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Interview de Tony Hajjar - Batteur, At The Drive-In - Manchester - 3 Décembre 2000

MR - Me (Mike Randall)
TW - Tony Woolgar
Tony - Tony Hajjar - ATD-I

MR - How are you finding this tour? How long have you been touring now?

Tony - Well, we did seven weeks in the states, then we had four days off for thanksgiving and we had a day where we had to do some radio stuff, and then we came here. It’s been really really easy because all we did was those TV shows. We did Later... - that was the first thing we did, and then after that we did a TV show in Paris where we got to do two songs. We were so happy the day before yesterday that we actually got to play a show! It was really really nice because there’s not that stress that you’re just playing two songs or playing one song and you have to play it perfect. Well, not perfect, but y’know, there’s that pressure. When we did this show in Paris, what they told us was that you practise this song for the sound-check, then you practise the song for camera angles, and they were like, “Can you do what you’re going to do live?”, and we were like; “No, we don’t do that.”, and they were like; “Well, you can’t just show us what you’re going to do live?”, and we were like, “No, because, like, live is honest, and this is not honest.”. They really wanted us to go crazy or whatever it is during out sound-check, but that’s not what we’re about, y’know, we’re a band, it’s part of our fun when we do that at our shows, so that was the kinda weird thing, but I think that everybody understood that after a while. And now today’s our first show with the Murder City Devils over here, which we’re really excited about because we did all seven weeks with them.

MR - Tell me about the split 7” with them you have out on Buddyhead.

Tony - They’re remixes. They’re just really off the wall remixes, so it’s cool to have. I personally love the sound. A lot of people are like, “Well, they kinda sound weird.”, but I’m just like, “OK, well that’s the point, y’know?”

TW - Did you remix them yourselves?

Tony - Actually, we had three people from the label do the remixes, so that’s how it worked out. It’s neat because it’s somebody else’s perception. It’s always nice to have a new release when you’re on tour because it makes things fresher. Even though we’re touring out new record, it’s nice to have something a bit extra that you can collaborate with, with the band you’re gonna play with.

MR - This tour seems to have almost killed you more than once. Are you looking forward to having a rest afterwards?

Tony - The thing is with this tour, it was a lot of lessons, you learn a lot more. I mean, we’re not a huge band, but we’re not where we were, and I think we’re just getting used to that. We’re getting used to all the attention and we’re getting used to people looking down on us at the same time. That sucks for us because we’re at the point in our lives where every decision we’ve made, y’know, like the Virgin thing really wasn’t our decision. We signed to Grand Royal. Virgin pick up their distribution, so you can’t blame that on us - we signed to Grand Royal.

MR - Wasn’t there something between Fearless and Grand Royal?

Tony - Yeah, it was called the Digital Entertainment Network - DEN. It was like an internet-based company with a label on the side, which signed us as the first band, and that fell apart because all the contributors left, so we just got shifted over to Grand Royal, to that’s how it ended up, which is a great thing. It’s nice to be able to say that you’re on Grand Royal instead of “DEN, which is the digital entertainment network, and the reasons blah blah blah”, y’know, you sit there and explain yourself to everyone. This way you can just be all, “Grand Royal, it’s a label, y’know.”

MR - Haven’t fearless had problems lately with going broke or something? I heard that they had a load of money stolen from them.

Tony - I don’t know. I’ve been hearing all these things and I can’t wait to get home and actually talk to Bob and Michelle and make sure everything’s OK. I mean, we love those people. You guys probably know more than I do right now ‘cause I haven’t talked to them. I really hope they’re OK.

TW - Is it quite hard for small labels in the states?

Tony - It’s quite hard, but at the same time there’s a lot of small labels that rip you off more than a major label ever will. We’re not the smartest band, we’ve made a lot of mistakes in our life, and I think you learn from them. But if you’re smart you could be on any label, y’know, bigger than Grand Royal, I mean, it could be Dreamworks or whatever, but if you’re doing things your way and you continue to do things your way and don’t let anybody divert you, you’re selling out in that you have whatever on the back of your record, but you’re still doing things your way, and if you wanna reach more people, this is the way to do it. I don’t think we’re lucky enough to be an amazing band like Fugazi that got to do it on their label, we can’t do that, so we’re different.

