Tumwater, Washington, might not have turned out as much legendary music as Evergreen State cities like Seattle or Olympia, but it did birth two pioneers of sonic bludgeoning: The sludge-ripping Melvins disciples KARP and DIY art-punk heroes Unwound.
A decade or so after each of those bands melted down, both trios have more or less escaped M.I.A. status. KARP stars in the awesome yet tragic documentary Kill All Redneck Pricks, while the members of Unwound—omnipresent on record and the tour circuit throughout the '90s—have teamed up to bring their band back from the dead.
Guitarist/singer Justin Trosper, bassist Vern Rumsey, and drummer Sara Lund have launched a website replete with stories, pics, and video and released the double LP Live Leaves. A collection of live performances from their fall 2001 tour, the set features mostly tracks from Unwound's apex, Leaves Turn Inside You. That album has aged mightily in the years since its 2001 release; its blackened, hallucinogenic dream-pop—awash in warped noise, monumental riffage, and tortured downer vocals—serves as a look at a band on the cusp of destructing.
In honor of Unwound's return, I talked to Trosper, Rumsey, and Lund—as well as original Unwound drummer Brandt Sandeno (Leaves Turn Inside You contributor and keyboard player on the final tour), Live Leaves second guitarist David Scott Stone, and roadie David Wilcox—about the band's last days, which found them touring in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Justin Trosper: This project was supposed to happen after the touring we did in 2001. Of course, as it turned out, we didn't do anything because the band broke up. So in 2010, we started talking about trying to pull something together for the 20-year anniversary [of the band's formation] in 2011. The archive site idea came about a year ago in hopes of launching it ten years to the date of our last show, which happened on April 1, 2002. We decided to put together live stuff from the last tour and release the full edited video of our last show. Then the offer of the vinyl release came about, and we postponed the whole thing until that could be released.
Anyway, we just wanted to let the world know that we existed. For as much stuff that we did, there is scant evidence on the Internet. So we are aiming to change that. It is in line with how we tried to do our "business"—you can't really depend on the [media] to make things happen. We are not saying we are more important than Band X or Scene Y, but we occupied time and space and that deserves to be recognized for what it was and is.
Sara Lund: Basically, we predated the Internet, so anything up there about us was fan-generated. This is us taking ownership of our legacy and admitting we existed.
Vern Rumsey: This has been something that we had planned on documenting even before we knew we were going to break up. We wanted to document, on that tour, what an achievement [Leaves Turn Inside You] was for us, and to have two extra members in the live setup. Extra might not be the right word; Brandt has always been a part of the band in some form, and David Scott Stone has always been there for us in one way or another. It was always in mind; it just took us a long time to get back together to get this project going.
Trosper: We never did any consistent recording [of concerts] over the years, so there won't be any kind of document as unique as Live Leaves. The cool thing with that project is that [we played] essentially the same show for about a month, so we were able to cull the more interesting things from different shows and sew it back together like one show without it being really contrived. The actual sets from that tour, for the most part, flow just like the live record. If we did another live record, it would be either a really good show unedited, or a collection of live performances from random shows and tours.
Lund: This tour, unlike any other tours, we actually had someone traveling with us, recording every show. This gave us a great collection of material to choose from. This was also our most ambitious live show, mirroring our most ambitious record. We had never invited other players to play with us. But with [Leaves Turn Inside You], there were so many other musical elements that couldn't be pulled off by just the three of us, which is why Dave Stone and Brandt Sandeno were invited to join us to help recreate the album in a live setting. The performances captured onLive Leaves were totally unique to any other Unwound live experience.
Trosper: Some people will be bothered because Live Leavesisn't a "pure" live album. I personally am not about pure concepts. I try to make albums like they are films; even documentaries are edited. But the raw material is pure and full of realism. It is also meant to be listened to like a show, not cut up into bite-sized bits/hits.
We relented on just releasing it as one track, because after discussion with people that know better, it would backfire to some degree. My personal view is that the album should be listened to once in a while, as a whole. But if you have the vinyl and only feel like listening to a small part, listen to side three. That encapsulates the best part of the tour for me.
Part of the idea of releasing this record is to dissolve some of the poison from that tour. As bad as it was, we were doing something interesting with the five-person lineup and the record is proof that we were able to play a lot of that album live. But it's not perfect, and it's not pure...
