interview by mathieu and natasha
answers by Jay Robbins
french version in positive rage #8 (print version)
could we come back on the Jawbox split or maybe it bother you to talk
about this ? if not, why did you split ?
Jay Robbins : Jawbox was together for over 8 years; that's a long time. Bands have their
own natural life spans, and we had reached the end of ours, not that it was
easy to split up, but we could all feel it was time. The big catalyst was
that our drummer decided to go back to college in New York, and he's not the
sort of musician that can just be replaced. Rather than try to reinvent our
band once again with a new drummer, we decided it would be smart to let it
go. We were proud of everything we had done up to then, we felt it added up
to something, so it could be over and done with.
After Jawbox split, you didn't want to change your style ? Burning
Airlines is very close to Jawbox, especially the vocals.
Style can only be a conscious thing to a certain degree. The vocals are
similar becuase I'm the singer in both bands, and I sing with my own voice.
And there are musical similarites because there are certain
creative/structural/harmonic threads I just naturally seem to pursue, and
lyrical concerns I will always have. It's not like trying on a suit of
clothes or putting on an accent ... I feel that Jawbox evolved a lot from
record to record, trying out a lot of things, and I think Burning Airlines is
a further progression. Superficially things may be similar, and deep in the
heart of the music they SHOULD be similar, but in a lot of the structures and
in the rhythm section especially, BA is a lot different from Jawbox. At
least, I think so. Plus, I think Burning Airlines will continue to change and
You have been familiar with the majors during Jawbox and Burning Airlines
starts (again) with an indepedant label (De Soto) -we can even talk about an
autoproduction- why ? you prefer to stop working with the majors or you just
need time ?
We wouldn't absolutely rule out working with a major again, but we love
working with our friends. Working with major labels can put a lot of things
into your head that are a waste of time and energy. We trust DeSoto, we know
they care about our band, and it's on a level we can thoroughly understand.
We can feel responsible for our sucesses and failures, rather than being
plugged into a bigger system that just does what it does. It's not a huge
political thing for me, but I cherish the thought that we make our own
culture and share it with people on our terms rather than just accepting that
there's one way to work and one definition of success.
Who is taking care of De Soto ?
Kim Coletta, who is one of my oldest friends and who was the bassist of
Jawbox. It's really her label.
It's amazing because unlike the others, you created a label to bring out
others bands and not for your own releases, you just do it now for Burning
Airlines. Usually, the others bands who create labels do the contrary. It's
We started running DeSoto to put out the first Jawbox 7"; but after that, we
were excited to be on Dischord, and then to go to Atlantic. So we always had
a bigger label to release Jawbox stuff, and we used DeSoto just for fun side
projects, occasional Jawbox 7"es, and to help our friends bands start out.
But since Kim goes to school again now, she only has time to put out a few
new DeSoto releases. The only bands on the label now are Burning Airlines,
Juno, and the Dismemberment Plan.
Do you feel still related to the punk rock ? you are all musicians with a
past in D.C scene.
I think we all do, in some way or another. I do, a lot, although I don't know
if my definition of "punk rock" applies to any of the bands that are calling
themselves "punk" now. I read a quote somewhere: "art always runs the other
way when you try to call it by its name." I think of punk as a kind of basic
inspriation, a spirit, part of which has to do with evading easy categories.
Did your friends of D.C ( Dischord, the others bands ) reproach you your
signing on a major ?
Not really; people were supportive of us, sort of like, "if this is what you
want, then you should go for it." People wondered why we did it, and now I
can understand even better than they did at the time just WHY they should
have wondered, but tour friends have always stood by us. We're very lucky.
Are you still on friendly terms with Dischord and the others bands of D.C ?
With Burning Airlines, you earn your living with your music or did you
have to find work ?
Burning Airlines is doing okay financially, especially for a fairly new band.
We're lucky. But we can't really make a living off it. It supports itself,
but we have to work when we're home. I'm also lucky because my "dayjob" is
recording other bands.
What do you think about Smart Went Crazy ? some people have compared them
to you, did you agree at that time ?
Smart Went Crazy was a great band. I admired them a lot. Comparisons aren't
generally very useful to me.
Like you did with Jawbox, you seem to remain faithfull to a pop style and
very polished melodies. You differenciate yourself from all the others bands
by your very meticulous, polished and well produced side. Is it thanks to
your great experience or are you more big hard-working men ?
I think our past experiences have tought us to be meticulous, to pay
attention to details. But we also have a strong work ethic. I think we know
when things sound right to us, and when they don't. So its also a matter of
taste. We want them to sound right.
The little hole on your album cover, this must have cost a lot of money ?
Not too much - about as much as getting an additional color on the cover.
Do you feel afraid of the eventual reproach of being too similar to
Jawbox ? and by this way, Burning Airlines considered by the audience only
as a continuation of Jawbox ?
Some people say we're a lot like Jawbox, some people say we're extremely
different from Jawbox. It doesn't matter to me; people are entitled to think
anything they want. I'm glad if they are listening to us at all. And if they
are listening with their ears and their brains, then they will get something
unique out of it. I might care more if we thought of ourselves as a
continuation of Jawbox, but we don't. I think in very simple terms: I want to
write good songs and make good music, and as long as I feel challenged and
satisfied by it, I think we're doing it for the right reasons, and I'm sure
someone else who listens will be able to feel that too. But you can't really
worry about what everyone else thinks; you'd never get anything done!
© brian liu