May 29, 2003
BLAKE SCHWARTZENBACH INTERVIEW
Sometimes interviews need an introduction. But then other times the interview speaks for itself completely. This happens to be one of those interviews. I proudly present my chat with Mr. Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil fame.
State your name and what you do in the band.
Blake Schwarzenbach - general manager, guitar, vocals, keyed instruments.
This tour marks the first as Jets to Brazil as a five piece. Is this latest addition a permanent one and if so where do you think it will take JTB's sound?
We're just trying to recreate all the "fifth element" sounds from our records which requires another set of hands. There is no permanent member but rather a floating cabal of willing or co-ercible agents.
Explain how Jets to Brazil has evolved as a band and where do you see the band going from here?
One of my great limitations as a musician is my inability to plan anything career oriented. It is not that I wish to sabotage my group or limit the audience, it's just that I get vertigo when I make plans or imagine playing large "venues'. I think the evolution has been one of songwriting, of style and tone, basically present day skin. I believe that it is always true to the year in which it was written. I have no fucking idea where we're going. In a way, who cares? Isn't it great that we're even just here now?
It would seem that in Jets to Brazil and Jawbreaker, you are always one step ahead of your audience. While this fact may reflect your ability to constantly innovate on the sound that you had done previously, does this pattern ever frustrate or discourage you?
Whenever there's some kind of growth or innovation I am well satisfied. I feel engaged with music as long as I'm learning new ways to play it. I find that very interesting lately, that writing in a way is a command, an action, but is also very much about the education of the creator, you are both learning and instructing simultaneously. I think that makes artistic disciplines utterly worthwhile. Much of the time being in a band is not innovation or simple creation but clerical and commercial reckoning. (Here I mean contracts, rents, tour logistics, etc.) This I find very discouraging - I understand it to be necessary to some level, but it's not so good there.
What is the favorite song that you have ever written and what makes this specific song stand out for you?
I'd say "Rocket Boy" now, it would be different for each album. I wrote the song driving around Brooklyn, quite literally in a traffic circle (Bartel Pritchard Square) near my house. Then I finished it up in Canada, in a cabin in winter. A lot of things about that song happened differently so I like it for that - I mean it came a lot differently than most songs.
What inspires you to write these days, and has where you find your inspiration changed over the years?
I'm best moved by desperation. There is an aspect of grace that comes later, but just sore loneliness seems to be a pretty good motivating factor. Often books more than music, film sometimes. I'd like to write a song about John Hurt's portryal of John Merrick in David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" - that movie always makes me want to write. To write against dying, against going to sleep in the fully prone position.
Dying Wish records is playing on putting out a Jawbreaker tribute in the coming months. How do you feel about so many young bands citing you guys as a major influence? Do you think that these a lot of new bands uphold the same tradition that you guys had?
I'm quite honored to be called influential. You know, I was very much under the sway of bands when I was in Jawbreaker, I think we all were, we wanted our songs to sound like other bands. Writing well is being able to distinguish between inspiration and influence, I think, so an effectively inspired person might channel some of the energy or spirit of something they really like without being derivative.
The song "Boxcar" has been covered by a variety of different bands, many of whom it could be argued have completely missed the point of the song. Would you agree or disagree?
I always think it's weird to cover a first person song, a quirky song that's specific like that. You know, I mean what about the girl with blue and green hair part, I mean that's not them right? It's a very small song, so yes, I don't see the point in covering it really.
Were you happy about the way that the Jawbreaker article came out in Punk Planet?
Yes, I learned a lot there.
As a singer, how drastic of a change was it for you to try to write music after you received surgery on your voice?
I didn't change much, I mean I was still in Jawbreaker and playing those songs. I changed more as a writer than as a singer, I began to write for a different place in my throat.
How do you feel that the independent/punk community has changed in the past 5 years? Do you feel that many children and artists alike have adopted more of a laid back ideal of d.i.y. ethics and have given in to a lot more corporate involvement?(ie.Clear Channel) And if so, what do you think was the cause of said apathy?
