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Complete Jawbreaker Page: Interviews

02 Nov. 1995: Passive Retainer #1

This interview took place at the Cat's Cradle before Jawbreaker played their November 2nd show. It was conducted by Carlyn O'Connell, Logan Mock-Bunting, and Dave Laney. For ease of reading, all of our dialogue will be listed under one heading: PR.


PR: Ok, I have a question for you (Blake).

Blake: Wait, will you give me five bucks if I guess what this question is? Is it about our new album?

PR: No. I see you're still smoking.

B: Fuck yeah, it's New York City though. I got robbed so I decided to start taking back. It's part of my take back the night program- leather, chain smoking..all the things that make life a little sweeter.

PR: Speaking of vices, I was wondering how big a role of alcohol plays in your life..after reading some of your lyrics like the ones to Kiss The Bottle and...

B: Not a big part at all. Whatever I say about drinking goes entirely for myself.

C: I don't drink anymore. I used to...

B: These guys are very mild.

C: I used to think Jim Beam made a great breakfast drink. But now I've wrecked my stomach severely enough. I'm the lame one in the band. These guys are out having fun--Whooooo! I go in and take a shower and get some sleep.

B: The older songs are more-they're are more references...

PR: To being alcohol laden?

C: Well Kiss the Bottle isn't autobiographical is it?

B: Not necessarily.

C: Isn't it a scenario about, like, the street?

B: Yeah, that song is about our corner where we used to live, because we lived in a pretty hard little 'burb.

PR: Where was that?

B: It was in the mission.

PR: Do you not live there anymore?

B: We do, we all still live there but we moved up that street. It was a pretty hard luck little block. It's still like the major kind of heroin zone. There was a lot of fucked up shit going on there.

C: It was a good place to live though.

B: Yeah. I'm not an alcoholic though (laughter) and I'm just smoking this cigarette because it looks cool (more laughter).

PR: Speaking of the mission, in the thank you's from 24-Hour you mention No-Pants Lance of J-Church. I was wondering if there was a story behind the no pants part. Did you tour with them?

C: We never toured with them. We used to live with them. I used to live in the same house as Lance. We used to live across the hall from him (Blake) and Adam, this is all the heroin street.

PR: They are coming here on the 16th.

B: Well, I'll bet you a lot of money that he won't be wearing pants.

C: He always wears shorts.

PR: I thought it involved nudity.

C: You can see a lot of his calves.

B: Or he'll be wearing his thermals underneath.

PR: Where are you going next?

C: Atlanta.

PR: What do you do to pass time in the van?

C: Sleep, eat, drive, listen to music.

B: There's been a lot of gaming going on. Like dice and letter games.

A: Lots of backgammon and chess.

PR: Evil. Evil. Gambling.

B: Vice.

PR: Any connect-4?

C: No but we have battleship.

B: We did connect-4 in Ireland, that was the last Connect-4 session. They're really good at it there.

(Chris points at the wall)

C: My god what is that thing?

PR: It's a five-breasted...

A: Butt monster.

PR: A friend wanted me to ask you a question about the New World Order. Do you have any profound statements on it?

C: As pertaining to what? It's a big blanket term.

PR: As pertaining to the select few taking over and controlling everything.

C: They've always been in control.

PR: Jawbreaker is the New World Order.

B: Exactly, we're masters of our own destiny. We have an internal world order. In the Jawbreaker camp. If you limit your vision to a small few, then you're in charge of your world, and that way affect the larger world. You make your world strong.

A: Our van is a moon. And the US and Canada right now are orbiting us.

B: We are orbiting the New World Order, we're the This World Order, just checking in nightly.

(Jawbreaker continues to feast on oreos, chips and salsa, apples and pretzels. We discuss their eating habits while on tour).

B: It's all a matter of finding salad and soup. That's the meal of choice for me. And for god's sake get your dressing on the side, otherwise they'll drop a little piece of iceberg lettuce into a sea of Ranch (talk of local restaurants eventually progresses to songwriting)

PR: How do you write songs? Is there a leader or is it more if a collective effort?

B: It usually starts with me. Like on the last album and stuff and on the one before too, I'd write a lot of stuff by myself and then bring it in, but then it would change pretty significantly when we would all get in on it. The way I would arrange it, a lot of times, it would be too long or boring or whatever and we'd go "come one. let's just cut to the chase and go to this thing". Sometimes we just jam out the parts- after the skeleton is set up it's pretty organic.

PR: How do you guys put in the samples- like the Jack Kerouac in Condition Oakland?

C: We resurrected Jack Kerouac from the dead, got him to speak into a microphone.

