Interview: Unsane

We just wanted to do the earlier Unsane material and just wanted to really focus on that stuff because we really liked playing it.

Influential New York noise rock trio Unsane  have thankfully returned to unleash their noise laden sonic assault on the world once again. The band are just about to bring out a remastered version of their self-titled debut album on their own Lamb Unlimited label and Gavin Brown caught up with vocalist/guitarist Chris Spencer to hear all about it as well as the return of the band, their upcoming European tour and return to the stage, his other band Human Impact and all manner of Unsane activity both past and present.

E&D: Unsane have returned with a new lineup. Can you tell us how it’s going with the lineup and how you all got together?       

Chris: Yeah, we were all hanging out. I was down in Texas with friends of mine, John Syverson from Daughters and Cooper from Made Out Of Babies. We were in lockdown and my friend Todd who’s my manager, had nothing to do and he hit up all the labels that have ever put out stuff by me and and got all the rights to everything back to me, so we started the label Lamb Unlimited and we decided to start reissuing stuff beginning with Improvised Munitions, which was a record that actually never came out because the guy who was going to put it, gave me a test pressing and then vanished so it never came out. I actually found the test pressing, remastered it and put that out. Then we decided we would do the same for the self-titled album, so we were reissuing these super early records and me and John and Coop just started playing the songs, just for fun initially, and we did it for a couple of months, practising like six days a week because we all just love to play. Then once the world started opening up again, we got offered a show. I spoke to Dave and Vinnie, who were in the middle portion of the Unsane lineup after Pete and Charlie were the first and asked them if they were cool with us doing some shows, and they were cool with it. We just started doing shows and got offered actually a European tour. That will start in October. We started playing just for fun, and something to do because it was totally locked down. I think I wrote like 30 songs for Human Impact before we even started rehearsing! We started rehearsing with Unsane, just hanging out every day, six days a week, just doing it like a normal band and it turned out really great. Playing with those guys is amazing and it really is like the early Unsane stuff, which is a slightly different approach from from the middle period with Vinnie and Dave, that’s kind of slower and heavier, this early stuff is more aggressive and noisier and that’s how it all started.

E&D: Are you looking forward to releasing the remastered self-titled album and was the process of remastering a good one for you?

Chris: Oh, definitely, definitely. It sounds much better. There’s kind of an improvement on the overall sound. It was missing some high and mid a bit. Andrew Schneider who’s done a bunch of Unsane records helped me out and remastered that. It sounds really good. It’s higher output and just sounds brighter and more crisp.

E&D: You mentioned the tour of Europe in October. Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road and getting over here?

Chris: Oh, totally. I was just out with Human Impact, the band I have with Jim Coleman from Cop Shoot Cop, and those two guys were playing with me, John and Coop. We just did a three weeks thing, although Jim caught COVID after week two, so we had to shut it down and end the tour early, but yeah, totally looking forward to October. It’s gonna be awesome!

E&D: You’re gonna play primary ’88 to ’91 material. What led you to decide on that and was it related to the album reissue?

Chris: Yeah, we just wanted to do the earlier Unsane material. That was originally me, Pete and Charlie, and we just wanted to really focus on that stuff  because we really liked playing it. It was just super fun to do. We do play other songs but even that’s still pretty early stuff. We just wanted to focus on the early stuff. The later stuff, maybe we’ll play that on another tour but at this time, since we’re reissuing the self titled album we just wanted to do that stuff solely. It just has a different approach. Live, it’s really a lot kind of just faster material and a lot more aggressive.

E&D: Was it a good experience revisiting that material and starting to play live again?

Chris: Oh, totally. Awesome. I love it and it’s great to play the songs. We never played those songs when Dave and Vinnie were in the band, because they just sounded different with those guys playing. We just started writing new stuff and going into a new sort of era for the band.

 

E&D: You played a few live shows at the start of the year. How did they go and what were some of the highlights?

Chris: Yeah, we did No Coast Fest in Denton, Texas and we did a New York show. We did a show at The Last Well in Austin. It was awesome. Everything was fucking totally amazing. Just fun to do the songs that people never heard us play. It’s cool to just go out there and play super old stuff, that’s actually kind of new.

E&D: Have you got any plans for any new material at all and have you talked about that?

Chris: Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see. We’re kind of working on some stuff down but we’ll see down the line. Lamb Unlimited is going to be reissuing all the Unsane records chronologically, so we might try and sneak some new shit in there in between.

E&D: What were some of the highlights of your recent tour with with Human Impact. Obviously it ended early but what were some of the highlights of the shows that you did?

Chris: Man, we did Hellfest which was awesome. Fucking amazing. That was  three days before Jim tested positive for COVID and the band really just got super tight. I mean, we had some problems at very beginning, I broke the guitar strap, stuff like that but it was just amazing, super fun. Hellfest was definitely the highlight of that tour.

