|Origin||Tumwater, Washington, U.S.|
Olympia, Washington, U.S.
|Genres||Post-hardcore, noise rock, experimental rock, indie rock|
|Labels||Kill Rock Stars|
Punk In My Vitamins?/Honeybear
Rebel Beat Factory (Japan)
|Associated acts||The Corin Tucker Band, Survival Knife, Household Gods|
|Past members||Justin Trosper|
David Scott Stone
Unwound was an American post-hardcore band based in Tumwater/Olympia, Washington. The group was strongly associated with the label Kill Rock Stars throughout the 1990s, until their dissolution in 2002. Unwound was sharply dissonant and angular, often resorting to unusual guitar tones, and was associated with post-hardcore and noise rock. The band toured frequently, preferring "all ages" clubs and are noted for their strong DIY ethic. The group spawned numerous side projects.
Formed in 1991, the band consisted of Justin Trosper (vocals, guitar, songwriting), Vern Rumsey (bass), and Brandt Sandeno (drums), all of whom had previously been in a high school band called Giant Henry. Unwound released a full demo tape in 1991, and recorded an album in early 1992 (though it would not be released until 1995 as Unwound). In July 1992, Sara Lund replaced her friend Sandeno as the drummer for the band. This line-up would remain in place until the band's dissolution in 2002. The group released several singles and albums, primarily on the Kill Rock Stars label. Unwound's Fake Train was their debut album, and the first full-length musical release on Kill Rock Stars; it had been strictly a spoken-word label until its owner Slim Moon attended an Unwound concert and decided he had to release their upcoming album. Unwound also had the maiden releases for several other key underground record labels, including Gravity Records and Troubleman Unlimited Records; side project Replikants had the first release on 5 Rue Christine, an esoteric KRS offshoot. Rumsey founded and ran Punk In My Vitamins? Records, releasing material by Lowercase, Yind, the Bangs, Karp, Thrones, Dub Narcotic Sound System and Chokebore. Trosper published several issues of his own underground rock fanzine in the early 1990s. Unwound and sonic/geographic contemporaries Sleater-Kinney were generally considered KRS's flagship bands of the 1990s; no other band released anywhere near as much material on KRS as these two did. Although Unwound was not part of the riot grrrl movement, the band supported gender equality. The band made an appearance in the 1994 cult road movie Half-Cocked.
Unwound disbanded on April 1, 2002, shortly after co-headlining that year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival. The fact that they broke up on April Fool's Day fueled speculation that they would, in actuality, remain together; an early band T-shirt had the inscription "Unwound 1991–2091". Troubleman Unlimited's Mike Simonetti after hearing of the band's breakup posted a quick eulogy to Unwound on his record label's Web site: "Unwound were (and still are) beautiful people. Unwound was one of the most influential and vital bands of the '90s, and their last record was a masterpiece. You just don't know it yet. Unwound's influence will live on for a long time to come, and they were everything a band should be: independent and non-compromising in every aspect."
After Unwound broke up Vern Rumsey formed Flora v. Fauna. Sara Lund formed Hungry Ghost with Andrew Price from the Irving Klaw Trio as well as joining The Corin Tucker Band. In 2011, Brandt Sandeno and Justin Trosper formed Survival Knife.
Live Leaves, a live album documenting various performances of the band's final tour in 2001 was released later in the year. An Unwound online archive, curated by members of the band, was also launched in anticipation to the new release.
In 2013, Unwound licensed their back catalog to The Numero Group. They released their pre-Unwound band, Giant Henry, on Record Store Day in 2013 and proceeded to release four box sets, consisting of the band's entire studio output.
On August 6, 2020, bassist Vern Rumsey passed away.
