It pays to read the fine print. Just ask Unwritten Law, the veteran Californian rockers whose 16-year, six-album career make them ideal candidates for a greatest hits package. But having weathered four line-up changes and tenures on as many record labels, the San Diego quartet found organising a 'best-of' collection more complicated than they anticipated.
Stymied in previous attempts by various former labels - notably Interscope who own the master tapes to the group's most successful albums, 1998's Unwritten Law and 2002's Elva - singer Scott Russo says the band decided to carefully re-examine their legal contracts and were pleasantly surprised by what they found.
So why the decision to re-record your own best-of material … did you feel it was justified given the line-up has changed so much since the early days?
"Well obviously everyone gets paid the same for each song but the reason we re-tracked it and wanted to put out a best-of record was to connect the dots for people who knew the songs but didn't know who the band was. And this is our fourth label and because we couldn't get OK's from all the old record companies to release it we looked into our contract and we found there were no re-recording clauses on two of the labels. So rather than try to battle and get our songs back off them, it was a lot easier to just re-record them."
What did you think of Interscope's 'unauthorized' greatest hits?
"The funny thing is, when we were going to these labels asking if we could use the songs, Interscope said a compilation was a really great idea and that they'd love to put it out. So they made us an offer which just wasn't feasible for us so they said we couldn't use the songs. So we re-recorded them and now we own these new masters. They own the old masters and they put out their own best-of."
You've slimmed down to a four piece now … can you shed some light on guitarist Rob Brewer's departure?
"Well, we really don't like bringing that stuff up. We're over that whole thing, it was two years ago. So I'm really sorry but we don't talk about it."
You're still friends with him though?
"We haven't spoken in a while but you know I've known the guy for more than half my life so he's still like family to me. He's like a brother I don't talk to anymore. I've briefly talked to him on the internet and that's about it. It's a totally sad thing on all sides to all members."
You co-wrote some of the lyrics to Here's To The Mourning with your partner Aimee .. tell us about how you came to collaborate with her?
"Well, we write together all the time. We have a band together as you probably know, Scott & Aimee, and we just released a record called Sitting In A Tree. She's a dope lyricist and when we got together we started writing songs for that band and we write really quickly and really well together so we just sat down and banged out the lyrics. She's been a singer-songwriter her whole life .. and she's actually recording another solo record right now. So, between me and Aimee things come really quickly and easy - we finish each other's sentences."
How would you contrast writing with her and with Unwritten Law?
"Well the band doesn't really collaborate a lot on songs. I write all the lyrics and then a majority of the music but we never come together and write songs. Steve or PK might come up with a song musically and then I write to that or I'll write them on my own, that's just kind of how it works."
You've included two new songs on The Hit List, are they indicative of your next studio album?
"We've gotten a lot of feedback from Oblivion and a lot of people are saying it sounds like classic Unwritten Law, like from the black record. And Shoulda Known Better sounds just like music should be, just fun and entertaining. But I don' think those two songs will necessarily sound like the new record. They're just two songs we happened to write and put on the compilation. I think for the next record we'll jump to a different place. I really want to create something is really fun and true entertainment. Something out of the norm that is a true piece of art, I'm not sure if we'll take it in an electronic kind of way or more of a Violent Femmes kind of thing, I'm just not sure … I just want to create something I'm proud of and I don't want to write the same thing twice."
So, is the SoCal punk thing as meaningful to you as it used to be?
"Well, I grew up on that music and I still love it but obviously the kids are into all kinds of shit now. For a while there in the late 90s that kind of music ruled the rock world but now you have hardcore bands and dance bands like the Killers and all kinds of shit, so music, like anything else, must evolve. As an artist and as fan of music I can't do the same thing over and over again. Pennywise and bands of that nature can do that and that's good for them and the fans love it and we'd probably do a lot better if we did that too but I can't sacrifice my art for anyone. I wouldn't be satisfied. If you're a painter, you're not going to paint the same fucking thing 20 times, you know what I'm saying?"