by chuck bell

Although it is certainly well-worn territory, I feel that it is necessary to discuss the life and death of At the Drive-In, whose breakup was arguably the most unexpected and controversial of the past decade. Despite having spent eight years tirelessly touring and recording, they enjoyed less than six months of mainstream success. The band was founded by guitarist Jim Ward and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala in 1993. Between 1993 and 1997, they gained and lost many members, and released their first LP, Acrobatic Tenement, and two EP’s: Hell Paso and Alfaro Vive, Carajo! They built up a modest following based on these recordings, but their music did not make it very far outside of Texas. It was not until 1998 that they solidified their final lineup, with guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar. Incidentally, this was also the year that they released their masterpiece, In/Casino/Out.

Artist: At The Drive In
Song: For Now We Toast

ATDI had always been known for the intensity of their live performances, which is something that they had trouble capturing on their albums. To remedy this, they recorded In/Casino/Out as a live studio album. The result is a positively exhilarating record, recalling the early days of post-hardcore, i.e. Rites of Spring, Embrace. The guitars alternately shred and squeal over a frantic, unpredictable rhythm section. All the while, Bixler haphazardly soars in and out of tune, maniacally spouting his cryptic lyrics: “Is this just another life preserver or a bivouac tenure?/ The tropic of cancer answered ‘Drink the quicksand’.” The album failed to make any mainstream headway for the band, but it led to a deal with Grand Royal Records, the Beastie Boys’ label.

After releasing the Vaya EP and a series of splits with Sunshine, Burning Airlines and the Murder City Devils, ATDI went into the studio with Ross Robinson (Glassjaw, Deftones), to record Relationship of Command. This album was significantly more polished, and much heavier than any of their previous work. The lead single, “One Armed Scissor,” received a huge amount of radio play. MTV even began heralding them as their new “buzz band.” However, after only several months of popularity, the band decided to break up while in the middle of touring, leaving many disappointed fans (including myself) to collect refunds at their local venues. The band cited numerous reasons for the split, including their rigorous tour schedule, artistic differences, and Bixler and Rodriguez-Lopez’s drug habits. Bixler later took full responsibility for the breakup, saying that he felt as though the ATDI was holding him back.

These days, Bixler and Rodriguez-Lopez are putting their drug-addled minds to good use, channeling Pink Floyd and Santana with their new prog-rock group, the Mars Volta. They are the only two permanent members of the band, but they often collaborate with various accomplished musicians, including Flea and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. After ATDI’s breakup, Hinojos, Hajjar, and Ward formed Sparta, a more straightforward post-hardcore band. They have released three albums that have all achieved moderate success. Ward has also developed a solo project called Sleepercar. Hinojos has recently left Sparta and joined the Mars Volta. The death of At the Drive-In is one of the rare cases where one great band splits off into two great bands.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 11, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

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