Following ten years of nonstop recording and touring, the Olympia, Washington-based independent rock band Unwound generated a great amount of talk among music critics with Leaves Turn Inside You. Released in 2001, the double-album was arguably the group’s most sophisticated and ambitious to date. “Leaves is a monstrous record most bands would lack the confidence to make,” asserted Yancey Strickler for Flak Magazine online. The group disbanded amicably the following year. Although Unwound never attracted the attention of mainstream rock fans, the group certainly succeeded in garnering praise from the press and earning the respect of its peers.
Unwound was a band driven by a strong work ethic, the members’ passion for the music they play, and the ability to craft intelligent songs without appearing pretentious. Consequently, it is not so surprising that Unwound attempted a recording that other rock groups would shy away from and released albums sometimes on a yearly basis. When asked about the band’s prolific nature by T.J. Stankus for Inkblot 19, Justin Trosper, the group’s singer and guitarist replied, “we just started out raring to go. As soon as we started the band we recorded a demo and went out on tour. We’ve tried to keep ourselves busy with it and not just wait for things to happen to us. You know, make things happen.”
In addition to Trosper, the members of Unwound included bassist Vern Rumsey and drummer Sara Lund. Trosper and Rumsey, both raised in a small town near Olympia called Tumwater, first met in the third grade playing on a baseball team together and became fast friends. By junior high, however, both developed a greater interest in music than in sports, joining a string of not-so-serious punk bands beginning at age 14. In high school, Trosper and Rumsey, tired of recording sporadically in garages, decided to form their own group. They enlisted friend Brandt Sanderno, who was really a guitarist, to play drums, and dubbed themselves Giant Henry. The band’s early sound combined thrashing punk with the noise of Sonic Youth.
In 1991, the trio adopted a new name—Unwound—and booked studio time to record their first album with Steve Fisk, a Northwest producer known for his work with Soundgarden, Beat Happening, and Screaming Trees, among others. During the mastering process, Sanderno shocked his bandmates by announcing his departure from the group. This move prevented the release of the self-titled album indefinitely. Fortunately for fans of the group, Rumsey’s Punk In My Vitamins label would eventually issue Unwound in 1995.
In spite of the setback, Unwound survived with the addition of a new percussionist. Sara Lund, bom and raised in Indiana, originally moved to Olympia to attend Evergreen State College and met Trosper about a year prior at a Giant Henry show. She came recommended to the group by Slim Moon, who was working with Lund in an experimental pop collective called Witchy Poo and had just signed Unwound to his new record label, Kill Rock Stars. Until then, the label had been utilized solely as an outlet for spoken-word albums.
Unwound’s debut album for Kill Rock Stars arrived with the 1993 release of a post-grunge set entitled Fake Train. Here, Unwound set themselves apart from the often poeticized local scene of Olympia. Musically, the group married punk undertones with edgy experimentalism, while lyrically, the group opted for obscurity, tending to downplay the “message” of a song. “It gets downplayed a lot because I downplay it,” Trosper explained to Stankus. “It’s secondary to the music. I don’t try to make cruddy joke lyrics or anything.”
Only a year later, Unwound released a second album, the rock epic New Plastic Ideas, featuring Steve Fisk on the track “Abstraktions.” This was followed in 1995 by The Future of What, and in 1996 with Repetition, again featuring Fisk on keyboards. Another imaginative album, Challenge for a New Society, appeared in 1998 to excellent reviews. A combination of noise rock and abstract experiments, with the songs still centered on musical expansiveness, the set nonetheless included such introspective, poetic tracks as “Side Effects of Being Tired” and “What Went Wrong,” as well as social commentaries like “Data.”
All these efforts were well-received by local indie music fans and other musicians, making Unwound a band to look up too. “I don’t know if Unwound became the measuring stick, but there were bands blatantly ripping
Members include Sara Lund , drums, percussion; Vern Rumsey. bass, vocals; Justin Trosper , guitar, vocals, saxophone, synthesizers.
Group formed band in Olympia, WA, 1991; released self-titled debut, 1995; signed with Kill Rock Stars, released Fake Train, 1993; released New Plastic Ideas, 1994; The Future of What, 1995; Repetition, 1996; and Challenge for a Civilized Society, 1998; released the double-album set Leaves Turn Inside You, 2001; disbanded, 2002.
Addresses: Record company —Kill Rock Stars, 120 N.E. State, Ste. 418, Olympia, WA 98501, phone: (360) 357-9732, website: http://www.killrockstars.com.
them off,” Moon claimed for an article written by Trevor Kelley in Magnet magazine. “Now there are bands that people think of as the measuring stick that are really just Unwound rip-offs.” By this time, the band members were themselves looking for greater artistic credibility, and the lack of recognition began to take a toll. “I think we came to a point where none of us were very enthusiastic,” Lund recalled to Kelley. “Because we were touring a lot, we couldn’t work on new material. So we agreed that we needed a break, but then the break started lasting too long. I started panicking. I just started thinking, ‘God, what’s going to happen now?’”
But rather than disbanding out of frustration, Unwound instead turned the negative feelings into action. The band’s intent was to make music that was even more ambitious than what they had produced in the past. To accomplish this goal, Unwound first purchased their own studio equipment with the help of their record label and built a studio in Trosper’s basement. Next, they allowed themselves more time to write and record. And, finally, they invited Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss to guest on back-up vocals, enlisted Fisk on keyboards, and asked Sanderno to participate as a multi-instrumentalist.
The resulting Leaves Turn Inside You comprised two separate discs. The first adhered to the band’s signature sound of melodic dissonance, and the second presented an atmospheric swarm of guitar noise and keyboards. Unwound’s greatest critical achievement, Leaves Turn Inside You provided the band with the recognition, and personal satisfaction, the band members were striving for. “I feel really satisfied with it,” Trosper told Kelley. “Ten years is really a long time for a band—we’re getting into Rolling Stones territory. So I’m trying to find ways to keep things going and keep them moving. I don’t think it was a waste of time. I think it’s good music. I think people will like it regardless of whether they are really into ’noise rock’ or whatever. That’s important.” Unwound disbanded in April of 2002, playing their last show in Olympia.
Fake Train, Kill Rock Stars, 1993.
New plastic ideas, Kill Rock Stars, 1994.
The Future of what, kill Rock stars, 1995.
Unwound, Punk In My Vitamins, 1995.
Repetition, Kill Rock Stars, 1996.
Challenge for a Civilized Society, Kill Rock Stars, 1998.
A single History 1991-1997, Kill Rock Stars, 1999.
Leaves Turn inside you, Kill Rock Stars, 2001.
Baltimore City Paper, March 11-17, 1998.
Magnet, September/October 2001, p. 57.
Melody Maker (London, England), May 29, 1999, p. 36.
Village Voice, July 31, 2001, p. 67.
“Leaves Turn Inside You,” Pitchfork Media, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com (October 29, 2002).
“Review of Unwound,” Flak Magazine, http://www.flakmag.com (October 29, 2002).
“Unwound,” Ink 19, http://www.ink19.com (October 29, 2002).
“Unwound,” Splendid E-zine, http://www.splendidezine.com (October 29, 2002).
Unwound Discography, http://unwound.livid.com/disco.html (October 29, 2002).
“Unwound Has Truly Unwound,” Skyscraper Magazine, http//www.skyscrapermagazine.com/features/scene.html (March 3, 2003).