Unwound's influences included Sonic Youth, Melvins, Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard, Wipers, Black Flag, Can, Mission of Burma, Hüsker Dü, Nation of Ulysses, Flipper, and Gang of Four. Evidence of the Black Flag influence can be seen in Trosper and Sandeno's side band with Tim Green (of Nation of Ulysses), The Young Ginns (named after Black Flag guitarist/songwriter Greg Ginn), and in their interpolation of Black Flag's lyric "I'm not a machine" in their song "Machine" (on Replikants' debut album). Trosper and Sandeno were also in a band called Worst Case Scenario that released an album on Vermiform Records. Unwound's early work was characterized by intense vocals, jagged guitar lines, and more complex drumming than the band's peers. Trosper's lyrics were highly existential, cryptic, and generally bleak. From this angular, atonal starting point, the band developed their signature sound over the course of several albums and numerous singles. With 1996's Repetition, Unwound added synthesizers to the mix. Free-jazz style saxophone found its way onto 1998's Challenge For A Civilized Society. The band recorded Peel sessions with John Peel at the BBC in 1998; these were broadcast over the radio, and were released as the semi-official bootleg Unwound - Live in London (on Love Letter). This new direction set a precedent that the band would follow for their remaining albums, culminating in the release of 2001's Leaves Turn Inside You, a double album the band recorded themselves over the course of two years. Unwound never covered any other artists' songs on their albums, though they did cover "Plight" by The Minutemen and "Torch Song" by the (pre Versus) band Flower on singles.
The band was known for its nonstop touring of the U.S. and Europe, and occasionally Japan. It shared stages over the years with the likes of the following, with earliest known date in parentheses: Sonic Youth ('95), Polvo ('95), Fugazi ('95), Hovercraft (European tour w/ them, '96), Lowercase, Polar Goldie Cats, Deerhoof ('98), Mogwai ('99), Slug, The PeeChees ('98), Clikatat Ikatowi (approx. '94), Chokebore, The Most Secret Method ('99), Yind ('99), Blonde Redhead ('95), Dub Narcotic Sound System, xbxrx (who formed after attending an Unwound concert in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1998) (2001), Bikini Kill, and many more (members of Unwound and Yind occasionally performed live as "avant-Sverige" "supergroup" Shag Bath). During their final (2001–02) tour, Unwound enlisted David Scott Stone as an additional guitarist and original drummer Brandt Sandeno on keyboards, percussion and guitar.
The band was known for having an all-ages policy at almost every concert which it headlined. This meant that they would often choose to play at unconventional locations such as basements, Jaycee halls, and college auditoriums, rather than at the traditional 18+ or 21+ (alcohol-serving) music clubs. They did this because they frequented all-ages shows in Olympia as teens, so they wanted to let fans of any age attend their own gigs.
Trosper played several kinds of odd guitars, including the Univox Hi-Flier (made famous by Kurt Cobain), generally preferring guitars with P-90 pickups. He sometimes played a clear Lucite (Plexiglas), Electra or Ventura, Japanese budget copy of the expensive originals designed by Dan Armstrong and produced by Ampeg. He sometimes used an Echoplex in the band's spacier ambient passages. Rumsey generally played a Fender Jazz Bass. He and Trosper often used Sunn and Kustom amplifiers, generally solid-state models; Trosper's main amp up to 1999 was a Sunn Concert Lead. Lund played a 1970s Ludwig drum kit.
Fake Train's cover art is a defiled copy of the Tom Jones LP cover for Tom, which had been hanging over Trosper's doorway. The front cover photo to New Plastic Ideas is taken from the Philippe Entremont record Grieg: Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra. The cover and inner artwork of The Future of What are illustrations by Russian constructivist artist Yakov Chernikhov (1889–1951). A photo of Boston's stained-glass Mapparium adorns the cover of Challenge For A Civilized Society. Coincidentally, a similar photo of the Mapparium appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine a month after Challenge was released. The cover artwork of the band's four Numero Group LP box sets, Kid Is Gone, Rat Conspiracy, No Energy, and Empire are all taken from the band's live shows.
