Just in time for their North American tour (kicking off today in Albuquerque), we sat down with UNSANE founding member Chris Spencer to discuss the band’s new line-up, their recent European tour, this current US trek, the modern era of digitalized music, and more! Check out our full conversation after a scroll.
UNSANE is an American noise rock band formed in New York City in 1988. The band is known for its abrasive, heavy sound, combining elements of punk, metal and industrial music. UNSANE has been active for over three decades and has a devoted following among fans of underground and alternative music. Despite lineup changes over the years, the band has maintained a consistent sound and continues to tour and release new music. We’re thrilled to be a small part of their new era ad be able to unveil some interesting details in our recent chat below.
Hey there Chris ! Many thanks for joining us here on such short notice before the tour. How are you? How has 2023 been for you so far?
Things are good. I’ve been writing some new shit and hanging at home. Looking forward to more touring and recording…
Cool! How do you feel the 2022 shows went for you and how has this modern live experience been, replaying songs from both older and newer records and showcasing your iconic work to younger audiences?
Playing the early shit with Cooper and Jon is amazing! It’s really fun to get to play the songs from the beginning of the band. It really reminds me of the way life was at the time. It’s also great to play stuff from the later period with these guys. We’re good friends, so the whole thing is amazing to be able to do. Great to travel around with your friends getting to play music together every night. It’s also really cool that people have been so enthusiastic. The shows have been really fucking good and fun.
How does this new line-up translate to the energy of live performance?
Playing with Jon and Cooper really kicks it up a few notches! The early shit is a bit more aggressive, so the faster, tighter lineup is perfectly suited to it. The live shows have been super high energy and we do the set in the format that we used at the beginning of the band, which is to have noise and loops run between songs, so the whole thing is a super relentless, non stop barrage.People have been pretty expressive with their response to the continuous assault. It can be difficult to be heard over the noise, but people have definitely made it a point to let us know how they’re feeling…
How was the European tour ? Were there any stand-out moments you particularly remembered?
That tour was awesome! I think the standouts would be Paris, Helsinki and Prague. Just really good, fun shows. We’re really good friends, so when a show is particularly good we really bond. The crowd in Prague was fucking amazing! We have a recording of it that we might release a song or two from…
How about bands that supported you along the way. How much attention do you pay to younger bands while being on the road?
The bands that played with us on that tour were really good and all very nice people as well. Maggot Heart from Berlin were cool to watch every night and we became good friends pretty quickly.
They did the first couple of weeks with us and added a great dissonant, heavy sound to the show.
Cassels did the UK with us and were also really good. They a a bit more of a mathy, tight sound that ripped.
Super thick for a two piece.
Asbest did a couple of weeks with us once we got back to Europe. Shredding noise guitar with some really cool vocals.
San Leo were great as well and did a more conceptual, long noise piece every night with a heavy drum presence. We got really lucky on this tour.
All the support bands were good, and really cool.
Ok, so back to your new line-up, please give us some more details about how you guys got together and how the pandemic impacted you as a band.
During the pandemic, my friend and manager Todd managed to get the rights to just about the entire Unsane catalogue back in my hands. He also hooked me up with a company that would distribute and fulfill orders. We decided to bring back the “Lamb Unlimited” label that I had started years ago and reissue the early Unsane shit.
Around that time (during lockdown) I was working on renovating a cabin out in the woods and would drive into Austin to see my friends. Cooper, Jon and I started rehearsing a set of the old shit in Cooper’s garage just to play while we weren’t able to get out there and play shows. We did this for months. It was really fun and a good way to pass time while the country dealt with the sickness.
Once things started to open back up, we asked a friend that ran a cool club (The Lost Well, Austin) if we could do the set for friends at his place. Word got around, and the response was kinda crazy. We suddenly were getting offered not just other shows, but tours all over the place.
Before this, I really thought I was done playing in Unsane, but getting to do the early material in the original noise format, with two of my closest friends was something I couldn’t not do. It really has brought things back to the ballistic, attack mode performances that I love.
