‘It was cool to be misogynist’: At the Drive-In on fights, drugs and the dark days of nu-metal

The post-hardcore band lampooned bro culture, freaked out Robbie Williams and electrified the 00s before imploding. Now theyre back and determined to fulfil their potential

In the backstage area of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, At the Drive-In singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala is casting his mind back to a dark time. Not the untimely breakup of his band (more on that in a minute), but the golden age of nu-metal. Youve got to put it in context: we played side by side with Mudvayne and Linkin Park, says Bixler-Zavala, recalling the bands notorious turn at Big Day Out in Sydney, Australia, at the start of 2001. Three songs into the set, the band walked off stage after Bixler-Zavala berated the crowd for moshing and fighting, branding them sheep. I saw a lot of women getting fist fought by dudes and thats what I was talking about back then, he says. It was cool to be stupid and misogynist, adds the bands lead guitarist, Omar Rodrguez-Lpez. That was the trend.

In the nu-metal era of bands such as Limp Bizkit, Korn and Taproot when bad clothes, questionable facial hair and (mostly) terrible music ruled the day At the Drive-In were an anomaly. From the border town of El Paso in Texas, they looked and sounded like a post-hardcore version of MC5 crossed with Os Mutantes. After a word-of-mouth rise, they found themselves riding a wave of hype. Buoyed by incredible and, at times, chaotic live performances, they were dubbed the new Nirvana by NME. But infighting, disharmony and creative differences left the group in pieces. Two months after the incident at Big Day Out, they announced an indefinite hiatus. By August, At the Drive-In were no more.

Rewatching footage of them on Later With Jools Holland, making Robbie Williams look as if he had just seen a vision of end times, you can understand why people were keen to exalt them. Somehow a punk band as creative as Drive Like Jehu and as uncompromising as Fugazi had nudged their way into the mainstream at a time when MTV2s 120 Minutes felt like the uppermost limit of exposure for underground acts. They were signed to a major label, but they didnt seem to care. They called out the rampant bro culture of nu-metal and pop-punk. They mocked rock cliches. Ultimately, though, the old combination of relentless touring, media pressure and creative boredom took its toll. Then there were the drugs: Bixler-Zavalas $1,000-a-week weed habit made him a total monster; heroin, crack cocaine and psychedelics were also involved. Youre doing this in front of everyone, who are kind of waiting to see if its going to explode, says Bixler-Zavala. Especially the UK press if they smelled blood, they were gonna go for it.

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Were comfortable with the fact that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts … At the Drive-In in 2016.

We were these 21-year-olds when we started this band with a lot of shit going on in our lives, says the bands drummer, Tony Hajjar. I definitely had anger issues; people were dealing with a million things and we didnt know how to talk. Now we know how to communicate.

The band split into two factions: Bixler-Zavala and Rodrguez-Lpez, who wanted to take the band in a prog direction and emulate Talk Talk or Pink Floyd, butted heads against co-founder Jim Ward and the rest of the band, who didnt. Ward and the rhythm section formed alt-rock band Sparta, while Bixler-Zavala and Rodrguez-Lpez formed dub reggae outfit De Facto and then recorded six records as prog-rock group the Mars Volta. Mud was thrown in the press, with Bixler-Zavala saying At the Drive-In stifled his creativity and Rodrguez-Lpez admitting he couldnt even listen to their best-known record, 2000s Relationship of Command.

I stand behind anything I ever said about this band, because thats how I felt at the time, says Rodrguez-Lpez. All of us put our egos aside. Were in this thing now because its family. Any well-formed family goes through trauma and death, you argue that you dont like each other, you dont talk for a while, you talk again. Thats what makes a real family.

Theres no Oasis feud here, adds Bixler-Zavala. Its just that people were exhausted and were growing up in front of you.

Hajjar says their 2012 reunion was a slow process for a group who were not really on speaking terms for a decade. Can we be in the same room? he remembers asking himself. Can we jam? Can we smile right after? Can we play shows? And then it just builds up and then we click into: were going to make a record. Once we have that goal, forget it, we feel unstoppable.

Their new album Inter Alia, soon to be followed by EP Diamant, is like a homage to the band of 17 years ago. Rather than going into Pink Floyd territory, they reined themselves in and became the band they could have been. It is a seemingly incongruous approach for musicians who once described compromise as a horrible way to live. Were comfortable with the fact that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, counters Rodrguez-Lpez. At the Drive-In is greater than the five of us and we have to honour that.

For all the talk of family arguments put to bed, Ward is still estranged. He rejoined them in 2012, but wasnt even aware that the group had booked new tour dates and couldnt be coaxed into taking part in the new record. It wasnt for lack of trying, according to the rest of the band, who went every which way the spine is not supposed to go in order to try and make that happen, says Bixler-Zavala. Were just at a point now where we dont really have that kind of relationship with him any more.

You cant force someone to be excited, says Rodrguez-Lpez, who isnt as diplomatic. Who the fuck wants to do that anyway? Luckily for At the Drive-In, a band that is trying to settle unfinished business is still an exciting of prospect for plenty of people.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa Safont‘It was cool to be misogynist’: At the Drive-In on fights, drugs and the dark days of nu-metal

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