The Jets exist in a weird place in this whole scene - above the squats but below the sheds - both by choice and by the audience that chooses us. I don't have as much access to the hardcore punk community because my music is much different now and I don't think fits in there so well - but I think that's where radical D.I.Y. stuff is still alive and well. I'll say that it is in my band as well. I'm very clear about this stuff now and I greatly enjoy being independent and keeping divested from as much of what I perceive as negative or harmful corporate underwriting as possible. I can't speak to the rest of the indie rock scene, I just don't know, I'm happy not to know many of those people. I'd say New York indie rock is largely just corporate rock lite?many of these people would be happy to be signed to a major label or put on music television or to do an SUV commericial. New York sucks that way.
As a current New Yorker, how were you effected by the events of the past couple of years and has that influenced you in either your music or just your general world view? I read somewhere that you also spoke at a recent NYU protest. Do you feel it's important that kids take an active interest in what is currently going on in Iraq and all over the world?
I experienced what I would describe as a very painful political awakening, my life feels utterly changed. While I've always been suspicious of people in positions of power I didn't often seek evidence of any malfeasance - I just trusted that things were kind of rotten at the top. Now, the beligerance of our government seems inescapable. I think you'd have to try to not be interested in what's happening, especially living in New York where deportation, detainment, interrogation, and flat-out racial profiling are a daily reality. I see New York as a microcosm of the nation at large, I mean as a financial center I think the nation takes a lot of cues from New York, New York is America, and while that could be a beautiful thing, a nation comprised of many nations, of many great words and ideas and bodies and musics, it's totally not. It's a war of identity in New York - white people conflating their own while many non-white peoples are forced to conceal or taper who they are.
Name a book that you have read that has influenced your life and explain why someone should read it.
The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is the most profound reading experience I've had. I think it has just about everything that I would want from a book - family, struggle, crime, searing romance, devotion, the quest for truth and the exquisite anguish that comes with it, genuine friendship. It would be difficult to exaagerate the greatness of this book.
What were your favorite records of 2002, and could you talk about some of the albums you are currently listening to?
Godspeed you Black Emperor "lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven!", I like that record a lot. I've been listening to Jimi Hendrix, the Jam, the Minutemen, New Order, the Replacements - a lot of perennials.
Does music (both generally and the music you write) still excite you as much as it did when you first started doing this? Do you feel that you want to be involved in music in some regard for the rest of your life?
I trust that I'll always be making music, in one capacity or another. It's equally exciting any time a new song takes shape and you feel in your body that it is good, that it is a moving piece of sound and/or lyric.
(In any band) What was your favorite show that you've ever played and what makes a memorable performance in your opinion?
Once the Jets, very early on, played a show in Amsterdam and I had inadvertantly eaten a hash brownie before we played. I don't smoke pot so well, so it was good that I didn't know I was about to be stoned. Anyway, we're playing, you know it's an early show, we're in this youth center by a canal kind of on the outskirts of the city, it's very casual - light is streaming in the windows, there's not much of a stage, just a carpet over concrete, about 50 people are in the room. It's nice, though, it's real laid back and pleasant. So, we go to a song where I use the wah-wah pedal, and I'm really digging this pedal, right, like it's the first time I've ever heard it. It's blowing my mind - and that's when I remember the brownie and I'm cracking up because I didn't know I was stoned and suddenly I know and it's great. Very rock and roll - like I felt like I gained insight into why people do drugs and play music concurrently. There is a metaphor for my life in there, about unselfconsciousness and letting yourself enjoy good things, too. See, had I known that I was going to be high I would have freaked and it probably would have been horrible. Happily, it didn't go that way.
In-between JTB and Jawbreaker, you moonlighted as a video-game reviewer. What current systems/games are you playing or would you recommend?
I'm not playing any games now, the world's too fucked up.
What's next for the band? What can we expect for the rest of 2003 and perhaps 2004?
Just touring for now - I'm just looking that far ahead. Being with our people out there.
Any closing comments for the kids?
Kids - be young, be real.
ABHOR would like to thank Blake for a great interview.
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