Influenced primarily by the likes of Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu as well as their native Texas hardcore scene, At the Drive-In crafted epic, musically complex songs laced with cryptic and strongly metaphoric lyrics. Founded in 1993 by guitarist Jim Ward and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, ATD-I's first studio recording was Hell Paso (Western Breed), an EP issued in 1994. They played their first live show on October 15, 1994 at the Loretto High School Fair in El Paso, Texas. Much touring would quickly develop a following as intense in loyalty as the band was on stage. The band aggressively sought shows and publicity in its early days, even going to the point where members pretended to be a polka chapel band in order to obtain an appearance on a local television show called "Let's Get Real". This reputation for hard work, the release of perhaps their best-known album (Relationship of Command) and their minor hit radio single "One Armed Scissor" (which had a music video in circulation on MTV) received positive attention in the rock press towards the end of their career. The band's first nationally televised performance was on FarmClub, a now defunct television show which aired late at night on the USA network. After that performance they also appeared on Later with Jools Holland, Late Night With Conan O'Brien and The Late Show With David Letterman, performing their single "One Armed Scissor" on national television.
Not only notoriously energetic and wild at shows, At the Drive-In were noted by the music press for the afros of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The hairstyle became synonymous with the pair's image. However, the two have been very vocal about image. Omar said in one interview, "I hate photoshoots, I get so bored. The way I look has nothing to do with the music I make, so who cares if I have big glasses and an afro? People should just put on our CD."
According to some sources, At the Drive-In struggled to recreate their intense live experience in the studio, much like the great hard rock pioneers The Who famously did in the 1960s. At one point they tried to circumvent this problem by recording their second album, In/Casino/Out (1998), as a live studio album.
The Band Breakup
In January 2001, At the Drive-In traveled to Australia for the Big Day Out. While performing in Sydney, they left partway through their set after telling the spectators in attendance to calm down and observe the safety rules (moshing). After the refusal of the crowd, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala called the crowd “a bunch of sheep” and proceed to baa at the crowd several times before the band left the stage around 15 minutes into their set. Later that day, teenager Jessica Michalik died of asphyxiation during a crowd surge in the now infamous Limp Bizkit’s Big Day Out set.
Later in 2001, at the peak of their popularity and following a world tour, At the Drive-In broke up, initially referring to the split as an "indefinite hiatus." The band played their last show at Groningen's Vera venue on February 21, 2001. Cedric Bixler-Zavala took responsibility for the breakup for the band, saying repeatedly in interviews that he felt almost as if ATDI were holding him back, and that he didn't want his music to be confined to 'punk or 'hardcore' - that it should encompass many different genres and be even more progressive, alternative, and "against-the-grain". Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez had stated that they wanted their next album to sound like Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, while the other members of the band were intent on progressing in a more typical rock direction. Following the break-up of ATDI, Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez started The Mars Volta. This project was a departure from their previous work, as it pursued the prog-rock sound that they had been interested in. Meanwhile, the other members of ATDI—Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar—started the band Sparta. Hinojos has since left Sparta to join Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez in The Mars Volta. Both bands have been very successful in their own right; Sparta's music is somewhat similar to ATDI original work, while The Mars Volta deviated by changing into a more progressive hard/Latin rock group.
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