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Complete Jawbreaker Page: Interviews

January 1996: Pitchfork / February 1996: Turntable)
By Ryan Schreiber

Jawbreaker: Rebel Yell

After a few independent albums, Jawbreaker have hit the big time, and while some of their fans might think it really sucks, they're going to be famous.

I talked to Adam Pfahler about things to come.

Pitchfork: Why did you choose to sample the Christopher Walken speech from Annie Hall?

Adam: I had that on my answering machine for a long time... People were into it. Actually, Chris and Blake were into it a long time ago and we just got around to using it.

Pitchfork: How did the Jawbox/Jawbreaker tour go?

Adam: The "Monsters of Jaw" tour? It was pretty cool, we'd been playing with them on and off since we first went out in 1990, so we go back. That last tour was pretty cool because we got to play at the places we'd never been. It was awesome. Those guys are great.

Pitchfork: Yeah, I saw you when you were here in Minneapolis.

Adam: I think that was the first show we played with them.

Pitchfork: Do you wear earplugs when you play live?

Adam: I do not... And I should. People keep bothering me to go to a doctor and get those special kind of earplugs, but I can't hear them yelling at me.

Pitchfork: If you had one supernatural power, what would it be?

Adam: I have a lot of supernatural powers. Actually, I would have to be cheesy and say, "Fly." What about you?

Pitchfork: I'd have to say I'd either wanna be able to spit acid or like, be able to be invisible.

Adam: Invisible... There's a book that'll teach you how to be invisible to the government. That's like, halfway there. You know, lose your social security number, get your name out of the selective service, etc. If they don't know who you are, no one knows who you are. I think it's called "How to become invisible."

Pitchfork: What would you do if you had a million dollars?

Adam: I think I'd buy a house.

Pitchfork: The million dollar house?

Adam: No. No way. I'd probably save it. I don't know. I pretty much have everything I need. You know, I have a bicycle, a nice apartment, I go on trips. You know, I go on tour a lot, so I go to different places with the band, so I'm not that extravagant. We get to go weird places.

Pitchfork: What's the weirdest place you've ever been to?

Adam: Fullerton. No, we went way up to Norway once, which was pretty bizarre. It was really cold. I mean, it was bizarre, but it was great.

Pitchfork: What was your favorite video game?

Adam: I gotta say, I'm kind of old school. I'm not too into the fighting games of the 90's. I'm kinda like, Galaga. My girlfriend's really into Defender. There's a Defender machine down in Santa Cruz on the boardwalk. I just got this amazing book called "Invasion of the Space Invaders," which came out in the late 70's. It's about how to beat the games. It's sort of a brief history of video games, and it has how to beat Space Invaders, Asteroids, Battle Zone, Missile Command. Like the really old school games. And the funny thing is, is the text is written by Martin Amos, who now, is a big author. Really, it's hysterical.

Pitchfork: Who was your first screen crush?

Adam: Probably Marilyn Monroe. I mean, not that I saw her on the silver screen, but...

Pitchfork: How old were you?

Adam: I was pretty young. I was always kind of a movie buff.

Pitchfork: What was the worst movie you saw over the last year?

Adam: Jumanji. It was really a disappointment because you know, the trailers show the raddest shit in the movie and then you turn up and it was like, that was the commercial. The rest of it kind of blew.

Pitchfork: Sort of that kind of effect where, I don't know if you remember it, the old movie with Kirstie Allie and John Laroquette, "Madhouse."

Adam: Oh my god. You see, there are bad movies that are so fucking bad that they're great, and then... you know. I see so many bad movies, I forget them.

Pitchfork: I don't know if you've ever seen the "Re-Animator" films.

Adam: Those are awesome. You know what was a good movie that I saw in the last year? "Safe." It didn't play very long and it wasn't in wide release, but it was this really creepy movie about this environmental sickness that people started getting. It was about this woman who become allergic to basically everything, so she has to sequester herself in this commune up in the hills. Yeah, that was a really rad one.

Pitchfork: People compare you a lot to sort of a more depressing Green Day. What do you think of that?

Adam: You know, people gotta compare you to something. They always have to have sort of a name for it. That doesn't break my heart. Green Day's a great band. I guess I can see where they're going with that, but I wouldn't say it. If somebody asked me what kind of music we play, I just say, "You just kind of have to hear it, I guess." I hesitate to call it pop-punk because there's such a stigma attached to that.

Pitchfork: And you just can't call it "Alternative."

Adam: If I ever say that, please. It's time for me to retire. 'What kind of music do you play?' Modern Rock. 'What the fuck does that mean?' We're a three-piece so if we wanna fill up the room with sound, we've gotta be noisy, but we quiet down when we slow down.

Pitchfork: How's the band getting along with each other?

Adam: We hate each other. No, it's fine. We go on a tour, and then at the end it's time to go home. We get along okay, though. We've been together since, fuck, a long time. With Jawbreaker, since 1989.

Pitchfork: What was the worst job you ever had?