Ok, so let’s talk about this upcoming trek and the spots you booked for the tour. Are you specifically looking forward to any particular places?
I’m really looking forward to the whole tour. Touring with the guys fucking rules. Every night we play we’re really there to make a point. It has the feeling of three guys out on a mission, which I have always enjoyed when touring.
35 years after you formed this band, how do you recall those early days with Pete and Charles?
I guess that would bring me back to the “three guys on a mission” thing. That’s how it was with me, Pete and Charlie. Living in a van together, traveling around the country, crashing in cat hair and beer and playing our asses off. Maybe more of a lifestyle than a job. Gypsies with a purpose.
Can you give us your most memorable moments from the recording process of Unsane ?
Working with Wharton Tiers was always fun. He was always open to anything we’d want to do. That recording was done fast and loose, with all of us in the same room and not much separation. I guess for me one stand out moment would be when I went out to the Deli to get a sandwich on a break from doing vocals and asked Pete and Charlie to try some vocals on an idea we had that I hadn’t tried. When I got back, they had recorded the song “Action Man” about a crazy night out. I was pretty fucking shocked at what they did in half an hour!
The process was obviously completely different back then but there are relatively a lot of artists that are still surrounded by so much incredible analog gear. How much of a role does the computer and modern technologies play in the way you work these days?
I’m a guitar player, not a computer wizard, so for me I like to minimize the computer magic. I do record initial ideas on a home set up, but generally let the recording engineer deal with the shit for serious recording these days.
Speaking about the modern era of music, what aspects of the new reality feel more freeing and what seem to be more constraining or troubling to you?
It’s kind of great that these days you can do most stuff yourself if you want to. Also good that’s it’s easy to get the stuff out there. Another cool aspect is that a non-effects driven, tight, loud band is impossible to replicate with a computer making a good live band even more powerful. There’s a lot of computer fueled shit out there that sounds kinda homogenized to me.
Haha, 100% agreed!
How do you feel about the ‘album vs playlists and singles’ dilemma these days ? Obviously, there are a lot of pros and cons of both, but I feel that a lot of modern fashion and new trends serve well also for older artists. What’s your take on that ?
Yes, there are pros and cons to both, but I do like both approaches. I’ve always liked writing a full length record as a long piece with different modes within it, but there’s definitely something really cool about hitting hard with a single.
Right now we’re looking at recording shit in a 7” single format, where you get an A side that’s the crusher and the B side which is the alternative. Doing a series of these, then releasing it as a box set of 6 or 7 or a full length LP!
Whoa, that’s dope!
Ok Chris, so what’s coming up next for the band later in 2023? Can we expect some new music from Unsane?W
e’ve got a U.S. west coast tour starting next week, a European tour in May/June and Australia in September. Also looking to start recording in between. We’re really wanting to start the singles set that I just mentioned.
Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for your time and feel free to share anything you feel we missed here.
Cool. Thanks for doing this! Hit me up if you’re ever at a show…
‘The Early Cuts Tour’
2/6/2023 Albuquerque NM Launchpad
2/7/2023 Tucson AZ 191 Toole
2/8/2023 Tempe AZ Yucca Tap Room
2/9/2023 San Diego CA Casbah
2/10/2023 Los Angeles CA Zebulon
2/11/2023 Costa Mesa CA The Wayfarer
2/13/2023 Albany CA Ivy Room
2/14/2023 Albany CA Ivy Room
2/15/2023 Sacramento CA Cafe Colonial
2/17/2023 Seattle WA El Corazon
2/18/2023 Portland OR Mississippi Studios
2/19/2023 Boise ID Neurolux
2/20/2023 Salt Lake City UT Urban Lounge
2/21/2023 Laramie WY The Lair
2/22/2023 Denver CO HQ
2/23/2023 Omaha NE Reverb Lounge
2/24/2023 Kansas City MO Record Bar
2/25/2023 Dallas TX Amplified Live Inside Stage
2/26/2023 Austin TX The Lost Well