Rumsey: It was a unique tour for us, and Mike Ziegler was with us the whole time. The first time, we had someone on with us that recorded every show. There will be more live stuff available in the future, but Justin put it in a good light, saying that we had a pretty set-up "set list" for that tour because of the extra members on stage. We couldn't vary much without more practice and preparation.
Trosper: On a personal level, it wasn't that bad. We were all ready on some level to endure the ridiculous reality of touring. And except for David Wilcox, we had all been on tour together before. Some people might not realize that we, like many bands, had a wicked sense of humor that powered us through many tours. Most of the time, touring was fun on some level.
Lund: It was really fun to have that many people on the tour with us. It broke up the monotony of the daily grind to have that many people to divert attention. If you got sick of one person, you just turned around and talked to someone else. Brandt and Justin, in particular, have a comic chemistry that is akin to some of the greats, so there was a lot of laughter in and out of the van.
David Wilcox: We pulled up to the Minneapolis show and I think the first band was already on. We completely missed soundcheck and everything. We're getting out of the van and Sara was getting out of the back, pulling herself out of the sliding van door. She put her hand near where the passenger side front door and the frame was and as she was pulling herself out, Justin slammed the passenger side door shut right on her hand and it locked. So, the door was slammed on her hand and Justin is fumbling around for his keys so it was sitting in there for about 20 seconds while he was trying to get his keys out. It was an hour before we were supposed to play. That hour was spent trying to ice Sara's hand. It was fucked. Her hand was mangled and she was crying. It was really painful, but she played.
David Scott Stone: I remember playing a really good show in Atlanta. We did an extra set of punk covers with Mecca Normal and The Thrones. It wasn't all ages, but there were a bunch of kids freaked out from the past few weeks trying to get in. Unwound usually played all-ages events, but for some reason It didn't work out for that show. So I opened the side stage door for them, and they rushed in. Years later, Bradford Cox from Deerhunter came up to me and told me he was one of those kids I helped get in. He remembered everything from that night... the covers we did, what amps, pedals and guitars I played!
Brandt Sandeno: The Atlanta show was crazy in a good way. We were touring with Mecca Normal and The Thrones during this leg of the tour, which was amazing. There was a freaky vibe at the club and I'm pretty sure some random violence took place in the audience, which is always a bummer. Justin and Vern had drawn eyeballs in their eyelids with a black Sharpie and looked like twin characters from David Lynch's nightmare journal. Chilling. The freaky energy probably helped elevate the performance that evening. All three bands got on stage at the end of the night and did a cover of "Bodies" by The Sex Pistols.
Leaves Turn Inside You
Trosper: Honestly, for me, I wanted to make a record that could stand as a final statement because there were already tremors preceding our impending earthquake. So, it was a culmination of ideas we started [while recording the 1998 album] Challenge of a Civilized Society. It was supposed to be psychedelic without being "psychedelic." The whole lyrical approach was derived from things I wrote in dream journals. We wanted to make a longer-form record, but only if it was quality material. In retrospect, I think it is all quality, but the execution of some of the recording/production values didn't really pan out. The songs are all there though. I feel like we took greater risks in both the recording, songwriting, and the choice of doing the five-person lineup for that tour. Greater risk means greater chance of error or failure—both of which happened in the end! That being said, I think we usually approached all of our records with a slightly apocalyptic approach. My state of mind in the '90s was that way. I always felt like the end was near.
Rumsey: I didn't feel as fatalistic as Justin, or think of it as a final statement, but then again I was pretty loaded all the time, so it makes sense that Sara and Justin were always wondering when I was going to snap. For Leaves, it was a totally different experience and we wanted to control it. That is why it took so long to record, even with all of us living in different cities. I remember sitting in the studio with Justin working on a song and telling him that my girlfriend was pregnant. I kind of felt like that was the beginning of the end. Hindsight is 20/20, so it's easy to say that now, but I didn't know it then. The way we approached that record was totally different than any other record. It was pieced together, more so, than any of our other records that were basically recorded "live" with overdubs. When I was living in Las Vegas, Justin would send me four-track versions of songs so I would be prepared for when I got back to Olympia to record.