TW - Would you want to do that?

Tony - Yeah, sure, I mean, Jim and Paul have a label called Restart Records. At the moment they can’t really do it because we’re on tour, but they work really hard on that.

MR - What have they got on Restart?

Tony - Actually they’ve got Omar and Cedric’s side projects’ older recordings, which is like dub reggae - they did a few shows with the Get Up Kids here in the UK earlier this year. We were here on tour, and then they stayed and did that. Cedric’s on drums, Omar’s on bass, then Paul and Jim have the label and I have a drum and bass side project that I’m also doing that Grand Royal’s going to be releasing for me.

MR - What’s that called?

Tony - It’s called Nakia. N-A-K-I-A. I’m going to finish the record in March and it’s going to be out on Grand Royal also, so we all have our little things, which is really cool. It’s good to have something little to work on as well as the stuff you do all the time.

MR - It’s interesting that you do such diverse stuff.

TW - Mind you, Fugazi were getting into that on Instrument, weren’t they?

Tony - Exactly! A lot of dub stuff. Even End Hits - there’s a lot of dub in it, you can totally tell.

MR - Fugazi are one of those bands, though, who’d just bring in whatever influences they wanted. They didn’t give a shit about whether people liked what their influences were...

Tony - ...and that’s the thing - that’s the point of music, you know what I mean? Once you’re sitting there thinking, “Y’know guys, we shouldn’t write this kind of song because it’s not going to fit the program or it doesn’t fit the schedule.”. Y’know, sack it, if you’re gonna write the song, write the song. It’s always beautiful to just experiment and have fun, and that’s what we’re about, y’know, experimenting.

TW - Are you provided with instruments that you can smash as well as keep?

Tony - Oh God no. I don’t know what people say about us or think about us, but we’re not a rich band, and if you see a guitar fly on the floor, if you see an instrument fly on the floor, it’s gonna be used tomorrow - it’s not extra “let’s break it” material.

MR - ...Trail of Dead will mend their own instruments after they smash them every time.

Tony - Yeah. They either mend their own instruments or buy really cheap stuff. My drum set is not cheap, and I don’t want anybody throwing it, that’s for sure. I love my drum set and i’m not gonna let anybody throw it on the floor.

TW - Do you think you’re going through “Nevermind syndrome” (where a band is hyped up so much that they become caricatures of their publicised selves in an attempt to live up to that hype)

Tony - The thing is, I say this every day, but we seriously do not believe the hype. The more people say, “you’re amazing” and “you’re gonna be the next this or the next that”. Once you start believing it, if you really really believe in it, you’ve got a problem. You’re becoming an egomaniac, and the thing is, the more that us five individuals make up this band, and we all write music and all contribute and obviously the press concentrates on two of the figures more than the rest of us, and the thing is, the only thing we have keeping us together is our respect for each other, and us. And the more you start believing the press, the hype, all that stuff, y’know, you’re gonna destroy yourself, and so we’re not going through Nevermind Syndrome because there’s no egos. I’m not saying they had egos, I’m just saying that’s how I feel. The furthest thing I want is for bands we play with and people that like our music to start thinking that we think we’re above them. Like, I ran into three kids outside when we’d barely got here. I think they were surprised that we were talking to them. I felt kinda weird because the first thing that they did was have their NME with us on the cover and the Kerrang! with Cedric on the cover and stuff, and that’s all they came for, y’know, for us to sign them, but at the same time I wanted to make sure that they knew, like, “Hey, just kick back, talk to us, y’know, I’ll sign this, and I can live part of the ‘rock’n’roll dream’ or whatever, but at the same time, like, I wanna be your friend.”. And I just want people to understand that because that’s all we’re about. Sometimes now it’s obvious because we have less time to talk to people and we make time of course, ‘cause there’s interviews, so there’s less time to actually walk around and mingle with people, but at the same time, we’re still the same people. We really haven’t changed, and I think we really try our best to keep each other happy if there’s one of us that’s sad about whatever it is, y’know, getting too much attention or too little attention or whatever it is - we always make sure that we make each other happy, because if one of us gets unhappy and leaves the band, I don’t care which one it is - it’s over. It’s gone.

