Blake's Babies

Old habits certainly die hard.
Blake Schwarzenbach knows this well. Nearly two years ago he brought his band, the seminal San Francisco punk-pop outfit Jawbreaker, to an end after fronting the band for the better part of a decade. Jawbreaker had been, and continues to be, one of the most venerated punk bands of the early and mid-'90s, owing to Blake's propensity for writing emotionally charged songs of relationships won and lost, sung in his slightly agonized, crackling and gravelly voice.

Jawbreaker released three albums on independent labels before putting out its critically acclaimed major-label debut, Dear You, in late 1995.

Schwarzenbach had described Jawbreaker as "always about to break up." Eventually the disillusionment and disenchantment took its toll, and Jawbreaker met its end. Schwarzenbach moved to Brooklyn, with every intention of leaving the music business and all its inherent bullshit behind him. Fate had other plans for him.

At Jawbreaker's last show in Olympia, Washington, Blake met Jeremy Chatelain, vocalist for the post-hard-core band Handsome. Later that summer Chatelain found himself also residing in Brooklyn. With Handsome on the verge of disbanding, the two decided to combine forces and jam on songs Schwarzenbach had written in the preceding months. Texas is the Reason drummer Chris Daly, whose band had broken up the year before, was soon enlisted to replace Schwarzenbach's drum machine in the project, which was christened shortly thereafter Jets to Brazil. Funny how these things happen.

Without an album or even a single recorded, Jets to Brazil took off on a five-week European tour with indie-darlings the Promise Ring, and upon its return entered the studio to record the debut Jets double-album, Orange Rhyming Dictionary, which will be released on October 27, on Jade Tree Records, home of the Promise Ring and Joan of Arc. The record is a mammoth monument to the combined talents of its three components. With songs ranging from the synthesizer-soaked new wave anthem "Resistance Is Futile," to the melancholic, introspective melody of "Sea Anemone," to the frantic, impassioned edginess of "I Typed for Miles," Jets to Brazil proves itself far more than the sum of its parts.

Jets to Brazil will be opening for the Promise Ring on Sunday, October 18, at Boston's in Tempe, and there's little doubt that converts will be made. The following conversation took place two weeks ago, shortly after the addition to the Jets' arsenal of talent, of second guitarist Brian Maryanski, formerly of the Van Pelt.

New Times: When you were getting the band together and developing the songs, was there much discussion about what the band would sound like?

Blake Schwarzenbach: It happened very naturally. There was some discussion of what we didn't wanna do, and I think the idea was to make it as musical as possible. I think that's what we all felt was lacking in our other bands. Like something was unmusical about it, maybe just the whole apparatus of the band.

NT: How did you end up with Jade Tree?
BS: They were following us, they were interested in what we were doing when we started, and they ended up getting us our first couple shows. We did a demo and they got that and they were psyched.

NT: I can't even believe how much Jade Tree's blown up in the last couple years; it amazes me.

BS: It's pretty cool. I was really excited. The Jets' first show was with the Promise Ring. It was sick. They had so many people there.

NT: My neighbors, Jimmy Eat World, played that show with you guys. I did a story with them recently and they said that was the best show of their career.

BS: They were awesome that night. It was really exciting, I was psyched for those guys, looking at them and them looking at the show going, whoa. . . . It was a good feeling.

NT: How'd you hook up with the Promise Ring boys? Did you know them before or did you just meet them through Tim Owen (co-owner of Jade Tree)?

BS: Through Tim. Chris, our drummer knew them 'cause he was in Texas is the Reason and they'd toured together, but that was really my first experience with them.

NT: Are you a Promise Ring fan?
BS: I am now, I was converted in a night. They're a great band.
NT: How was the first tour, going to Europe? Was it strange to jump into that right away?

BS: Yeah, it wasn't lost on us that that was really bizarre. When we were flying over there we thought, how much we would have hated us a while ago, like oh look at them, they get to go to Europe right off the bat. But it was a pretty modest tour. I don't know if the Promise Ring has reached Europe yet. England was really good, I guess that's to be expected. But there was a lot of really small shows, where people just don't know over there.

NT: Is it strange to have a following without your record being out yet?
BS: Yeah, it is.
NT: 'Cause I imagine that your shows are packed when you play over here.

