At the Drive-In’s acrimonious break-up in 2001 seemed to doom the group’s chances of a reunion, but against the odds, they announced their return in January of this year. Just a few hours before performing a ferocious performance to a surging, enthusiastic crowd at Lollapalooza’s Red Bull stage – just the 10th show of their nascent tour – Rolling Stone spoke with drummer Tony Hajjar and lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala about forgiveness, adjusting to a new era and aging in rock & roll.
What motivated you guys to get back together right now?
Bixler-Zavala: For me, the mending of an old marriage, really. We just sort of left an old marriage behind and never finalized it in a divorce, so it was good to finally come back and be like, “Take me back, baby!” [Laughs]
Has it been difficult at all getting back into that old rhythm?
Hajjar: Actually, it’s been a lot easier than we thought. Last November, we decided to get in a room and play no old songs. And just jam. We did that for four or five days and it just went wonderful. That’s how we knew. After day four, we made a phone call and I just said yes to Coachella. And that’s how it all started at that point. You know, we’ve always been lucky because we always have a lot of chemistry in the room when we are together, so we knew in the first five minutes that we were ready to go and we were going to start doing this again.
How would you describe the difference between doing shows then and now?
Bixler-Zavala: It’s a new rhythm. I like to think I take care of my body a little bit more, I’m not screaming as much. I like to think that it’s a different version of what we did 10 years ago. That’s a little different maybe; that’s up front to everyone. I think it’s just figuring out a new way to get back to the old way that we presented it. I approach it differently now.
Since you mentioned health, do you find there’s a difference in how you prepare yourself for touring, now that you guys are older?
Hajjar: Absolutely. One thing that’s great about us five is that we took care of ourselves the past 11 years. Everyone came [back] pretty strong. You probably warm up just a little more than you ever did – if you ever warmed up in the past! We kind of just jumped onstage back then. [Laughs] Now it’s like, this is what we do, we’ve been lucky enough to be doing it for a long time now. You start realizing what your body needs and what your mind needs to do the show that you want.
Years after breaking up, was there anything you needed to do to mend bridges that you hadn’t anticipated?
Bixler-Zavala: There was so much of that, at least for my part. I had a lot of apologizing to do, apologizing to significant others so that they could trust as well. What I think a lot of people don’t realize is the big burden significant others took when that whole thing happened, what they carried for 10 years – for those that stuck around that long. I had to mend that wound, sort of ask to start at Year Zero. At least take me for what I am now. I have definitely had a big impactful change since 2010, and it’s rough to look in the mirror, but it’s such an important thing to do that. You’ll never grow as an artist or a person. I’m just lucky these guys are so open to it. The biggest thing is that they wanted to, really.
Hajjar: In April 2009, before we were even talking about playing together, we went to Omar’s house in Mexico and we literally sat around for four days and talked. And ironically enough, a box of DV tapes was shipped to Jim’s house from an old friend from our last tour. So we would literally press play, watch our past, stop it, talk. For four days. That was just perfect timing. It worked out really good for us in the sense that we got to remember what our issues were. In any relationship, everyone does stupid shit. We’re just happy to come back and have such a good response. We’re really lucky people.
Bixler-Zavala: There’s moments where we’re watching old band meetings on tape, and we’re like, “That’s what you meant! You couldn’t just say that to me,” you had to say, “SOME of us need to turn down,” and I’m looking the other way instead of having the balls to confront the situation for what it really is. That’s where we’re at right now, where we have the balls to squash stupid shit before it turns into paranoia, or whatever it becomes that can destroy a band.
How does it feel being back at Lollapalooza?
Bixler-Zavala: Growing up you get to watch these old lineups. You’re watching people in rock bands watching Ice Cube, back during his first couple of solo records. That always said it all to me, what it was. Coming from El Paso, “I want to go there, that’s cool!” That’s the way I am. I listen to anything, too. And it didn’t seem like it was like that in El Paso. So it’s nice to be here.
What’s been the most fun about performing again, or that may have surprised you about being back together and being onstage?
Hajjar: The energy’s still there, the chemistry’s still there, and it’s not forced, it’s really natural. It doesn’t get any better than being able to go up after 11 years and nothing feels different. And that’s very lucky to feel that way.
Bixler-Zavala: Other than the audience is all smiling now.
Hajjar: They used to boo us!
Bixler-Zavala: Yeah we used to have a lot of confrontational moments where we were the new kid in school. We got to a point where the new kid in school is welcomed. I personally never trusted the audience. So now it’s one of the greatest things to see everyone smiling; that’s just crazy to me.
Have you noticed that your audience is younger than it was?
Hajjar: That’s one of the biggest things for me. It’s very strange to be playing and not the whole crowd is your age. We’re playing to 15, 16-year-olds. A good story is, I was walking back to our bus and this kid came up to me and said, “I didn’t get to see you the first time,” I’m like, “Oh, thanks for coming,” and he’s like, “I was five.” [Laughs] It was kind of awakening in such a positive way that our music still translates. You can’t get luckier than that, that a kid who’s 16 is super into your music that you did 12 years ago.
Do you think of touring again as solidifying your legacy, or do you worry it could take away from it?
Hajjar: It’s another chapter, that’s all it is. If you think of it as another chapter, you’re fine. If you think of it as you’re trying to relive something, you’re fucked. In all life. This is just our next chapter, and there might be another chapter or we might close the book. That’s all we’re trying to do, and have a good time while doing it.
Do you guys ever watch This Is Spinal Tap to figure out what not to do?
Bixler-Zavala: [Laughs] That and Bad News. You know Bad News, The Young Ones? I learned not to spend a buttload of money on a sixth member. All those questions and those concerns are there, you just have to have the guts to say it out loud, just like you would in your marriage or calling someone out in public for being a dick. It’s just about not being a reactive mind about it. But Spinal Tap is a lesson for anyone, really. [Laughs]