They've sold more than one million albums, survived a multitude of record labels and line-up changes, even bomb attacks. They've survived. After six long years Unwritten Law are back in the mix with their sixth studio album, Swan.
“We were still playing, but everyone was doing their own thing, spending time with their families.” says vocalist Scott Russo, the only original member of the band remaining. “We got together and it was a bit like, 'What do we do? How do we go about this?'. It was kind of a cool experience really. We decided to do thinGs a bit differently and write a couple of songs each. Try and split the writing duties on the record.”
Having been out of the studio so long, the band wanted to push the bar and try to do things differently, but it would prove to be much harder than they expected. “Writing is generally my concern. It was a bit of a load off my back sharing the writing, but we found that some of the songs weren't strong enough, and we wanted the record to come out and have it be strong at every level. So we went back and spent another 14 or 15 months writing more songs, and Swan ended up being the result of those efforts,” says Russo. “I wouldn't say it was difficult as such, but it was extremely tedious. We were determined to trump our last record. I rewrote shit like four or five times.”
Russo, together with guitarist Steve Morris, bassist Pat “PK” Kim, and drummer Dylan Howard ended up taking years to complete the record. Morris is on the record as saying the band “had all but completely succumbed to the extreme pitfalls of being a band. We had no money left, we owed money to everyone, everyone in the industry hated us, and we were barely hanging on by a thread.” But hang on they did. Kind of.
“There weren't any moments when I felt like throwing in the towel, because I knew how close we were to creating what I think is our best piece of work. There were moments where I'd do something, send it to the boys, then think it wasn't quite right and rework it,” says Russo. “They'd come back to me and say 'Oh, we liked it the way it was before'. There was a lot of that, but in the end it was up to me to make the final call. Unwritten Law is my baby, you know? In the end we got to a point where we all felt that this was our moment, the end of our six year hiatus.”
Late last year, after the album was finally finished, Morris and Kim left the band. The departure of Morris, a founding member of the band, and Kim, after 13 years service, has deeply affected Russo. “Things change, people change. We'd done a lot of touring, and they just wanted to move on. It was saddening, heart-breaking really, but I just had to move on too and find people who wanted to be there. After 22 years of playing together it was just that time. It is what it is. You can't change how other people feel.”
Armed with two new band members Kevin Besignano, ex-Bullets and Octane, on guitar and Derik Envy, ex-Red Light Sky, on bass plus drummer Dylan Howard, Russo is pleased to see how fans are receiving Swan. “With anything you do in life, the more you do it the better you get. The same is true for songwriting. Every song we felt had to be perfect in its own right. We didn't want any B-sides and I think we pulled that off.”
“One of the last songs which was put on the record was Chicken (Ready To Go). I'd written the song, re-written it, but I just couldn't find the verses I wanted. I'd re-written them around five times and they just weren't right. I sent the track to Phil from Grinspoon because I thought he might have some inspiration and want to guest on the track, but he couldn't find the right words either.
The solution? Ice Cube's cousin Teren Delvon Jones, better known as rapper Del The Funky Homosapien. “Del was coming down to my house to work on some other stuff and something in my head just clicked. I played him the track and within about ten seconds he was like “I wanna rap on that shit!”. Half and hour later he'd laid down the verses and we just worked the rest of the song over. Chicken was done.”
“It was great. That song wouldn't have been as strong with anyone else ,not me, not Phil. Del knocked it out of the park. Even though it's rock and rap together I think it manages not to be a rap/rock song, as weird as that sounds. I think it sounds fresh and original, not forced.”
After so much turmoil, that was that. Swan was ready to go, the first Unwritten Law album since Here's To The Mourning in 2005. And Russo sure is psyched to give Aussie fans a sample of the material. “I fucking love you guys. I'm so grateful for your support down there throughout our career. We're really looking forward to getting out there to rock with you guys.”
BY JOSH FERGEUS
UNWRITTEN LAW play the sold out Soundwave Festival at the Melbourne Showgrounds on Friday March 2. They also play a Sidewave at The Espy on Wednesday February 29 with Zebrahead and Royal Rebublic. Swan is out now on Suburban Noize Records.