E&D: Have you had any thoughts about new music with Human Impact as well?

Chris: We’ll see. We just finished that tour but I mean, I’ve written a ton of shit over the pandemic, so we’re gonna start reworking some of that stuff in probably about a month.

E&D: Would you ever want to do a tour, or a show at least, where you play with both Unsane and Human Impact?

Chris: Hahaha, do double duty? No I don’t think so! I think I would be just so dehydrated. By the end, I’d probably fall over!

E&D: Going back to the early days in New York with Unsane, what are your main memories of those those days and the whole noise rock scene of that time?

Chris: Jesus! I mean, it was just kind of chaotic. The Lower East Side was a totally different place from what it is now, it was lawless and me and Pete, early on, we’re driving cabs, disgruntled cab drivers just doing a lot of drugs. We really didn’t think we had much of a future at that point to be honest with you, it was a bit surprising that anybody was into Unsane. It’s so noisy that, to me, it seems hard to believe that to anybody would even like it, but we managed to get a van and got in the van and just started touring and basically living in a van and crashing at people’s houses and just touring for eight weeks at a time. We just really wanted to kind of get out of the chaos and the drugs and the craziness of New York at that time just to get out and play. We would do shows for basically 50 bucks. Anything we could get, we would just get out and play.

E&D: What are some memorable gigs that have stood out to you over the years?

Chris: Well, I think one of the most memorable was we we played a show at CBGBs, we got offered a show with Sonic Youth and we got there to find out that we were playing the graveyard shift, which was actually after Sonic Youth. They played for like an hour and a half and had Don Fleming come up and just totally tore the place up. Then we had to go out and the place cleared out and we went on to like twelve people! Fortunately for us, Gerard Cosmos from Matador Records happened to still be there and offered us a record deal after that, so it actually really worked out but it was pretty funny because we just played this huge show but we’re at the end so everybody left after Sonic Youth.

E&D: How was the experience of touring with Slayer and how did Unsane go down with their notorious crowd?

Chris: Actually cool. I was surprised man, people generally just fucking hate the opening band for Slayer. Tom Araya was telling me that people had thrown plastic cups at Lemmy at one point in their career! We just went out and we didn’t stop, we just constantly made noise throughout the entire set, a lot of feedback, and never gave the audience a chance to really scream fuck you at us! We just did our job and got out of there. Later, which was really surprising, we got a lot of people coming to shows who had seen us with Slayer so it actually went really well.

E&D: What have been some of the highlights from your time with Unsane from the beginning until now?

Chris: Some of the highlights of being in Unsane. Oh my god. I don’t know. I mean, playing with Flipper, playing with Sonic Youth, playing with so many great bands and basically travelling all over the world. Playing in Australia. Japan was fucking awesome. I just can’t believe that I get to play music for a living, so to me the whole thing is just kind of shocking.

E&D: Do you feel reenergised again with with the band?

Chris: Yeah, I do. I do. I just love doing the really super early material. It just takes me back to when I was kid. It’s  just such a different approach and I totally feel reenergised. It’s just super exciting and fun again, which is good.

E&D: What do you feel you still want to achieve with Unsane?

Chris: Oh, man, I just want to get out and play. I really have never set the bar very high in this band. I just kind of play as much as possible, so that’s what I’m looking at now, just getting on with playing. I’ll play till I die, you know, so we’ll give it a shot.

E&D: How was the experience of being back on stage with Unsane?

Chris: Oh, it’s been a little weird. Now it seems like a lot of bands are getting COVID and having to either stop their tour or mask up and hide in the backstage until they have to play or it just seems like a lot of people are getting it but it’s it also seems at the same time like it’s just working its way through the population. It’s still a weird time to tour right now and has been for the past six to eight months but you know, you gotta get out and give it a shot.

E&D: With the set you are doing, what songs do you love playing the most?

Chris: Oh, man, I mean, I love doing  ‘Vandal X’, ‘Cracked Up’, ‘Maggot’. ‘Vandal X’ to me, summed up a lot of my angst when I was younger driving a cab, just letting out some frustration with humanity, so those ones are just really great to get back and play.

E&D: How did it feel for you when Unsane started getting played on MTV, with the Scrape video?

Chris: Oh, completely shocked! We had submitted a video for ‘Body Bomb’, where a friend of ours, Jack Natz from Cop Shoot Cop. In the video, he does all this Taxi Driver prep work and then at the end of the video, goes down and blows up the World Trade Centre. We sent the video to MTV, and they responded with an email that said simply, we don’t like the band and don’t like the video, so that had been our previous experience with MTV. Then when we made the ‘Scrape’ video with all the skate wipeouts, suddenly they were really into it, you know, so it was pretty surprising. That video was made for like 169 bucks. You had all these artists who’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their video and they weren’t getting played as much. Apparently there was some frustration from major label bands at a band like us was getting such such high rotation with such a crappy, shitty cheap video!

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