Unwound’s Vern Rumsey has died
Vern Rumsey, who played bass in the great '90s/early 2000s post-hardcore band Unwound, has died. He was 47. Conan Neutron, who was Rumsey's bandmate in current group Household Gods, wrote on Facebook, "Absolutely stunned and shocked. Vern Rumsey is gone. I have no details at all. One of the sweetest and most pure hearts I know and one of my favorite bass players of all time. I can barely process this right now. I was such a fan of what he did, one of my favorite bass players of all time. He was a compatriot, my Household Gods bandmate and my friend of many years. I'm devastated."
Vern's Sailors With Wax Wings bandmate Rich Balling (also of RX Bandits, The Sound of Animals Fighting, Pyramids, and more) also tells us, "Going into the Sailors With Wax Wings album, we did not know each other. He responded enthusiastically when I reached out to him, and throughout the process was patient, kind, and exuded positive energy. You could feel it even through email correspondence. As you read posts about him, you'll see the word 'sweet' mentioned over and over. That is a great descriptor. He was a gentle, creative soul."
Vern formed Unwound with Justin Trosper and Brandt Cardino in 1991 in Olympia, WA with Sara Lund joining on drums the next year. They made eight albums over 10 years, including 1994's New Plastic Ideas, 1996's Repetition, and their classic 2001 swan song Leaves Turn Inside You. Unwound saw their entire catalog get reissued by Numero Group in 2013. He also played in Fitz of Depression, Witchypoo, and other groups over the years, and he played bass on Blonde Redhead's album Fake Can Be Just as Good.
Household Gods, which also included Slint's David Pajo and Palo Verde's Lauren K. Newman (who died in 2019), had just released their debut album, Palace Intrigue, back in May (listen below).
Numero Group's Ken Shipley issued a statement, which reads:
Vern Rumsey 1973-2020
My longtime friend, and Unwound bassist, Vern Rumsey passed away this morning outside Olympia, Washington. He was 47 years old. I had known for some time that he was not well, but his passing has created a new void in these already dark times.
I first met Vern over the phone in the fall of 1993 when he was booking a Karp and Long Hind Legs tour. The two bands showed up in San Jose and played a wildly under-attended show, and had watched “Saved By The Bell” reruns in my teenage living room in the hours before the gig.
I was a massive Unwound fan and had seen his muscular bass thunking several times that year, but up close and off the stage he was quiet and gentle. He smoked incessantly, much to my mother’s chagrin.
Vern spent the next seven years holding it down in one of the most under-appreciated underground bands of the 1990s. To have seen Unwound was to watch a calculated attack of noise, volume, and infectious riffs. Vern was at the center of it. There would be no Unwound without him.
He made seven albums with the legendary trio, a slew of singles and an LP under the Long Hind Legs banner, and played bass on Blonde Redhead’s Fake Can Be Just As Good. He was nothing if not always busy.
In 2013 Numero began pursuing Unwound for what would become a massive reissue series. We recognized each other as warriors that had stayed in the game far longer than either of us had intended.
Our talks over the past seven years were a mix of reminiscing and plotting—Vern was always pushing himself into some new project or another. His willingness to throw everything he had at what seemed like endless walls of indifference was inspiring.
Losing Vern Rumsey is a reminder that an era has ended. That everyone gets old and and no longer fits into their shredded and ring-stretched punk band tees. Should you ever require a time machine back, I can think of no better transport than his chugging bass lines.
Ken also posted a series of photos of Vern, which you can see in this thread:
Kimya Dawson wrote a nice tribute on Facebook, saying "I don't know what happened but I was rooting for him just like he always rooted for me. I was such a big fan of him as a person and I was a total groupie of his bands." You can read her whole tribute below.
Members of Thursday, Speedy Ortiz, Cave In, Blur, and other musicians paid tribute as well.
Listen to some Unwound albums and watch a live video from NYC's Knitting Factory in 1996 below...
Rest in peace, Vern.