DRIVE LIKE JEHU Not everything about the ’90s sucked complete ass. Mark Waters
Three years ago I began pining for the lost sound of mid-'90s music, the kind that Drive Like Jehu, Pitchblende, aMiniature, Unwound, Thirty Ought Six, Quicksand, and early Silkworm had done. The bands played music that was angular, even mathy in structure, yet all managed to bludgeon you over the head with enough rock to satisfy those of us who crave that kind of thing. The sound was silenced--I believe by mainstream alternative--and by 1996, the bands that played this style of music and didn't break up seemed to have splintered into emo or gone back to hardcore.

Drive Like Jehu always remained the touchstone of that sound I missed so much, though. I'm a gigantic fan of the band, having seen them live four times. I still have the T-shirt I bought for $5 when they played some coffee shop/all-ages venue in Portland. I'm psyched that the band's best album, 1994's Yank Crime, was reissued last week on singer/guitarist John Reis' Swami Records. But it's plain coincidence that he's making this material available, because Reis really has no idea that his band was, to many musicians and critics, creating some of the most important music of that time.

I called Reis in San Diego and he had this to say on the subject. "As far as Drive Like Jehu's scope of influence, I don't think I'm very aware of it, to tell you the truth. Rick [Froberg, guitarist and singer] and I, we play in the Hot Snakes, and we were talking one day about how people come up and say, 'Drive Like Jehu was my favorite band and we're really into you guys and I want to give you a tape of our band,' and not only does it not sound like Drive Like Jehu (or at least what we thought we sounded like) but it's also really terrible. But then I give Hot Snakes records to [the Wipers'] Greg Sage and I'm sure he doesn't dig them."

So why is Reis reissuing Jehu records if he doesn't think they were that big of a deal? The answer is pure benevolence. "It's nice to have those records still available and in print, instead of people having to pay too much money for them on eBay or in collectors' stores. The band wanted to have them out there reasonably priced, and if people want it they should be able to get it."

Jay Clark, former guitar player for Kill Sadie and current guitarist for Pretty Girls Make Graves, explains his obsession with Drive Like Jehu. "The first time I realized how great they were was when I was in high school, in study hall, and I was listening to Yank Crime while I was napping. I was kind of in and out of consciousness but the sound was really amazing, I'd never heard anything like it before. For three years I listened to that record every day. They were a big deal to me and a huge influence on the way I play guitar."

Reis counters, "Drive Like Jehu was just white boys jacking off. When you're younger, bands that you see affect you. I'm still affected deeply by music that I like, and I get inspiration from bands I see playing all the time. But there's something about that time when you were younger and you were equating the quality of something by how difficult it is to play. Drive Like Jehu's songs took forever to write and it wasn't always fun. It was fun to play them once we had them written and recorded, but writing them was like pulling your hair out.

"The thing that blows me away," he continues, "the thing that has translated, is that most bands that I've heard that admit they were influenced by Drive Like Jehu have really long songs, and that's something that I don't have patience for anymore. Now I feel like Drive Like Jehu was flashy or trying to make an impression. That wasn't our intention at all, but when I look back at it, that's how it seems to me. It's like, 'Oh, these guys are so great; they have a 10-minute-long song. Don't they think they're special?' Why would anybody want to listen to somebody for 10 minutes?"

For the past year I've found myself recognizing a Drive Like Jehu-like sound in several young Seattle bands, most notably New Mexicans and the now defunct Kill Sadie. Creighton Barrett, powerhouse drummer for New Mexicans, admits Jehu was a big influence and defends the long songs Reis criticizes. "They had hooks and the hook is everything. Jehu was refreshing, you know? We had Nirvana, but these guys weirded it out. [Jehu] extended it, and it didn't bore you at all. It wasn't a jam--they could write a nine-minute song that turned in on itself and had amazing changes, and then end it with [drummer] Mark Trombino's bulldozer and a ride cymbal. He's the biggest influence I've ever had. Trombino made off-time drumming. He showed that you can keep busy and lay down some thick-ass shit while the other guys in the band can do something completely different, going on weird little tangents and still hook you on it because the drums and the bass are constantly driving."

Pretty Girls Make Graves guitarist Nathen Johnson is also a fan. "Ten years ago, punk and hardcore were really formulaic. What Jehu did was make interesting compositions, even though they still had the same kind of feeling, but so different at the same time. They kind of made classical compositions using rock guitars, which is awesome. And Rick Froberg's vocals were amazing; it sounded like he was being interrogated. He had an amazing emotional range in his voice."

Currently, Reis says he's "totally horny for new music and fresh sounds" and he looks for them "under every rock." "I had a lot of reservations about reissuing Drive Like Jehu and Pitchfork records because I'm trying to start this label [Swami] and half the stuff I'm putting out is shit I have to dust off out of my closet. After this and Pitchfork it's all gone, and I can look toward the future after that."

For those looking for new Reis/Froberg material, Reis says his current band, Hot Snakes, "doesn't really sound that different than Drive Like Jehu." "It has a lot of the same chemistry that Rick and I have always had when we play together," he says. "We have the same interests, but they've kind of evolved a bit. I don't know if it was premeditated, but I think with Hot Snakes we tried to correct what we didn't like about Drive Like Jehu. It's not like a reunion, nor are we trying to change history, but the song lengths and the amount of jacking off have been clipped."

Unlike Hot Snakes, though, don't expect to see Drive Like Jehu hit the road again. "We definitely won't tour," says Reis. "Mark Trombino is a really successful producer (Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World) for bands that make shitloads of money. In fact, last time I talked to him he told me he doesn't even have a drum kit anymore. [Bassist] Mike [Kennedy] is a chemist. I really loved playing in Drive Like Jehu, and the Hot Snakes just doesn't feel any different to me. When I'm playing with Rick, the same feeling happens and I'm looking forward to making another record with that band."