"The Unwound path crossed a lot of different scenes." - Justin Trosper "We took our music in a lot of different directions, though always staying very Unwound." Sara Lund
The above quotes from Unwound guitarist/vocalist Trosper and drummer Lund basically explain and justify the appearance of the not-metal band this week on the ol' Deciblog. Unwound originally came screaming out of the Pacific Northwest in the early 90s balancing on a tightrope between hardcore, punk, alt-rock, noise rock, math rock, post-all of that and screamo before the word got co-opted by swooped haircuts. They delivered six or seven albums and a stack of singles, 7"s and compilation appearances and toured the world by the skin of their teeth before calling it a day in 2002. They have since released a live album, Live Leaves, and gone on to influence countless numbers of bands that us Decibel-ers hold dear to our hearts like Botch, Young Widows, KEN Mode, Coliseum, Helms Alee and so on and so forth.
Available as of last Tuesday, Kid is Gone (pictured above) is the first in a series of reissues from reissue specialty label, Numero, who will be eventually unleashing the entire Unwound discography via four separate and exhaustive box sets. We caught up with Justin Trosper and Sara Lund who gabbed about the band's history, legacy and the comprehensive reissue collections.
Obvious first question: Are you back together as a band? Will you be playing shows or is this all about promoting the re-issue boxsets and keeping the legacy/name of the band alive for those who want it? Sara Lund: You guessed it. This is about the legacy and not about reunions. We are supremely honored that Numero has offered to reissue all of our records and hope the old fans will like what they do with them.
At what point after dissolving did you begin to realise not only how much, but how wide, Unwound’s influence stretched? Sara: I started realizing it only a few years ago when, living in Portland, I would walk into coffee shops where 20-something baristas would be listening to Unwound. I still don't quite have a handle on how far or wide we stretch. I feel like half the people I meet have either heard of us and assume that I'm a wealthy rock star, and the other half have never heard of us and are all like, "Oh yeah I'm in a band, too." Who isn't? Justin Trosper: After the band dissolved I was doing some recordings with other bands in Olympia, but stopped playing for the most part. I sold my part of our studio equipment and moved to LA in 2004. At this point I stopped doing music except for a recording project I did for artist Slater Bradley. I kind of stopped paying attention to the music world and was blissfully ignorant of Unwound's influence or non-influence. I just didn't want to be an Unwound dude for awhile.
Whose idea was it to cull and compile a four-part boxset? What are the details for this series of re-issues? The plan is to have your entire recorded works re-issues, correct? What about photos, liner notes and all that jazz? Sara: This was primarily the brain child of the folks at Numero Group. The LPs are essentially being broken up into eras and released in boxes that represent them. The first one is everything that was recorded with the original drummer, Brandt Sandeno. Although he was only a part of Unwound for about a year (he was in Giant Henry with bassist Vern Rumsey and Justin before that. See the liner notes that come with first set for the whole story), a great deal of material was written and recorded; basically, three LPs worth! So, after that comes the first two LPs I was on: Fake Train and New Plastic Ideas with a third LP of extras... and so on and so forth until we've covered the whole catalog. Each box will contain at least one LP's worth of extra material, be it 7"s, comp tracks, demos, unreleased, or live material. And each set will include very extensive liner notes, covering the era represented by the recordings. By the end, there will essentially have been a book written about us. We are lucky to have our old friend and roadie from our final tour, David Wilcox, on board as our liner note author. And yes, there will be photos. Have you ever seen Numero Group records? Those guys go all out! We are getting the full Numero treatment. Justin: The Numero thing is sort of a serendipitous phenomenon that I think stems from us putting together the Unwound Archive website. The four part thing came about from conversations Ken Shipley from Numero and I had about trying to release our material in a digestible and interesting and sensible way. Instead of putting out every album with an additional disc of material it made more sense to put out "chunks" of stuff conceptually related by its era in the band's timeline. So the first set is our first "demo" cassette and the self-titled LP with their related content. Each set will be two albums with a disc or two of extra stuff. It's a sort of weird format, but let me explain a key concept. Each Unwound record is related (not by design exactly) in the sense that one record is a stepping stone to the next. So the self-titled record is the fully realized concept of the demo and New Plastic Ideas is the fully realized version of Fake Train and so on. It really is, if you listen closely to the music and production. Each set has it's own direction.