B: It's usually pretty whimsical. Like, that one was just like a five in the morning type of idea. A lot of times we'd just put the tape in and see where it fell. we'd just tape shut off the radio or whatever and try dropping it in. Sometimes it would take a few times and then it would fit.

C: That sample on Bivouac was completely luck.

PR: How did your surgery for throat cancer have an effect on the new songs? There's an obvious vocal difference, but is that because of the surgery or just your singing evolving?

B: It's just the way the songs were written. Right now our set is pretty mixed up. It will be like 1/3 of the new album, 1/2 of 24 Hour, and 1/2 of Unfun or whatever. I think they all pretty much sit well together in a set. It doesn't seem that radical. But there is like a quieter- there's more singing and less screaming on the new album. I think that's my development of, like, writing with guitar. Yeah, a lot of people ask that; they come up and ask that "oh it's because you had surgery, now you sing like-quieter". But I had surgery before 24-Hour, and also I didn't have cancer, I had a polyp, which is like a callous on your vocal chord.

PR: I heard from somewhere you had to do vocal exercises.

B: Well, I do sometimes. I saw a teacher for a few lessons, but then I got self-conscious and quit.

PR: Bill Clinton does that.

B: Yeah, he has polyps.

PR: While we are talking rumors, I heard from somewhere, again, that a doctor told you that if you kept on singing like you were that you'd lose your voice in two years.

B: No, the only dramatic detail of that thing was that the doctor I saw in England, I had surgery in London in the middle of our European tour, at that point my throat was swelling up a lot because I was singing every night, and I had these things on my throat, and it got really bad, like in Ireland I was coughing up blood and stuff. He said that it can happen that your throat will swell to the point where it becomes asphyxiated and you can't breath. And without surgery, there was some outside chance that may have happened.

PR: So the vocals are more of an evolution type thing.

B: Yeah, I mean, I couldn't play Unfun, like the whole album without totally trashing myself.

PR: Like eating Captain Crunch does to the roof of your mouth?

B: Yeah, basically it would pretty much shred me.

C: Nice metaphor.

PR: How long have you guys been playing together?

B: Shows since '89.

C: Playing together for nine years now.

PR: How did you guys meet?

C: They met in high school. I met them in college.

PR: Where did you guys go to college?

B: New York University. Chris and I went there.

(We find out they have a bio sheet that tells these facts, fortunately it's only a page long, compared to other band's eight page ones and Adam wrote it).

PR: Have you lost any freedom on signing onto Geffen?

B: There were financial constrictions, in terms of time and studio. In our studio, like we have a rehearsal space now with an eight track. We're still in the initial phase of contending with flack and that sort of stuff.

(find out they have a video for fireman. They wrote it, and had fun. Blake is in drag. "It's high camp" says Blake)

C: We have complete artistic control. That's what we asked for and we wouldn't have signed with anything less.

PR: But how much control do they have over you? I guess you get to control the fact that the show tonight is $5, all-ages, and starts at 8:00.

C: The label has absolutely nothing to do with your show, It has nothing to do with booking. Booking is your own thing.

PR: I heard that majors will book shows for you.

B: No, I think it's a matter of how informed the band is, going into something like that. They might try to assign you, if you're unknowing, to a booking agency who will do a lot of fucked up shit like give you $20 carnival shows every night on he first tour or whatever. I think that happens to bands that don't know better or haven't done any touring. But when you sign to a label, they don't really have any control over your performance activity.

PR: But the songs are owned by them now, right?

B: No, they own the recording. It's like we recorded on their dime basically. So, it's like Dear You is their recording, but they're our songs.

PR: Can you take the songs and put them on a comp if you want?

C: We have some leeway. We can if we want to, but we have to get special permission.

PR: What do you guys listen to? What were you listening to in the van?

B: Sonic Youth- Washing Machine. We only listen to DGC records now. It's part of the contract (laughs) Actually, I just got some tapes from them, and I had been wanting to hear the new Sonic Youth.

PR: Is this one of those standard boring interviews?

B: No, you didn't lead with "What happened to your voice on this record?"

PR: You guys have the same shoes (Adam and Blake). Are you sponsored by any of that stuff?

C: Converse. We get two free pairs of shoes every two or three months.

A: This is something that happened before we signed though. It's pretty lax, the guy just came up to us and was like "you don't have to sign anything, just wear them if you want to wear them". He said he needed a picture so that he could show someone that we were wearing them and we were in a band. A lot of companies are doing it. If you notice hardcore bands, they're totally outfitted in skate gear. We'd rather be sponsored by Baskin-Robins and Michellin tires.

PR: Have you had any bad breakdowns?

A: No, but a couple of lame things have happened. We got our windows smashed in New York and they stole Blake's clothes. Hence his new outfit (a reference to the pleather jacket and black jeans).

B: I'm wearing black. I'm in mourning for my old clothes.