Trosper: There was a deliberate (and obvious) choice in turning down the distortion and adding more textures and tones. But this wasn't just because we had just discovered a few new records. I think the sound is less derivative than some of our previous work, mainly because of the amount of time we played together and the number of recordings we had already been a part of. Probably the other biggest—maybe bigger—factor is that we were absolutely using the studio as a songwriting platform. In this way, a few records came into the sphere of influence at the time. For me, they were David Bowie'sLow, PiL's Second Edition, Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin, Radiohead's Kid A, the Burzum prison ambient records [Dauði Baldrs andHliðskjálf], The Cure's The Head on the Door, Beach Boys's Smile, and '60s British stuff like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Kinks. Think studio, and not songwriting structure—like a filter.
Rumsey: The only thing I remember listening to and comparing sound quality and whatnot with was Radiohead'sKid A and Dr. Dre's The Chronic. We listened to a lot of stuff at that time. I remember we put the drums in the living room at one point because we wanted a Led Zeppelin sound. I think on that song—I don't remember specifically which one—we only used two mics on the drums in a stereo situation.
Trosper: Well, the plan to build the studio and record it ourselves was obviously the main idea. We kind of let the universe take care of the rest. It was open-ended. I had to be pretty persistent to get it done.
Rumsey: Justin pretty much had it right. We had a friend of ours, who is a carpenter, help us build the studio, but it was a great outlet for all of us. A studio that we could use whenever the creative bone got tickled.
Sandeno: I remember that Justin and Vern had recently relocated their studio [MagRecOne] to a larger farmhouse. They had informed me of the scope of the project [a double record that would be self-engineered and self-produced], and I was supportive of that. I don't remember how it was proposed that I might contribute keys on some of the record, but I was glad to do so. When the basic tracks/performances are that strong, it makes overdubs go a lot more smoothly. The strength of the songwriting/performances inspired me to try to bring something that would compliment and not detract from their creative vision.
Trosper: Oh man, the recording of the record was actually kind of a logistical nightmare. Just getting the studio built was this whole mess that we somehow made happen. It actually never really got finished, but it was good enough. Sara had already moved to Portland and during the middle of it all Vern moved to Las Vegas. I had just moved into the house the studio was built in, which was this old giant farmhouse out in the county near Olympia. So, I had roommates that lived there that were not musicians and we had to coordinate around all these disparate schedules. Brandt Sandeno was living in Olympia and we did a lot of jamming and recording with our other band, Replikants, out at this farmhouse. So Brandt kind of fell into this vacuum and ended up doing more engineering and playing on the record. Actually, the Replikants record was sort of a practice recording for theLeaves sessions. We kind of got our chops going on that and a couple other recording projects for other people. It's funny because we built this sort of retro analog studio just when digital stuff was taking over. Ironically, we set it up with these technological limitations even though the whole idea was to have less limitations on the recording process.
Lund: I really enjoyed the freedom of creating while recording. Because I was living in Portland and commuting to Olympia for practice and recording, we would have these epic full-day jam sessions—the whole day had been set aside just for creativity. In retrospect, a lot of our practices were like that, even before this record. But "life"—jobs, relationships, and so on—was starting to encroach on us, and having these days set aside just to work on music was great.
The downside of that was that not everyone was on the same page every day. Sometimes we would be sitting around waiting for Vern to show up, for seemingly hours. That's when some of our really goofy jams started happening. [Justin, Brandt, and I] started trying to figure out how to play Led Zeppelin songs (a humbling experience), or Sex Pistols, or whatever. These situations, not trying to be creative but just having fun making music, gave us the mental space to really hunker down and be serious about the actual record itself. It also helped us hone chops even more.
I remember feeling, while writing these songs, that we had all become really good musicians. We had gone beyond the punk rock "get up there and do it" motivation. This is also around the time that I started realizing that being a musician, and being a good one, could be a very fulfilling and rewarding thing. I think I had blinders on regarding our impending doom.
Trosper: I wasn't really concerned. I was pretty pleased with it when we were done, and it was kind of exciting to try something a little different. I knew most fans would at least take it in stride, and we were never a press-dependent band. I also wasn't really confident that we would be a band for that much longer, so it was kind of like, "Well, here you go!"
Lund: I remember getting some weird reactions from friends and fans when we made Challenge, so I felt like we had already gone through that. Plus, the opinions of fans and press never really had any influence in our creation. We made the music that come naturally to us. The fact that some people connected to it was just a bonus.
