It’s no secret that Minneapolis melodic punks Banner Pilot are big Jawbreaker fans. "What do we sound like?" they ask on their Facebook page. "Well, imagine if Jawbreaker, Lawrence Arms, and Alkaline Trio got in a knife fight and Jawbreaker won - but just barely." There’s even a song on their awesome new record, Souvenir, that starts off a little bit (OK—a hell of a lot like) Jawbreaker’s “Ache." Which is no bad thing at all. So we thought we’d get the band to tell us their favorite Jawbreaker lyrics. We were thinking specific lines, but Banner Pilot guitarist/bassist went one step further and gave us mini-essays about whole songs. That’s the kind of passion Jawbreaker still inspire in people to this day. And now we’ve written the word Jawbreaker seven times in eight lines. We’re not obsessed, honest. But Nate is. Over to him…
I got into Jawbreaker as a middle school kid, at a time when I was only listening to the kind of music that falls under the narrowest possible definition of "pop punk." These other bands were fun and goofy, and were a breath of fresh air at the time, but in most cases, lyrics were not their strong suit. If one of them were to tackle a song about a surgery, it would probably be called “Bobby’s Got a Busted Bladder” and would include a ripping three-note solo, the use of the words "madder" and "radder" as rhymes, and possibly a section with tom drums and a chanted spelling of the word "urination."
Nothing wrong with any of that, of course. But to discover Jawbreaker in the context of being immersed in bands like that made them really, really stand out in the lyric department. “Outpatient” was one of the first songs where I stopped and actually noticed how much more serious and interesting and complex they were compared to everything else I had discovered up to that point.
A song about getting throat surgery while on tour abroad, this manages to paint a vivid, memorable picture of what that would feel like, and it only needs about 15 lines to do so. All the little phrases are great. If this song didn’t exist and some other band used the line, "Yellow jelly, shot hard in vein" you would immediately think, “That totally sounds like a Jawbreaker line!” They had so many unique lines that work much better (and sound much cooler) than a blunt, literal sentence would.
I had minor surgery a couple years back and when I heard how long it would take, I thought it would be fun and funny to bring my iPod and listen to this song as they doped me up. Which, in retrospect, is a pretty weird thing to want to do. Anyway, they wouldn’t let me. Lousy doctors.
"Kiss the Bottle"
The best songs are the ones where the music truly matches the mood of the lyrics and everything blends and fits together perfectly. “Eleanor Rigby” is a great example, and so is “Kiss the Bottle." This is a very difficult thing to pull off; it has to be a fairly precise match. Imagine it: picture this song with the exact same lyrics, but as played slightly differently by a 90s skate punk band. A bit faster, with traces of the doo-doo-bop drum beat. Snottier vocals. Slicker, metal-y guitars. The lyrics would be no different, but just slight changes to the musical performance would somehow diminish them.
Here, the existing recording nails the vibe of the words. Loneliness, traces of alcoholism, regret, feeling lost and overwhelmed and drained in a cold city… when I hear this song and the way it’s played and recorded, it amplifies the message and I can feel like I’m there much more than if I were just reading the words on paper.
This song also does an amazing job of setting the scene with its opening lines:
"It gets loneliest at night.
Down at the liquor store.
Beneath the neon sky."
Fourteen words, and you know exactly what you’re getting into.
As a sidenote, this is surely the greatest song to ever appear exclusively on a compilation. I really can’t imagine having a song this good in your back pocket and not saving it for an album.
Probably one of the greatest love songs ever written, this is a bit more straight forward lyrically than a lot of other Jawbreaker tunes, but it’s perfect. Most punk rock love songs are dumb or syrupy (or both!), but this manages to be romantic, sad, nervous and sweet over the course of just a couple minutes.
In the vast majority of cases, even great lyrics don’t look so hot on paper. When you’re writing a song, you’re constricted by melody and rhymes and limited time, and the result is going to be different than if you were writing a book or story and had none of those restrictions. Jawbreaker have many, many songs that do look great on paper, which is a rarity. This is one, though, that sounds amazing when it’s sung and accompanied with music, but isn’t quite as great on the page. “Black as night” was the first thing my ninth grade English teacher used as an example when explaining what a cliché in writing was, and I remember thinking, “That’s bullshit, it sounds so killer in that Jawbreaker song!” (Looking back, I should have said that out loud and then shoved all my papers off my desk and stormed out of the room. That would have been awesome.)
I guess I’m not sure why this one stood out to me so much. It’s one of my favorite Jawbreaker songs, though, and the lyrics must have something to do with that. It’s almost like the flip of “Kiss The Bottle”; here, for some reason, it feels like lyrics were crafted to fit an existing song rather than vice versa. Either way, it all fits together perfectly. Also, I know from experience that using a sample in a song is generally what we call "a very bad idea," but here, I can’t imagine the song without the Kerouac bit and the stray piano notes. It slips in and out but feels right at home alongside Blake’s words.
A simple and straightforward one, this tackles a subject I have some familiarity with: a grindy tour when no one knows who you are, or cares, and things are going wrong all around you… but, at the end of the day it still kinda, sorta works out and feels worth it. There are a lot of “bad tour / life on the road” tunes, but this is one of the best. It really nails the feeling. When you’ve been crammed in a van for six hours and you show up at bar and you’re like, “Wait, this looks like a metal bar” and, sure enough, your poster is halfway covered up by a Goat Sacrifice flyer and most of the looks you’re getting are glares and the sound guy doesn’t care the sound sucks and when you start playing, it feels like you’re just rudely interrupting conversations, it can be a bit deflating. But then someone comes up and says they like your record and have been waiting all week for the show, and you realize that hey, it actually is pretty cool that even one person here knows who you are. You think, “You know what? This show, it actually completely fucking sucked. But that one part was cool. I wonder if the pizza behind the bar is any good.”
Anyway, for such a common topic, this song does a perfect job of conveying what it actually feels like, and I imagine it’s still relatable to a lot of bands even over 20 years after it came out. Even in an age of GPS and smartphones and Yelp and everything else that makes the day-to-day of touring easier, basic and fundamental things can go wrong, and will go wrong, and you just try to work through them, and then things go on. Every time I’ve ever broken a string on stage, that melody floats into my head: “Twenty minutes in, I broke another fucking string. Just call it luck.” I ask one of the other bands for a bass. I get one. And the show moves on.
Souvenir is out now from Fat Wreck. All of Jawbreaker's albums are out too unless they wanna go ahead and make another one.