Drive Away

A week from now, or a week ago, people would be staring. The suit-clad, tie-loosened 9-to-5ers bellied up to the bar at the other end of the room would give each other getaloadofthesefuckinguys smirks and elbows in the ribs. The out-of-towners looking for a little companionship and maybe a bowl of peanuts would eye them suspiciously, wondering just who these young punks thought they were, being in here, looking like that. The hotel staff would circle the wagons around their table, you know, just in case.

Right now, however, no one in the lounge at Austin's Driskill Hotel seems to notice the members of At the Drive-In, not even the pair sporting puffy, Billy Preston 'fros, singer Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez. It's the week of the annual South By Southwest Music Festival, and At the Drive-In is just another band being interviewed in another hotel lounge, another group of scruffy, frayed-at-the-seams musicians talking to another writer about bad facial hair and Iggy Pop. They leave, someone else takes their place--rinse and repeat. You want a second glance? Takes more anachronous hairstyles and boys-being-boys boisterousness. Tom Waits walked around this same hotel last year and got less attention than the doorman.

Not that anyone in At the Drive-In wants people to recognize them, to whisper to each other when they enter a room, to stop and stare. They've already had quite enough of that, thankyouverymuch, after being handpicked by Rage Against the Machine to open for them on a short tour late last year, which was like handpicking the band to stand in front of a firing squad. And they know that it's only the beginning: Last night, they played to a packed house at the Flamingo Cantina, even though it was raining cats and dogs and various other household pets. Tomorrow afternoon almost every journalist in town will squeeze into Emo's for another showcase. Come September, when Relationship of Command, their first effort for Grand Royal Records, hits stores, everyone will know who At the Drive-In is. For a band that was based out of El Paso until a year ago, that's quite a feat. But make no mistake--they worked for it.

"Bands would come and go, and we had a lot of bands that toured and came over, you know? That helped us," Bixler explains. "We would set it up, or we would do the flyers, or we would house the bands or feed them. Stuff like that. It's a little weird, because all the bands break up. They don't take themselves seriously. You know, they see how hard it is. And the bands that have toured, I think they get a little discouraged. They kind of think it's going to be all fun and games, when it's really not."

You can see the effect on the band's two-dimensional torsos, more bones than skin. Now, all the work, all the touring is starting to pay off. Everyone knows about At the Drive-In's follow-the-bouncing-band live show, the way they throw themselves into each song, literally. Trading in-jokes and insults like baseball cards as they sit in the Driskill's dim lounge, Bixler and the other members of the band hope that most of the attention will be positive, that they can add new fans without alienating the old ones. Their new friend, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, won't be around to help next time.

"The second night we got Tom to announce us, 'cause he saw we were having a hard time," Bixler remembers. "He told us how they took The Jesus Lizard out and how the same thing [happened] with Jesus Lizard. Can you imagine kids being like, 'Fuck you!' to David Yow?" He pauses, letting you imagine the outcome of anyone confronting the cantankerous Yow, known to toss anything handy--full cans of beer, mike stands, himself--at unruly patrons. "No way, but they did. So we got him to announce us, and after that, it was cool. You know, they have some intelligent fans, and they have intelligent lyrics. But for the most part, knuckleheads are attracted to them, so it kind of ruined it."

At the moment, only four of the five members of At the Drive-In--Bixler, Rodriguez, drummer Tony Hajjar, and bassist Pall Hinojos--are present, along with longtime manager Blaze James and his girlfriend. Guitarist Jim Ward left a few minutes ago to explore the streets of Austin with some friends. The current situation mirrors the band's living arrangements: The rest of the group moved to Long Beach, California, last October, while Ward chose to remain in El Paso, where they'd all grown up. Though he's not here, you would imagine Ward would nod right along with the others as Bixler recalls the tour, playing to more people than ever and fewer fans. Knuckleheads, as he says.

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain