Chris Bauermeister on Jawbreaker’s Bivouac and Chesterfield King reissues

Having just posted interviews with singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach and drummer Adam Pfahler about Blackball Records‘ 20th anniversary reissues of Jawbreaker’s Bivouac and Chesterfield King, you probably could have guessed that bass player Chris Bauermeister would be next. Read on, and then order the thick, pristine vinyl or beautifully remastered CD for your listening pleasure. They come out TODAY, so you can pick them up at your favorite local record shop as well. I love all of Jawbreaker’s albums, but these two releases are my favorites. The guys were playing out of their minds, mixing post punk craft, literary but raw lyrics, and noisy-but-beautiful sadness at its roughest. Here’s what Chris has to say about them…

MW: When you revisited Bivouac and Chesterfield King, what was your take on the bass playing? Did you forget how rad it was?
CB: I enjoyed an excuse to listen to some of the stuff and remember the songs and what the bass lines actually sounded like but, to be honest, I only played them once or twice. Listening to Jawbreaker still feels pretty solipsistic.

MW: What was composing songs like during this period? Was there a process in place or was every case different? Got any specific recollections?
CB: It was right when we had all finished college and moved to San Francisco for the sole purpose of working on the band. We practiced all the time and were writing constantly. Most of the album was written between June and September of that year.

We had a really sketchy practice space in the Tenderloin, which was an adventure to go to every time. We never ran into any of the bands we shared it with. I think one of them was the Melvins. Also, we were all working crappy jobs with long hours so we recorded and mixed most everything late at night after work. I remember falling asleep on the studio floor in the middle of a session more than once.

Jawbreaker, Chesterfield King (Tupelo Recording Company/Communion, 1992; Blackball Records, 2012). Cover photo by Jennifer Cobb.

MW: How did you feel about the band’s move to San Francisco? How do you think the move affected the band’s sound or evolution? 
CB: Well, it made practicing a lot easier. Rather than being on two coasts. Plus, as I said, we had moved there to concentrate entirely on the band. It was what we were doing with our lives. No more college. Nothing else. So we were able to immerse ourselves in songwriting and playing.

I hated L.A., where we had first started focusing on the band when Blake and I took a year off from NYU. And Adam hated New York, where he had first formed. San Francisco was a city we could all agree on. It was a pretty amazing place to be in the early ’90s, as far as music was concerned, which was also one of the reasons we moved there. And being part of a like-minded and creatively active community definitely helped us thrive. We were a little isolated in both N.Y. and L.A., and having the first album out, having toured a little, and establishing the beginnings of a reputation helped break the ice.

MW: What were some bands you played with at the time? Who were some favorites to tour with, play with, or just see live?
CB: There were so many. I’m just going to mention one that we spent a lot of time with: Nuisance.

MW: I thought the “pretty noise” that developed in the Bivouac/Chesterfield King era really set your band apart from a lot of your peers. Was that evolution something that was conscious and purposeful or did it just happen?
CB: Just happened. I mean, you can see it developing in the long outro stuff as early as “Eye-5,” but with the constant practice we got better at making it a coherent whole rather than tacking it on to the end.

MW: How did the recorded freak-outs translate to the live setting? How does one replicate studio magic night after night onstage?
CB: One has serious mental issues. No, seriously, as far as I’m concerned I came out of a background of seeing all sorts of N.Y. bands like Live Skull and Sonic Youth, whose shows pretty much consisted of controlled sonic freak-outs. So I had a reference. We were just doing it a little faster and louder. An of course, every night playing it live was different and they weren’t all as good.

MW: Was being on the road really as bad as “Tour Song” suggests? Or was it worse? Is there any romance to it as you look back now?
CB: “Tour Song” was actually written before we had even done our first long tour in the summer of 1990 – after which we broke up for the first time. Although this is really a Blake question, my take on it has always been that whether it was good or bad, it was an intense experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Well, perhaps I would have rather traded some of the good parts for the bad.

At this point, though, I’m far too jaded and old for me to see it as romantic in any way. Not that memories are particularly negative or positive – it was “intense” – just realistic and a little foggy.

Jawbreaker, Bivouac (Tupelo Recording Company/Communion, 1992; Blackball Records, 2012). Cover art by Brendan Murdock.

Note from Adam: “p.s. I didn’t hate New York.”