About Jawbreaker

Pre-Jawbreaker In the early 1980s - the heyday of SST’s reign as the predominant southern California punk rock label - high school buddies Blake Schwarzenbach (guitar), Adam Pfahler (drums), and “some guy named Rich” (bass) formed a band in Santa Monica. They dubbed the band Red Harvest, taking the name from Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel of the same name. Their music was later described in a Jawbreaker interview as instrumental gloom rock and all “feedback and leads.” After graduating, Blake and Adam enrolled in New York University. In the winter of 1986 at NYU, bassist and Connecticut native Chris Bauermeister (who had earlier played in a band with Richard Baluyat, now of Versus and Whysall Lane, and Ian James, later of Flower) posted an advertisement in the dorm cafeteria in hopes of forming a band. Intrigued by the ad, Blake and Adam responded, and the three musicians came together for the first time. The trio began writing and rehearsing songs together, and their first public performance as a band occurred when they provided the soundtrack to a rock opera featuring Kembra Pfahler, Adam’s sister (now a member of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black). Adam ended up transferring to UCLA at the end of the term, thereby transforming the band a bi-coastal, part-time effort except during summers. During one summer break, when all three were back in the Los Angeles area, the band took on a fourth member as vocalist: high school buddy Jon Liu (earlier of Magnolia Thunderpussy). The quartet recorded a demo which was distributed on cassette tape; Jon Liu handled the vocals on all songs except for “Shield Your Eyes,” which was sung by Blake. After their junior year in mid-1988, Blake and Chris decided to take a year off from school and rejoined Adam and Jon in Los Angeles. The band had assumed numerous names over the years - at one point, they were tentatively dubbed Thump - but by the second half of 1988, they took on the name Rise. In October 20, 1988, the band recorded another version of “Shield Your Eyes” with Harris Doku in Santa Monica. This particular recording became the band’s first official release. Although “Shield Your Eyes” was a Rise song, it ended up being released under the band name Jawbreaker in early 1989 (see below); indeed, the vinyl reads “Jawbreaker - Shield Your Eyes - © & p 1988 Rise.” Jawbreaker At some point in late 1988, Jon was ditched. Blake and Chris shared vocal duties throughout 1989. The band picked the new name Jawbreaker one night after seeing it written on a band-name brainstorming sheet, although none of them could attest to having written it down. The aforementioned Shredder compilation, The World’s in Shreds Vol. 2 7”, was released in 1989, and contained the band’s first officially released song. Vinny Fazzari and Joel Badie recorded Jawbreaker’s first full studio demo in Santa Monica, CA on February 3, 1989. The tape, which was later distributed on cassette as Demo #1, was comprised of introspective, mid-tempo punk songs. The band played their first show proper as Jawbreaker on March 16, 1989 at Club 88 in Los Angeles, CA (see picture (a) above). In May of 1989, the band’s first 7”, entitled Whack & Blite E.P., was recorded by Michael James in Venice, CA; in the three months between Demo #1 and Whack & Blite, the band had adopted a faster, more aggressive hardcore sound. The trio returned to Michael James to record Busy for another 7” release in June of 1989. The band began to play out more regularly during this period, driving up to the San Francisco bay area to play San Francisco and Berkeley venues (see pictures (b) and (c) above for an early show advertisement and setlist). They would return to James yet again on August 3 and 4, 1989 to record Demo #2. The demo marked the last time that Chris would contribute any vocals whatever, lead or backup, to the band’s recorded music, although he continued singing lead vocals during the band’s live sets until the end of 1989. In the fall of 1989, Chris and Blake returned to NYU and continued writing songs in Blake’s apartment. During winter break in January 1990, the pair flew out to California, rehearsed with Adam for a week, and proceeded to record their first LP with Richard Andrews in Venice, CA. The album, entitled Unfun, came out later that year on Shredder Records. Musically, it continued in the melody-infused hardcore tradition of Whack & Blite, Busy, and Demo #2, albeit with a tighter performance and a more polished production; in fact, the June 1989 recording of Busy seamlessly appeared on the album in remixed form. In order to support Unfun, Jawbreaker embarked on their first national tour in the summer of 1990, the “Fuck ‘90” tour. Afterwards, they broke up. The trio took the time off to finish school; in December of 1990, Chris earned a BA in philosophy and literature, and in May of 1991, Blake earned a BA in English literature and creative writing and Adam earned a BA in history. After graduating, the band reformed and relocated to the Mission District in San Francisco. In lieu of new material, songs from the first two demos (which hadn’t been officially released) were released on various compilations and split 7” records. Adam even took the time to record a few songs with Tri-State Kill Spree for their Bathtub Meth 7” record. Meanwhile, the band began composing songs for their next LP, which would prove to be their most collaborative album. Bivouac, was recorded in San Francisco by Billy Anderson in October of 1991. Five songs from the session were released on the Chesterfield King 12” on Tupelo/Communion Records in the first half of 1992; the LP, which was released in late 1992, included “Chesterfield King” and eight other songs