Every Record I Own - Day 339: Drive Like Jehu s/t
My friend Ryan’s older brother was the local hero in the small town in Hawaii where I grew up. He was featured on a few skate videos in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and was the first person I know to take a stab at learning an instrument and playing punk music. He moved to San Diego in ‘91 to attend college and sent word back that the current hot shit in Southern California was a band called Drive Like Jehu. I made a mental note, but as was often the case, their album was impossible to find on the islands.
Fast forward to ‘93 and I was just starting to play music with a couple of guys from my high school. Our guitarist Dave tracked down a copy of Drive Like Jehu’s debut album and it was a total game changer. The guitar playing was violent and chaotic, but it contained this soulful swagger, and the crucial notes always locked in perfectly. That dynamic between sloppy expressionism and ruthless precision became a fundamental aspiration for our own band. Their ability to craft these angry tracks without falling into bullshit tough-guy tropes or campy nihilistic theatrics also made a huge impression on us. And let’s not ignore the fact that the opening track “Caress” was in 7/8. What kind of punk band plays in an odd-time signature?? Our band Botch owed a lot to Drive Like Jehu.
But here’s a confession: while Jehu had a big impact on Botch, I personally wasn’t all that big of a fan. I had this album on CD for a year or two and I appreciated what they were doing, but it always sounded better when someone else was playing it. Every time I threw it on in private, I listened to one or two tracks and moved on to something else. And I think that’s because Drive Like Jehu always sounded a bit more like our elders than our peers, and my peers were taking Jehu’s sound and making it even more wild and unhinged. You could look at the entire Gravity Records roster, or pretty much any hardcore band out of San Diego at the time and see the direct impact of Jehu. And those were the bands—stuff like Antioch Arrow, Swing Kids, Heroin, Mohinder—that ultimately resonated with me.
But by the end of the ‘90s it felt like everyone was in a band ripping off Drive Like Jehu. And then At The Drive In took their sound and packaged it for a mainstream audience, and then ATDI’s imitators completely neutered the sound. Revisiting Drive Like Jehu now, it’s remarkable how these songs still hold up. They retain an urgency, clarity, and focus that so many of the bands in their wake never really managed to capture in the first place. I bought this LP a few years ago at a record shop in Athens, Georgia and have found myself enjoying it more now than I did back in the early ‘90s.