Christie Front Drive
Freewill Records, 1994
File under: The rising tide of second-wave emo
Related artists: Jimmy Eat World, The Promise Ring, Sunny Day Real Estate, Texas Is The Reason, Mineral
Back when Christie Front Drive started playing around its hometown of Denver in 1993, the world at large was blessedly free from the word "emo," much less the scourge of saccharine bands that have since descended like Auto-Tuned locusts. The label never meant much to the groups saddled with it, especially Christie Front Drive, whom history has regarded as one of the genre's touchstone bands.
Perhaps to the chagrin of everyone involved, history is correct. Although the four ex-members of Christie Front Drive can take solace in that there is definitely not a straight line descending from them to the dregs of Boys Like Girls (or even Fall Out Boy for that matter). Chances are 99 percent of the Warped Tour set would assume "Christie Front Drive" is just somebody's street name.
It isn't, and that's not the point anyway. In 1993, emo as a word and genre barely existed on anyone's radar, even the punk scene that created it. The legacy of "emocore" founding fathers Rites Of Spring and Embrace still lingered, but legions of kids weren't rallying to carry the torch. Neither were the members of Christie Front Drive: Guitarist-vocalist Eric Richter, guitarist Jason Begin, bassist Kerry McDonald, and drummer Ron Marschall were punk-rock kids who accidentally fell into a certain sound. Around the country, other bands were doing something similar, and by the time Bill Clinton won his second term in office, they all cohered into the second wave of emo. When the third wave hit around the new millennium, these bands had mostly disappeared, but a new generation of kids would ratchet up the pop, smoothen the edges, and turn an afterthought of a genre into something that causes riots in Mexico.
Those dark days were a long way off when Christie Front Drive released a 7-inch in 1994 that couldn't have looked more nondescript: blank gray paper for a liner sleeve (a small black star on the cover), a crappy paper sticker on the plastic sleeve with the band's name. Inside, the same paper stock with the same black star, folded, with hand-written liner notes on the interior. The only real flourish was the vinyl itself, which was light gray instead of black. The minimalism probably came from necessity–the money went to pressing the vinyl, not packaging.
Like so many other bands in the punk scene, Christie Front Drive lived a short, prolific life. Six months after forming, the band recorded its first 12-inch EP for Freewill Records. It was barely a year old when it went to the studio in October of 1994 to record this 7-inch, also for Freewill. By the end of the 1995, the band had released a split 7-inch with Sineater, another split with Jimmy Eat World, then a split EP with Boys Life, not to mention a full-length that gathered many of those tracks in re-recorded form. By the end of 1996, Christie Front Drive had broken up, but not without recording another full-length, released in 1997. It had also mounted numerous tours and spurned attention from Capitol Records. (Richter recommended, though, the label check out this Arizona band called Jimmy Eat World.)
By the time that last record arrived, Christie Front Drive had refined its sound into something moodier and more patient, but this 7-inch captures the ripped-from-the-practice-space immediacy of a band too eager to slow down.
You can hear the early rumblings of screamo–could anything be lower than a subgenre of emo?–in Begin's howls in the post-chorus bridge, but Christie Front Drive wasn't a screamy band. In that regard, "Away" shows its youth relative to the rest of the band's output. Richter's vocals, though, mostly remained buried in the mix and only occasionally intelligible.
The second song on the 7-inch, "4010," offered a better glimpse at the direction Christie Front Drive was headed. The opening riff definitely sounds Fugazi-esque, but the band would stretch out that guitar sound further on subsequent releases, toning down the jumpy loud/quiet bombast into something that simmered instead of exploded. You can hear it in the song's long, slow build-up and the shifts in dynamic. Christie Front Drive was a band that loved to play with intensity. It wasn't just the binary code of loud/quiet; between those, the group created a gradient that could be surprisingly subtle and sophisticated.
"We were ripping off bands that other kids weren't listening to," Richter says. "It's not like we were coming up with this shit on our own. There was this one Christie Front Drive song that was a complete rip-off of a Buffalo Tom song. But kids listening to it didn't really get it. They were like, 'Wow that's awesome.' I ripped it off, man! But it's interesting: If you can rip off stuff that people aren't listening to, all of a sudden you're very original. That's the key to it!" [Laughs.]
And among the zine-reading hordes of the early '90s, the sound was practically revolutionary. Christie Front Drive found an unlikely booster in hardcore Bible HeartattaCk zine after its debut 12-inch came out.
"When you send a record to a magazine, it depends on whose hands it falls into," Richter says. "But the one kid who reviewed it was like, 'Melody, what a crazy idea!'"
Little revelations like that occur all the time. To the rest of the world, they can be obvious, but each generation of kids has to come to it on their own. For the ones in the punk scene at the time, Christie Front Drive represented a stirring point of departure. The band helped solidify a sound that would appear and disappear within the space of a few years, only to have a distant relative peddle a histrionic (and lucrative) version of it down the road.
Current whereabouts: Richter plays in Golden City, and the other members are scattered around the country with other projects. The band performed a one-off reunion show at last year's Denver Fest; video of the show is available on YouTube.
Album availability: The original 7-inch is out of print. The songs appeared on the first self-titled Christie Front Drive full-length (also referred to as Anthology), but is also apparently out of print. (A new copy is going for $100 on Amazon.)