Adam: I did phone work. I didn't do phone sales, but I'd call up people and do like a survey for research. I was calling people up and asking how long they had their heat on or if there's a handgun in the house or whatever. So that was a shitty job because there were no windows in the room where I worked and we only got ten minute breaks and nobody wants to talk to you on the phone. I mean, that was difficult. When I was out of high school, I had a job delivering pizza. That was kind of bad... What else did I do when I got up here? ...I was a video clerk. That was actually not such a bad job. I worked in a warehouse... I was a P.A. on a television commerical. That's hard because they make you work like sixteen straight hours and you only get paid for one day. So you might make like a hundred bucks a day, but they'll work you until five in the morning. Sure, it's glamorous, you get to hold a walkie-talkie, but in the end, you're just fetching coffee and getting yelled at.

Pitchfork: Who's the kid on the inside of the CD giving us the finger?

Adam: Oh, that's um... I can't tell. It's a relative of mine. But the other picture is of Chris. The one with the suit.

Pitchfork: What was junior high school like for you?

Adam: I went to three different junior highs, so those were the awkward years. I don't know, junior high seems to be the time when you go through the most shit. It's like you're hardcore into puberty and you're just starting to figure out what you're about and what you believe in and stuff. So, I ditched a lot, but you know, it was hard. I made a lot of friends. I mean, it's bizarre because I actually still know a couple of people I knew in junior high.

Pitchfork: What's your least favorite fashion trend of the moment?

Adam: I'm getting a little tired of the logo-biting that's going on. Some of them are more clever than others and some of them are just stupid. It's just that everyone's doing it now. I mean, we've bit logos before like, we used to have a t-shirt of the Morton Salt girl and it said, "When it pains, it roars." I try to look as normal as I can.

Pitchfork: What's your favorite song of all time?

Adam: Oh man, how could you do this to me? Jesus. I couldn't even give you ten albums that I'd take to a desert island. I couldn't. It's a genre thing. I find myself buying old records these days. I haven't bought many new records. Like yesterday, I bought the Bob Dylan box set from back in 1985, "Biograph." And I got it on vinyl. So I go back and forth. The days when I was getting into punk rock, I was listening to the standards... the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Fear, Black Flag, and I think of bands in either regional terms or little eras, which I shouldn't do because it's all the same anyway, but... there's like the SST years, and then you think of English bands from the late 70's. And then you think of the new hardcore bands from New York or D.C. So I always think of bands in these little pockets.

Pitchfork: What was your introduction to punk music?

Adam: My sister was into kinda punk rock and new wave bands before I was. She's older than me, so I got some stuff through her. I also used to work for my uncle who had a business exporting records to Argentina. He turned me on to the Ramones and the Go-Go's.

Pitchfork: What song do you really like and are ashamed to admit it?

Adam: I like Bruce Springsteen. When you say to somebody, "I like Bruce Springsteen," it's like, "Whatever." But I do. I think he writes great songs.

Pitchfork: My girlfriend said the exact same thing about two days ago, so you're not alone.

Adam: Okay, here's another record I bought recently. I bought "Nebraska." "Nebraska" was recorded on a four-track. It's got acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and voice. And it's like, you know, he recorded it on a Tascam four-track to cassette. Not even reel-to-reel. So it's like, beat that. I even like his new stuff. I wouldn't say I'm ashamed to admit it, but people feel that they're beyond that sort of thing.

Pitchfork: What do your parents think of you being rock stars?

Adam: I hesitate to call us rock stars because I don't feel like a rock star. It's also got some bad connotations because you think of decadence and drugs and obnoxiousness and bad fashion and shit. But all of our parents are pretty into it. They're very proud. I mean, my sister's in a band, my brother's in a band, and he's also an actor. So I think they've gotten used to the fact that we didn't all go out and jump into 9 to 5 jobs.

Pitchfork: What new alternative rock band do you really hate?

Adam: I'm really not into a lot of it. Those are some guilty pleasures because there's some really catchy songs that are on alternative rock radio or whatever...that you find yourself humming or singing along to or maybe even turning up in the car. Because there's so many of them that are basically just rock bands, or even just metal bands, that dress a little bit different. But it's all the same shit. They have all this distortion, but somehow all the piss and vinegar got taken out of it. There's no rage. All it is, is like 70's arena rock without as much reverb and without those crazy light shows. Not that there has to be rage and piss and vinegar in all music, because half the music I listen to isn't about expressing rage, but they're sort of marketed that way because that's what people associate with that kind of music. That punk rock attitude or whatever.

Pitchfork: What was the craziest thing that ever happened to you after a show?

Adam: One time we were in Chicago and we were hanging out with a couple of guys from Screeching Weasel and we went into a 7-11 and a cab pulled up and there was this guy passed out in the back of a cab and this guy Dan knew who he was so he pulled him out of the taxi and threw him into our van and we drove to Lake Michigan and they pulled him out of the van and threw him in the lake. And then Blake slipped on a rock and fell, fully clad, into Lake Michigan. I've got pictures to prove all of this, and the funny thing is, the guy who was passed out, he promptly came to while they were carrying him to the water and he was really into it. He was like, "Alright, let's go swimming!" You know, it was like four in the morning and everyone like jumped in and it was just fucking nutty. We were out until five in the morning and they took us out to a diner and we had like a 99¢ breakfast. Something weird happens to us wherever we go. It may not be disasterous, but... Something always fuckin' happens...

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