Interview with Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker - Full Transcript
Since we enjoyed our talk with Blake so much and since it was such a great interview, we've decided to post the entire transcript below. Check it out below
WHAT DID IT TAKE TO COME BACK TO THE BAND AFTER 21 YEARS?
Blake: I actually had nowhere else to go. It just happened at a moment. What it took honestly was a good offer from an interesting big fest. Riot Fest feels like one of the few guitar-based, kind of punk-based stage events going on. [They] appealed way more than some of the others that had been asking us. Largely, I think anyone in the band would say that Adam has been the most instrumental in making something happen because he never really left the band. Chris and I did but Adam [Pfahler - drummer] has been in Jawbreaker this whole time. He never quit. I hit a point in my life where I was like, man, I'm going to get in on this [laughing]. It's time to activate. My life was just stopped completely. I don't think I am coming to it from hunger. It was just this huge thing that was sitting right in front of me the whole time. I kind of hit a moment where I was like, I can either apply for 100 jobs and not get them. I mean - dog walking - I couldn't get hired. Which is just a reflection of our economy, I think? Nothing against me or anybody else. I couldn't believe what I couldn't get. Adam wrote as he does every year and goes, "I just gotta tell you whats being offered right now." Just how ridiculous the stakes are. It was just a matter of feeling the other guys out and then seeing that everyone wanted to do it and making a plan to meet up. We didn't agree until we practiced and thought that this actually sounds like us enough that we can pursue it.
The end of the band was kind of tumultuous. Was there any sort of band therapy moment?
I think this is that process a little bit but in a real, gentle older way. Any grudges have faded into reality. Into the fact that we were just young and we have just much bigger problems in a way now. I think that everyone kind of sensed that something had happened that was traumatic and wanted to try doing it to see - not to undo that - but to not leave it at the impasse that it ended at and so far that's been good. It's pretty emotional going back into those songs. We do it in San Francisco. Feeling the transformation of that city now. It's not the Mission that we left - we last saw - and then playing these classically Mission-based songs is interesting. Speaking of nostalgia and bitter reflection - that's present.
You hear that a lot with New York and major cities where things change so much. It's got to be so apparent with San Francisco and the Mission is just a different place. Does those feelings or influence come out at all when you're playing these songs again?
I don't know what's happening in the studio where we are rehearsing. It's not very site specific. It's very tiring I find. In ways that are much more based on memory and emotion than actual physicality. We'll run through our entire set. We're also 50 so that probably has something to do with it. There's an exhaustion that you just sleep very well at night after doing it. I've never had that before.
After playing various bands and projects, what was the feeling like coming back and playing those songs again after doing your own thing for so long? Did you have any immediate reactions?
Adam and I talked about it and I had a strategy - I think he had at the beginning too - just like, aw, I’m just going to be in a Jawbreaker cover band. Just like Jawbreaker karaoke. Because the feeling when I started singing, I think I use a very specific type of voice in that band and it was there. I know how to do this. It's not an affectation. It is a very specific voice and part of the throat. It was just kind of coming out very naturally. I’m still discovering it. There are some songs we are not doing because I can't get my voice there or my guitar parts were so idiosyncratic and weird that I can't figure them out. A part of this was just relearning those songs. Each of us studied before we got together and that was really interesting. I used a lot of tabs sites.
That's got to be kind of surreal. Going to a website that's paying tribute to something you did but using it as a tool to relearn.
Yeah, I’m on the other side of it, man. Taking back [laughing] It's a great thumbnail. It's never the exact thing but it gets me in the ballpark but, it's like, oh no, being me, I did the chord wrong in a way that's Jawbreaker-esque. I'm a pretty technically inept guitarist but that's my ace in the hole. I can come up with chords that just fit my hands.
There was an Alternative Press article a long time ago that was an oral history of the band at that time and it left on a sort of tone that was like "people missed out." The end of the article was kind of like "what's next?" and you were like "no, this is not happening." Did that take some time to get over that general anger towards how the band ended? Like, I'm ok with what happened and moving forward now?
My concern and why I often said I wouldn't do it was that I felt like I couldn’t - physically. The singing in Jawbreaker is really physically demanding for me. I'm just not a singer that way always. Any kind of punk rock band. Your body does things that are based on emotion, rage, and sadness that are not technical. That was my learning how to sing was just through desperately trying to express myself. I was afraid before when we'd get these offers to play huge things. I was just like, I don't know if I can do that with my voice anymore. I didn't want to do it if it wasn’t going to be good. I don't really have problems with the legacy or the blowback we got back in the day. It seems so small now in light of the real world we all live in.
As a fan of the band, I was so excited about the reunion and my thoughts with anybody getting mad with it, my reaction was like, we're in Trump's America. Let's just enjoy something we care about. There's so much going in the world and it just felt weird to me. If you like something, just like it and enjoy it. I know that sounds sort of optimistic.
If anyone is worried about Jawbreaker selling out in 2017, they are clearly not living in this world. Selling out is so kind of endorsed now. There is a culture online that is so pro success. Which has really been my battle for the last 10 years. People get mad at me for not promoting myself better. Like, what the hell is forgetters? Why don’t you capitalize it? Why don’t you capitalize on who you are? People seem really hurt or offended that I wasn’t trying to do something bigger. It really made me retreat and do it even smaller in a lot of cases. I just don’t understand that kind of philosophy.
You see everybody's reactions online now in real time. There is always this forum online where everybody can voice their opinion and be totally anonymous. That's got to be weird to see that too in a way.
