Unwound represents a true rarity in the cluttered and mundane music milieu that engulfs us here in the late nineties. Hailing from the small but prolific indie community of Olympia, Washington, Unwound does their own thing, makes consistently incredible records, and earns respect from everyone who counts.
Justin Trosper (vocals/guitar), Vern Rumsey (bass), and Sara Lund (drums) have proven themselves time and time again as an undeniable positive force against lame music and attitudes everywhere. With their sixth proper album, Challenge for a Civilized Society (Kill Rock Stars), they’ve once again pushed boundaries that they set with their previous records. Each recording has moved in a seemingly different direction around a solid hub of ideas both musical and socio-political.
“Well, sometimes you go into the studio with an idea, and you come out with something totally different,” Justin explains. “At least that’s what usually happens to me. Every one of our records has its own purpose. I don’t think we’ve aimed too high and I don’t think any of our records are perfect.” But they are very mindful of recording techniques and the studio as an instrument. “We just started building an eight-track studio and trying to learn more about recording.
There’s always been a veil of mystery surrounding this trio, partly due to their selectivity when doing interviews. “We’ve done lots of interviews just not with any major magazines,” Justin says, “but we’ve always done interviews with fanzines. We don’t have any problems doing interviews. We’re just cautious.” This understandable caution comes from music journalists’ propensity to lump bands into movements or scenes that they have nothing to do with in an attempt to pigeonhole the band’s sound or attitude. Unwound has been called “The West Coast Fugazi” and “The West Coast Sonic Youth” more times than I’d like to count, but they don’t have much in common with those bands other than their independence and the fact that they’ve toured with both. “I feel like we have our own thing,” Justin says seriously. “Definitely earlier on we were inspired by those bands, but now when people say that, I don’t really have anything to say about it.”
Unwound’s caution toward the music industry and their staunch independence also spill over into their emphatic dedication to their roots. All of their proper records have been released by Olympia-based Kill Rock Stars, and they’ve tried to keep ticket prices at their shows down as well. “It’s pretty hard to have five-dollar shows everywhere now. A band like Fugazi can pull it off ’cause they can kinda do what they want, charge five dollars, and everybody still gets paid. We can’t do that yet, but we still try to keep our shows down to five or six dollars. Then at least if we play a shitty show, it was only five dollars, and that’s not that big a deal. The money was still better spent than going to see some bad Hollywood movie. We’re just into sticking to out roots with the five-dollar shows and staying in Olympia instead of moving to a big city and trying to have a higher profile. Sometimes it’s really boring, but there’s definitely a community here.”
As it gets harder and harder to find a decent listen through all the shit that just keeps coming out, rest assured that where there is a fertile independent music scene like Olympia, there will always be an Unwound putting out true-to-the-core good music.
[Originally published in the June 1998 issue of SLAP Skateboard Magazine]