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"Maybe this happened at the wrong time, business-wise and for the popularity of the band, but it’s the perfect point for us because we’ve finally reached that level of being really, really tired."
——Tony Hajjar
AT THE DRIVE-IN
CROSSES THE BORDER
"Invalid Litter Dept." Video Is Haunting;
So Is The Chance To Talk To Us
El Paso’s At the Drive-In has had the kind of tumultuous year most bands would spread out over a career. The quintet’s major-label debut, "Relationship of Command" (Grand Royal/Virgin), released last September, received rave reviews and the first single, "One Armed Scissor," scored MTV Buzzworthy.com, as well as significant PoMo and Active Rock spins. They appeared on Conan, Letterman and Farmclub. As it had for the past six years, the group, often dubbed "The Best Live Band in America," toured constantly. Unfortunately, in November, they hit a patch of black ice in Colorado, flipping their van and causing them to cancel some dates. The fivesome (Cedric Bixler, Omar Rodriguez, Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos) then took off to Europe, where they had to cancel the last five shows because the majority of them had the flu. Finally, at the end of March, the band announced that they were taking an "indefinite hiatus" from the record-tour-record-tour cycle. Though many assumed that it was just another way to say that the band was breaking up, the fact is, they’re still working.

Shortly before taking that much-needed vacation, the band shot a haunting and remarkable video for the second single, "Invalid Litter Dept." Directed by the band, with additional footage shot by Anton Corbijn, the clip tells the story of female sweatshop workers being murdered in Juarez, Mexico, just over the border from the band’s hometown, interspersing newspaper clippings and text. The band’s Hajjar crosses a different kind of border to talk with HITS’ David "At the Take-out" Simutis, who will soon be on permanent hiatus.

What does "indefinite hiatus" mean?

It’s like, when you’re at a job and you’ve worked for five-to-six years, but never taken any vacation time. We’re taking our vacation time. We’ve never heard the words, "stop" or "take a break." We’ve never had the feeling that we should stop, until, for the first time, it really hit us. Maybe this happened at the wrong time, business-wise and for the popularity of the band, but it’s the perfect point for us because we’ve finally reached that level of being really, really tired. It’s time for us to take a long break.

Is there any sense of how long the vacation will last?

There’s a sense in our head, but it’s not something that we want to discuss with anybody. It’s not like we totally started staying away from each other or anything like that. We just had dinner a few days ago. We’re taking it slow just to relax and think of what we want to do next.

You’re obviously still working. You’re doing this interview.

Yeah, we’re working, but I think the hardest part for us was touring. I blame us for taking on so much press every single day. I’m proud of the video that we did.

Let’s talk about the video.

Some of it was shot before we left on the Japanese tour. When we got back, I went into Juarez with a video camera and got permission to go into all of these factories [known as maquiladoras], where all of these women work, because that’s part of the story. I also filmed the buses they take home. I went in a bus that night, by myself, in the dark, and filmed that. Paul and I edited it with Michael Carone. Paul and I typed the script here at my house. We brainstormed over what we needed to do to make an impact-full video—to show what is really going on in the nation right under us. I didn’t direct it, though. I participated and it became a passion to me. I researched it in the library for 24 hours before we left for Japan. We all just became obsessed with it.

What brought your attention to the subject?

Being human beings in El Paso. Unfortunately, this has been happening since ’93. It got to the point where it was getting a little bit of a national response, but it was amazing to all of us it didn’t get more. Approximately 970 women have been murdered and they still don’t have a single killer put away. If someone was killing 1,000 rich kids in Beverly Hills, I’m sure he would be caught really fast. But since, he is killing 12, 13 and 14-year-old and older women that all fit the same category of long, black, straight hair when they walked home from work and go off these buses after an eight-hour shift of making $3 a day, no one cares. There were never any extra forensics brought in and just a lot of laziness by the Mexican state police. That’s because of how the victims are considered in that nation. It’s like, they’re just little girls, so who cares? It really grossed us out.

 

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