Red Harvest from Santa Monica, CA was arguably the earliest incarnation of Jawbreaker; the name was taken from the title of Dashiell Hammett's 1929 novel. The band was comprised of high school buddies Blake Schwarzenbach (guitar), Adam Pfahler (drums), and "some guy named Rich" (bass). Their music was later described in a Jawbreaker interview as instrumental gloom rock and all "feedback and leads."
In the winter of 1986 at New York University, when all three future members of Jawbreaker were sophomores, Chris Bauermeister (who had earlier played in a band with Richard Baluyat, now of Versus, and Ian James, later of Flower) posted an ad in the cafeteria in hopes of forming a band. Blake and Adam responded, and thus the first true formation of Jawbreaker occurred. Their first performance occurred when they provided the soundtrack to a rock opera featuring Kembra Pfahler, Adam's sister (now a member of The Voloptuous Horror of Karen Black).
In late 1988, the band members decided to take a break from college, relocating to L.A. and taking the name Rise. Rise was different from Jawbreaker in one respect: Blake handled only guitar duties, and high school buddy Jon Liu (earlier of Magnolia Thunderpussy) sang for the band. Although Rise never released anything, songs like "Shield Your Eyes" and "Caroline" were penned during the band's existence; in fact, the former song appeared on a 1989 Shredder Records 7" compilation, copyrighted to Rise in the year 1988. At some point in 1988, Jon was ditched. Blake took up the position of lead singer; Chris occasionally provided backing vocals, and also sang lead in a number of songs. The band picked the new name Jawbreaker one night after seeing it written on a band-name brainstorming sheet, although none of them could attest to writing it down. The aforementioned Shredder compilation, The World's in Shreds Vol. 2 7", was released in 1989, and contained the band's first officially released song. Jawbreaker recorded their first full studio demo on February 3, 1989. The tape, which later came to be known as Demo #1, was comprised of mid-tempo post-hardcore punk songs. In May of 1989, the band's first 7" EP, Whack and Blite, was recorded. They played their first San Francisco show as Jawbreaker on June 15, 1989 at the Covered Wagon Saloon in San Francisco, CA (the ad and setlist can be seen to the right). After recording the Busy 7" in June of 1989, the band's second demo was recorded on August 3 and 4, 1989. Demo #2 was harder and faster than Demo #1, essentially catapulting the band into the realm of hardcore punk.
Jawbreaker put out their first LP, Unfun, on Shredder Records in 1990; it was recorded in the first two months of the same year. The album continued in the melody-infused hardcore tradition of the second demo, albeit with a tighter performance and a more polished production. They toured extensively over the summer of 1990, and temporarily broke up soon after. The trio took the time off to finish up school, Blake and Chris in New York and Adam in Los Angeles. In 1991, the band released songs from the first two demos on various compilations and split 7" records in order to satiate fans starving for new material. After getting back together, the band relocated to San Francisco. The next LP, Bivouac, was recorded in October of 1991, but didn't come out until late 1992 on Tupelo/Communion Records. In comparison to the first LP, Bivouac was an epic; the songs were slower, gloomier, and more brooding, but also notably more melodic and complex in terms of structure and instrumentation. Nevertheless, the song "Chesterfield King," (which was released on a 12" along with songs from the same session that didn't make it onto the LP), hinted at the simpler and poppier sound that the band would adopt for their next album.
In late 1992, Jawbreaker toured parts of Europe; Blake's raspy singing style finally caught up with him, and he had to have throat surgery in London in order to remove polyps. Around the same period, Adam had knee surgery and had to get a collapsed vein in his arm fixed. Despite these ordeals, the band trudged on and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was recorded in part by the infamous Steve Albini in mid-1993; the album came out in 1994 on Tupelo/Communion Records. Stylistically, the band had reaffirmed their punk rock roots with the album by composing raw, simple, and catchy three-chord songs. In December of 1993, the band wrapped up the year by recording a pair of songs that were later released on compilation records.
In October of 1993, Jawbreaker opened for Nirvana in a series of shows and were reviled by many fans as a result. All the way into 1994, the band was forcefully shooting down all rumors of deciding to sign to a major label. And ironically, they would do just that for their next LP to the backlash of many fans who swore by the band's self-proclaimed indie ethics; Dear You was recorded and came out on Geffen Records in 1995. The slick, professional, radio rock production scared away many long-time fans, but the songwriting remained potent as ever; the band showcased a new type epic, mournful song in the forms of "Accident Prone," "Jet Black," and "Basilica," perhaps harkening to the days of Bivouac. The band shot a video for the song "Fireman," which was released as a single and became a radio hit.
Tension between the band members grew during their last tour in the spring of 1996. Jawbreaker played their last show on May 19, 1996 at the Capital Theater in Olympia, WA. They officially disbanded in the summer of 1996 because they decided that "Jawbreaker as an entity [had] run its course." In the summer of 1999, a live recording, entitled Live 4/30/96, was posthumously released on Allied Recordings as the label's 100th and final release. 100 copies on vinyl were given out lottery-style in a contest. A CD of this recording, with an extra track, was released in October of 1999 on Blackball Records. In addition to album selections, the release featured a sampling of new songs that had never been recorded in a studio on account of the band's breakup. Most recently, in the summer of 2002, a long-awaited double LP and CD compilation of rare and non-LP material entitled Etc. was released on the same label. Dear You will soon see a reissue on the Blackball label.
Jawbreaker continues to stand as a towering monument in the history of punk rock music. The reason is simple: they simultaneously transformed and transcended the genre. They harnessed an energy essential to all great rock'n'roll - indeed, their aggression often rivaled the best hardcore and thrash of the '80s in terms of sheer power - but they also possessed a brilliant sense of melody and interplay that resulted in scores of breathtaking musical compositions.
Currently, a new generation of kids are discovering the band; long-time fans continue to keep the records in constant rotation, and the obsessed keep up the search for obscure live recordings and demos. Jawbreaker's timeless music lives on.
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