ATD-i Fuse Interview
“Home” is the word that the members of At The Drive-In use to describe the group, formed by a bunch of kids in El Paso, Texas in the mid-90’s and growing into a beloved hard-rock headliner. The five members of the band have been involved in countless other projects since its inception, and during its prolonged hiatus in the 00s. Yet At The Drive-In has long represented an enduring origin story for the quintet, who think of the band less as a rock institution and more as a family. This year, that family will officially reunite — and unveil some brand-new ideas.
After previously announcing a handful of 2016 performances, including the Shaky Knees and Rock On The Range festivals on back-to-back weekends in May, and teasing a big announcement earlier this week, At The Drive-In has announced a 27-city live run that will be much more extensive than the band’s 2012 reunion tour, with more 2016 dates to be announced at a later date (see below for details). Along with the upcoming performances, the band also confirms that they are working on new music, to be potentially used for the band’s first album since 2000’s Relationship of Command. In case it wasn’t clear: At The Drive-In is planning a massive 2016.
“We’re all excited to be seeing each other, to be playing in a room again, and to be making music under a new context,” guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López tells Fuse. “This is where we all came from. We have different families now, we live in different places, but these are our roots, and a true person never forgets their roots. There’s a safety in being around people you trust.”
“We cut our teeth in this band,” adds drummer Tony Hajjar. “We slept on floors two inches away from each other in this band. We cooked for each other in this band. This is home, and it’s nice to come back to it and feel so positive about it.”
The classic lineup of At The Drive-In — Rodríguez-López, Hajjar, singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, guitarist Jim Ward and bassist Paul Hinojos — released its debut album, Acrobatic Tenement, in 1996, and proceeded to catapult up the alt-rock ranks for the next half-decade. Third album Relationship of Command was a widely acclaimed career peak that included the relentless radio hit “One Armed Scissor” in 2000. At The Drive-In was bringing a new intensity to alternative music and finding its footing on a national level. And then, in 2001, At The Drive-In broke up, citing a “non-stop six-year cycle” that made them yearn for more experimentation.
One reason we try to take those pockets of time and decompress is because we never did it back in the day,” Rodríguez-López says now. “We were just always on the road. We know now that it’s important to just let things be and let everything just flow with ease.”
After its members focused on musical projects that included the Mars Volta, Sparta and Bosnian Rainbows throughout the 00’s, At The Drive-In reunited in 2012 to perform at a handful of festivals, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, Fuji Rock and Reading and Leeds. The shows went better than any of the members could have dreamed, and although At The Drive-In went back on hiatus after that 2012 run, the members were constantly in contact with each other, a spark officially rekindled.
“Ever since 2012, any of the interviews we have done in between, we’ve said that the door’s always open,” Rodríguez-López notes. “We’ve been talking this whole time since 2012. We all have other projects and families, so we’re constantly sending riffs back and forth, but never putting pressure on ourselves, never feeling like this is something we have to do. We’re just letting it be natural.”
A few years of focusing on family life passed following the 2012 reunion, and the five At The Drive-In members decided to meet up last year and “see what everyone was excited about,” as Hajjar puts it. Rodríguez-López, Ward and Bixler-Zavala all still live in El Paso, so Hajjar headed down from Los Angeles and Hinojos traveled from Portland for the Texas meet-up.
“Within hours, we were talking about older shows and memories, and new ideas,” Hajjar recalls. “It immediately felt organic.”
The decision to reunite was a natural one, and the first 2016 shows were announced in late 2015. Rodríguez-López points out that the 2012 reunion only lasted 10 shows, but that At The Drive-In is excited for a more expansive trek in 2016. Festivities will kick off on Mar. 23 in Los Angeles, continue through Europe into April, then return to North America for a slate of May and June performances.
Meanwhile, the idea of new At The Drive-In music is especially tantalizing, considering the fact that the group’s last album, Relationship of Command, is its most fiercely adored. There’s no timetable yet for an album, but Hajjar is thrilled that the group has been “passing material around” once again.
“We’re keen about everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and about how everyone’s grown, since we wrote songs,” says the drummer. “We’re sending emails to each other with pieces of music or full songs, and are putting them together until we can have them all on a hard drive and are listening to them in the same room together.”
Rodríguez-López adds, “Aside from right after the split-up and the time that it took to heal and understand where we were all coming from, we’ve always done that, sent stuff back and forth. It’s an ongoing part of our narrative that we really try and celebrate. There’s never been an end goal in mind, besides trying to participate in each other’s lives. The upside to that is that now, as we do start to think more results-oriented – like, how about an album? – we have tons of material to pick from.”
At this point in their careers, the members of At The Drive-In have little to prove; the group’s legacy is secure, and whenever they do link up to play shows or release new music together, a hungry fan base will be there waiting for them. That’s why the idea of releasing their first musical project since 2000 — way back before YouTube, Twitter, Spotify or even iTunes existed — doesn’t faze the members of At The Drive-In whatsoever.
“Even at the height of our existence, we didn’t sell a lot of records!” Rodríguez-López says with a laugh. “We got some attention and we were in magazines, but that part still exists for us, because we mean something to people and because we have these people who love our music and can relate to it and share this common bond. That part is exactly the same. The part where we don’t sell records is also exactly the same. We don’t have that ambition. Fifteen years ago, it was, ‘Man, this shit sounds cool, let’s make a record and go on tour.’ That’s our motivation now, too.”
So what does this renaissance represent to At The Drive-In? For its members, it simply means another opportunity for five best friends to spend time and create together. More than 20 years in, Hajjar and Rodríguez-López say that they’ve never felt closer to each other than they do right now. Onstage and on record together, At The Drive-In feels at home.
“We came together in this small town where I still live,” says Rodríguez-López. “We found each other, and were passionate about what we were doing — and in a very positive way, we didn’t give a fuck. We did all these years of work where we played to five people. It didn’t matter if there was one person or five thousand [watching us]. It was about the fact that we were together, whatever we were doing. And we’re doing it.”
Check out At The Drive-In’s current 2016 tour itinerary below:
Mar. 23: Los Angeles, Calif. (The Fonda)
Mar. 26: Dublin, Ireland (Vicar Street)
Mar. 27: London, United Kingdom (Roundhouse)
Mar. 29: Paris, France (Trianon)
Mar. 30: Cologne, Germany (Palladium)
Mar. 31: Amsterdam, Germany (Melkweg)
Apr. 1: Brussels, Belgium (Ancienne Belgique)
Apr. 2: Luxembourg, Luxembourg (Den Atelier)
Apr. 4: Berlin, Germany (Columbiahalle)
Apr. 5: Vienna, Austria (Arena Vienna)
Apr. 7: Milan, Italy (Fabrique)
Apr. 8: Lausanne, Switzerland (Impetus Festival (Les Docks))
Apr. 10: Barcelona, Spain (Razzmatazz)
May 15: Atlanta, Ga. (Shaky Knees Festival)
May 17: Nashville, Tenn. (Marathon Music Works)
May 19: Chicago, Ill. (Riviera Theater)
May 22: Columbus, Ohio (Rock on the Range Festival)
June 3: San Francisco, Calif. (The Warfield)
June 6: Portland, Oreg. (Crystal Ballroom)
June 7: Vancouver (Commodore Ballroom)
June 8: Seattle, Wash. (Showbox Sodo)
June 13: Philadelphia, Penn. (The Fillmore)
June 14: Washington, D.C. (9:30 Club)
June 17: New York, N.Y. (Terminal 5)
June 18: Boston, Mass. (House of Blues)
June 21: Detroit, Mich. (St. Andrews)
June 23: Toronto (Phoenix Concert Hall)