DB HOF NO. 88
The making of Unsane’s “Scattered, Smothered & Covered”
label: Amphetamine Reptile
The era surrounding the release of Total Destruction, the 1993 sophomore album by New York City noiseniks Unsane, took Chris Spencer’s life on the craziest of rollercoaster rides. The band, which he formed in 1988 with schoolmates Pete Shore (bass) and Charlie Ondras (drums), was somewhere between collapse and breakthrough. The vocalist/guitarist was wrestling with drug addiction after the heroin overdose and passing of Ondras in 1992. Then consisting of Spencer, Shore and drummer Vinnie Signorelli (ex-Swans and Foetus), Unsane inked a deal with Matador Records, but Total Destruction saw the light of day on Atlantic after the mega-label bought out the cool, hip indie that was also home to the likes of Sonic Youth and Pavement [and Bettie Serveert! —ed] amongst a who’s who of indie rock royalty. And for as much bitching and that moaning fans did about selling out, the cantankerous trio from the gritty, pre-Rudy Giuliani streets of Manhattan used major label resources to their advantage—touring their cast iron balls off, dining on the company dime and reaping promotional advantages.
While touring Total Destruction, the negatives of the Atlantic buyout began to present themselves more saliently. Unsane didn’t want to be there, they weren’t selling enough for Atlantic to want them there, and their time on the road was becoming somewhat painful, with long touring spells on mismatched bills playing in front of intolerant death metal fans. Not only that, but with Shore, they were also dealing with a bass player who didn’t want to be there either. However, with lights at the end of the tunnel being what they are, a deal was brokered that allowed the band to escape Atlantic and sign with the kindred spirits at Amphetamine Reptile. As well, on-again-off-again sound guy Dave Curran came in to fill the bass position, immediately clicking with Spencer in a songwriting capacity and Signorelli in a rhythmic groove, and allowing them to hole up at the AmRep compound to piece together our latest HOF inductee, Scattered, Smothered & Covered.
Littered with simple, driving riffs that worm their way into the reptilian part of the listener’s brain, Scattered takes a mixture of noisy Lower East Side rock and the blues to angry depths. The underground took to it, but it wasn’t until Unsane put together the promo video for “Scrape” that the album really started selling. Basically a glorified—but brutal—skate blooper reel interspersed with live footage, “Scrape” somehow caught the attention of MTV’s programmers, and the clip went the mid-’90s equivalent of viral. It seemed that once all the hurdles were cleared, Unsane happened to be in the right place at the right time, and it all came on the heels of the 12 awesome tracks comprising Decibel’s latest Hall of Fame entry.
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