A new band from Bay Area punk veterans — with members of Green Day and Jawbreaker — wants to earn your fandom on its own terms
I was 12 years old in 1996, which is the year Jawbreaker, the punk band that's been (somewhat controversially) called "the sound of the Mission," disbanded for good. I started listening to them about four years later, and really only started listening-listening to them, in the way that Jawbreaker fans listen to Jawbreaker — obsessively, open-veined, with every part of your body engaged — a few years after that, when I was in college in San Diego, 500 miles from the '90s Bay Area punk scene that I had only just begun to realize was special once it (and I) was all but gone.
I suspect, however, and a few friends' Jawbreaker-love stories have confirmed this, that it doesn't matter how old you are when you start listening to Jawbreaker, because Jawbreaker songs — in the universality of their lyrical angst, wedged as they are in that the puzzle-piece-shaped sweet spot between well-crafted pop and sore throat-inducing (in singer Blake Schwarzenbach's case, throat polyp-causing) punk rock — will make you feel like a teenager. And not in the hopeful, peppy way people usually mean when they say something "made them feel like a teenager." I mean, really, confused, hormonal, nostalgic, angry, in love, frustrated, drunk, fist-in-air triumphant, wistful about something you can't quite place, and generally just fucking waterlogged with feeling.
The band's enduring popularity and the reverence with which it's still treated among the '90s punk/emo-loving population — Google image-search "Jawbreaker tattoo" if you don't believe me — is certainly, in large part, thanks to that: As an adult, that mood gets harder to access; you don't often stumble onto art which opens a portal into that level of emotion. Jawbreaker picks you up and hurls you down it before you know what's happening.
Drummer Adam Pfahler, the driving force behind the past few years of remastered re-issues of Jawbreaker's iconic albums (on his own label, Blackball Records) has been plenty busy since that band met its demise. He opened Lost Weekend Video on Valencia, and still works there a few days a week. He lives in Bernal Heights; he has two teenage daughters. He's played in at least a dozen other bands, including J Church and Whysall Lane. So does it bug him that people still mainly associate him with Jawbreaker, some 18 years after they broke up?
"Not at all — I'm totally grateful for that band, and the fact that people still feel that strongly about it is insane," says the drummer, during a phone interview in which he multi-tasks impressively: He has about 20 minutes before it's time to run to an evening practice with his new band, California, and he's making pasta for his kids while answering questions.
"I'm definitely not running from that legacy. I love it, and so do Blake [Schwarzenbach] and Chris [Bauermeister, Jawbreaker's bassist]," he says. "It is a little funny because I've been playing all along...it's just that certain things take hold or get seen better than others."