You would struggle to find a relevant band these days as experienced as Unwritten Law. From their humble beginnings in the California of 1990, they have reached undisputed mainstream success through several studio releases as well as consistent international tours, not to mention a stint on Warped Tour, including the one and only Warped Tour down under. Having toured Australia more than most of their peers, Unwritten Law will be demonstrating their renowned high quality action-packed live performance at this year’s Soundwave Festival. I caught up with frontman Scott Russo to chat about everything that’s shaped the Unwritten Law of 2012.
Swan, the latest release from the band was dropped in March 2011. We got chatting about this release and what it meant for the band that, back in the day, delivered a much more raw, punk sound. Over the years due to progression, experiences and all the usual suspects, they presented a much more modern rock sound. I asked Scott if Swan was, for want of a better term, Unwritten Law returning to their roots.
‘”I mean, I can’t say I intentionally choose to make a record punk, or not punk or anything like that, to me punk is such an overused word. I think punk can be so many different genres that it’s hard to say. To me it’s just a rock band, but yeah, we did start as a punk band. It wasn’t a premeditated decision to go back in that direction; I think this was just the album we wanted to make, then we made it”.
The band was obviously very happy with their current situation, retaining total sovereignty over the music they make. I thought I’d ask how the fans responded to a new Unwritten Law album with a retrospective flare to it.
“Well, I don’t really go onto the Internet and read a lot of shit, because I think a lot of people hide behind their keyboards. It’s also a bit of a double-edged sword because when I asked someone in person what they thought about it, I’m never too sure if they are going to tell me the truth. I can generally tell if someone is being straight up with me though, so far the people I’ve communicated with have loved the record, I myself love the record and I’m my toughest critic, so I think to this day in leaps and bounds it’s by far the best Unwritten Law album we’ve done.”
What struck me the most when chatting to Scott was his knowledge of Australia and all the cities. Having toured the country in support of Swan, and returning for Soundwave, I asked what he thinks about touring here.
“Australia is hands down my favorite place to tour since the band started. It’s the furthest place from home, the coolest people, the most wicked crowds, you know, it’s kind of everything that every country wants to be, you don’t have any beef with anyone, everyone’s cool, the majority of people are really good looking and you have beaches! Even for Americans, it not just me being in a band, for most Americans, they’re totally intrigued by Australia and Australians. I’m not sure what the allure is – I mean I know what the allure is because I’ve been there so many times, but Americans are just infatuated with Australia. Whenever we get shows booked there, it’s like fuck yeah, we’re going back to Australia. And it’s so shit when you leave because you’re never sure if it’s going to be the last time. I think that in a previous life I was an Australian, it’s my home away from home.”
I thought I’d steer the conversation to a somewhat potentially touchy subject. Being only 10 years of age at the time, I didn’t get to attend the one and only Australian Warped Tour, however Unwritten Law left a strong impression…causing a riot at Manly.
“Ha ha, Um…I mean, I wouldn’t call it a riot, it was more of a food fight that got out of hand. It was one of the last days of the Warped Tour in Australia and we were the last band on for the day. We were having a food fight and uh, FOOD FIGHT, I yelled over the microphone, LETS SEE IT! It wasn’t a green light for everyone to go nuts, but that’s kinda what happened haha…people were taking stuff out of the bins, when the bins were done people started ripping up the stage, then the rugby field and yeah, the whole place kind of exploded and it looked like something from Woodstock; the whole stage was covered in mud and grass and trash. The stage manager at the time came and smashed our guitars and slapped our guitar player, who ended up getting into a fight with him on stage…then we got asked to leave the tour.”
This may sound familiar to many people, as the next day Unwritten Law landed on the front page of some local newspapers
“It was pretty ironic, I mean we were kicked off the tour, which isn’t a good thing no matter how you slice it, but we were in the newspapers saying ‘punk band gets kicked off punk tour for being too punk’.”
I explained to Scott that Australians tend to have a habit of taking things too far
“Yeah, I’m not mad at that at all!”
This, however, will be the maiden Australian voyage for some of the band. Unwritten Law has experienced some serious line-up changes over the years, attracting a fair amount of press over the drama. This can spell disaster for many bands, let alone a band that has been together for 20 years. So what was it like being Unwritten Law with a new line-up?
“Well, of coarse it was a challenge, and of course it was saddening on all levels. However, it’s really been a cleansing. Obviously the boys will be missed, but playing the music and playing for our band will be missed even more. There’s a new energy in the band; everyone wants to be there, no one has kids, no one wants to be home – everyone wants to tour. The energy level is back you know? It’s like when I was 21 playing in Unwritten Law, everyone is amped to be there, whereas in the last 10 years people started having kids, no one was making money, everyone wanted to be at home, which is completely understandable, but for me, it’s like, my life and my family is Unwritten Law and my music, my catalogue, that’s what I’m attached to. I don’t like change at all; I hate change. I won’t even break up with a girlfriend even if I hate her guts because I hate change. So it’s like, when Steve and TK where done touring and it was a wrap, it was definitely a hard blow. Honestly, I felt naked and totally alone but there was no other option other than doing what I know best – Unwritten Law and playing rock shows. For me that was a no-brainer, I guess it was for them too, but they really wanted to stay at home and raise their families, which is totally respectable, but my kids are all grown, and Unwritten Law is my life. Despite the massive personal shift, Unwritten Law still holds tight on stage, there are no cracks and it’s like you’re watching the original crew.”
I asked Scott if this is something he too felt.
“There hasn’t been one person come up to us and tell us it sucks or it wasn’t good, the only thing we’ve heard, literally, is that it’s better. It’s not like I’m going to carry on with people who aren’t as good; at the moment Unwritten Law is vibrant, live and up-and-running”
Scott is clearly very motivated, organization and vision shows through everything he does. As the conversation came to an end, I asked him ‘if the world doesn’t end this year, what can we expect to see from Unwritten Law in 2012’?
“Well, we’ll be playing Soundwave in Australia in February. We’re looking to come back again later in the year. We got to Japan after Australia then we come back to the States, then recording a new live record or maybe an acoustic one! We haven’t decided which we will do next, but we plan on being back in Australia around Christmas time.”
Twice in one year! Normally our little island gets neglected but with consistent, authentic bands like Unwritten Law still alive and breathing, we are guaranteed to be the recipients of awesome tours and awesome releases.