Members of punk bands typically are not thought of as academics. So the first surprise about the three fellows who comprise Jawbreaker is that they all have college degrees. The second is that since the release of their first album, "Unfun," in 1990, they've been the iconoclastic punk band, emo-core kings.
"Unfun," released on independent label Shredder, earmarked Jawbreaker as a fast, rough-and-tumble group concerned with girl problems and getting through school. But the way singer and guitarist Blake Schumacher tells it, they never really meant to be a punk band.
In a recent interview in a Gainesville, Florida, club during the band's latest tour, eclipse spoke with Schumacher as he was tuning his new Les Paul guitar in preparation for the night's performance. In contrast to most rock-star interviews there were no hijinx or spouting off about drugs and sex and kidding around. Schumacher, who has a degree in English literature from New York University, turned out to be a most friendly and articulate person.
He blames himself for the different sound on their latest album "Dear You," the first of a three-record deal with Geffen Records that's caused many of their long-time fans to write them off as sellouts. Schumacher's explanation: "That's my fault. I was singing in a key I didn't have to scream in."
The following is the interview transcript with Schumacher, who no longer sees himself as a punk, but a career musician trying to make a living doing what he deems correct.
E: How do you guys figure you fit into the punk genre with your college degrees and romantic attitudes?
S: It's strange. I think we fit in perfectly, because most punks now are relatively educated. Most bands now are relatively educated. People in bands now like Fugazi, Jawbox, Bad Religion. I mean there's a lot of people who do bands and school concurrently. The punks themselves, the kids who go to the shows all the time, aren't too into school--or hardcore people, f*** the world types. But in terms of people being in bands and doing records and labels and stuff, there's a lot of education in there.So I don't feel like a realanomaly. Is that the right usage of that word? I tried to pull that off. I don't particularly identify with the punk rock scene, because I don't hang out and drink beer in the bushes. I mean I've done that but it's not something I do too much anymore. I'm kinda too old for that now. I mean I can drink in my house. I don't know sometimes. I feel a little out of the loop. I get a little self-conscious and go: I'm 28 years old what the f*** am I doing in a shrub drinking beer? Sometimes I do it. I'll do it on a dare, but it's not a regular thing for me. That's not to say that I'm doing anything more mature in my paths, but I've never been a real super social animal, which is probably the weirdest thing about all of us being in this band. It's that we get up in front of a lot of people, but we don't hang out with a lot of people.
E: On earlier records your voice is so scratchy and this one it�s crisp and clean. Is that a result of production or did you physically learn how to sing better if better singing is what it is?
S: I worked really hard on singing and wrote in a key that I could sing more in and scream less in. So I would be happy to take the blame for that smoothness that I know people have found really objectionable compared to older records. That�s my fault.Don�t blame Geffen or production or anything.
E: Are you unhappy with it?
S: No. I wrote it that way. I like it. I wanted it to be a sad record, like all our records, melancholy. And I wanted a more staidtone for it. I didn�t want to scream. I also have to kind of watch out for my voice. After my surgery, I can thrash myself certainly. I�ve got to watch out for it. We still play stuff from all our records.
E: So how do you feel about the sellout talk since Dear You, that you guys have changed your tune so to speak?
S: I�m kind of inconsistent by personality. So, I�ve been called a hypocrite, and maybe I am, but I also feel free to change my mind, and to adapt, develop. I�m happy to be inconsistent. There�s something consistent in the inconsistency. Like a lot of this album, Dear You, is about the divided self, that you�re of two minds. That song "Million" particularly. It�s kind of all and none. A lot of new songs we�ve been writing address that. I don�t know exactly if that�s a schism in my personality or being a Gemini or what. It�s there.
E: Green Day sort of highlighted the "year punk broke" affair but now it seems like that excitement has cooled down a bit. How do you think that affects Jawbreaker, if at all?
S: I don't think it affects us at all, because somehow this band remains relatively unfazed by all things around it, in terms of popularity. We're not that big a band. We're big enough to be independent financially and that we have a support group of fans that are very dedicated. But the bulk of the people are always going to buy the shittiest stuff. You know no amount of like commercial punk rock revolution is going to change that. The Alice In Chains of the world will always rise to the top like pond scum.
E: Ever see yourself going back to school?
S: That's my plan. Definitely. I don't see a long life in rock. It's got a limited life span. Right now I'm really enjoying writing music and the past couple of years it's been productive. I feel like I'm always learning how to write songs, put things together so as long as that's happening, it's viable. I feel like I haven't written the song that I've really wanted to write yet. So that keeps me into it. But I trust there will come a day when I just don't want to do that stuff anymore. I'm down for doing something that's going to endure, though. I don't want to just flirt with it. I'm fully doing it now�that's what I do.
E: This is your career at this point?
S: It is and it's a strange thing, but I put a lot of time into it. It is work. I think about it all the time, probably too much.
E: How does Geffen treat you guys?
S: They stay out of our way basically. They're cool. It's very hands off. They tell us what they think we ought to do, but it's basically up to us. There's this thing of not knowing, when we turn something down which we're apt to do which we think is bogus, that we're really left wondering 'well this is their business are we blowing it?' or whatever. Then we just do whatever we do. They're cool. They're really supportive.
E: In the past you've said you were curious how Dear You would be received, so now almost a year into it, what's the response looking like?
S: It's gone through the usual Jawbreaker record cycle I think. When it first came out there was total recoil. We got, like from older fans, 'What the f*** is this. It totally sucks. I don't get it.' Now I feel like people who've bought it and listened to it a few times are going 'yeah it's cool. I see why it's a Jawbreaker record. Lyrically it's the same features.' Better. I think better. I look at it as our fourth record and that's it; being at a different stage in the game. I think with our fans, it happens every record even with the 24-hour same cold wave. So I'm learning to be a bit more thick-skinned. It takes people a while longer to digest stuff and that's good, because that's how I am with records. The records I end up liking I don't like right off the bat. I want to call our next record Tenth Listen. That's the test.
E: When writing the lyrics do you put a lot of thought into them or do they sort of erupt from you?
S: Some of them come out pretty naturally, but I think the thought is in there. I've gone back and looked at them and thought 'that's exactly what was going on at that time' and there's analogies and metaphors in there that I wasn't too aware of writing but that I can read now retroactively without giving myself too much credit. I look back and go 'right, this is all what's going on.' So somehow those thoughts were organized.
E: What bands are you personally listening to nowadays?
S: I will always love The Smiths and Morrisey in any capacity. Pavement I think is one of my all-time favorite bands. I love that band. I'm kind of ignorant, I mean I buy records and stuff. I like Unwound. They're like the coolest band in forever. I like Sebadoh a lot. I like Superchunk a lot. I like Green Day a lot, and I didn't used to. I like them more since Dookie. I mean their songs get tougher and tougher. They used to write songs about girls, which is now what we write. They're a really fun band. I just got Insomniac and I road the bus down Mission with my headphones listening, and it was the most fun I've had in so long.
E: While on tour, where do you get your clothes washed?
S: Coin mat. It's great. I love doing laundry. There's this Zen to it. You feel useful again. Being on tour you forget that you can do anything, 'cause you just drive, set up and play, and you sometimes feel like an unreal person. So doing something as fundamental as laundry or cooking is really cool, 'cause you rehumanize. That's why bands go crazy. Big rock bands go insane I think, because they have everything done for them, like they're children. That's why rock stars act like brats, because they can't open the door to their room. They're not allowed to buy their own food. It f***s people up.