Life Goes On
For Jawbreaker, life on a major label just means more broken guitars, surgeries, and peanut-butter-and-Fritos sandwiches.
If this interview had been written nine months ago, it would have been called "Jawbreaker Sells Out." Because it was about that time that the band, after six years of independent recording, touring, and cred harvesting, signed on with major heavy DGC. Of course, the indie scene was very distraught. How, they wondered, could independent wrists go unslit when a good band was landing a good deal with a [cough] major label? Life became truly insufferable.
If all the dejected scenesters felt like they had it rough, they should have tried walking a mile in Jawbreaker's Airwalks during the last few years. In 1992, Blake Schwarzenbach, the band's singer/guitarist, had throat surgery to remove a nasty polyp from his vocal chords, and had to sing at a show in Norway two nights later. ("It kind of screwed me up, because I was used to singing with this gravelly voice � due to my fucked-up throat � and then after the surgery my voice was suddenly all high and pristine.") That very night he broke his last guitar. ("Miraculously, some kid in the audience had actually brought a left-handed guitar to the show, and I was able to finish the show using that. Very odd.")
Soon after, drummer Adam Pfahler underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, and then caught a funky bug called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which collapsed a vein in his damn arm. ("Completely unrelated to Blake's polyp, mind you." Sure, Adam.) To top it off, within mere months of Adam's recovery, bassist Chris Bauermeister's armpit hair exploded mid-concert. ("I didn't even realize anything had happened, and then there were all these sirens...") Weeks of intensive treatment at the Squire Natural Clinic in Zurich helped carry the bassist back up to snuff, although he now perspires with a slight hobble.
The road is indeed a cruel mistress. Even when you're touring in the sumptuous cradle of Foo Fighters and backing up a major label release with a tasty power-single like "Fireman," you find that certain creature comforts can be hard to come by. [Roll the interview.]
Chris: We make sure to ask for peanut butter and bread in our contract. It's easy to pack with you for food the next day.
Adam: You can only eat so much McDonald's before life loses its luster.
grid: Got any other road recipes?
Blake: Well, there's always the peanut butter/banana/Fritos sandwich.
grid: Shut up.
Blake: No, it's awesome. First you take really shitty white bread...
Blake: Fuck, yeah. Elvis Presley used to love his peanut butter and banana sandwiches. He'd fry them up. Anyway, you take an Elvis, and mash Fritos into it. It gives it a sodium edge, just right for modern palates.
grid: That sounds like something you'd eat on a dare.
Adam: Well, today Scott, our sound guy, put a Mounds inside a peanut butter sandwich on a dare.
grid: Oh yeah, I'd eat fifty of those before I even tasted the Frito version.
Blake: It's a pleasure denied to the faint of heart.
grid: I know you're sick of talking about it and it's old news, but readers in Utah will want to know. Why did all of you marry the same woman, a wicked sea hag named Ursula?
Adam: You mean why did we sign on to a major?
grid: Yes. [Just testing.] Please give us the spiel.
Blake: I'm not giving that spiel. If your readers don't know by now then they're probably not interested.
Adam: They don't need to know the sordid details of our defection from the indie scene.
grid: Let me ask you this, then. Has the major label move gone according to your hopes and expectations?
Adam: It's hard to say. It doesn't feel too different yet. We're still playing pretty much the same kind of places.
Blake: Only time will tell if this was a good decision.
grid: Worst case scenario — if it just didn't pan out, and you went back to more of an independent status, do you think at this point you would have any regrets about the move?
Blake: I make it a point not to regret anything. Especially any decision I've agonized over as much as I have over this. There are new aspects of major life that I'm not really into. Some surprises. But they're just annoyances, not regrets.
grid: Creatively, are they staying out of your hair?
Blake: Yeah, they're never around. Our relationship with them is pretty remote. We have people there that we deal with, but that's about it.
grid: Are you able to write songs on the road?
Blake: Not at all. I'm always afraid of people hearing me. I can't even sit around and play guitar while I'm hanging out, because I don't want people to hear me play something bad.
grid: Where in the wide world of music do you figure Jawbreaker fits in?
Blake: We've never been a part of any scene. Not even the punk scene, although we've been aligned with that genre by others. Nothing we've done has ever been very carefully plotted. Any resemblance to any scenes living or dead is purely coincidental.
grid: What makes you write?
Blake: I just write songs all the time, because I'm unhappy if I'm not doing it. And I don't feel I've done it real well yet, so I need to keep at it.
grid: What do you consider bad music?
Blake: The "new alternative," like your Hootie, Collective Soul, Dave Matthews, etc. And modern R&B.; I don't know names on the R&B;, I just know it when I hear it. The "jams." I think it started with Bell Biv DeVoe, and then all the helicopters and Hummers got into the videos, and it went from there. That music is very hard for me to hear, I don't get those songs at all.
grid: Do you think that might be because there's a cultural element that you're not a part of and can't really tune in to?
Blake: No, I think it's a marketing thing. It's like the Menudo syndrome of plugging in young buff men to sing these generic songs.
grid: Do you guys like to read on the road?
Blake: Yeah, I'm reading "The Sound and the Fury," which I didn't think I'd be able to read on tour. But after I got through the first part I found it really gripping. Faulkner has intimidated me since high school, so it feels kind of good to read it now.
grid: Do any literary themes find their way into your songs?
Blake: I recently re-read a bunch of J.D. Salinger stuff, and ended up writing a song called "Esm�," based loosely on one of his short stories.
grid: Would you ever eat a sandwich made out of peanut butter and J.D.
Blake: Yes, I would. In fact, we are going to start requiring that p.b.-and-hair sandwiches be provided in our dressing rooms.
grid: Do you prefer wrestling actual pygmies, or short people who just act like pygmies?
Chris: We travel with an assortment of authentic and imitation pygmies. Although I'd personally rather sucker punch a Swede.
grid: Do you lick your palms before crossing a busy street?
Adam: Of course not.
grid: When do you plan to take that possum out of your...
Okay, okay. I was making things up a little there, toward the end. In real life we ran out of things to talk about, and I left. Later that evening I ate a Chicken Club Burrito and some Pepsi.