Adam Pfahler on Jawbreaker’s Bivouac and Chesterfield King reissues
On December 11, Jawbreaker‘s Chesterfield King EP and Bivouac LP are being re-released on vinyl and in digital formats. I’ve been lucky enough to preview the remastered tracks and they’re extra heavy and sound incredible–totally taking me back 20 years to when the band was connecting the hooks of Hüsker Dü with the jams of Sonic Youth and adding a dash of Steel Pole Bath Tub to keep listeners from getting too comfortable. Jawbreaker could have taken over the world if their guitars would have stayed in tune during shows…
I asked Blackball Records label honcho and Jawbreaker drummer Adam Pfahler about revisiting his old band with singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach and bass player Chris Bauermeister. He responded with detailed and revealing answers, as well as an awesome behind-the-scenes Polaroid shot by our mutually loved and missed friend Lance Hahn. The picture was taken on the same rooftop as the “official” portrait was being shot for the LP. The flyers are from my stash.
MW: What was your first reaction when revisiting the old tracks in preparation for the re-releases? Shocked by how great the band was? Having flashbacks to being in your early twenties and all the uncertainty and drama that comes with being that age?
JB: Yes and yes. But I’m mostly reminded of this transitional time. We had just relocated from L.A. and NYC and were embarking on this sort of post-grad experiment of doing our band for real. “For real” meaning work a shit job to pay rent on a group house and practice three times a week and play any show we could get, and be fully prepared to quit the job, sublet the room, and go out on the road. It was at once a very dramatic and very innocent time.
MW: When you sat in on the remastering, what was the goal? To fix stuff that bugged you? Take advantage of newer technology?
JB: I didn’t want to change the record. I just wanted a better representation of the information we recorded. So going from the DAT tape to digital, the sampling rate now is twice what it was in 1992. Basically, it sounds more like what we heard in the studio. There were just a couple moves, but those were mostly volume level things. The only thing that bugs me about the record are my occasional clams.
MW: Chesterfield King and Bivouac are real transition releases coming from Unfun. Can you talk about how your music was changing? Where did the heavy jamming with vocal samples come from?
JB: The instrumental passages were inspired by what we loved about bands like Sonic Youth and Bitch Magnet. We knew we didn’t want guitar solos, so we wrote what Chris called “pretty noise” for those sections and dropped samples into them for texture hopefully some thematic relevance. What I mean to say is the Twilight Zone dialog in “Donatello” not only sounds cool, but also reinforces what’s going on in the story. We wanted these songs to be epic and fun to play live, hence the ambitious running times and freakout parts.
MW: Moving from Shredder (McCrackens) to Tupelo (Bitch Magnet) kind of went with your musical growth. How did that happen?
JB: The great Lance Hahn from Cringer and J Church suggested us to Gary at Revolver. There wasn’t any bad blood between us and Mel at Shredder. Mel was the first to believe in us enough to put money behind the band. It was maybe more to do with feeling a kinship with the bands under the Revolver umbrella (Tupelo, Communion, and Boner). It was an aesthetic choice.
MW: And there was also the transition from L.A. to S.F. When did that occur with respect to these releases? Did the move affect the band’s trajectory and evolution? In some weird way, did you miss sketchy places like the Anti Club or Club Radio at all?
JB: We were regarded as an S.F. band but I never really thought we were that. I mean, we had friends in bands who we would play with a lot, like Samiam, Econochrist, and J Church, but I felt like we were crashing the party as it was winding down. I realize now it was just ramping up. L.A. and New York were home to us as much as S.F. We started the band in New York, raised it in Los Angeles, then settled in San Francisco. We played L.A. any chance we could. We considered Jabberjaw and Al’s just down the block four hundred-something miles. And there was no shortage of sketchy places to play up here, by the way.
MW: If I recall correctly, the EP came out first followed by the LP. Were they recorded separately? How did you decide to combine the tracks for the CD? Why didn’t you just stick the EP tracks at the end like a normal band would?
JB: The songs wouldn’t fit on one LP and it never occurred to us to make it a double album. So we took “Chesterfield” and a few others to make the EP. The CD had them all, sequenced the way we thought sounded best.
MW: So is 24-Hour Revenge Therapy ready to go or what?
JB: Not yet. Don Lewis is sending me a bunch of photos from that same session that is already represented on the album art. We’re going to add a bunch of those and a handful of extra songs. It’ll be a while. But it will destroy.