Stone: I had heard parts of the record as they were about to record the vocals. It still felt very much like an Unwound record to me. Knowing them since the early tours and exchanging music and information over the years, I saw the new record as a culmination of things they loved and processed from their own experience... things like being a band for 10 years, having those previous records behind them, touring for years, still loving music, and, most importantly, building their own studio!
Sandeno: I remember being on a drive on the Washington coast with Justin and him playing some of the basic tracking and overdubs that had been laid down, specifically "Below the Salt" and being totally floored by that. Unwound had clearly turned a corner creatively and were writing from a broader palette. The songs were more refined and Justin was bringing more of a melodic approach to singing and writing.
Rumsey: I wasn't worried at all. I love that record, and maybe in my haze assumed that everyone that liked us previously would like it too. If anything, I think that the kids that loved Fake Train grew up with us as we grew up, both as a band and as people.
The 2001 Tour
Wilcox: It was five band members, this guy Dave Doughman—who was the live sound engineer—and then me. So, yeah, seven of us in a little passenger van. Yeah, it was cramped. [Laughs] I think the biggest shock to me, when I got there—I flew in probably four or five days before we were supposed to leave to help with odds and ends and everything stuff in order—was just how completely disorganized they were. [Laughs] I can't understate how disorganized they were. [Laughs] I thought it may have been a fluke, and I thought that maybe that was how they always operated. I remember one point where something kind of screwy was going on with the van and we were standing outside of it and Justin kinda turned to me with this patented shit-eating grin and he was chuckling. I asked him, "What?" Justin just said "This is the way we do things," like, "We are fucking idiots." [Laughs]
Trosper: If you have read some of the entries on our archive blog, you can get a picture of what it was like. We were totally not ready to do the tour. We struggled to get the set together with the new lineup, and then the usual tour logistics were made more complicated. We just had too much to do and not enough organizational power to pull it off. Vern was already on a heavy-duty drinking regime, which we should have done something about.
Lund: We were definitely in a pre-shattered state. My living in Portland, working a full-time job, and starting a new relationship [with my now husband] meant I was not very available to help with the planning and preparation. Vern had just had a baby—I think she was six months old when we left for tour—and we were trying to arrange a tour being sensitive to the amount of time Vern would be away from her, but also being realistic about how much time was required in addition to the fact that touring the record was part of the job. In the past, Vern had been a powerhouse at the logistics of tour prep—making sure we had a working van, acting as a sort of tour manager. But he was totally preoccupied at this point, so there was a lot of scrambling and cobbling being done before we left.
Rumsey: I think that Justin and Sara put it best. I was stressed, drunk, and high, and I had a new little lady [daughter Lola] that I wanted to be with, so I didn't pull my weight on that tour like I had in the past. Usually I was right on top of it, but I fell apart before, during, and after that tour. It was a terrible thing that I couldn't keep it together, but I just couldn't. I lost my strength. Unfortunately, because I still feel like we could have put out more music and toured more if I could have kept my shit together.
Trosper: What was happening is that Vern was having a personal crisis and we were not dealing with it as a unit. I think we were kind of hoping we would just make it through the tours and then we could figure it out later, or not. Because we were already committed to this as a job and a lifestyle. At the same time, we were all approaching the age of 30 and everybody was evolving. We could have recognized this and been proactive about it but we didn't. I was a fatalist then and now I'm not, so I see my errors in dealing with other people in a more clear light.
Lund: We definitely had a pattern of terrible communication and passive-aggressive behavior that had been established years ago. Vern's personal crisis was screaming at all of us in the face and we just kept turning away, waiting for things to fix themselves or something. We were young and really not equipped to deal with the demons that were staring us in the face.
I think that in the past, problems that were never really dealt with felt like they dissolved away as soon as the music started. In all the years, even when we were at points where we could barely look each other in the eye, we had a beautiful shared language with our music. There were times when I would be so furious with someone, and then as soon as we started playing together it would all melt away. I think there was probably an element of hoping the power of our experience playing music together would take care of everything. Such a naive sentiment...
Rumsey: I like how Sara put it. I didn't realize, so much, of a problem I had at the time. Sara and I had always had kind of an abrasive relationship, like brother and sister, so it was easy for us to hate/love each other, but once the music started I loved her. She is the best drummer I know of. I could look at her and read her mind, I think that she felt the same way. Personal differences melted away, and now in hindsight, I wish we would have all dealt with the "elephant in the room." But, as Sara said, we were young and everything was changing rapidly for all of us, personally and musically.
