An interview with AT THE DRIVE-IN by Todd Taylor, with an updated introduction by Matthew Hart has been made available as an ebook at Razorcake’s website.
Here’s the introduction. Go here to download the e-book.
I saw At The Drive-In several times in 1996. They were fantastic. Energetic, interesting, intense. They definitely pulled from different pools. They had a softer side, but weren’t patently emo. They rocked, but weren’t “hard.” I also found it appealing that they came from smaller towns—El Paso and environs—and that they weren’t another L.A. band scraping for a cheap compliment. For several shows, there were about ten, fifteen people in attendance. They opened up for Nardwuar in Costa Mesa at one show. ATDI performed with everything they had, even when they were sick or tour-exhausted.
Hats off to Blaze James, who saw their talent and offered to put out their first full-length, Acrobatic Tenement. At the time, Blaze and I worked together at Flipside, so I got the inside scoop on their shows. Over the next three years, I saw the ATDI space shuttle being made. The band toured relentlessly. Every time they came through L.A., exponentially more and more people showed up. I distinctly remember being jammed inside a small Silverlake clothing store and being floored again at how tight Jim, Omar, Tony, and Cedric had become from all the touring.
And then it went nuts.
At this particular show at the Troubadour, I was unnerved—and I was just an involved observer—at how much attention ATDI “instantly” received. What seemed like a choreographed light show were actually photographers taking endless shots for the duration of their show. The place was an unhinged, sweaty mass. The band’s seams were beginning to show.
From the first demo tape, through the final version of Acrobatic Tenement, I appreciate the duality of ATDI: spacey, yet grounded. Arty, yet driving. Experimental, yet melodic. ATDI brought to mind one of my favorite—and durable—bands: Rites Of Spring. I’m having a hard time reconciling that this interview was conducted thirteen years ago.
This interview originally appeared in Flipside #120, Sept./Oct. 1999 and my best guess is that this interview was conducted on May 24, 1999
The Ouija board-loving members of At the Drive-In would appreciate that thirteen years have passed since this interview took place in 1999. ATDI’s next two albums, In/Casino/Out and Relationship of Command earned them widespread acclaim. However, the band decided to throw in the towel in 2001, citing mental and physical exhaustion. The band members never ruled out the possibility of a return. They all pursued other projects the same year they disbanded: Jim, Tony, and Paul formed Sparta; Cedric and Omar started Mars Volta. ATDI’s reunion in April 2012 at Coachella was a welcome surprise after an eleven-year hiatus.
In 2001, Cedric and Omar were still in a dub-reggae band called De Facto with Jeremy Ward, Jim’s cousin. Jeremy’s death in 2003 from a heroin overdose was a tragic wakeup call for Cedric and Omar to reflect on their own struggles with addiction. They both kicked their habits and acquired healthy lifestyles and work ethics. The energy from their newfound sobriety spawned a prolific musical output. Omar alone has released twenty-three solo albums—with another on the way. In 2006 Omar started the El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodriguez Lopez with notable drummer Zach Hill of Hella. Omar also became involved in films, eventually writing, scoring, producing, directing, and starring in his semi-autobiographical movie, The Sentimental Engine Slayer, in 2010. Cedric won a Grammy in 2009 for Best Hard Rock Performance for the song, “Wax Simulacra.” Mars Volta released its sixth album, Noctourniquet this March.
In 2002, Jim started an alt-country band with Paul called Sleepercar. The band didn’t record an album until 2008. In between those years Jim, Tony, and Paul released three albums with Sparta. They’re currently touring with Sparta and recording new material.
Paul is running the Beauty Bar in Portland, a venue that offers manicures and special guest DJs (Cedric served as DJ at the opening). Tony has the most to fall back on out of the five, with a degree in chemistry and a minor in mathematics from the University of Texas at El Paso. He still drums full-time for Sparta. Jim opened a bar in 2011 called Bowie Feathers above the venue TrickyFalls in El Paso. Cedric started a new project called Anywhere with Mike Watt and released a self-titled debut in March. Omar has been producing and playing bass with the L.A. band, Le Butcherettes, which also played at ATDI’s comeback show at Coachella.
At the Drive-In is hitting the festival circuit this summer. Starting in July, they’ll be heading to Spain, Japan, and Australia, and then coming back stateside for Lollapalooza in August followed by a trip across the pond to Leeds later in the month.
–Matthew Hart, 2012