By Austin Kaus
To refer to Jawbreaker as a “punk rock band” is to call a delicious bowl of pho “soup.” It’s too simple a designation, one that negates the band’s impressive discography and the legions of musicians influenced by Jawbreaker’s pressurized poetry. From 1986 to 1996, singer/guitarist Blake Schwartzenbach sang like a passenger screaming through a porthole while bassist Chris Bauermeister and drummer Adam Pfahler kept the battered ship afloat as it struck wave after wave of emotional release and musical markmanship.
The band that released four albums and toured with Nirvana may be gone, but they are damn sure not forgotten thanks, in part, to Pfahler’s reissuing of the Jawbreaker catalog in recent years. This year, Pfahler remastered and reissued 1994’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and talked with me about the album, the status of the long-gestating Jawbreaker documentary and the band’s adventures in Sioux Falls.
Tell me what it was like to get this reissue together.
AP: It was obsessive and compulsive. Let’s just say I was thorough. It took a long time. I think I started the whole process in 2007. I had to bake the original analog tapes and then get them digitized. The following few years I mastered, remastered and remastered again. I think we went with version #5, which is funny because it’s basically the original master! John Golden mastered the alternate takes of songs from the Steve Albini session. There are two alt takes, two original mixes and two outtakes. Wild Don Lewis sent me all of the photos from the session he shot at Jabberjaw. I whittled it down to 50 shots to end up using like 11 photos. I also had my photos (the ones that appear with the song lyrics) printed — rather than just scanning them from a dirty old contact sheet. Also, John Yates cleaned up the original cover art. It took a lot of work, but I’m stoked with the result.
This is sometimes considered Jawbreaker’s best, but it was the last to be reissued. Was that on purpose? Was there a specific reason for the order of reissues?
AP: Dear You was the first and I just went back to Unfun and did them chronologically from there on out.
What surprised you about revisiting this album?
AP: I was surprised that with all the obsessive listening and tinkering. I never got bored of it.
What’s the latest on the documentary?
AP: Dunno. I saw a clip of it. It was funny.
Any idea on the status?
AP: Apparently, they are 80% done. They’re going to do a Kickstarter campaign to pay the editor and get some closing costs. I don’t know, though. It’s out of my hands.
Since we’re a South Dakota-based magazine, I have to ask you if you have any memories of playing here.
AP: We started calling the Smoking Popes the Smoking Peeps around that show. We called them that because we liked them instantly, like they were already our people. And if I’m not mistaken, the Caterer brothers still owe me two packs of Marlboros.
Any memories of Nordic Hall?
AP: I remember the promoter was a little kid named Neil. Seriously, he was like 11-years-old. His grandparents worked the door and concession stand and did whatever he said. It was totally Children Of The Corn.
I’m currently working on a documentary on The Pomp Room. Any memories of the place?
AP: Someone threw a Pop Tart at me onstage! Some kid flung it at me like a Frisbee. Hit me right in the head, cracked in half. Part of it fell on my snare drum. I picked it up and ate it. It was excellent. (pauses) That didn’t happen. But it damn well could have.
I appreciate the (eventual) honesty. Does this mean I should question the Nordic Hall answer?
AP: I think the Nordic Hall answer stands.
Any actual Pomp Room memories?
AP: If I remember correctly, we had a great time that night. My memories of shows from around the time are like super eight movies — just little bits (and) pieces here and there.
I’d have enough for a soda if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard Jawbreaker referred to as the “grandfathers of emo.” Thoughts on that?
AP: It’s like when you have enough for a soda but nothing left for candy.
What are you currently working on?
AP: California is my band. We’re recording an album and it will destroy you.
Imminent destruction always piques my interest. Tell me more.
AP: California is a band with me and Jason White from Green Day. Dustin Clark is also in the band — he was in The Insides. We play out as often as we can and we’re in the middle of making a record. The only presence we have online is on Facebook. That’s mostly to announce shows.
What are your goals for 2015?
AP: Get a job, I guess. I mean, if I really have to.
You already have a job. You work at Lost Weekend Video. I have a special place in my consciousness for VHS. Do they play a role in your business?
AP: I started Lost Weekend with Christy Colcord, Jawbreaker’s tour manager, and David Hawkins, formerly the drummer of Engine 88. We kept VHS copies of films didn’t make the jump to digital. And there’s a lot that didn’t make it. We have music stuff that collector nerds go ape shit about.
I had a postcard project I tried a few years ago. You responded. What kind of emphasis do you put on keeping in direct contact with fans? Has it changed over the years with social media?
AP: I have a standing offer that I will always honor — anyone who wants some mail or a sticker or button or whatever, they can send me stuff and will hear back: Adam, Lost Weekend Video, 1034 Valencia St. San Francisco, CA 94110. I put that message on Facebook and got literally hundreds of cards. People crave that connection with each other. My kids are part of a growing backlash against social media and I can’t say I’m surprised. There’s no lonelier island.
Do you think a backlash against social media will grow as time goes on?
AP: Let’s hope so!
Finally, regarding the postcard project, you responded. Blake didn’t. Should I be surprised?
AP: He’s still working on the rough draft. It may take awhile.
You can order the reissue of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and the rest of Jawbreaker’s discography here.