It’s so ubiquitous now that I don’t feel it that much. I’m not really in the spotlight either. The true force of that was felt when Jets to Brazil did a live show. A radio / label thing on Broadway in New York - downtown. Right before our second album came out [Four Cornered Night - 2000 Jade Tree Records], they would have bands the in-studio and do an on the web [performance]. Back when that was an event. We just ambushed by hatred. We all showed up and we're like, alright let's try this. Not being very savvy and the knives came out. People were like, “this sounds like rejected Americana bullshit.” It was really humiliating because the team was in a big loft downtown. You could tell all the people working there were looking at us and feeling sad and uncomfortable that we all had to be there for this. I just remember leaving feeling so crushed. I’m sure people live in that now. It’s like being attacked on Facebook for young kids. I’m out of that world.
To kind of touch upon again with Dear You, it seemed like a record you've had a hard time revisiting. Personally, that's my favorite record by you guys. I came in a little later and I wasn't a part of the scene then because I was really young. This is sort of the impossible question but do you think happens with records sometimes where you have a record that just gets completely ripped apart and people are so critical of it and years later, it's sort of seen as this beacon. Maybe people coming into it later are going like, that's an amazing record but it was so divisive back then. Does time play a factor in that?
I actually think that's most records. I think in our case there was a lot of anticipation. A kind of false narrative was being established. They are going to be Green Day or nothing. We were just ourselves basically. Our other records - none of them came out to great fanfare. Nobody knew who we were so that helped [laughing]. It took a couple years of touring until people were singing our own songs back to us. In this case, it was a little more public because there was press and a label that was actually that was pushing us. I feel that way that all the records I’ve discovered usually aren’t in the moment that they drop. I’m not really there on board from the beginning. Just because I’m not like a major consumer of music. I just find it when it finds me.
Playing those songs [From Dear You], is it almost comparing the early stuff to that record? Do you feel like these songs feel any different compared to the really early stuff?
No, they are very different. We’re trying to play a representative set. It’s pretty Dear You heavy right now because that’s where we stopped. That’s kind of where we are frozen in a way. The first album we’re learning how to be a band. Those are really hard songs to play. They are just kind of frantic. It's a hard place to put your mind and body back into.
With all the rehearsing, do you treat it as something you want to do from now on or is it just like a temporary spotlight for this one moment and see how it goes?
It’s see how it goes. I think we all wanna do a few more to travel for one thing so people don’t have to go to this one festival if they want to see it. For ourselves and for our fans. I’d like to go to South America. I’m not going to get there any other way. [laughing]. We went to Europe a couple times. We’ve never been to Japan. Any place we could go. Everyone is very involved in their own life too. We want to do it in a way that's comfortable. We all agreed that we’d see all this went. If it’s not painful or disastrous then we can hopefully do a couple more. Find something that’s sensible.
How did you feel about tell-alls or retrospectives about the band? What did you think about the Pitchfork oral history? Do you enjoy seeing those things? Just like a comprehensive breakdown of your past?
I don’t feel like I have any business reading them in a way. If I didn't know Adam was there fact checking because he’s very meticulous about getting the story straight. I don’t worry about that because it's so painful for me to read about myself. I don’t like hearing myself played back in recordings. It’s just like standing in front of a mirror with a really stark overhead light on. Just having to look at each pore.
An oral history feels like you are being reduced in some way to this one story that’s definitive. I tend to stay away from them. We have this film coming out [Don't Break Down] which I have not seen. It’s going to be out in August. I have not seen it because I don’t think I could look at it. That’s even more visceral than reading an article. This film [shows] every sense being addressed. Sight and sound. I think it's going to be good. I really like the filmmakers. I know good people were involved in it.
I think it's rare to find to find musicians or artists that read every review. My take and everybody's take is unique. I totally get that.
There's some self-preservation in it too. I use to be like a lot of people with the Internet I think where you know that you shouldn’t but you go and look for your own information. In Jawbreaker, there is certain vanity and fearfulness would drive me to read criticism. Usually with the result of that no matter what it was, being that I would be disappointed in some way. Even if it was positive. If it was praise, it wasn’t enough and if it was criticism it was too harsh or off. It was all just time lost and emotion lost for people who don’t care probably or don’t matter [laughing]. Time spent not being in love or making music or working. Whatever we’re supposed to do [laughing]
What is your general feeling going into the show going into the show at Riot Fest in September? Are you nervous? Do you feel happy about it?
I'm pretty excited. I’m really excited to see some of the bands. I’ve never seen Nine Inch Nails. That got me through some serious shit in the last couple years. That’s not nostalgia for me. That’s now. That's a living companion to me. I like all the bands that are playing so that's helpful. I just don’t think too far ahead. I do have these images of this blazing heat and seas of people and this huge stage and that can all be terrifying but I’m kind of trusting in the community. Especially in this moment, I feel like it's a great time for people to be together with music that’s about resistance and critical thinking. I think there is going to be a lot of goodwill there. People just eager for something positive. I’ll use that word in a world that is as cynical as it is right now. I think that will carry the day. I just feel like the energy there will be good. I know we’ll fuck up. Not blow it but there will be mistakes. Hopefully some comedy and hopefully some raw emotion. Hopefully some skill. I haven’t played a show in a long time so that will be interesting just to start with one at that scale.
Do you want to still play solo shows or come back to that at some point?
If I had new songs. I would love to have a more comfortable relationship with playing. It’s always nerve-wracking to me. I know some people can do it and feel at ease. I wish I had that but I don’t. It’s been hard for me to apply my trade [laughing]. I would love to have a band in the meantime. Chris is in Olympia and Adam is in San Francisco so that makes it hard. We have to really plan for it.
Thanks again to Blake for doing the interview. Here's a playlist of some of our favorite Jawbreaker songs for your listening pleasure.