BS: Yeah, we haven't done that many of them--I think it helps that there's still anticipation, but it definitely had kind of a built in interest, which was really lucky. Hopefully we'll deliver the goods and sustain that interest.

NT: Are you still finding your groove with one another or have you kinda settled into that now?

BS: No, we're definitely finding it. We just added a guitarist, Brian Maryanski. He's a really great guy, but I don't know if we're a band yet. We're practicing a lot, but I think it's gonna take a week of touring 'til it all clicks.

NT: I know when you moved to New York you were frustrated with the music thing. Are there points now where you go, "What the hell am I doing, I thought I decided this was over?"

BS: Umm, yeah. I think that's always there, but I have a feeling I would have that feeling in whatever I did. I'm definitely like a "why?" kinda person.

NT: Why not lock yourself back in your room with the PC games?
BS: 'Cause I think it's much better than that. I think when it's happening it's the best, I'm really lucky to be doing it. And I love making up songs, the writing part is so satisfying to me. When we're being creative, that's the best thing.

NT: What's the frustrating part for you?
BS: Umm, the mechanics of it, waiting to play, just all the strange orchestration that goes with doing a band properly. Like putting out records and doing interviews and everything.

NT: Do interviews bother you?
BS: Only when I feel like a fraud. Sometimes, since we haven't toured yet, I feel like, I dunno if I can back this up y'know. Like I'd probably be a lot more cocky on the road, assuming we were playing all right. Like okay, we're a band, I can speak as though I'm in a band. In the kinda stop-and-go life it's very hard to be sure of what you're doing.

NT: You've been in bands that have toured for a long time, almost 10 years. Do you still enjoy touring?

BS: I enjoy it again, I think. I had so much fun in Europe I just couldn't wait to play. Sounds like a professional athlete, huh? It was rad though, like I'd get really excited, we'd be sitting around and I'm going, God, we get to play in like an hour. We'd wanna go rock out. It's a really good feeling. And I didn't have that; there was definitely points after lots of touring with Jawbreaker where you'd just be like, "Oh man, I gotta play again."

NT: How long do you think the Jawbreaker past will follow you, and does it bother you?

BS: It doesn't bother me as long as people are willing to see something new, y'know. I figure that people who don't just won't bother with this band, which is fine.

NT: Nobody has the record yet, though, so most kids going to your shows are going to see Blake from Jawbreaker's new band. Is that irritating or just inescapable.

BS: It seems inescapable right now. We're really lucky to have an audience that's interested at least. Now I have a shot to show them something else, that I'm writing new things. I think a lot of bands don't have that opportunity; they have to win everyone one by one. I think we do, too, 'cause it's a totally different band, it's a new sounding thing. It remains to be seen.

NT: You have a high level of adoration from your fans. Actually, some friends of mine just named their baby after you; is that troubling to you or is it cool?

BS: I think it's pretty cool, I'm flattered by it. I certainly don't think, I wouldn't wish my life on anyone's baby, but I guess they're seeing this aspect that I project of myself and my work and that's cool. I think that's somehow removed from me, too. There's this persona I think that people perceive, a character that appeared in songs and stuff that's really not me. I think I'd be pretty disappointing. The life isn't as dramatic as some of the music, or it's a distillation of the life. But for the most part I think it's really cool.

NT: You don't get stalkers after you?
BS: I've had stalkers, yeah. Some of them I think are really great, I get totally into that pathos.

NT: No dangerous situations, though?
BS: No, no weapons or anything like that. There was one guy in Chicago once who I had this weird, like John Wilkes Booth sensation from, where I thought, I'm looking at my assassin. He was so freaked out and weird; he seemed to have this comp mixture of love and like, contempt. For me. Which I just didn't understand.

NT: That's really weird to face, I imagine.
BS: Yeah, it was really creepy, and I went up to Adam, the drummer in Jawbreaker, and I said, we gotta get out of here, this guy's gonna shoot me. I just had a feeling, y'know, like this is the gunman.

NT: Better to act on the feeling than wait around and see.
BS: Yeah, I didn't wanna find out. I didn't wanna die at his hands, y'know, in an alley in Chicago. That's not how I'd like to go out.

Jets to Brazil is scheduled to perform on Sunday, October 18, at Boston's in Tempe, with the Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, and Reuben's Accomplice. Showtime is 8 p.m.


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