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Almost exactly a year ago, a brief message appeared on the official At the Drive-In site. Citing total physical and mental exhaustion, the band cancelled a handful of upcoming U.S. tour dates and said that they would be taking an “indefinite hiatus”. Shortly thereafter, their web site disappeared altogether (although it has since been resurrected) and their label, Grand Royal, quietly folded. While there has not been an official announcement of the band’s demise, three new groups with ATDI members have appeared. Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez (otherwise known as the be-afroed ones) have formed the experimental dub project Defacto and a progressively-inclined rock group called The Mars Volta. Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar, and Paul Hinojos, along with new recruit Matt Miller, comprise the more straight ahead rock outfit, Sparta. Already, the young band has found a home on Dreamworks Records, released a four-song EP, and finished recording their debut album, due out sometime this summer. PopMatters caught up with Jim en route to Omaha, Nebraska for a quick chat.



PopMatters:

At the Drive-In ended sort of strangely, and I suspect that a lot of people are still confused. Can you talk a bit about what happened?



Jim Ward:

We got home from the tour. We’d been in Europe and it had been really mind-numbing. It wasn’t fun anymore. And we had been playing together for a long time. Anyway, we got home and we had a few weeks off. At that point, Omar and Cedric decided they wanted to do something else. And we all agreed that the best thing to do was to end the band. It wasn’t weird for us. It seemed like the right time I guess.



PM:

Well, it must have come as somewhat of a surprise since you did have those U.S. dates scheduled.



JW:

True. We definitely didn’t plan the end of the band, but it happened.



PM:

I read an interview with Omar in which he said that he felt that At the Drive-In had run its course, creatively-speaking. Was the general consensus in the band at the time?



JW:

You know, I don’t think I ever really gave it much thought. They left the band and that was that. But I wasn’t having fun anymore, so . . .



PM:

Would you say that it ended amicably?



JW:

Yeah . . . Well, the only thing I’d say is that [ending the band] took the professional pressure off all our relationships. So in that sense it was good.



PM:

So what happened once the split was final? Was starting a new band the obvious next step or did you consider doing something else?



JW:

It wasn’t my first thought, but Paul came over to my house and convinced me that that was the best thing I could do.



PM:

In At the Drive-In, Cedric wrote most of the lyrics and handled the vocal duties, but now you’ve taken on those roles. Was that a difficult transition?



JW:

No, not really. I’m having a great time. I was a frontman when I was in high school, before I joined At the Drive-In.



PM:

I didn’t know that.



JW:

Yeah, well, I loved what I did in At the Drive-In too. That’s one of my favorite roles in a band-playing guitar and keyboards and singing backup. But I like doing this too.



PM:

So it didn’t give you any troubles?



JW:

Just the general nervousness that comes with being center stage.



PM:

I noticed on the web site that you recruited Jerry Finn (Green Day, Blink-182, and Sum 41) to produce your forthcoming full-length. He seems like an odd choice. Why did you pick him?



JW:

Well, when we were in At the Drive-In we had a producer (Ross Robinson) who had worked with Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Vanilla Ice.



PM:

Right. That seemed strange at the time too.



JW:

We try to find people that, sonically, we like. So it’s not the bands [they’ve produced]; it’s the sounds. And then if we like what we hear, we go ahead and meet them. That’s how we decide.



PM:

Ross approached you guys prior to Relationship of Command. Is that what happened in this case?



JW:

A mutual friend actually set us up. We had breakfast one morning and he walked down from his house. He’s not a very fancy guy. He told me his first band was a Minor Threat cover band. We were immediately on the same page.



PM:

So where are you in the recording process?



JW:

It’s done. It’s tracked. They just have to mix it. They start on the 8th and then our guys will fly out and finish it with them.



PM:

Do you have a release date yet?



JW:

I think July some time.



PM:

That’s a quick turnaround.



JW:

Well, we started the band last June. It’s cool to have it all come together in a year.



PM:

The songs must have been recorded quickly as well.



JW:

We started in the second week of January. We did SXSW in the meantime.



PM:

Yeah, I actually tuned into MTV2 over the weekend and saw you guys being interviewed as part of their coverage of the event.



JW:

With Jason Schwartzmann?



PM:

Yeah.



JW:

Great guy. He was really cool. I’d wanted to meet him. I’m a big fan of Rushmore, and it’s my wife’s favorite movie and she got to meet him too. So we were happy.



PM:

Since you’ve only put out one EP so far, a lot of people who go to see Sparta on this tour will be At the Drive-In fans curious to hear the new project. And many will be hearing the band for the first time. What should those people expect? Could you describe what Sparta sounds like—maybe in comparison to your former band?



JW:

Well, expectations are always just a bad thing in general. It would be cool if everyone just kept an open mind. In some ways it’s easier coming from a band that did something already cause you have that fan base to start.



PM:

You’ve got to agree that a healthy percentage of the people showing up to the gigs are only going to know your work from At the Drive-In.



JW:

Oh yeah. That doesn’t bum me out or anything. I’m totally proud of At the Drive-In and the band I’m in now. I think it’s cool that people know about At the Drive-In and that they can check this out. If they like it, great, and if not, that’s fine too.



PM:

So in general, how do you feel right now, with your new album on the verge of release vs. how you felt prior to the release of Relationship of Command?



JW:

Right now I think I’m mentally healthier than I’ve ever been in my whole life. I’m really happy.



PM:

You think that has a lot to do with your personal life as well?



JW:

Yeah, I think it’s everything. There was a lot of shit before I got married and before At the Drive-In broke up that really brought me down. And now I feel really good. Part of it is just growing up. You get older and a maybe little bit wiser, but whatever. I’m just glad it’s happened.

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