TW - So were you a bit kinda pissed off when Jim quit for a while?

MR - There were lots of line up changes at the beginning weren’t there?

Tony - Yeah. There’s a lot of rumours. I’ll start with the Jim thing because that’s really between me and Jim and the thing is, I’m a very hard-headed person. I’m a drummer, yes, but I’m not a stereotypical drummer. I’m not an idiot. I refuse to be clumped with how drummers are clumped, you know what I mean? With the drummer jokes and everything. So I walked in this band. I was in this other band and I’d met Cedric and Omar and Jim, and they said, “Please play with us.”, and I was really happy in the band I was in and I said, “No, I’m kinda happy with this band.”. So then they convinced me to start practising with them, and Omar was still playing bass, because on Acrobatic Tenement he played bass. There was another guitar player and Jim played guitar, and me and Jim just clashed. The way I looked at it was, at that time - this was like late ‘96 - y’know, it’s his band. I mean, he’s been in it since the beginning and I was just a guy so I was like, “We’re clashing here, on a business frame of mind. Why should I clash with you, y’know it’s your band, you started it, I’ll see you later. Why should I be in the way?”. So I remember sitting in the Village Inn one night - I was at the Village Inn table with Omar, Cedric, Jim, and another guitarist that I was playing with in my old band at the time, Ben. He played on El Gran Orgo, but he’s not listed.

MR - I was wondering about that, because you can hear two guitars, but it’s listed as a four-piece.

Tony - Yeah. We took him out of the listing for a lot of weird reasons, but I don’t wanna go into that.

MR - Who’s doing the backing vocals on it?

Tony - It’s Ben, Omar and Cedric. Anyway, Omar was playing bass, and the two guitarists at that time were Jim and Ben, and this is before we even toured, so this is how old this is. And I sat at the Village Inn table, and I said, “Y’know, I’m sorry, Jim, but I can’t play with you.”, and I said, “I’m leaving for Dallas tomorrow,” - I was gonna try out for some bands up in Dallas that were interested in my playing, which turned out to be terrible. So I was like, “It’s your band, y’know, why should I step on your toes?”. And they were really down, and I remember Cedric trying anything to keep me in the band, but I said, “No, I can’t.”. So I left and went to Dallas and came back and found that Jim had quit that night, and the reason Jim quit is that he felt that he was too pushy, and he felt that he had a lot of growing to do, so he left the band. I got a call from Omar on my answering machine that day, saying, “I wanna start playing with you.”. He was still playing bass, so we had to find another guitarist. I remember the first time I played with Omar on bass, I said, “Can I tell you something?” - I’m not trying to take credit for this or anything, but I just remember saying this - I said, “You need to be playing guitar.”, and he goes, “Are you serious?” - he’s an amazing bass player, really rhythmy, a lot of soul, but I was like, “You’ve got these moves on you, you should be playing guitar.”, and he was like, “Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.”, and he did it. And I’ve played with Paul for 8 years now - this is my third band with Paul.

MR - So you’re a kind of perpetual rhythm section then?

Tony - Yeah! We always end up together. If he gets in a band first, I end up in the band, or if I get in a band first, he ends up in the band, and he grew up with Omar - they’ve known each other since they were 12 or 13. I remember Omar and Ben went to a show with a band I used to play with - I was already out of it then, and they said, “Play with us, y’know. Jim’s gone and now At The Drive-In is this, and y’know, Tony’s gotta do it.”. So I said OK. I remember then, all of a sudden, Omar got a guitar and got an amp and Paul came on bass, and we went on a four-month tour from February ‘97 to June ‘97. Week 2, we realised that Ben was a very different person and I don’t really wanna get into that because it’s very very personal. He was kicked out on the second week of that tour - this is the most we’ve ever talked about this too - so we finished the next three and a half months as a four piece.

