‘Dear You’: Jawbreaker’s Emo Cult Classic

By 1995, Jawbreaker had reached a crossroads. The punk trio had built up a large following in their Bay Area scene, earning critical acclaim and endorsements from bands like Nirvana, which brought them on tour in 1993. For years, Jawbreaker insisted they would never give up their independence for the seductive appeal of a major label. But the wear and tear of half a decade of playing and touring began to show cracks in the band’s foundation.

To complicate matters, singer Blake Schwarzenbach had to have surgery to remove a polyp from his throat, following a European tour that found him coughing up blood every night. Unexpected expense aside, the physical toll necessitated some necessary changes to their MO Schwarzenbach, drummer Adam Pfahler and bassist Chris Bauermeister were left with a decision: call it a day, or do as they say. they would never do and accept backing from a major label. The only question was whether or not their fans would follow – a scenario they saw unfold first hand when local Green Day icons became mainstream. Jawbreaker, if any, was held to an even higher standard.

Listen to Jawbreaker Very expensive on Apple Music and Spotify.

“It’s a very personal band for people,” vocalist Blake Schwarzenbach said in Dan Ozzi’s book, Sold. “Those who identify with it identify with it as theirsand sacred, and truthful in a way.

Jawbreaker’s frenetic swirl of punk energy and Schwarzenbach’s witty, introspective lyrics caught the attention of A&R scouts years before the band was ready to amuse them. But in 1995 they signed with Geffen Records for just under a million dollars, beginning work on their fourth and final album, Very expensivewith producer Rob Cavallo, who also produced Green Day’s Dookie. They didn’t make a pop album with their new budget, not exactly. Its debut single, “Fireman”, featured a video played on MTV’s late night alt.rock show 120 minutesbut it was more jagged and misanthropic than the likes of Green Day, juxtaposing harsh riffs with Schwarzenbach lines like “I dreamed I was a firefighter, just smoked and watched you burn.”

Simple four-chord punk moments abound, like the opener “Save Your Generation” and “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault.” But overall, Jawbreaker had focused on darker, more sophisticated materials. On songs like “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both” and “Sluttering (May 4th)”, that meant putting forth more abrasive riffs over bigger hooks. But after recovering from throat surgery, Schwarzenbach toned down the screams and yelps, and used this more nuanced approach to write slower material with haunting layers, like the epic, almost shoegazey “Accident Prone” or the moody “Jet Black”.

Very expensive became a pivotal and influential record for what eventually became emo, due to its balance between a more sophisticated punk sound and an intimately honest lyrical approach. Over time, it has become considered one of the genre’s most important albums. But finding a wider audience for Very expensive proved elusive at the time. Album sales stagnated at around 40,000 copies in its first year, and the backlash from their hometown scene began before the album was released. Tensions between the band members also boiled over and a fight broke out in the van while they were on tour with Foo Fighters. By the time they got home, Jawbreaker had decided to quit.

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Jawbreaker’s Very expensive found its audience, and one that largely eclipsed its listeners in 1995, but it took 25 years to get there. He was greeted by rolling stone as one of the greatest emo albums, and the standout track “Accident Prone” was included on Vulture‘s list of the top 100 emo songs. The group also sold more than half of the dates on their Very expensive reunion tour months before they take place, which is perhaps the most concrete measure of how far we’ve come. The curse of being ahead of the times means that sometimes it takes a while for everyone to catch up.

Listen to Jawbreaker Very expensive on Apple Music and Spotify.

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