Interview: Issue 68, August 1994

Interview: Jawbox


SLUG: The last time you visited Salt Lake City, you played DV8 with Girls Against Boys. How did Salt Lake react to your music?

Bill Barbot: Tons of people came. We’ve always drawn a good crowd every time we play Salt Lake. The audience reaction is something else—Salt Lake audiences have a unique characteristic I can’t describe.

Jawbox is a former Dischord band now with a major label contract. Their press kit is filled with discussions on the indie/major label issue. I had to do my part and ask a related question.

SLUG: Have you experienced any violence similar to what recently happened to Jello Biafra as a result of your signing with a major label?

Barbot: We haven’t experienced any violence at our shows. The negative response to our signing has been low. We haven’t been attacked physically or in the press.

Barbot says the negative response to punk rock bands is not confined to indie vs. major label bands. He says even Ian MacKaye of Fugazi gets negative reactions from some people. In 1983-’84 when Barbot got into punk rock the experience was completely different from the current situation. He was attracted to punk rock because it had a lighter sound than the heavy rock he listened to in junior high. The bands were poking fun at society in their lyrics. Now there are so many different scenes and so many different definitions of what punk rock is that unity that once existed doesn’t anymore. The 14 or 15-year-old kid just getting into the music has a very divergent view from someone who’s been doing it for a long time. That’s fine with Barbot, but when they start getting dogmatic with their political views and begin to assault people it’s another thing entirely.

Barbot says the negative response to punk rock bands is not confined to indie vs. major label bands.
Barbot says the negative response to punk rock bands is not confined to indie vs. major label bands. Issue 68, August 1994

Barbot went on to say that songwriting and the integrity of the music should be more important than what label a band is on. He believes Jawbox hasn’t suffered at the hands of punk rock dogmatists because they have never been a political band.

SLUG: Are these the largest venues you’ve played?

Barbot: Yes, these are the biggest shows we’ve ever played. We originally had some misgivings about doing this tour because we will play to people who don’t know our music. The audience won’t be there to see us. We are taking a cautionary approach and won’t try to change anyone’s mind. We plan to get onstage, play our music and get off.

The band has some concern for the Jawbox fans. “They aren’t used to paying $16 to $20 to see us and I’m afraid a lot of our fans won’t attend,” says Barbot. Playing on a big stage with a huge sound system is a challenge, but it will be a good experience for them. “I’m more comfortable playing on a small stage where I can see the audience’s eyes,” Barbot says.

The most recent edition of Option Magazine ran a feature describing the road experiences of indie bands. I decided to ask Barbot many of the same questions to find out if the road experience is any different for major label bands.

Band: Jawbox. Spokesman: Bill Barbot (electric guitar, vocals). Homebase: Washington, D.C. Latest Album: For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Current Tour: West Coast with Jawbreaker. Salt Lake City: With Stone Temple Pilots and Meat Puppets. Previous Tour: Europe. Vehicle: Jawbox is using two vans on this tour and the upcoming one with Stone Temple Pilots. They use their own cargo van which they’ve built a loft into for equipment storage. They’ve also rented a minivan because their van only holds four people and they are taking six on this tour.

SLUG: What are you listening to on the van’s tape deck?

Barbot: Brainiac, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Blues compilation tapes from roadie Mike’s huge collection, The John Spencer Blues Explosion, Shudder To Think and The Flaming Lips. (These are only a few of the names he mentioned)

SLUG: Best Show?

Barbot: Last night in Los Angeles. Big cities are hard to play because the audiences see so much live music that they get jaded and it’s hard to get a reaction. Last night’s show was packed and we played a great set.

SLUG: Worst Show?

Barbot: On our tour of Europe we played a club in Stuttgart that was the size of a living room. There wasn’t a stage and we played on the floor. I was nose to nose with the Germans.

SLUG: What was your weirdest experience on tour?

Barbot: A show in Poland. We played two shows in Poland. Prague is a beautiful city, but it makes the rest of Poland look like doggie doo-doo. Poland has been the armpit of Europe for years. We pulled into our second gig at a teen cultural center to face 13 and 14-year-olds passed out drunk on the sidewalk. They see so few rock bands that when one comes, it’s a big party for the people. It was sad because of the early age kids start drinking at. The show and our experience in Poland were chaotic. It took us three hours to get into the country, because the border guards blocked the road with huge pylons and then left for three hours. It took us two hours to get out of the country. There are hardly any border stops left in Europe except in Poland.

SLUG: Do you get in fights?

Barbot: We don’t have any fights. We are a meek band. Last night a guy caused a ruckus. I asked the audience to dance and one guy hopped up onstage and after bumping into J and Kim he came over to me and tried to pull my pants from my body. The roadies were all over him. Even after he was ejected, he hung around outside waiting to talk to me. When I talked to him he rambled on and on, at times reciting the lyrics to songs and saying how great we were and then becoming very abusive in the next sentence. He was obviously disturbed or strung out on something.

SLUG: What is your road diet?

Barbot: We used to eat junk food. Jawbox’s health is now looking up. A current favorite is the cereal combos at Denny’s.

SLUG: What are your favorite restaurants?

Barbot: I have three. One on the West Coast, one in the middle of the country and one on the East Coast. Greens in San Francisco—a gourmet vegetarian restaurant. The West Lynn Cafe in Austin has great food and Tutta Pasta in New York.

SLUG: What are your sleeping arrangements?

Barbot: Jawbox is at the point now where we can afford motels. It’s better than sleeping on people’s floors because we have our own phone, we don’t have to use someone else’s. We can throw our wet clothes on the floor and we don’t have to worry about messing up someone’s house. Super 8 Motels are the band’s current favorites. When we play big cities, we stay with friends.

SLUG: What are your rituals?

Barbot: Before I go onstage I always take everything out of my pockets except guitar picks and I shine my forehead. I change my guitar strings every day.

Life on the road for this major-label band appears to be almost the same as that of an indie band. In this day and age, I have to agree with Barbot’s statement about the integrity of the music being more important than the label. The last few years have changed my opinion, call me a sell-out if you want. I hear good and bad music from the independents and the majors. Jawbox is good music. If you can afford it, go see them on the big stage. If you can’t, they’ll be back in the clubs soon. -WA

Read more from the SLUG Archives:
Salt Lake Indies
Do Not Trust The Federal Ones