MR - So is that also why he was cut off the list for El Gran Orgo?

Tony - Yeah. It was very personal - like very very very very personal.

TW - Do you have really cut and dried attitude towards people who join the band?

MR - Is there a certain criteria?

Tony - Criteria? Well, we have to get along, of course. I mean, if you really think about it, I got thrown into a band with Omar and Cedric. I didn’t know them. The first day I met Omar and Cedric - well, I was around Omar and Cedric a lot because we were all in bands and stuff, so we always said hi to each other, but we never talked - I remember I was doing a chemistry experiment in college, and Ben brought Omar and Cedric in the middle of my experiment, and it was like a very very big experiment, and I had to stop the experiment and he goes, “This is Omar, and this is Cedric.”, and I was like, “Hey, what’s up guys? I can’t talk right now. When’s our first practise?”, and they said, “When do you want it?”, so I told them a day, and they set it up, and that’s how I met them, and all of a sudden I played with them from then on. And then we got going in the band and there was just something about the way we clicked and there was something about how us four clicked in the band. At the end of that tour, we started talking a lot, “We need another guitar player.”, because there’s a lot of parts that we need to fill. I have no idea how Omar did it - he would switch parts. He would play the other part and then come back to his part. He really took over as the guitar player - it was amazing, so that was really cool, but we felt we needed another guitar player. Paul also pushed forward and started doing backups where Ben or Jim would do backups, and everybody stepped up. It was one of those things, like, “We’ve gotta finish this tour, even if we’re a four piece.”. Then we came back and we talked about getting a guitar player and there were so many people who wanted to play with us at that point, and I remember me and the guys talking, and we said, “Jim. We’ve gotta get him back.”. He grew up a lot and he’d changed and we actually started getting along a lot better. I learned a lot on tour, and he learned a lot not being on tour, and there it was. And from then on we’re a band, and we love each other to death, we’re brothers, we respect each other, and we get to write music that we enjoy together, so it’s great, y’know.

MR - You recently revamped initiation for the Steve Lamacq session. Are there any other old At The Drive-In songs that you’ve made over?

Tony - Well, kinda made over but we haven’t recorded it. We play Embroglio, which is off Acrobatic Tenement also, and it’s a little bit different now, it starts different. We’ll be playing that tonight. But Initiation was one that we hadn’t played in a year, and we did the Lamacq session and we literally said, “OK, lets play it once.”, so we kinda went over the parts and we were like; “OK, it sounds alright.”, and me and Paul talked about where to really go with dynamics, dynamically low and dynamically high and stuff, and literally the second take was that track.

MR - It sounded really accomplished compared to the first release of it.

Tony - First time I heard it I was like, “Wow! We can play!”. It felt cool. We didn’t have to practise it much.

MR - That version’s really soully as well.

Tony - Yeah. It was quick, too, but it was just a really good feeling. As well as that we recorded One Armed Scissor live, and Quarantined was also in that session, and I don’t know if you heard about the fourth song...

MR - The Pink Floyd cover.

Tony - Yeah, the Pink Floyd cover. It’s a really bizarre song and we really kept it true for what it was when Pink Floyd was called “The Pink Floyd” with Syd Barrett, and we did a three-minute jam in the middle of it. We changed it into our kind of thing, but it’s a little bit jammy. We didn’t know it. I heard it on a headphone. I heard the song, but I just listened to it and then I was like, “OK, I got it.”, and then we went in and me, Omar and Paul just tracked, and Jim came in later and filled in the other parts, but we were just like, “Well, OK, let’s try this”, and y’know, it came out. it’s not typical At The Drive-In. We’re very meticulous about the way we record songs, but this was the first time that we just let it go.

