Jawbreaker: You're Not Punk, and I'm Telling Everyone
Every now and then, you stumble across a band that speaks to you at just the right time, and they end up becoming one of your all-time favorites. This group seems to understand what you're going through better than any of your peers, and acts as a gateway drug to all of its influences and similar bands. I'm willing to bet that everyone had "the band that changed everything" at one time or another, and for me, it was Jawbreaker.
Jawbreaker is a bit of an acquired taste. The band is one of the forerunners of emo, and not in the guyliner and sideswept-bangs sense. Blake Schwarzenbach's raspy voice isn't for everyone, but Jawbreaker evolved from album to album, so there's something for both emo purists and pop-punk fans to enjoy.
How I got into Jawbreaker isn't that uncommon a story, it still happens when diehard fans of bands like Fall Out Boy dig into a band's roots. I was really into The Ataris at the time and didn't realize that "Boxcar" was a cover. I had no luck finding Jawbreaker songs to listen to online, so I went to a record store in hopes of finding 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, to give it a shot. Bivouac was all they had in stock, so I shrugged and picked it up, expecting it to be some sort of pop-punk masterpiece.
Boy, was I wrong. I could not stand the album when I first heard it, though in my defense, I was just starting high school and didn't know better. Jawbreaker was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Blake had a rough voice and the album was super-dense. Bivouac is one of the hardest albums to get into, but it's great in the context of Jawbreaker. Songs like "Chesterfield King" and "Pack It Up" appealed to my pop-punk sensibilities, but after a few listens, I learned to appreciate Blake's tortured genius through poetic and revealing lyrics in songs like "Donatello."
As Bivouac started to grow on me, I eventually lucked out and found 24 Hour Revenge Therapy . This album grabbed me right away, I knew what to expect from Blake, and I finally found "Boxcar," which is funny, because now it's one of my least favorite songs on the album. It isn't a bad song. It motivated me to check out Jack Kerouac, and the lyrics are pretty funny. "Boxcar" and "Indictment" give some commentary on the mid-'90s Bay Area music scene, while "Jinx Removing" is a great love song. This album is a series of lows and highs, though the highs are sporadic. The recurring themes are heartache and phenomenal songwriting, with the gritty angst of "Ashtray Monument", the longing of "Do You Still Hate Me?," and the morose vibe of "In Sadding Around" standing out from a devastating breakup.
24 Hour Revenge Thearapy is where Jawbreaker was arguably at its best. The album itself is therapeutic, listening to it is like taking a peak of Blake's diary when he's not looking, and getting the feeling that he "gets" you. His vivid songwriting grabs the listener in "Condition Oakland," as if we're sitting there on the roof listening to gunshots and trains while discussing Lonesome Traveler.
Nothing Nice To Say
Jawbreaker opened for Nirvana on the In Utero tour, attracting the attention of major labels, and angry fans (and Ben Weasel) accusing them of being sell-outs. The product of this tour is the other album that fans will argue is the best: Dear You, though that wasn't the case at first.
The album had a more produced and polished sound, and Blake's vocals weren't nearly as gruff as previous albums. This found Jawbreaker at the height of its emo influence, exploring tensions through "I Love You So Much It's Killing Us Both" and "Jet Black," which has the lyric "your floor is my ceiling," yeah, that's pretty emo.
Shortly after the album came out, fans literally turned their backs on Jawbreaker, notably with fans at The Roxy sitting on the floor facing away from the stage when the band played Dear You tracks, which is ironic because today, kids are crazy about it. Perhaps, it was an album ahead of its time. Tensions between Blake and bassist Chris Bauermeister boiled over soon after, as the two got into a fist fight in Salem, Oregon, resulting in the band's breakup. Blake started Jets to Brazil (which was even MORE emo than Dear You), and Bauermeister joined Horace Pinker.
And that was that. The band wasn't in the same room together for 11 years until they met in a studio to perform a few songs for a documentary, which has yet to be released. Fans have pushed for a reunion, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen. The other two members are down, but Blake is not, as stated in an Alternative Press article.
If I felt I was in a good enough place, I think we could have a really fun and successful tour. We could also pay a lot of bills, which would be profoundly helpful. But it's always the same story. Something is fucking broken in me so that when it's like, 'A lot of people want to hear you,' I just think, 'Well, I don't want to do that.'
Blake continues to work as an English professor, and his most recent musical venture is The Forgetters. Chris and Adam recently did an interview with our sister blog, OC Weekly in honor of Jawbreaker Day.
If that wasn't enough Jawbreaker, be sure to check out Unfun and Etc. as well.
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