an Interview with Unsane by Erik of Man’s Gin/Cobalt, plus a new song stream
by Erik Wunder
Erik Wunder of Man's Gin and Cobalt took time out of his current projects to speak with NYC's own Unsane. The results of the interview, along with a new song stream, are below. -BBG
Unsane at Santos Party House (more by Keith Marlowe)
Noise-metal pioneers Unsane are back at it with Wreck, their new LP due via Alternative Tentacles on March 20th and first in five years. Over the LP's forty minutes Unsane bash out ten new tracks, one of which is a cover of Flipper's "Ha Ha Ha". Stream three songs from Wreck below, including "Decay" which appears here for the first time.
With the new LP right around the corner, I had the distinguished opportunity to speak with frontman Chris Spencer to talk about influence, the new record, and generally see how things are in the land of things that aren't necessarily sane. The results, song streams, and all tour dates are below...
Selections from Unsane's Wreck by brooklynvegan
Erik Wunder: Your new record Wreck is just as intense and in-your-face as anything you have ever released. How much of that intensity is derived from living in New York City? Or is it bigger than that?
Chris Spencer: A lot of it definitely comes from too much time living in New York. Being surrounded by so many people, so much noise and the problems that come with modern urban living unquestionably played a major part in the writing of this album, but it's also about people and the fucked up ways some deal with the problems in their lives. I guess that also has something to do with the city we live in, but some people are pretty crazy no matter where they live.
You have a very distinct guitar sound and a signature style that reflects a lot of early blues. You also dust your songs with slide guitar from time to time. Who are some of your favorite blues players? What was the moment where you realized bringing slide guitar into hard music was a great idea? I assume the harmonica playing comes from the same inspiration?
I really like guys like Mance Lipscomb, Hound Dog Taylor, Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, Bukka White, Howlin' Wolf, Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins and of course Robert Johnson to name a few. It kinda seems like everyone should check that stuff out at one point. My mother was in a Bluegrass band when I was a kid, so I learned slide and tunings before I learned chords. I have always loved playing slide and really enjoy getting to play some in Unsane when I can...
Unsane at Santos
Unsane is one of the forefathers of the NY noise metal movement. Who were you listening to during those early years? The NYC music scene is very strong on a local level. Did you draw from similar bands (Cop Shoot Cop, etc) or were you coming from a different place?
When we started out, I think some bands we all agreed we liked were Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Flipper and the Stooges. We didn't want to sound like any of the bands around us and actually tossed out any song ideas that reminded us of anything we had heard before.
How have you seen the NY scene change since the late 80's? Do you see hope, or are you negative towards it? Do you see a spark in what is going on right now?
I am definitely not negative toward the newer New York scene. I've seen some good bands in the past year and there is definitely hope. In a city like New York there is always potential for something new and cool. I think with us and the bands from the period of time we started out, we all had a sense of community and tried to set up shows together and help each other out. That in itself creates a "scene". It could be done today by like minded bands...
How do you feel about new bands coming out who are obviously influenced by your music with Unsane? Does it bother you to hear yourself openly imitated or is it flattering? Are there any new bands who you are impressed with?
Generally, when someone tells me that a band sounds like us I don't hear it. If there were bands that really sounded like us I guess I would be flattered, but also feel like they might be wasting they're time. I think that part of the fun of playing music is originality. If not, you might as well be in a cover band. I saw a band called "Part Chimp" a while ago that I really liked.
How did the Alternative Tentacles deal that come about?
We've known Jello for a long time and he approached me at a Melvins show with "will you make an album for AT?". He made us an offer you can't refuse.
Your album covers seem to always focus on bloody or violent themes. What is the drive behind such shocking imagery?
When we first started out, we were extremely happy to realize that we could do our own artwork. At the time, a lot of bands were not so DIY about it which really surprised me. I grew up on a steady diet of extreme horror/gore flicks and have always loved the aesthetic. That being the case, if you let us do our own thing we're gonna have fun with it. Whether it's real or a "blood run" we have always enjoyed the blood imagery. Also, growing up in a time when AIDS and other blood diseases are a factor, blood seems taboo and has bigger implications than just a gore shot.
Who inspires Unsane musically in 2012? I know playing heavy music all of the time can take its toll. Who do you chill out to?
Old Blues mostly. That, and the random car alarm.
What is your take on the current era of the music business? Do you have any insights to a young band as to how they can make it in this savagely brutal game and coming out ahead?
You are definitely asking the wrong guy. My attitude from day one has been to play as many shows as you can if you wanna get noticed.
Unsane at the Am-Rep 25th Anniversary show (more by Taylor Keahey)
You guys usually headline or at least co-headline your shows but follow this scenario: You have been offered an opening slot on a show by your booking agent featuring your two favorite bands, past or present. You have accepted playing first of three. Who is the headliner and direct support? Why did you choose to open the show; what do those bands mean to you?
If it was bands that are still around, I would say Melvins, Neurosis, Unsane. We didn't choose to open, we were told by our booking agent. It would be a very entertaining show. We're all friends and both of those bands are great.
If it could be anyone it would be a little more schizophrenic with Hank Williams sr. headlining, Jimi Hendrix as support and us as opener. We would definitely open so as to not get destroyed playing after either one of them. What do those bands mean to me? Two of the all time greats that I would love to have seen play live, but then it could be a week long festival with us playing first at 9:00 am if you include all the bands that I wish I had seen.
MELVINS, UNSANE - 2012 TOUR DATES
April 11 San Jose, CA The Blank Club
April 12 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall
April 13 Los Angeles, CA The Troubadour
April 14 San Diego, CA Casbah
April 17 El Paso, TX House of Rock
April 19 Austin, TX Mohawk
April 20 Houston, TX Warehouse Live
April 21 New Orleans, LA One Eyed Jack's
April 23 Orlando, FL The Social
April 24 Gainesville, FL Double Down Live
April 25 Atlanta, GA The Loft at Center Stage
April 26 Charlotte, NC Amos' Southend
April 28 West Chester, PA The Note
April 29 New York, NY Webster Hall
May 1 Milwaukee, WI Turner Hall Ballroom
May 2 DeKalb, IL Otto's Nightclub
May 3 St. Louis, MO The Firebird
May 4 Nashville, TN Exit In
May 7 Dallas, TX Trees
May 9 Santa Fe, NM Santa Fe Brewing Company
May 11 Santa Ana, CA Galaxy Concert Theatre