LP versions of Unwound's albums and their reissues are packaged with elaborate inserts, including posters and lyric sheets that the CD versions lack. The aforementioned box sets are all packaged with a corresponding booklet, featuring essays and band photos that to align to the respective era of the band, along with reprints of tour flyers, tour schedules and setlists.
According to Fred Thomas of AllMusic, despite being "[a]nnexed to the less mainstream channels of indie releases, low-budget touring, and a circuit of basement and underground shows, Unwound still managed to create some of the more influential and lasting work of their era, with their cloudy moods and explosively tense group dynamics culminating in some truly transcendent albums." Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney wrote for NPR that Unwound's "influence and successors far outshine its own story. Which is a shame, because Unwound synthesized all that was exciting about Olympia and music in the Pacific Northwest. Its music dark and often experimental; it had pop riffs that grew out of murkiness only to disappear again; its songs gave you glimmers of light but never flooded you with sun; there was angst but not brutality; it possessed an uneven wilderness, which is all you'd ever want from music, something unexpected emerging from what we already know." The A.V. Club called Unwound the best band of the 90s, with Jason Heller writing:
Unwound is the best band of the ’90s. Not just because of how prolific, consistent, and uncompromising it was, but because of how perfectly Unwound nested in a unique space betweenn [sic] some of the most vital forms of music that decade: punk, post-rock, indie rock, post-hardcore, slow-core, and experimental noise. That jumble of subgenres doesn’t say much; in fact, it falls far short of what Unwound truly synthesized and stood for. Unwound stood for Unwound. But in a decade where most bands were either stridently earnest or stridently ironic, Unwound wasn’t stridently anything. It was only itself. In one sense Unwound was the quietest band of the ’90s, skulking around like a nerdy terror cell. In another sense it was the loudest, sculpting raw noise into contorted visions of inner turmoil and frustration.
Heavy metal magazine Decibel recognized them as an influence on bands "like Botch, Young Widows, KEN Mode, Coliseum, Helms Alee and so on and so forth." Conrad Keely of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead named Fake Train one of 10 albums that had changed his life forever, stating that it had "epitomized America's disaffected, self-hating white middle-class guilt victims screaming about the fact that they have nothing to do with their time other than be bored, nothing to speak out against other than their own ennui and unwarranted discontent. And although that might sound like a criticism or an indictment, the fact is that this sentiment existed, it was shared by a lot of us, and it found its voice in albums like Fake Train (and Fugazi's Thirteen Songs)." Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead picked The Future of What as her favorite album of all time, calling it "absolutely timeless. When I listen to each member separately it astonishes me how gifted and original they are on their own [...] if I could only play this music to Bach or Mozart or any classical greats I think they would totally get it." Modest Mouse were recognized by many sources as being influenced by the band, and Isaac Brock's label Glacial Pace would later go on to release albums by both Survival Knife & Nocturnal Habits. Other bands & musicians that have cited Unwound as being an influence on their music include Speedy Ortiz, Gouge Away, True Widow, Dirty Dishes, Drumcorps, Black Dice, Garden Variety, Pg. 99, Portraits of Past, Shamir, and Super Unison.
Side projects and post-Unwound bands
Members of Unwound participated in a number of projects that ran concurrent to Unwound, each self-styled as highly conceptual and distinct from the parent band.
Trosper and Sandeno, who have collaborated musically since the mid-'80s, helmed an experimental venture called Replikants (not to be confused with the band Replicants, which featured members of Failure and Tool). Early on, they each acted as multi-instrumentalists for the group. Inspired by John Cage, Can, and Miles Davis, they combined jazz, ambient music, tape loops, musique concrète and vocal samples atop a krautrock-propelled base. Debut album This Is Our Message (1997) consisted of home recordings from 1994 to 1996 (the CD version contained ten bonus tracks not included on the vinyl version due to time constraints). William Goldsmith of Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate played drums for a period in 1996 before they started playing with drummer Joe Plummer of Bare Minimum/ The Black Heart Procession and later of Modest Mouse and The Shins and a rotating cast of members. With more of an electro-rock sound, their second and final album Slickaphonics was released on 5RC in 1999.. A West Coast tour ensued that summer and after it, Trosper shelved Replikants to focus his energy on finishing Unwound's next (final) album. Sandeno and Trosper also collaborated with video artist Slater Bradley on a number of projects between 1999 and 2005 including a piece in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. They stopped performing as the Replikants in 2002.