Making of Live Leaves
Trosper: Well, I can talk about it generally with some specifics. As any musician knows, having to listen to performances "warts and all" is rather uncomfortable. Like I said earlier, we were not quite ready to do this tour—we could have used another month of practices! So some of the shows were kind of sloppy and out of tune—think multiple guitars with slightly different intonations against a keyboard that is always in tune. I was screwing up lyrics, which I always do; we were doing vocal harmonies, which we never had done before; and so on. So those are the cringing moments. But there was all this amazing stuff that happened too. There are so many good versions of "Arboretum" that I could just put out an album of that song. Basically, the last part of the set was pretty good. I have been really impressed with what Dave and Brandt brought to a few of the songs. There is also some really strong emotional content, especially after the 9/11 stuff. Brutal, deep-down soul stuff. We went to the darkest corner of Unwound on that tour for better and worse; I'm glad it was recorded.
Rumsey: After listening to hundreds of songs to work on this project, there were moments that made me cringe, but [for] personal [reasons], not the band. I thought, for the most part, that without Dave Stone and Brandt Sandeno, we couldn't have pulled off that tour or this record. There were also moments that made me cry because, for one I loved Unwound, and for two, I have a lot of regrets about my behavior and performance.
Stone: 9/11 happened while we were on our way to play Boston at the Middle East with Arab On Radar. How's that for irony?
Rumsey: We were staying in a hotel somewhere between Northampton and Boston and I remember [soundman] Dave Doughman running into the room yelling, "We are at war!" He turned on the TV and we sat and watched what was happening in New York. We got out of the hotel and went and had breakfast at a place we had played years earlier and went on to Boston. We did a sound check and everything at the Middle East, but they decided to cancel the show. I think everyone, not just Unwound, was unsure what was happening or what was going to happen. I think we went out to a bar that night and I told everyone that I wanted to go home. Brandt and I got into a passive-aggressive argument but what ended up happening out of all of that was we decided to keep on keeping on.
Wilcox: Vern's daughter was about six months old at that point, and this was his first time on tour away from her. As soon as [9/11] happened, his girlfriend and his mom and other people really wanted him to come home, understandably, and he wanted to do it. There was some internal debate about whether or not the tour would continue happening. When we were in Boston, I remember sitting in the van, and Vern was telling us that he wanted to go home. He turned to me and he said, "I'm going to go home and I'm gonna teach you all the bass parts and it'll be fine." [Laughs] I was just like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" [Laughs]. "You're pretty much the best bass player I've ever seen and you're gonna teach me 'Corpse Pose' in five minutes, and it'll be fine?!"
Lund: [The September 11 and 12 shows in Boston and New York] were both cancelled. They were also our two biggest shows of the whole tour. That certainly didn't help make it suck any less.
Our decision to finish out the tour conflicted with Vern's intense desire to go home and drove the final wedge between us. From then on, Vern didn't ride in the van with us—he drove with Mike Ziegler—and he pulled further and further away from us and deeper and deeper into a constant state of inebriation. But, like I said before, we could still get on stage and make that musical connection.
Stone: Our first show post-9/11 was at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. It's a few blocks to the shore that overlooks lower Manhattan, so [Vern and I] decided to walk to the lookout point. [We talked] about quitting drinking and babies while across the river hundreds of police cars were parked along the shore, red and blue lights as far as the eye could see. Smoke and dust billowed from the World Trade Center site. Helicopters. Sirens. It was humbling.
Rumsey: We played at the Black Cat in DC a few nights later, and I remember Ian [MacKaye of Fugazi] commending us for not cancelling and going home. It was kind of an inspiration for me, although it didn't change my bad habits. I rode with Mike Z and pulled farther and farther from the band. It wasn't really intentional, but I was so "dope sick" from alcohol that it was easier for me to be somewhere where I could be alone, or at least with Mike, who at the time was basically my babysitter. I didn't want to bring anyone down or drag the whole band down. I feel like I did, but I think it was better for everyone that I wasn't in the van.
Trosper: Traveling around was really surreal for sure. I guess it was difficult to play music in the face of the weird emotional atmosphere everywhere. Like, should we really be doing this? I now think that, of course, we should have. People tend to continue doing the "normal" things they do even if everything around them is fucked up. That's how you survive bad stuff. It's not like you are ignoring the bad situation; you are just acknowledging it and not letting it rule all your decisions that day.