from the session, while the CD compiled all thirteen songs. In comparison to the first LP, Bivouac was an epic; the songs were slower, gloomier, and more brooding, but also notably more melodic and complex in terms of structure and instrumentation. The band recorded a song for a tribute album with Anderson in February of 1992, and Blake contributed some backing vocals to a pair of J Church songs in March. In August, the band returned to Anderson yet again to record a song for a compilation. In the late summer and fall of 1992, Jawbreaker embarked on the “Hell is on the Way” tour, playing dates in the midwest and east coast before heading to Europe for the first time to play gigs in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Norway. Over the course of the long tour, Blake’s raspy singing style finally caught up with him, and he had throat surgery in the first week of October in London in order to remove polyps after a spout of coughing up blood. Chris and Adam suffered problems soon after the tour. Adam underwent the knife to fix his knee and a collapsed vein in his arm, and mere months after that, Chris developed shoulder problems. Despite these ordeals, the band trudged on. The bulk of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was recorded by Steve Albini in Chicago in March of 1993, and directly afterwards, the band began their “When It Pains It Roars” tour, during which they would play shows across the entire country into July. Blake also contributed some backing vocals for a Screeching Weasel song around this time. After recuperating from the tour, the band decided to record a few more songs for the LP with Billy Anderson in August of 1993 in San Francisco. In late October 1993, Jawbreaker made the controversial decision to play a few dates in the midwest with Nirvana; they were subsequently reviled by fans who despised what they perceived as the band’s flirtations with corporate America. After the Nirvana dates, Jawbreaker along with J Church played the one month long “Steady Mobbin’ the USA” tour. The band wrapped up the year in December by recording a pair of songs with Kevin Army in Berkeley which were later released on compilation records. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy finally came out in early 1994 on Tupelo/Communion Records; stylistically, the band had opted for a more straightforward, poppier sound than that of Bivouac. Blake and Adam pursued a few side projects; Blake contributed a song to the Milk Cult album Burn or Bury, while Adam played drums on the Strawman EP entitled Shoot Me Up. As for Jawbreaker, backlash from the Nirvana shows continued throughout the first half of 1994. In interviews and during live shows, Blake would emphatically shoot down any rumors of major label aspirations, and became even more vocal in expressing his anti-corporate viewpoints. A short west coast tour occurred in mid-January, and the full-scale “Come Get Some” tour filled up most of March and April. In October, Jawbreaker returned to Europe and played in the UK and Italy. Around this time, rumors of the band’s signing to a major label became even more pronounced. They would prove to be true. After talking to a number of major labels, Jawbreake decided to sign with Geffen. Dear You was recorded by Rob Cavallo in February and March of 1995 in Berkeley, CA and came out on Geffen Records in September of 1995. The slick, professional, radio rock production scared away many long-time fans, but the songwriting remained potent as ever; the album showcased a new type of mournful epic in the forms of “Accident Prone,” “Jet Black,” and “Basilica.” The band shot a video for the song “Fireman,” which was released as a single and became a minor radio hit. The band toured the country in October and November to support the album. In early 1996, the band flew down to Australia for a few shows. Their next and final tour began in April of 1996. From mid-April to early May, they opened for the Foo Fighters, and they finished up with Tanner and Engine 88 for a week, and finally Fluf and Jr. High for the last week. The tour proved to be the breaking point for Jawbreaker. Tensions between Chris and Blake had been growing for a number of years, and finally exploded. Jawbreaker played their last show on May 19, 1996 at the Capital Theater in Olympia, WA. After of a month of inactivity, the trio officially disbanded in the summer of 1996. Post-Jawbreaker In the summer of 1999, a live recording, entitled Live 4/30/96, was posthumously released on Allied Recordings as the label’s 100th and final release. 100 copies on vinyl were given out lottery-style in a contest. A CD of this recording, with an extra track, was released in October of 1999 on Blackball Records. In addition to album selections, the release featured a sampling of new songs that had never been recorded in a studio on account of the band’s breakup. Most recently, in the summer of 2002, a long-awaited double LP and CD compilation of rare and non-LP material entitled Etc. was released on the same label. Dear You will soon see a reissue on the Blackball label. Jawbreaker was one of punk rock’s all-time greats. They harnessed an energy essential to all great rock’n’roll - indeed, their aggression often rivaled the best hardcore and thrash of the ’80s in terms of sheer power - but also possessed a brilliant melodic sense and emotional rawness which allowed them to improve on the legacies of the classic SST and Dischord bands. Jawbreaker’s popularity has skyrocketed since their breakup. A new generation of kids is discovering the band, long-time fans continue to keep the records in constant rotation, and the truly obsessed keep up the search for obscure live recordings and demos. Jawbreaker’s timeless music lives on.