Rumsey and friend Greg Allen recorded as enigmatic New Romantic-styled pop band Long Hind Legs in the 1990s. Rumsey used the pseudonym "Wolfgang" and Allen used the alias "Paul", with only astute Unwound fans aware of their real identities. Following a slew of singles, their debut self-titled album came out in 1997 on Kill Rock Stars. The 12" EP "Open Wide" (+ remixes)/ "Alphabets Of Unreason" was released simultaneously. Atop peppy, carnival-esque backing music, "Alphabets Of Unreason" features the odd lyrics, "Atoms, boys' cars, dead-end fags/ God, his image, and Jerry's Kids/ Love-making noon orgies/ I want to kill, I want to kill.../ Pills, quinine reveries... Scornful tramps, unwitting vamps, wasted xenophobes & all the young zeroes/ I want to kill, I want to kill..." (note the first letter of each of the main words in the verses, then refer back to the song title). The February 4–14, 1998 EP was released in 1998 on Kill Rock Stars.
Trosper and Sandeno also played together in two other bands, the Young Ginns, and Worst Case Scenario. The Young Ginns also featured Tim Green of The Nation Of Ulysses on guitar (Justin played bass). The project was first conceived in 1991 when Brandt and Justin were stuck at Tim's house while on tour with Unwound. The band later became a reality when Green moved to Olympia. They released a 7" on Gravity Records in 1993. In 1998, all their recordings were compiled and released on CD by Honey Bear Records. After the Young Ginns, Sandeno and Trosper formed Worst Case Scenario. Worst Case Scenario released two 7"s, one on Troubleman Unlimited and the other on Lookout! Records, and an album on Vermiform Records. Vermiform would release the group's entire discography on CD in 1997. Both the Young Ginns and Worst Case Scenario displayed a hardcore punk sound. Trosper and Sandeno formed Survival Knife in 2011.
Justin Trosper also performed in Severed Lethargy (with members of Bikini Kill) and Sara Lund and Vern Rumsey performed with the musical collective Witchypoo. Rumsey also played bass on Blonde Redhead's Fake Can Be Just as Good album. In 2010, Lund became drummer of The Corin Tucker Band, on which she works along the former Sleater-Kinney vocalist and guitarist, as well as with the Golden Bears' Seth Lorinczi.
Trosper formed Survival Knife with Brandt of Unwound and later, the well-received band Nocturnal Habits with Sara Lund. Vern Rumsey joined up with David Pajo, Lauren K. Newman and Conan Neutron for Household Gods, as well as performing solo as Red Rumsey.
- Unwound (1991)
- Fake Train (1993)
- New Plastic Ideas (1994)
- The Future of What (1995)
- Unwound (1995)
- Repetition (1996)
- Challenge for a Civilized Society (1998)
- Leaves Turn Inside You (2001)
- The Light at the End of the Tunnel Is a Train (1997)
- Live in London (1999)
- Live Leaves (2012)
- 7/26/2001 (2013)
- 06/30/1999: Reykjavik, Iceland (2014)
Compilations and reissues
- Further Listening (1999)
- A Single History: 1991–1997 (1999)
- Kid Is Gone (2013)
- Rat Conspiracy (2014)
- No Energy (2014)
- Empire (2015)
- What Was Wound (2016)
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Media related to Unwound at Wikimedia Commons