It’s been 15 years since the moment many consider the peak of the post-hardcore movement.
We’re talking about the release of Relationship of Command on September 12, 2000, a blistering forty-five minute record of intense caterwauling, spidery guitar-work and bursts of ambient electronics.
For many, it was a totally alien sound – a far-flung alternative to the rising nu-metal scene. At the Drive-In lived in their own world, with its own unique sounds and cultural identity.
The group may have disbanded in 2001 (fracturing into The Mars Volta and Sparta respectively) but their last album as that band of four remains the gold standard for many.
For the fans that may have forgotten, or those who never knew – here are 15 reasons to still love At The Drive-In, a decade and a half after their break-out moment.
1. They ‘broke up’ before their first album was even released
Trying to tie down a bunch of post-hardcore teenagers in a band that lasts more than five minutes is no easy feat. Lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala told the website Spin that At The Drive-In’s debut album nearly didn’t happen at all:
“Before the album, the band had broken up. We did a U.S. tour and we decided to split up. I always needed Jim to be there, but he’d had a falling out with Omar. We’d made a bunch of dumb moves at the time.”
2. There was no home-town love
Some bands reach international stardom on a wave of adoration from their local scene, but ATDI were not that fortunate and instead battled through adversity in their native Texas. Speaking to LA Weekly, guitarist Jim Ward explained what those early home town shows were like:
“We’ve been judged since the day that we started. People didn’t even go to our shows in El Paso when we started. It would be a couple of people when we were playing to hundreds of people in other cities. People didn’t give a shit about our band.”
It’s worth noting that the band’s first self-released EP was cheekily titled Hell Paso, which probably didn’t help.
3. They did not tour like conventional rock stars
The early days of the band were not quite the rock n’ roll lifestyle of Guns N Roses’ Use Your Illusion tour.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez shone some light on those first years on the road:
“We did a five-month tour once – one of many times – and we slept on park benches and shared a bowl of beans and rice. That stuff is the very heart and soul of what you hear coming through the speakers.”
4. Their drummer has had an interesting life
Tony Hajjar’s life has been a mixture of high and lows. Before becoming the fourth drummer for At The Drive-In (and later their off-shoot Sparta), Hajjar’s family had fled a war-torn Beirut and moved to El Paso. At the age of 14, his mother passed away from cancer and his father left the family – leaving his 18-year-old brother as the sole carer.
Director Christopher Holmes put together a short film based on the Lebanese musician’s early life titled Eme Nakia – which was released as part of a special edition of the Sparta album Threes.
5. They encouraged fans to steal one of their EPs
Following disputes after the band’s third EP release El Gran Orgo, the group took to online message boards to explain that their label had ripped them off and that “when you buy El Gran Orgo you do not support ATDI, you support DISHONESTY!!”.
6. The recording sessions for ‘Relationship of Command’ were a little eccentric
The band employed Ross Robinson to handle production duties on Relationship of Command. The producer, who would later become known as the ‘Godfather of Nu-Metal’ for his early work with Korn, was notorious for his unconventional recording methods.
Speaking to Alternative Press, Rodriguez-Lopez recalled some of his stranger antics:
“I know he threw a trash can a couple of times, and he took Paul [Hinojos, bass] and drove him in an SUV really fast through the hills in Malibu, where there was no barrier, to get his adrenaline going and recorded him that way.”
7. They made Iggy Pop read a ransom note
Despite the band’s profile still being low, Robinson convinced the iconic Stooges rocker to come along to a day’s recording session, resulting in him reading out an over-the-phone ransom note as the beginning of ‘Enfilade’ – including the lines:
“Hello, mother leopard. I have your cub. You must protect her, but that will be expensive. 10,000 kola nuts, wrapped in brown paper. Midnight, behind the box. I’ll be the hyena, you’ll see.”
8. There was some amazing artwork
The cover art for Relationship Of Commmand was designed by artist Damon Locks, who also created the artwork for the singles ‘One Armed Scissor’, ‘Rolodex Propaganda’ and ‘Invalid Letter Dept.’ The strong Trojan Horse theme and the mixture of modern surroundings and mythical figures was prominent in much of At The Drive-In’s lyrics.
8. They released ‘Relationship of Command’ on the Beasties Boys’ record label
The third album and huge international breakout album was originally released on Grand Royal records, a sub-label of Capital Records set up by the Beastie Boys after they left Def Jam.
9. ‘One Armed Scissor’ remains a list-topping favourite
Despite being released at the turn of the millennium, ‘One Armed Scissor’ went on to become of the most highly-regarded tracks of the entire decade. The single topped Alternative Press’ top 100 singles of the Noughties, beating the likes of My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Green Day.
10. Their lyrics were riddles
In an era when many of their contemporaries were cashing in on the ’emo’ market – offering teens heartfelt platitudes of adolescence and love – Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics read like a scientific manual, or a list of Latin body part descriptions.
Lyrical verses such as “in the company of wolves was a stretcher made of cobblestone curfews, the federales performed their custodial customs quite well” were commonplace.
11. Their first ever TV performance was a beautiful mess
The group’s first nationally televised performance was on the short-lived USA Network show Farmclub.com – which aimed to feature the hottest bands of the moment. Whilst many bands will tone their live show performances for TV appearances, At The Drive-In did nothing to accommodate the viewers at home and instead decided to violently implode right there in the studio.
12. They scared the sh*t out of Robbie Williams
Arriving with the same energy from the Farmclub, the band’s performance on BBC’s live music staple Later…with Jools Holland left Robbie Williams well and truly lost for words.
13. Cedric delivered a poignant rant at ‘moshers’
Struggling with being poster-boys of the hardcore scene (an aspect of their eventual break-up), frontman Cedric decided to take on a particularly violent crowd at Sydney’s Big Day Out.
The band stopped mid-set with Bixler-Zavala declaring:
“I think it’s a very very sad day when the only way you can express yourself is through slam dancing. Are you all typically white people? You all look like it to me. Look at that you learned that from the TV – you didn’t learn that from your best friend, you’re a robot, you’re a sheep maaaa maaaaa maaaa. I have a microphone and you don’t, you’re a sheep, you watch TV too much maaaaa maaaa maaaaaaaaa”
Despite receiving a torrent of abuse from attendees, festival promoters and other acts, Cedric’s warnings were tragically prescient. Just three days later a woman died at the event, with many criticising the festival staff and their commitment to fan safety.
15. They briefly reformed (and for the right reasons)
— At The Drive-In (@AtTheDriveIn) August 22, 2012
Due to a number of issues including pressure from touring, their label and substance abuse, At The Drive-In broke up at the height of their popularity and split into two halves.
Eleven years after their last ever show, the group resolved their differences and played a number of tour dates and festival shows.
In the interview with Spin, Cedric explained there was far more to the reunions than a cheap pay day:
“I just wanted to make amends to everyone else; really sort of apologize to everyone involved. There was also this sort of unspoken thing about the wives and the significant others who were involved too, who carried the weight of all that negativity for years. Yeah, we got paid money, but that wasn’t why I did it. I did it to rekindle old friendships.”
Relationship Of Command is available via the group’s very own Twenty First Chapter Records