“We’re young and this is the way we dance,” said guitarist and keyboard player Jim Ward.
“Cedric, especially, dances a lot when we play because he doesn’t have an instrument. It gives him a lot more leeway. (Afro-ed guitarist) Omar (Rodriguez) does amazing things with his body that I don’t understand. We have fun.
“The way I can equate it is when you’re a kid in your bedroom, when you put on music that really makes you feel alive, you dance because nobody’s there and you’re just really letting go. I personally have no rhythm. I’m an awful dancer but the thing is, I don’t care what people think of me.”
That attitude extends to what critics say about At The Drive-In, even if it’s full of outrageous superlatives that the band is the next big thing, that it’s rejuvenating rock ‘n’ roll, the next savior, if you will. Such lofty claims have been made in revered publications such as Spin and NME.
Bixler, Ward, Rodriguez, bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar aren’t even amused by the high praise. They’re annoyed. Bixler even went into an onstage rant at a sold-out Toronto show at Reverb because a cover story in local weekly NOW weaved Nirvana references throughout, referring to the “dream team” of John Silva and Gary Gersh “working behind the scenes to orchestrate the campaign.”
“I feel bad for Nirvana,” Ward explained. “I feel bad for the guys who lost their friend, who took his own life.”
At The Drive-In’s main goal was never stardom or to parade around town in limousines, dating models and wearing thousand-dollar pants. “We just wanted to tour and make records, so we put out our own records and booked our own tours, drove our own van,” recalled Ward, who formed the band with Bixler in 1994 when he was 17.
They played a few local gigs before borrowing a mini van belonging to their first guitarist’s mom, got a roadie and did four shows 2,000 miles away. At home in El Paso, Texas, Ward said, they’d play about six or seven shows a year at the now-defunct The Attic and, recently, at Club 101’s sci-fi-themed back room, Area 51, where they brought in 700 people. The live scene there was “tough,” he said, so ATDI perpetually toured, playing in houses, backyards, basements and warehouses all over America.
“It’s called D.I.Y. It’s do it yourself. It’s the aesthetic of having the book that Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll put out called Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life. I was listed in there as an El Paso guy. If you needed a show, you called me,” said Ward, who ran a combo record store and venue called The Clinic, situated opposite a church that had the place shut down after it released an album picturing two girls kissing (the latest was Headquarters which closed in 1999 after 11 months).
After releasing a couple of seven-inchers and EPs, the band met manager Blaze James at Bob’s Frolic No.3 in Los Angeles. Working at Flipside magazine and record label at the time, ATDI recorded its first full-length album, Acrobatic Tenement, for the label in 1997 for about $600. James began booking the band for a while.
As the band amassed some 600 shows under its belt, released In/Casino/Out (1998) and Vaya (1999) both of which sold 10,000 copies independently on Fearless the buzz grew. Soon, major labels were approaching, among them Warner, Reprise, DreamWorks, Interscope and Capitol. But what appealed to ATDI about Gersh and Silva’s (ill-fated) DEN label was the duo themselves, their love and knowledge of music, and the fact they were willing to give ATDI a 50-50 ownership of the masters.
The band easily made the switch to Grand Royal when Gersh and Silva turned their attention to that label.
“We have complete creative control. We don’t have to turn in demo tapes. We have a 50- 50-split for Grand Royal. That’s what it took to get on a major.”
At The Drive-In has continued to tour behind Relationship of Command. Tim Edwards at Flower Booking helped put together one tour, prior to the album’s release, before the band made the switch to Don Muller at ARTISTdirect.
In October, as the hype was mounting, the band headlined a seven-week North American tour with Murder City Devils. The bill continued until mid-December in the U.K.
ATDI made a return visit to Japan in the new year and will head to Australia for the Big Day Out festival dates before going back to the U.K. and Europe in early February.
“Playing live is something that takes it such a notch up,” Ward said. “It’s so much more exciting when everything’s cranked up, when there’s kids and they’re smiling and having a good time and we can try and communicate with people through music. That’s what we want to do, communicate with people. That’s why hype is destructive to a point because it tends to lose what the band’s trying to communicate.”