MR - When I heard it on the radio, I didn’t even register that it was you at all until the end of the track.

Tony - It was a great experience - I loved it, just recording four songs in two hours, and just really pushing yourself. I loved the feeling, I really did.

MR - Are you going to do any more sessions any time soon for UK radio, do you know?

Tony - Not for UK radio, but we really really want to do a new EP or something. We’re really dying to write, and we have a lot of ideas.

TW - Have you got a lot of new songs?

Tony - Not of new songs, but ideas, which is the best part of it. I mean, I’ve got tons of stuff, I know Omar and Cedric have a lot of stuff, and Jim and Paul have new stuff too. There’s a lot of energy there. We can’t wait to actually sit down and say, “OK, what’ll we work on first, y’know, somebody throw something out first!”. We’re really excited to write. I mean, this record’s new to a lot of people, but we recorded it in January.

MR - Is there any particular direction you’re planning on going in now?

Tony - No! Every time we open our mouths and say, “We’re gonna go in this direction.”, we go in an absolutely opposite direction.

TW - Just say the dub reggae direction!

Tony - Yeah, Reggae! The thing is, we’re always gonna have our elements. Something that’s always consistent in our music is that we always have the songs go quiet/loud/quiet/loud. Quiet/loud is very very our thing.

MR - On El Gran Orgo, there’s more of a straightforward pop-punk thing going on.

Tony - The thing is with El Gran Orgo, me and Paul were in the band for a month and a half. We literally did our first show, one show in a garage together as that 5-piece with Ben, and then a local label saw us and said, “Can you do, like, 5 or six songs?”. And two of the songs me and Ben had in our old band, so we just brought them forward for the EP - that’s where we were.

MR - Which two were they?

Tony - Honest To A Fault and Speechless. We had those two in our old band, so we just went, “D’you wanna try these?”, and they were like, “Yeah!”, so we just learned them and played those two. The others we just literally wrote really really fast, like Give It A Name. With Picket Fence Cartel, they had the song, but we completely changed it, completely revamped it. There’s another version on Vive! Alfaro Carajo, the second 7”, which was re-pressed on Jim’s label as a CD. The old version of Picket Fence Cartel is on that. They’re gonna re-press it again when they get a chance.

MR - Why did you call it “Vive! Alfaro Carajo”? It’s the name of a terrorist group from Ecuador isn’t it?

Tony - Yeah it is. Cedric reads a lot about that kinda stuff, and I read a lot about that kind stuff.

TW - Che Guevara’s memoirs and stuff like that?

Tony - That’s all I read, actually. Don’t ask me any Che questions, I’ll go on forever. I just finished “Military Strategies” by Mao Tse Tung - which is where we got the Relationship of Command title from. Chapter nine of that book. I read tons of political stuff. It’s not really because that’s my feeling, it’s just what I like to read.

TW - How does Cedric get the lyrics? Does he just kinda do what Boris did?

Tony - He does a lot of that stuff, and the thing is, it’s really cool because if I have lyrics, I can give him, like, almost a poem, and just say, “Do whatever you want with it.”, and he’s done that a lot, and that’s how he works with a lot of his stuff. I’ll generally give him five or six sheets and go, “Here.”

TW - Do you all give him work?

Tony - Yeah. Me and Jim give him stuff like, I didn’t do anything much on Relationship of Command, literally just one or two lines. Cedric wrote pretty much all the lyrics on that record, and some of the backups Jim did. But on Vaya I wrote 180d and some of 300MHz and some of Ursa Minor, and then on in/CASINO/OUT I wrote Hourglass. So we try to help out as much as possible. He’s just a really great lyricist, so sometimes I feel weird about giving him stuff when he’s really cool about taking everybody’s stuff. We’re just as cool with each other about giving each other different parts, too. I’ll come up with a vocal idea, he’ll come up with a drum line. We’re very open to each other’s instruments.


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