Was this project easier to embark upon given that you had already had a head start of sorts with www.unwoundarchive.com? Did you find yourselves having more material than you knew what to do with or could include? Sara: Yes, getting the project rolling was much easier since we'd already started trying to do a cheap web version before we were approached by Numero. I don't think we had gone so far as to consider reissuing the records ourselves. That requires a great deal of capital, of which we have none. We still have a lot of material to dig through that we can include on the site and some stuff that will be exclusive to the box sets. For example, we are still trying to piece together a complete list of every live show and get as many flyers as we can up on the site. And we'd love to get more links to live videos and do some more story telling of our own. The archive sort of turned into a piece to support the release of the Live Leaves record and we hope it will act in a similar way as the Numero releases roll out. The www.unwoundarchive.com is a labour of love taken on by members of the band with very little money or technical abilities, so we ask visitors to be forgiving. We do intend to continue to offer t-shirts through the site and plan to reissue old shirts in conjunction with the reissues. Look for a shirt from the early tours sometime soon! We currently have two shirts available through the site. One is a reissue of a shirt from the Leaves Turn Inside You Tour to coincide with the Live Leaves release, and one is a brand new design based on the flyer for our last show. Justin: The thing I can add is that the Numero releases are the sort of "cream of the crop" stuff but there will be more on the website--kind of informal. It's just a different level and medium for information. And we hope people will keep sending us ephemera. It's not about ego building ("look at what I did!"); it's about preserving a little bit of history ("look at what happened").
In going back, discovering and unearthing all this material, what struck you both most positively and negatively about Unwound? What do you recall being some of the most awesome moments of your time in the band? Sara: Well, the most positive thing has got to be the music itself. And the experience of growing as players together as a unit. The musical connection that the three of us shared cannot be duplicated. It was a pretty special thing and I'm not sure how aware I was of it at the time. And, of course, getting to travel all over the world playing music. Well that's just about the best thing ever. It's still one of my favorite things to do, even though I don't get to do it very often. Negatively speaking, we were so disorganized, self-sabotaging, shitty communicators... it is a true miracle we got as far as we did and accomplished as much as we accomplished. The music itself is the one thing that kept us together for so long. There were many awesome moments. Really, going on adventures and getting to play with some pretty great bands (as well as plenty of terrible ones). What else can I say? I got to spend my 20's playing drums and touring the world! Justin: I guess one thing that was both positive and negative was how fiercely independent we were. We took a lot of cues from the SST and Dischord playbook (through the Olympia/K/Kill Rock Stars lens) and just did it to death. We usually made decisions based on principle and not finances, which isn't always a good idea. But I really have no regrets about how I was then, though I would be happy to help others learn from my mistakes. I consider myself a pretty successful twenty something--not very many people have lived the life I did then or since for that matter. I had a conversation with a professor that I had when I went back to school and expressed some lack of confidence in what I was doing at the time and he was like "Dude, you traveled the world in a van and played punk rock for a decade, that's way more rewarding than an academic career, you are doing just fine." I'm stoked for everything going on now even though it is a happy/sad bittersweet kind of deal.
What did you learn, if anything, about yourselves in going back over your history for the purposes of these collections? Sara: Working on these extensive liner notes with David Wilcox, I'm learning a lot about myself and ourselves. Just thinking about the experience in historical context puts a different spin on one's life experiences. It's pretty fascinating to have a third party dig into your life and turn it into a good read. Pretty therapeutic, in some ways. I think I have a clearer understanding of my band mates as people and our various motivations. The break up was tough on all of us and this has been pretty useful for coming to terms with a lot of shit. Plus, in terms of true historical context, looking back at the music scene we were a part of and our role - it is true that was a special time and place. Probably the most remarkable thing is that a lot happened over a very short period of time. Justin: We all have terrible memories! Now I actually understand better how biographies and histories work. Some of what we remember is fiction/myth though it seems true and then after compiling and editing it all together it does become the "truth." What I hope is that this snowballs into more 90's underground history narratives. The Unwound path crossed a lot of different scenes. Once it is all put together people will not only understand the context of this particular band but will gain insight into the whole 90's music thing---not the "Year Punk Broke" world but the subterranean ecosystem of Gravity, Troubleman, Kill Rock Stars and further beneath that. Everybody already knows the other story, so to me this should be exciting for music nerds, at least.
