Major label recruits beware warn New York noise-rockers Unsane. Interview by Steve Tauschke with vocalist-guitarist Chris Spencer.
The word that spring to mind when describing you guys is uncompromising.
"Yeah, I would say we're pretty uncompromising. They used some of our music on MTV here, I saw it last night and I just couldn't believe it. It was backing music for this really stupid, stupid show House Of Style. It was weird. A girl I know from MTV saw us play in New York and asked if she could use some stuff of ours for that show. I mean it doesn't mean we are going to be on MTV, I don't really aspire to be one of those bands."
There seems to be very little left in terms of true independent music .. most of it has been sponged up by the majors.
"I think the major labels, not intentionally, but really almost destroyed a lot of it by swallowing up so many bands after Nirvana hit it big. They took bands that were never commercially viable and tried to promote them. Cop Shoot Cop for instance, I think they were a great band but they were offered a lot of money, which of course they took and now they're kind of getting screwed by their label. They might have even broken up already, I'm not sure.
"A band called Surgery, whose singer eventually died, they got screwed by a major too. We almost did. We were dealing with Matador who were dealing with Atlantic. Fortunately we told them we didn't want tons of money, we took the most minimal amount we could. We still ended up owing them some. It's happened to just about all our contemporaries, except Railroad Jerk. Blues Explosion too were lucky because we were told every band on Matador was going to Atlantic and we ended up being one of the first ones but Blues Explosion managed to stay on Matador while still getting promotion from Atlantic."
How did the switch to Atlantic nearly finish Unsane?
"As a band like us you do ok and make enough money to live and you're not taking tons of cash from your label. With Am Rep (Amphetamine Reptile) we took the most minimal amount we can, we work with them at their studio and, you know, we're friends. It's kept at the level that if the band does well, then the label and the band make money and it's all done fairly. Whereas major labels want to do all this bogus metal promotion and stuff that we end up paying for in the end, stuff that we had no idea they were doing initially. We're definitely better off with an indie label."
So what Am Rep's studio like?
"It's in their basement and I think it's still 16-track. Small but a very live kind of room. It's a good studio and I thought our record sounded pretty good, better than the other ones we've done."
Have you recorded anything since last year's Scattered Smothered & Covered?
"We did some songs for Frank Kozic, this guy from San Francisco who does posters and who runs a label called Man's Ruin. They've put out singles by the Dwarves and Dale Crover and other bands he likes. And Frank does the artwork for the singles. We did a two track 7" and had Mike Morasky from Steel Pole Bathtub come in a do some guitar work and Celine from Seven Year Bitch come in and do some backup vocals."
So how did you come to land a spot on the Jabberjaw compilation?
"That happened just because LA is a really hard place to play for most bands when they come in because it's such a huge industry thing that bands were forced to pay to play. So for bands like us, we would come into town and Jabberjaw would give us a break and a venue to play in even though it's coffee shop. Then we started playing places like the Whiskey and last time, Spaceland."
What about European audiences, what do they make of you guys?
"A lot of times when we play in America, it seems to affect the audience a little more, I wouldn't say outright violence, but the shows are a little more active whereas in Europe people just sort of check it out. It's more a novelty thing to have a noise band from New York come over. It's a different cultural thing. But Europe's really good for us, we're going back there soon with this San Francisco band Neurosis, who are friends of ours."
What's coming up after that, later this year?
"Actually now, we're trying to budget our time so we'll have time to work on this new record more than we did the last one. The last record was recorded in like two sessions, two weeks total. We'll be on tour until July and then we're probably going out in August/September. Touring is taking over so much of our time, ten or eleven months of the year."