WORDS: BECTON SIMPSON | PHOTOS: JOHN DUNNE / CHRISSY PIPER
September 17th 2017, and a packed out Douglas Park, Chicago is brimming with electric energy and nervous anticipation in the build up to Jawbreaker’s much talked about reunion. The opening chords of ‘Boxcar’ ring out. A thousand already sweaty bodies surge forwards en masse. Grown men cry. Young kids get their first experience of seeing a band who influenced the bands they love.
“there’s no middle ground for Jawbreaker anymore.”
The legendary trio’s official Riot Fest reunion show was certainly something to remember for a lifetime for those who were there, and as Blake Scwarzenbach (lead vocals/guitar) remarked when we recently caught up for a chat with the band (over a feedback-filled group Skype session from four different locations occasionally interrupted by barking dogs), “the stakes could not have been higher.” Although they’d played a trio of smaller warm up shows prior to the Riot Fest appearance, they were tiny gigs to equally tiny audiences made up mainly of friends and family; this was next level. “There’s no middle class in America anymore and there’s no middle ground for Jawbreaker anymore…it’s just stadiums or dive bars.”
After being split up for a whopping twenty one years, it’s safe to say there were some people in the crowd that day who had lived a whole lifetime without Jawbreaker being together, but they’d certainly developed a larger audience in their absence, one that the band themselves were hardly prepared for. “I was removed from music for so long that I really had no idea how popular we were at all until we started playing,” admitted Chris Bauermeister (bass/backing vocals). “It was pretty mindblowing seeing that many people singing along knowing all the words.”
“People didn’t always know our songs. But now they’ve had twenty years to learn them!”
“We never had that before,” Adam Pfhaler (drums) agreed. “People didn’t always know our songs. But now they’ve had twenty years to learn them!”
During that twenty-year absence, some kind of weird, mystical aura drew up around Jawbreaker. They became a musician’s band, the type of band your favourite band has as their favourite band, name dropped by the likes of My Chem and Fall Out Boy and many others, and given the affectionate title of ‘the godfathers of emo’, becoming legends to a whole new generation. It’s a title the band still find amusing, if a little dubious. “The emo tag wasn’t really a thing while we were playing,” remarked Adam. “It wasn’t really even a proper genre back then… I didn’t wanna take credit or blame for it, but they started calling us the godfathers of emo or something, and I didn’t think it was necessarily true.”
“I think we kind of identify [more] with the punk lifestyle in terms of…being an ethical person,” reflected Blake. “but I don’t know if that even affects our music it’s more just how we comport ourselves as a unit and as individuals.”
Asked whether they still have that ‘don’t give a fuck punk attitude’, Blake replied, “I have a ‘do give a fuck’ punk attitude”, a response which led us onto politics, and the politically charged shirts the band wore at Riot Fest and various gigs since. “I thought it was a fun, fine moment to make a stand against all the bullshit going on in America,” said Chris. “I was like ‘fuck it’. You’re either with the people who are against the fascists or you’re a fucking fascist.”
“I have a ‘do give a fuck’ punk attitude”
“I have a few choice T-shirts that I like to break out,” Blake added. “But I’m not fooling myself that I’m doing anything affecting real change. I agree with Chris that since we do have a larger platform, that’s kind of ad space for social justice, so if it seems to fit the moment I’ll try and send a cue through the shirt.”
Blake then reliably informed us that “Chris’s colour palette is ‘skittles chic’…He kinda raised the bar on us, cause Adam and I just looked like slobs.” So if you see a guy wandering round rocking an anti-fascist shirt and a pair of colourful bell-bottoms, it’s probably Chris, just so you know.
The reunion itself has been a bit of a slow burner, with smatterings of shows here and there, and the longest run being the week long mini-tour of the States the band have booked for March this year. But fans shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
“No one’s really up for like…a two month tour,” Adam told us. “It’s pretty taxing.”
“Especially on 50 year old bodies,” added Chris with a laugh.
“We also play a much longer set,” continued Adam. “These are like an hour and a half. We used to play forty minutes.”
The next big event on the Jawbreaker horizon is, of course, the return to London on 27th April at O2 Brixton – their first show in the UK since Halloween 1994.
“I think the last time I was in London was with Forgetters,” Blake mused. “Which was great. So I’m eager to come back with this band.”
Discussions are also in place for the band’s documentary movie, Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker, to be shown over here. “I was just talking to Dan Didier (co-producer) about getting it some bookings while we’re over there for sure,” said Blake. “The plan is to put it out on DVD and Blu-Ray by May 4th hopefully…”
There’s also some new songs in the works, which the band are, according to Blake “in the early days of writing”.
So it’s safe to say there’s a hell of a lot to look forward to for Jawbreaker fans at the moment, and thankfully the band intends to stick around for a while, although aren’t looking too far into the future. “We do what we can,” Blake said. “Song by song. Piece by piece.”