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Songs of experience 

Jets to Brazil had no shortage of passengers ready to fly their pop-punk airline by the time their debut album took off last October. With a flight crew gleaned from three respected '90s punk outfits, Jets to Brazil created an near instantaneous buzz before their CD "Orange Rhyming Dictionary" was even released.

But frontman Blake Schwarzenbach experienced his share of turbulence along the way. When the singer/guitarist completed his tour of duty with popular San Francisco punks Jawbreaker in 1996, he swore off music to live the freelance-writing life in Brooklyn. This may not be a surprise for fans who are familiar with Schwarzenbach's penetrating, often poetic lyrics. "I loved getting a check for writing, as someone who aspired to be a writer," he says. "To me that's exciting, even if it's a $40 check. It's like your first dollar. You want to frame it."

But the financial frustrations of freelance writing coupled with the lure of making music again sent Schwarzenbach back to songwriting. He holed up in his apartment with bargain-basement synthesizers and drum machines he had purchased in San Francisco. "There was this glut of used synthesizers pawned off by slick metal and prog-rock bands from the '80s," says Schwarzenbach. "San Francisco had a lot of that going on. You could get these things real cheap."

Schwarzenbach summoned wicked '80s sounds from the technology available to him, and influences from his adolescence -- the Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four -- crept into his new songs. He was prodded by former Handsome bassist Jeremy Chatelain into forming a band, and he soon replaced his beat box with the more organic time-keeping of ex-Texas Is the Reason drummer Chris Day. "We get psyched up to play together," says Schwarzenbach. "It's been a long time since any of us have been in a band where we're really excited about going to practice."

Jets to Brazil was picked up by Jade Tree Records and sent on a European tour with emo-core upstarts the Promise Ring, and soon added guitarist Bryan Maryansky for their U.S. dates. For Schwarzenbach, who was named after the poet William Blake, it was a relief to bring his songs of experience to fans who had appreciated Jawbreaker.

"I still feel like a total amateur every time I write something," he says. "But I do think this collection of songs is more confident in a way. There's something assured and maybe wizened in the tone ... although it felt pretty innocent at the [band's] inception."

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More by Matt Kelemen


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