Drive Like Jehu: influential Emo in San Diego

By Jenny Maurer

Last time, I discussed the Bay Area guitar hero Sarah Kirsch and today, I am sticking with the California punk theme as the weather is slowly getting warmer.  This time, we are moving to a southern part of the state, namely San Diego. It’s home to skate punk ambassadors Blink 182, the massive San Diego zoo, and the navy themed USS Midway museum. There was also a sizable amount of emo punk and post hardcore bands back in the 90s with dramatic names like Antioch Arrow and Clikatat Ikatowi. However,  one of the more influential post hardcore bands from this scene was Drive Like Jehu. They had a short lifespan of five years with only two albums, including an single.

Drive like Jehu was started by the lead singer Rick Froberg and guitarist John Reis who were previously in a band called Pitchfork. Influenced by noise rock bands like Sonic Youth and Slint,  their first release arrived in 1991 with the self titled Drive Like Jehu. From the very first song, Caress, Drive like Jehu establishes themselves as a very tight, claustrophobic band. Vocalist Froberg  sounds small and raspy against Reis’ chaotic, terse guitar.  The influence from Slint also really stands out on songs like O Pencil Sharp where there’s a slow suspenseful build before launching into the band’s  unique punk sound. There’s a few spots on the album where they seem to pioneer the flowing,  languid sound of emo bands like Mineral. This is prevalent in songs like If it Kills you   and Turn it Off where they vault between jangling guitars with running baseline, bursts of punk energy, and back to lengthy, suspenseful notes.

Their second and final album, Yank Crime, was released in 1994. With a few exceptions, the band does away with frantic bursts of punk and instead uses the influence of Slint to create haunting, menacing pieces. Do you Compute, for instance has a creeping repetitive beat that brings out  isolation. Luau, meanwhile, combines a swaying beat with repeated calls to “Suit up”, to invoke an atmosphere of paranoia. The concept of fear and security is something of a running theme throughout the album whether its the demands of “Do you compute” in the titled track or the warning in Super Unison of “Don’t let the man inside your home”.  Considering the rise of right wing militants in the early 90s, it’s possible that the band was influenced by the current events. That’s why these bands are so fascinating- their sound and attitude keys people into the sociological settings of their decade and environment.

After Drive like Jehu,  Foberg and Reis continued in the post hardcore vein with the band Hot Snakes and also ventured into the world of garage rock with Rocket from the Crypt. The band not only influenced  emo and post hardcore bands with their style, they also impacted how it was produced with the former drummer, Mark Trombino, becoming an engineer. Trombino produced and engineered  quite a few classic emo albums such as Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American and Mineral’s EndSerenading.

Drive Like Jehu’s career was brief, but they certainly had a big influence  on the rest of the 90s sound.   It’s important to have a sense of history with music in every genre whether its appreciating 30s blues musicians or recognizing The Carter Family’s influence on country. The Emo and pop punk field is no exception- in a decade when emo bands are turning to dance pop and experimentation, it’s important to examine how far they’ve come.

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