Lund: I recall there being a lot of promoters confused by our decision to carry on with the tour. I guess a lot of other bands were cancelling their tours. But yeah, ultimately it was the right thing to do. I think we helped a lot of people reenter the world after the initial shock of it all. It seemed like attendance was down after we left the east coast, but then again attendance tends to be lower across the middle anyway.
Rumsey: I'm glad that we kept on—and as dysfunctional as it was—people needed an outlet, not just us, but also the people who came to see us. People needed to let out feelings, be it aggression or sorrow. It was an emotional time for all of us.
Sandeno: Things weren't looking great prior to the California leg of the tour, so my spider-sense was definitely tingling before we embarked again. It was really strange. I was in this unique position of being hired to play in a band that I had helped create 10 years prior. So, I had 10 years of distance from the whole thing, which allowed me to separate myself from some of the internal issues that were focused around the three of them. But Unwound played a pretty big part in an earlier period of my life and they are longtime friends, so I was sad to see it fizzle out in such an unfitting manner.
Trosper: The band was barely ready to go to California after the US tour. We probably should have cancelled. But we had these shows set up with our friends Blonde Redhead, so we really couldn't just flake out. Basically, what happened is that Vern dealt with the stress of everything by self-medicating with alcohol, and at our show in San Diego he was unable to really play due to intoxication. After the show, he broke one of his hands by punching the wall backstage. We had two more shows to play and we sent him home after the next show because it was pointless. His hand was basically a lobster claw. It was craziness, and it was over.
Lund: To add to the logistical complexity, Vern decided to bring his young family along on that leg of the tour. He and his girlfriend and their baby drove in a separate car and stayed in different places from us every night. I think [Vern] actually broke both of his hands—both of his pinkies. We played one show with his broken hands and he was in total agony, of course. We were pretty pissed at him, so it was hard to feel sympathy. But then again, it was such a sad and desperate act...
To be clear, Vern is not and has never been an asshole. He is a very sweet, charming, and unbelievably likeable guy. Not to mention the best goddamned bass player ever. Our anger and frustration came from his self-destruction and our feeling of total impotence in getting him to stop. We were completely unequipped for this level of damage.
Rumsey: I did break both of my hands. We tried to play with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Melvins in L.A. and my hands hurt so bad that I could hardly play. That was the first time I reached out for help by talking to Buzz [Osborne] about my addictions. It took me several years to get into rehab, and I have been in and out ever since. It's sad. I hate to see other bands that I love self-destruct, but it happens.
Trosper: We finished the last show of the tour without Vern. I don't really know what to say, except that it was awkward. I guess the audience at The Smell [in Los Angeles] was gracious. We limped home and cancelled the rest of our tours in Europe and Japan.
Rumsey: After we all got home, Justin showed me the set list from the Smell, and one of the songs was called "Ham Hands."
Trosper: Instead of ending on a totally lame note, we did play a handful of shows in 2002 as a three-piece and called it quits. But for me, it was just a done situation. I think we could have worked it out, but no one made the effort. We have all been in contact, more or less, since then. It's kind of that whole "band as marriage and divorce" thing.
Rumsey: We didn't stop talking. We didn't talk much, but I think the whole thing was awkward. We didn't really know what to say to each other. I don't think we ever stopped liking each other; we just didn't know what to say. I'm sure there was some anger toward me on Sara and Justin's part, and I was too stubborn to admit that a lot of the problems with the three of us were my problems. It's taken me ten years of reflection to realize that.
Stone: It wasn't the performances of the songs on any night that made me feel that Unwound would or should break up... not 9/11, losing interest in music or how much everyone loved (and loves) each other. The feedback from longtime friends and fans was positive. Guarantees were up. Major labels were interested. I have no doubt that Unwound would have had the same success that Modest Mouse has if alcoholism hadn't dimmed all that is bright.
