Getting to talk with J. Robbins was a huge thrill for me: I’d been a big fan of his work as the singer and guitarist in Jawbox, who emerged from the Washington, DC punk scene and combined a solid knowledge of the loud/quiet/loud dynamic with a stealth talent for beautiful musical moments. Around the time of this interview, Robbins’s post-Jawbox band Burning Airlines had just released their first album, Mission: Control!.
I was excited to talk with Robbins both in terms of his work as a musician and because of his work as a recording engineer and producer; the interview focused on each. These days, he’s making music solo and with Office of Future Plans, who are making some of my favorite music from any of Robbins’s projects. (I interviewed Robbins about OFP in 2012.) And he’s still recording tremendous albums.
This interview was done over the phone in the summer of 1999, and appeared in Eventide‘s sixth issue.
I first heard of Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley’s film Half-Cocked through its soundtrack, which contained an impressive array of indie bands circa 1996: the Grifters, Unwound, Helium, and Versus. Not long afterwards, I saw the film, in which a young woman living in Louisville (played by Tara Jane O’Neil) who, along with her friends, steals the van belonging to her older brother’s band. (Said older brother is played by Ian Svenonius, in a wonderfully self-parodying mode.) The ensuing film is a hybrid, somewhere between a story of a young band on the road and a low-key take on the “young outlaws on the run” plot.
I was in film school at the time — something that will become very clear as you read the interview — and was deeply intrigued by the idea of an indie film that touched on a music scene for which I felt a strong affinity. The film itself was reissued on DVD a few years ago; since then, Galinsky and Hawley have made such films as Battle for Brooklyn, about the controversy surrounding the Atlantic Yards project; and Horns and Halos, about the process of publishing the book Fortunate Son in 2000.
This interview was conducted by phone in the summer of 1997. It appeared in issue 3 of Eventide.
The first time I saw Ink & Dagger would have been sometime in 1996. In my particular corner of the hardcore scene, their use of theatrical elements — painted faces, fake blood thrown into the audience — was a huge change of pace. Their lyrics borrowed supernatural imagery and built it into extended metaphors — much of them vampire-related. Their first two seven inches were collected on an album called Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart; their first seven inch, Love is Dead, featured removable tombstones.
But all of that shouldn’t distract from the fact that Ink & Dagger were really, really good. The theatrics were bolstered by taut, gripping music, and Sean McCabe’s vocals escalated horrifically over the course of many a song. Later albums — one self-titled and one titled The Fine Art of Original Sin — would move further afield from traditional notions of hardcore. McCabe died in 2000; in recent years, a reunion of sorts took place wit h Thursday’s Geoff Rickly on vocals.
This interview was conducted over the phone with Sean McCabe in the spring of 1997. It appeared in issue 2.