanis' big hit was co-written by the guy who co-wrote Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and some of Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet?
"Real sad music is something that I have been missing a lot lately," says Blake. "You never realize it, but a lot of pop now, and a lot of radio music. I mean, I don't know if it was ever radio music, but I haven't heard really good sad music in a long time. I hear it in Seam sometimes: Codeine's a little heavy, but they've got moments. I just don't know where you take solace in music, but I've been missing it a lot. A lot of these bands now that are alternative and big, I'm impressed by them because they sound so pro. I'm like, 'Oh, that's the new shit,' but I don't communicate with it emotionally. Well, that's tough and that's well-executed pop, but where's the grieving? Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" is such an amazing break-your-heart record."
Fair enough, but what's all this talk of radio songs and Sinead O'Connor? We're still talking about the same Jawbreaker that released three independent albums of hard-hitting, melodic punk rock, right? Not exactly. Those who think they haven't heard something from Jawbreaker's major-label debut may be wrong as it's a far-removed but still natural progression. To start with, Blake's voice has been reduced from a brash yelp to a hoarse whisper.
"It was two years ago, in Europe. I had a polyp on my left vocal chord. We were in the middle of a tour of Europe and had to schedule emergency surgery because I couldn't sing anymore and I was coughing up blood. The last show before I went under the knife I coughed up something extraordinary. Anyways, I got it removed and that was basically it. It changed my approach to singing. I can't scream anymore; I can't do it. Polyps are chronic. I'd rather sing if I can. It's what I've always wanted to do. I just didn't know how. It's also really good that I don't scream; that's how you develop a polyp."
Blake's singing has a great deal to do with the change in Jawbreaker. On "Accident Prone," he souns almost like Richard Butler. A good deal of the rest of Dear You take on a slightly British feel as well. "People say that; I don't hear it in our music, but I do listen to a lot of it. I was an avid Psychidelic Furs fan in high school. Avid. They were my band. I've recently discovered the Smiths in the past two years and I'm just obsessed. I like a lot of English music; I think lyrically it's really strong and it's really stark, too. I like that they have a strong sense of place. To me, the Smiths, even though it's very over-wrought and diva-esque, it's still tough because he conveys what a desolate place England is. I think a lot of that urban blight is in the music, in the lyrics, and I really respect that. I don't feel that in many U.S. bands, where they have a real sense of place and you can get a sense of dispair. We're an urband band, we've always been a city band and we tend to focus on relationships. I think those are also urban issues. I don't know, I just tend to connect with that kind of stuff.
Relationships and "that kind of stuff" may not be the most original of themes, but they are ones that Jawbreaker fans have always connected with. "I find that really encouraging," says Blake. "I'm totally into it, I love the letters we get and the connection we have with people. When they say 'This is my story, like that song, that's me.' I find that totally...like I have a place on this earth, because when I write my shit I feel very alone and cut off and I write alone. So when somebody relates to it, I think 'OK, good. I'm not totally vain and idiotic.' This isn't just my story or whatever. Even though I try to keep it personal, there's still some application to other people. Someone's getting something out of it, so I'm into it. I dig it. You like to put something out and have people appreciate it, even the thickest skinned conformist who says, 'Yeah, whatever.' We do out shit and fuck them if they don't dig it."
"When people say, 'You guys are namby-pamby,' that stuff still stings. So I'l glad when people like it. If they didn't, I'd just keep it in my journal and not put it out. I find it strange doing interviews because our records are pretty personal. There's more of my shit in the records than ever gets in an interview."
The release of Dear You has left the band cautious and ready for criticism. All the typical cries of "sellout" have been voiced as expected. "I think I am defensive about it, but I shouldn't be. I just automatically do that because we're paranoid by nature and we ended up putting out a record on a major on top of that. It's just like a war of nerves, you know? Before it came out and I listened to it I was like, 'I like this.' This is my favorite record. This is more me than any record we've done. I felt more personally connected to it. Then when it came out we were all really guarded. So we are naturally on the defensive; I don't feel like anyone's stuck a knife in me yet though."