Washington, DC Jawbox were the first act to leave Ian McKaye’s run Dischord Records for a major label (Atlantic, in this case). A move to a major label turned into both a blessing and a curse for them – for one, they got a chance to present their music to an audience outside of punk/post-punk/indie circles, as well as full creative control over their work, but they were also burdened by incredible expectations and unable to decide on a direction after two albums recorded for Atlantic they finally broke up in the mid 90s.
Band was formed by formed by J. Robbins (Government Issue) in the late 80s and initially also included drummer Adam Wade and bassist Kim Coletta. They recorded their debut – a 4 track EP in the spring of 1990 and released it on their own label Desoto.
Later that year, the recorded their first full-length – “Grippe” – with engineer Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys) at an Inner Ear Studios. “Grippe” is seen by many as a valuable first step in the band’s history, but its also considered to be a very unfocused recording.
For their second album – 1992 “Novelty” – they worked with a Iain Burgess and they also added second guitarist Bill Barbot (Clambake) to the line-up. It was a considerable improvement over “Grippe”, although some pointed to guitars being incredibly low in the mix.
Wade eventually left the band to join Shudder To Think and was replaced by Zach Barocas, a huge fan of Jawbox, who was also a roomate of Coletta. Much of his playing brought organic element to the band’s sound.
In the wake of signings of Nirvana and Helmet, Atlantic approached the band about a record deal and while they weighed their options intensely, they finally decided to sign with a label. Much of the basis for the fact that they decided to do it in the end was a chance of having a complete creative control over their musical output as well as a possibility for band members to focus on their musical activities full-time. Signing to a major label, resulted (not surprisingly) in a considerable controversy with one fan wishing them death in a van accident.
Much of their material for a major label debut “For Your Own Special Sweetheart” was recorded prior to the involvement with Atlantic. Considered to be on their best albums, the album was recorded with Ted Nicely and since the band had more time for studio work, its also considered to be a huge improvement over much of their Dischord output.
However, despite praises and some rotation on MTV (as well as being an opener for Stone Temple Pilots) the release of “For Your Own Special Sweetheart” went largely unnoticed. Both indie and more traditional crowds ignored the record.
Their forth and final LP was 1996 self-titled album, recorded with John Agnello. While it featured somewhat polished/compressed sound in comparison to their previous output, it was still quite an inventive record in its own rights. The band toured in support of the record through much of 96/97, but both radio and major public largely ignored the record and after being dropped by the label, Jawbox finally decided to call it quits.
After their break-up, Barbot and Robbins formed Burning Airlines, while Coletta/Barbot run DeSoto released “My Scrapbook Of Fatal Accidents”, a compilation of rare/hard-to-find material by Jawbox. Barocas went on to play with Up On In, which also included Burning Airlines member Charlie Bennett.