A: We're a little more high tech now. We have a lap-top and we brought video camera to document certain things. We had a pager but Chris lost the pager.

C: At the rest stop in Maryland.

A: The new van is so quiet. You can roll up the windows and it's unreal; it's conducive to sleep.

C: The old van we used to have was an '86, we bought it in '88 and used it until just like June of this year.

PR: Did you name it?

C: Monhybo. It's living quietly in San Francisco at the moment with my car now, but we've had it for so long and it's been on so many tours that so many things have broken down in it. There's not a single, like, seal left in the van. You drive it and it's like SSSSSSSHEEAAAAA- and that's with all the windows closed.

A: But we didn't get rid of the van though, It's Chris' van so it's still in commission.

C: We've had that thing for like nine years now.

(Blake walks out of the room-talk of their old neighborhood is again started- Caryn asks if they know any of the members of Strawman)

C: Yeah, they live in a slightly scarier part of the neighborhood.

A: I played on a Strawman record.

PR: Which one?

A: Shoot Me Up?

PR: Excellent.

C: What's Blake on?

A: He's on the Milk Cult.

C: Yeah, that's right but didn't he do, like backup vocals on someone else's.

A: I think so.

PR: Screeching Weasel.

A: Yeah, that's right. I wouldn't call San Francisco a big scene, but I got to go play, like within months- this is rad, I'm actually proud of this. I went on tour with us, and then I went home. Then a day later I went on tour with J-Church for an entire tour, and somewhere in there I got to record the Strawman album. So it was like- I was workin'.

PR: How did you like it?

A: It was fun, it was really rad. It was very challenging because everyone played drastically, I mean same sort of genre I guess, but very different.

PR: All very talented bands.

A: I love those guys.

PR: How do you like touring?

A: This time it's really rad, because we have the new van and stuff and because, like, we're staying in Motel 6's or Super 8's every night, it's very cool.

C: We've been staying in Motel 6's for the last few tours, but now we can afford to have enough beds for everyone and no one has to like "Ok, two of you hide underneath the bench, two of us will go check in, we'll check you in, and then fight over who has to sleep in sleeping bags."

A: So we all have a clean bed and a shower every night. I mean, it sounds snobby but it totally makes a difference.

PR: More fun?

A: It's just easier. It's nice. I still get homesick and stuff, and lame things will happen, and shows will drop out or whatever.

C: You can at least attempt to get enough sleep.

PR: How long's the tour?

A: This one is pretty long. It's the longest one we've been on.

C: 60 days. I calculated it.

A: The first one we did was like 48 shows in 10 weeks.

(start talking about their good shows and bad shows)

A: New York was cool. You know- it's New York and you want to do good. DC, Halloween- my girlfriend was at the show.

PR: Is she with you guys?

A: No, she can't. Her family lives in D.C.

PR: Does Blake have a girlfriend? I know you and Chris do?

A: Ummm, Blake doesn't. I don't want to speak for him. I don't know, maybe he does. We should ask him. I can't answer these questions. But those were some good shows. I get surprised, you know. We've been playing shows in places we've never been before, like some places in Canada.

PR: Do you guys listen to Propaghandi?

A: Yeah, we played with Propaghandi. Not recently, this was a couple of tours ago. They're really cool guys. I think we played with them in North Dakota or something.

C: In a video arcade that was run by a 70 year-old.

A: They were really cool , and they've put out a ton of shit since then and everyone raves about it.

PR: How old is everybody?

A: I'm going to be 29 in a couple of months.

C: I'm already 29. Blake's 27.

PR: How did you set up which bands you're touring with?

A: We made a list of bands we wanted to play with, that we had played with before or were friends with or whatever, and I don't know how it happened but everyone got on.

PR: Do you use a booking agency?

A: Blake booked the first tour, and then I booked a bunch after that- but then we turned it over to a booking agency- but we are dealing with people that know us and what we want. (Switches to tattoos, abruptly).

C: Tattoos are an individual decision. I don't think a group tattooing is a good rule to live by.

B: I think girlfriends are generally a good rule of thumb- names right here (forearm).

PR: Do you have a girlfriend? We were talking about it earlier.

B: What business of that is yours?

A: I tried to answer, but I said you'd have to ask the man.

B: Well, I don't have a girlfriend.

PR: I wasn't coming onto you or anything.

B: You want some of me? I'm a good lover.

PR: I'm sure you are, but that's all right thanks.

B: A little out of practice, but get me started and forget about it. (Blake is restringing his guitar).

PR: Do you put new strings on every night?

B: Yeah.

PR: That's why you are a good lover, right?

B: I'm a tough lover. Yeah, I usually break a string every night- even with the new ones. So I've got to do it.

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