In the early 1990s, from the dusty landscapes of far west Texas, there emerged a ragtag group of misfits, loners, screw-ups, and punks that desired to break free and create music unlike anything the region had seen.
Within this group of unlikely musical and cultural heroes were two talented kids, vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who didn’t set out to change music, a genre, or even anything. They were just bored with the status quo and sick of their hometown. But in their minds and hearts was a creative spark that was set to someday change the landscape of rock music.
In 1993, Bixler-Zavala and his childhood friend, guitarist Jim Ward, formed a band and named it At the Drive-In. Soon thereafter, Rodriguez-Lopez joined the group on lead guitar. Almost immediately, ATDI failed to find an audience pretty much anywhere – even in their hometown of El Paso, Texas, a sprawling metropolis of 600,000 people bordered by Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
They played sparsely attended concerts at local high schools, bowling alleys, and studio apartments, rarely getting any appreciation or acclaim for their energetic, punk-rock efforts. ATDI put out three albums and/or EPs and went through numerous lineup changes before adding Paul Hinojos on bass and Tony Hajjar on drums.
ATDI was a blend of alternative rock, hardcore punk, and post-hardcore. The energy of the band was marvelous, with Bixler-Zavala doing somersaults on stage and prancing around like a maniac in between his high-tenor singing. By 1996, the band was slowly gaining popularity across the U.S., mostly due to the determination and perseverance of its members. In 1998, following a label change, ATDI started gaining momentum and released In/Casino/Out before embarking on a non-stop tour across America and, eventually, to Europe.
Many in the mainstream media were slowly discovering ATDI’s brilliance, with publications and magazines gushing about the band’s raw on-stage energy and their musical abilities (one magazine even called them “the next Nirvana”). In January 2000, ATDI went to Malibu, California, to record their album Relationship of Command, which was destined to become a cult classic.
By this time, ATDI had finally hit the radio stations, and they were performing on national TV and on late night talk shows. They were developing a large following and were going as far as Japan and Australia to tour.
On November 12, 2000, during the tour, ATDI’s tour van was involved in a rollover crash. None of the band members were seriously hurt, but they were shaken up by the event. Meanwhile, the band members, especially Cedric and Omar, were growing weary of mainstream success and increasingly suspicious of the recording industry. They had an idea of being more progressive and genre-defying with their music, desiring a more ambitious and against-the-grain sound, a la Pink Floyd.
The band was exhausted by this point due to relentless touring, canceling several shows in Europe in early 2001. Cedric and Omar were slacking off during rehearsals and studio time, preferring to smoke crack or shoot up heroin with other friends rather than play the music that had brought them success.
In March 2001, mere weeks before another tour was set to start, ATDI broke up – or in their own words, they put the band on “indefinite hiatus.”
Cedric admittedly felt bad about the breakup. In the weeks and months that followed, he repeatedly placed the blame on himself in interviews, saying that he felt like ATDI was holding him back as a musician. Tony, Jim, and Paul liked the alternative rock sound, while Cedric and Omar wanted to pursue different genres and styles of rock. So, after a rocky road to semi-stardom, the members of ATDI went their separate ways….
(to be continued)