How do you think Unwound would be taken to by indie/punk/hardcore kids today had the band formed in the last year or two? What do you feel were the most significant differences between life as Unwound 20-some-odd years ago compared to what bands today deal with? Justin: I think people would be stoked even though I don't think the situation is really plausible based on what the world seems like now. I only mean that the band was conceptually derived from this 1980's hardcore ethos and a particular geographical context that does not exist now. Unwound was a real band (a la the 80's HC thing I refer to) and I find that rare even though I live in a hole in the woods and don't know anything. We went out there, bootstrapped, and played the crap out of our instruments and took songwriting seriously and that resonated with the people who witnessed it. I still think that kind of "quality" is what music fans look for universally. I know it because the shows I have been playing with my new band uses the same general M.O. as Unwound and we get some of that same response. Give people the rock and they will appreciate it. It's akin to when you hear about how old time people built their own cabins with an axe and struggled through the winter on salted meats and whiskey--not very many people do that anymore. Only a wimpy punk rock indy version. Sara: Man, I have no idea what kids these days would think of us if we were contemporary. I sort of assume it wouldn't go over. We were a good live band (most of the time), but we didn't really put on a show and that seems to be a bigger thing these days. Then again, genres seem to matter less now and part of me thinks one of our problems in getting much recognition while we were a band is that we, dare I say it, defied genre. We took our music in a lot of different directions, though always staying very Unwound, and as much as that drew the people to us that it did, I think probably pushed others away. Nowadays, everyone knows about and listens to all kinds of music. As for being in a band now vs being in a band 20 years ago, it feels like night and day to me. The elephant in the room being the Internet, of course, but also the sheer number of bands there are now, and add to that the almost complete lack of labels. Indie rock has become so pro now, too. I know that house parties still happen, and that bands still pile into broken down vans and couch surf across the country. I know there is still an underground, or maybe there is one again. But there is also this very clearly laid track for how to become a professional "indie" rock star. Sponsorships, licensing, paying your dues, not by playing tiny clubs to no one, but by playing opening slots at giant festivals, to no one. The Internet is a great tool, if you know how to use it. But the amount of time and energy a band has to spend on self-promotion that takes away from the time and energy you should be spending making music... that part bums me out. I'm not even going to go into the "everything is free" part of it all. Figuring out how to be in a band in the 20-teens feels like a dark art to me. I bet you didn't even know that I've had a band for six years now called Hungry Ghost and that we put out a record last year. Nope. Nobody does. Which is why I have to shamelessly plug it here.
How surprised are you that there’s enough interest in Unwound today that a complete re-issuing of your discography is something people actually care about? What do you attribute this to: the internet? Strong songs that stand the test of time? Selling your souls at the crossroads? Magic beans? Justin: I figured/hoped at some point we would have some sort of narrative someday based on the volume of work we did; after all we had a relatively pretty long history for a punk band. This was, and is, the idea with the archive site. We were just going to do it ourselves. The Numero thing was not expected and it is rad, I must say. The internet helped me gauge a little of where we stood in the "history books" and it didn't seem quite right. But hard work alone does not equal recognition. I think the thing I understand better now is that when you make music it takes on a life of it's own and ultimately outlives you, especially if you have the opportunity to do something like this. I'm proud of what we did but there was a feeling of not really being done and now I know we can put this thing to bed. I kind of thought that I would be just living in a fishing village at age 67 and someone from MOJO would track me down for a half page blurb on the origins of screamo or something. Now I'm pretty sure I will at least be playing at the cafe in the fishing village and a maybe a festival here and there until I croak. I feel comfortable knowing that music will always be my companion, but not my only one Sara: I'm pretty damned surprised. I remember thinking, sort of towards the end of Unwound, that my highest goal in terms of recognition would be to be like Mission of Burma (this was before they reunited, but it's still relevant). A great band that mostly nobody knew about, but who were truly loved by the ones that did know about them. I feel like we reached that goal and that's pretty satisfying to me. Granted, just because Numero is putting these records out, doesn't mean anyone's going to buy them. I mean, I sure as hell hope they do, but a big part of me is skeptical. But there does seem to be twinkling of 90's nostalgia in the night skies and our generation is moving into positions of power. I keep thinking about how my dad was about my age when I was a young teen and how excited he was to teach me about the 60's and how fascinating that time was to everyone. Well, it's our turn to be the old farts, waxing nostalgic about how we were gonna change the world, man. And maybe Unwound gets to be like Karen Dalton or Emmit Rhodes, The Creation or Os Mutantes - totally obscure at the time but now on the soundtrack to every Wes Anderson movie or on Michael Cera's infinite playlists (jesus, even my contemporary references are dated). But I'm not holding my breath.