In 1990, Jawbreaker — a Bay Area pop-punk trio featuring Blake Schwarzenbach (guitars/vocals), Adam Pfahler (drums) and Chirs Bauermeister (bass) — released their debut album, Unfun. Their mix of deceptively sweet melodies, unrelenting power and Schwarzenbach's punk-Bukowsi lyricism made them one of the most influential groups of the '90s, and their fingerprints are all over much of the rock that took over mainstream radio in the mid-2000s. We talked to Schwarzenbach and Pfahler about the reissue of Unfun (out this week), Jawbreaker's legacy and the band's future. Grab a download of Unfun's "Gutless" at the end of the post (and hear it right here!):
Does listening to this album take you back to where you were when you were making it? Pfahler: Yeah, it was nostalgic for me. But the nostalgia was a bit short-lived. I had to listen to the stuff really obsessively because I was working on the remastering process. Schwarzenbach: I hadn't listened to it since it came out. I've always found it pretty challenging to listen to stuff that I've recorded. [Unfun] is so dense and, I would say, overwritten, but not in a critical way. It's such dense music that I'm astounded that we were doing that.
There's the cliché that bands wait their entire lives to make their first record and when that opportunity comes they pour absolutely everything into it. Schwarzenbach: That was the feeling in the band, that we only had that one record. And it was such a rare thing to make an album that we went at it pretty intensely.
Jawbreaker is heavily associated with the Bay Area punk scene, but Unfun was largely written while you were at college in New York, right, Blake? Schwarzenbach: I wrote a lot of those songs on 16th street and 3rd Ave. We kind of quickly arranged them into band form over a Christmas break. About seven of them were started or written in my apartment. I think if anything, those songs have a kind of New York desperation to them.
Is there anything about Unfun that you wish could've been done differently? Pfahler: The first album is pretty dense and energetic; you can hear the energy no matter what. By the time you get to [final album] Dear You, we had months to spend in the studio. Schwarzenbach: I think there was only the one way to make Unfun: with limited abilities and unlimited enthusiasm. The recordings have a certain knotted energy.
Have any songs grown or shrunk in your estimation? Pfahler: We played a couple of these songs — "Want" and "Fine Day" — throughout our career. Those were live staples. We lived with those the most, so they're my favorites. Schwarzenbach: I always liked the long, arty songs we did, partly because they were so difficult to do live. On Unfun, I like "Drone" a lot. Anything where we're jamming and expanding space, I still get excited about.
You guys lovingly curate the legacy of the band. Is there a feeling that a reunion would sour that legacy? Pfahler: We've been asked to do reunion tours pretty regularly. Blake and Chris have other bands, I have a job and a family. A few years back, some folks were out here filming a documentary on the band, so we all got together, and we played. We didn't film it, but we did play. People were shocked that we did that and didn't record it or anything. I tell Blake every time someone offers us something. I'd do it in a heartbeat because I live with it. Because I'm in charge of the legacy [Pfahler is in charge of the reissues of Jawbreaker's catalog], so these songs aren't very far from me. I'm living with it more, maybe more than the other guys. I'd probably do it. Schwarzenbach: I could see us spontaneously playing a party, but doing a huge tour would be kind of distasteful and it would do a disservice to the mystery of the band that's some how persisted.
Download Jawbreaker's "Gutless" (Right click and choose "save as")