In 1995, as grunge faded and shiny, happy punk bounced onto the scene, the big bonus would go to the A&R guy who delivered the next Green Day. Enter San Francisco's Jawbreaker.
With Green Day's management, producer, and even video director behind them, conventional wisdom (BAM, Pulse, Alternative Press) predicted San Francisco's Jawbreaker would churn through the Buzz Bin with quick, brainy ditties about breaking up and saving generations. Instead, they never made it out of Alternative Nation, and over the Fourth of July the band called it quits.
Sure, they'd forged through six years and three records, and performed for more punk teen-agers than hang out on Haight Street any given weekend, but fans forgot all about street cred the minute Jawbreaker inked a three-record, million-dollar deal and endorsed Converse sneakers to boot.
Jawbreaker's gambit failed to pay off when programmers plumbed Dear You for a hooky single or a teen anthem and instead found an album that didn't reward anyone who wasn't willing to read the lyric sheet. “I'm proud of [Dear You] as a record,” says drummer Adam Pfahler. “We didn't have any illusions that we were going to sell a million records. It would have been nice, but by major standards it didn't do too well. … After we made that record we thought, 'People will get it or they won't.' “
Apparently they didn't. Many of Jawbreaker's fans cried foul at the record's swing toward slick production and soulless pop. And then there was the shock that a band that had bad-mouthed the big, bad majors was actually joining the ranks. “It was such a bizarre reaction,” says singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach. “It seemed really icy at first — indifference is what I felt on tour.”
Schwarzenbach says Dear You sold better than the rest of Jawbreaker's discography, though of course in the big-stakes major-label world this didn't mean much. Still, the Internet rumor mill says that the band called it quits because the record didn't make rock stars out of regular guys. It's an allegation that Schwarzenbach says is ridiculous, claiming he's “diving into poverty” to leave.
Another bit of gossip among Mission District hipsters is that the real impetus toward premature retirement came from within, namely that the band members couldn't stand one another.
The party line, from Jawbreaker's DGC publicist on down, is that the breakup is amicable. Schwarzenbach says he just wanted to leave behind a rote routine and move on to other projects. “I want to work in a really free environment,” he says. “Being in a band that long, it becomes really formal. Being stuck with those songs I felt like I was trying to outrun our legacy.” He has.
By Jeff Stark