Blake Schwarzenbach on Jawbreaker’s Bivouac and Chesterfield King reissues

"This is circa 1991 at our Sycamore Street apartment. Note Zen Arcade and old-school tape recorder for sampling off TV." - Adam Pfahler

The 20th anniversary reissues of Jawbreaker’s Bivouac LP and Chesterfield King EP come out tomorrow. On the heels of our previous dialogue about the remastered vinyl, Jawbreaker’s drummer and Blackball Records honcho Adam Pfahler set me up with singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach, who was kind enough to discuss the albums, revisit the time period, and hash over old cover songs. And once again, Adam provided vintage Polaroids.

MW: In the new reissues, “Shield Your Eyes” gets another turn and “Equalized” is revealed to be overrated. What about Bivouac and Chesterfield King deserves a new life? What should be taken with a grain of salt?
BS: From a strictly archival standpoint, it’s great just to hear the bass in all its glory. I think it’s the non-hits that really stand out for me – the dense layering and experimentation, the drama of the breakdowns, the soundtrack moments that round out the bigger numbers. “Parabola” into “Bivouac” seems to me like the home we were seeking in the odyssey of the record.

MW: Does it pain you all when you revisit your old vocals? Not because it sounds bad or anything but because of the damage you were doing to your vocal chords…
BS: It’s like hearing a little monster – an amalgamation of all that it loved: Mike Ness, Bob Mould, Dave Pirner, Evan Dando, Sinead O’Connor, Guy Picciotto. Yes, it does pain me, and pleasure me – the steadfast affinity to these coordinates. But that’s kind of the thing with Jawbreaker – especially in this nascent point in our development – it was like this unstoppable creature that loved so many things and felt itself to be ugly and with a too-large beak. Fortunately, that Phoenix-like spirit always seems to prevail in the final seconds, through comedy, tragedy, and a fierce assertion of its right to exist.

Bivouac back cover Polaroid by Lance Hahn from the collection of Adam Pfahler.

MW: And what about dusting off your lyrics? Many songs seemed extra autobiographical during this period, so I wonder what you recall as you revisit them. Is it like therapy at all?
BS: Nothing was inadmissible, and I think the more successful moments come from a kind of direct transcription of daily events into a larger sense of pathology. It’s a strange kind of therapy, because now you are the auditor and the patient is a permanently arrested younger you. I feel awkward about the snapshot, but also glad that the creature dared to pose at all.

MW: Lance Hahn once told me that he tried to write a song a day. At the time, was songwriting something you’d discuss about with your colleagues or was it something more private? Was it like homework for you or were you on a creative roll?
BS: It was a thing Lance and I talked about a lot. I remember Chris and Adam and Lance and I would just hang out and play records, and Lance always would break out these really surprising records. As would Chris and Adam. We all had our hard rock, pop, rap, dance, film score and punk troves to draw from. On a good night it would be a totally righteous jukebox. And we would talk, at length, about what made these things so great. And then I think we would take these ideas into our work – mostly just wage work to carry us to practice and rent – but they would percolate, get infused with on-the-job grudges, and then materialize into these musical expressions.

MW:  In addition to “You Don’t Know” and “Pack It Up” on the Chesterfield King EP, there were versions of songs by the Furs, Vapors, Misfits, and REM. Are there other covers that Jawbreaker used to do that I’m forgetting? Anything that never got recorded? (I loved forgetters’ live version of the Human League’s “Seconds,” by the way…)
BS: We were doing “Just What I Needed” (The Cars) on tour for a time. And in our earliest days we did Gun Club’s “Fire of Love.”

MW: Do you look forward to the reissue of 24-Hour Revenge Therapy?
BS: I do. I’m pro-catalog.

Jawbreaker, Chesterfield King (Tupelo Recording Company/Communion, 1992); Jawbreaker, Bivouac (Blackball Records, 2012); forgetters, S/T (Too Small To Fail, 2012)

 In addition to the reissues of Chesterfield King and Bivouac, Blake’s current band forgetters has a brand-new LP out. Adams says they go well together, and I agree.