First impressions can be tricky.
Listening to boombastic Washington, D.C., rockers Jawbox is like meeting someone for the first time and coming away thinking, “Geez, what a gruff person.”
Their post-punk sound is rough, raw and aggressive. Crashing guitars and driving rhythms. A near-sensory overload.
But after getting to know the gruff one, you find a heart of gold down deep. In Jawbox’s case, that would be a melodic touch and enigmatic lyrics.
“I think we love ambiguity,” singer-guitarist J. Robbins said during a recent stop in the quartet’s U.S. tour, promoting its debut Atlantic album “For Your Own Special Sweetheart.”
“We like the idea of having words ricocheting off each other and seeing what people come up with,” he said. “If they’re lyrics I’ve written, I can trace them back to a source. Usually it’s something I’m confused about, something I can’t actually quite own up to rationally or look square in the face.”
The opening track, “ff=66,” alone is shrouded in mystery. “ff=66 explains you’re sick/ spins on the axis of promise/ and lick lack luck reveals all tricks.”
Formed in 1989 by Robbins and bassist Kim Coletta (and now including guitarist Bill Barbot and drummer Zachary Barocas), Jawbox has moved out from behind the shadow of hometown favorites Fugazi and offered its own unique twist to the world and the human condition.
Jawbox’s influences are too great to measure, Robbins said.
“I know why I wanted to be in a band and a lot of it has to do with being inspired by my friends, people I knew when I was a teenager and in my early 20s. They all played music,” he said.
“Even now, the most inspirational music to me is made by people I know. In terms of any one specific thing, I think there are about 18 billion influences working among us all and everybody brings different things into the band.”
If anything, being in a punk band brought out a new Robbins.
“I was confused as a teenager. I didn’t like anybody. I used to hate rock ‘n’ roll, I only liked classical music. But then friends of mine at art school got me into punk. I found that it was totally self-validating. And I think that’s what we’re doing too.”