Let's get this clear and into the open... the only concern about the whole tour was Vern's drinking. This is why Unwound stopped playing. This peaked just outside San Diego, where Vern downed two Long Island Iced Teas just before hitting the stage. Who knows how much he had been drinking throughout the day, but it had been bad for a long time before that. We tried to play three or four songs before Justin walked off, followed by Sara, then Brandt. I was the last to leave, and looking back I saw [Vern] with his head back, swaying to the drone of feedbacking guitars lying on the stage—then snapping out of it and looking around for the rest of us, only to see the stage empty. He stumbled backstage, plopped himself on the couch, and drunkingly slurred "I just want you to know that none of you could be as mad at me as I'm mad at myself," then got up and punched the walls, breaking both his wrists. Every show we worried about how he was going to be that night, but that was pretty much it. They then went back as a three-piece to do one last tour of the West Coast.
It's pretty sad to write about this. I love Vern, but I don't feel it's helpful to not openly address the reasons why the band stopped working. I dealt with my issues eight years ago, and I'll always be there for him when he's ready.
Trosper: I was ready to start another band and keep touring because that was how I was making a living. Sara and I played a little, and Brandt and I did some playing, but I eventually decided to just stop being in bands. I recorded other bands for a while at our studio, but that also led to general dissatisfaction with the creative process I was a part of. I realized it wasn't making me happy, so I stopped altogether. I sold all my share of the recording equipment and decided to pursue non-musical endeavors. I really experienced what I thought was burnout, but I know now it was also just an inability to cope with reality. I probably could have kept doing music, but it was too loaded with emotional baggage. I didn't even pick up a guitar for a couple of years.
Lund: I was definitely not ready to call it quits when we broke up. Unwound's demise was inevitable, but it came at the exact moment that I realized how important playing music was to me. Justin and I tried, and failed, to keep something going. It was hard because I was in Portland and would drive up with my drums in the back of my car to jam; if the mojo wasn't there, it felt like an extra letdown. When it became clear I had lost both my longtime collaborators, I went through a period of mourning and found it really hard to connect to other players. It is like a long-term relationship ending. It took about half the length of our relationship for me to find and connect with anyone else.
But in 2007, five years after Unwound broke up, I reconnected with an old friend from the Olympia days, Andrew Price, who had played in Irving Klaw Trio. He had not played music with anyone in about 10 years but was feeling ready to try again. He and I started jamming together and it really clicked. I think the fact that we both needed to be sort of massaged back into the practice helped. That, and we shared a lot of musical references. He and I have had a band called Hungry Ghost for about five years now; a couple of years ago, my old friend Lorca Wood from the garage band The Drags joined us on bass. We put out a record in 2012 that we recorded with Sam Coomes from Quasi.
Rumsey: I played a few times but never found the chemistry that I had with Justin, Sara, and Brandt... except for one band that I played with John Devoy [Bunny Foot Charm] and my friend Stevie... but it just wasn't the same. Music isn't fun to play with other people if you don't have that chemistry.
Trosper: The new band that I have with Brandt is just another extension of this songwriting/band thing we have been doing since we were in high school. When Unwound broke up the Replikants were still kind of playing, but I had begun to lose interest in all of this stuff. Ten years later, Brandt just sort of asked me to play with him and the other folks from Survival Knife, and I guess I was ready to play again. I took such a long break from writing; it seems absurd now. I bought into ideas of youth and rock and roll and other bullshit concepts. It feels like I just hit the pause button, because we are now making compositions that are in line with where we left off ten years ago—of course, with some new wisdom and insight! We have a couple of singles coming out in 2013 and are planning on recording a full-length this spring.
Rumsey: I started a silkscreening business, which also includes embroidery and [making] one-inch buttons. I'm trying to keep my life together and be "present" and as sober as possible. I like my life simple now. As little drama and chaos as possible. I find zen in working with graphics. My friend [Raf] and I are working on a graphic novel. I'm also trying to set up a darkroom—I don't have all the components yet. I love music, but it is hard to play for me now, because I so closely relate it to alcohol. That is kind of why I want to do the silkscreening and such... I can stay in touch with the music scene, but not actually have to play.
Rumsey: It's not impossible, but I think that I have a lot of work to do on myself first. I would love to. Unwound was the best thing that ever happened to me, besides [the birth of daughter] Lola.
Trosper: We have received a couple of offers. I can only say that there is no official answer. It is not out of the realm of possibilities, but it won't be happening soon. Never say never.
Rumsey: As our last flier said: "Have Hope."
Brad Cohan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. He's contributed to the Village Voice, MTV Hive, Dusted,Blurt, and other fine music publications.