Published May 04, 2017It took At the Drive-In 17 years, but the El Paso, TX band have finally followed up their acclaimed 2000 effort — and until recently, their swan song — Relationship of Command. Early tastes of their new album, in·ter a·li·a (out May 5 on Rise) suggest that the group have picked up right where they left off, an aesthetic the band courted, according to the group's singer, Cedric Bixler-Zavala.
"Just to have it come out and prove that we're serious about [the reunion] is really nice," he tells Exclaim! "There's such an intense want for At the Drive-In that people get really fucking pissed when you can't come through with it. There was a lot going against us and people didn't understand that it's a rock band made up of human beings."
One such disbeliever is the band's own former guitarist, Jim Ward. Back in the spring of 2016, it was revealed that the guitarist would not be partaking in the string of dates the group had booked, and he does not appear on the new record. In his place, At the Drive-In recruited Keeley Davis, former guitarist for Sparta, the band Ward formed following At the Drive-In's original disillusion in 2001.
Ward participated in the band's 2012 reunion and band members have been trading riffs back and forth ever since. Sessions for new material were even scheduled in 2014. "We were trying to get everyone on the same page," says Bixler-Zavala. "But in particular Jim just didn't want to do it at all. We just kept saying, 'We're going to honour that, if he doesn't want to do it, we'll let that be.'"
After those sessions fell apart, Bixler-Zavala and At the Drive-In guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez used much of the material for their debut as Antemasque.
At the time, Bixler-Zavala and Rogriguez-Lopez were patching up their relationship after disagreements caused the public dissolution of their group the Mars Volta in 2013. Given At the Drive-In's explosive history both on and off stage, Ward was wary. "He probably thought that we'd be going at it with each other and implode again," says Bixler-Zavala.
"We have a polarizing effect on people," he says of himself and Rodriguez-Lopez. "Love us or hate us, we do what we do because of the chemical ambiguities of our friendship create music and art. I don't know if Jim's ever had that. If you don't have it, it's kind of hard to recognize it in others."
Still, demand for more shows and new music grew and with the rest of the group on board, Bixler says they hit a breaking point. "We got to the point where we said, 'What is holding us up? Why is one person going to hold us up, you know?'" During a break in touring last year, the band booked studio time to finally lay down the tracks they'd been working on since 2012.
"We trust each other, we think we're making great songs," he says. "Everything was there. Jim just didn't want to do it. I don't know why. I think he's a fucking amazing artist. And it's too bad that it didn't work out."