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Unseen | Anger and the Truth | interview | punk | Lollipop
The Anger and the Truth (BYO)
An interview with the band
by Scott Hefflon
You've been on tour most of this year. Where are you now?
We're doing an East Coast tour right now. Got about two days left... We're mainly doing this as a return favor to F-Minus cuz when we toured California last winter, they let us use their van and equipment.
So you're finishing up a tour with them now?
Actually, no, cuz of the World Trade Center disaster, only half the band came out here. Now it's just us. The other guys ended up flying back later.
You're in Manhattan right now, right? How close are you to ground zero?
Pretty damn close... I can't see it from here, but there's National Guard everywhere...
Where were you when you heard?
I was at home, between tours. My girlfriend called and woke me up at 11 am. I've been following it closely ever since, as have most people.
And being from Boston, there's the additional responsibility that the terror not only originated from here, but we have actual terrorist cells in our city...
By the way, as I'm standing here, wearing a shirt with a star on it, someone just walked by and said "Communism sucks. Take that shirt off." As if any star represents communism...
Do you consider The Unseen a political band, or simply an honest street-level band that deals with politics in the way they affect the common man?
I don't like the label. I don't think anyone really does... I like to think we're more social. We write about things we see and things that affect us. We don't sit down and write songs about issues. I'd call us socially conscious. Personally, I think politics fuck things up. They divide people instead of uniting them.
How's it been in the last couple weeks for you, touring the East Coast immediately after the disaster?
It's been really weird, obviously. A lot of people take what we say the wrong way, thinking we're anti-American or whatever... I'm not anti-American - I definitely think it's one of the greatest countries in the world - but I'm very anti-government. But not to the point of wishing there were no such thing, ya know? If we had no government, we'd be in an even worse state.... I don't support organized violence, whether it's perpetuated by a government or a group of terrorists.
I'm standing on the street outside the club we played tonight, and I can see seven or eight flags hanging from windows. This is probably the first time in my life that hanging a flag has seemed relevant to me. I'm against blind patriotism. It always felt like flags were hung by people saying (affecting dumb'n'proud hillbilly voice) "I'ma 'Merican."
I try to think of it more as a sign of support to those grieving, and a symbol that, as people, we have far more in common than we usually think about. To me - seeing as I'm hanging a flag, and that would normally seem wildly out of character - the flag is a symbol for a free people, not for the government that's supposed to represent it.
When a terrorist attack like this occurs, most of the time it's against citizens. Real people. It's not against the government or the military. A lot of kids have said, "Yeah, well, I'm glad those corporate fucks died." Whether they're "corporate fucks" or not, they're not the ones bombing other countries, so in this case they're innocent and don't deserve to die. And secondly, think about how many janitors and maintenance people - honest, hard-working blue-collar people - died in that building... If that kid's mother worked there, or older brother was a bike courier delivering something there, you can bet his story'd be different.
How do you see going to see an Unseen show in relation to a very foundation-shaking event like this? Going to see a romantic comedy, for instance, is escapism, yet this...
I think it's both: It's escapism yet it connects... We have a song called "No Evacuation" about a disaster and the lack of warning and preparation and how there's no escape. During those few seconds or minutes, class doesn't matter, race doesn't matter, politics don't matter: It's just real people dying. Singing that song is really freaky right now...
What disaster did you have in mind when you wrote it?
Nuclear war in general. Or random mass destruction from a missile attack or whatever. We have a line that says that if terror is what you represent, terror is what you're going to get. So it's weird singing some of these songs that were written about general beliefs, yet here they are being put to the test. You go to a show to get away from the constant bombardment of terrible news, but you also go to a show to be with other people in the same situation as yourself.
To completely change the subject, tell me about signing to BYO... Cuz I'd heard you were going to sign with Go-Kart...
We almost did, yeah. We were really looking for a home, a place we could feel comfortable and stay, ya know? We'd been floating around, and we really wanted to find a label who'd put out our next few records... Our first record was on VML records in Chicago.
That was Joey from The Vindictives' label, right?
Right. But that folded and, to my knowledge, the band is gone too.
And your next record was on AF?
We were about to tour with Anti-Flag in, like, '98, and we didn't have any records to sell. So Anti-Flag said they'd press the record for the tour, so we ended up on the label that way. But when we were about to start this new record, The Anger and the Truth, they came to us and said we should have another label put it out cuz they just wouldn't be able to work it hard enough. They tour nine or ten months a year, and they knew they couldn't give it the attention we needed.
People (fans/kids/whatever) don't realize how much work it takes to make a record, press it, distribute it, get press and radio play, book a tour...
Not to mention all the people who want their cut of the $13 a kid paid at the store. When I was a kid, I didn't know all the stuff that went into doing this, so I can kinda understand...
But I think far too many people blindly hate the "business" part of getting music out there so it's available. The sheer mechanics of getting a CD into a few hundred stores is simply mind-boggling. And then to hear bitchings from kids who can't seem to finish their homework, do their chores, or remember to pick up milk on the way home?!?
Another reason we signed to BYO was because they came out to see us a few times, we hung out and got drunk, and they seemed really down to Earth. We aren't a really "numbers" band - a lot of that points stuff is really complicated - and they laid it out open and straight-up, and then we got drunk. Regardless of what a label can promise you, it's the people at the label - the one's working for you, the one's you'll be calling when you need something - that's what you really have to look at. The deal was good - the best, basically, money-wise - and when you look at my record collection - 7 Seconds, Somebody Got Their Head Kicked In, Social Distortion, Youth Brigade - ya realize that BYO put out some of the best American hardcore punk...
And you've now joined that legacy.
Yeah... When I was 13-14, I never thought I'd be on the same label that 7 Seconds was in (at the time)... We went to a barbeque, and we're sitting there, drinking beer and eating hot dogs with Youth Brigade and all those guys! It was unreal...
Yeah, it's wild when you meet up with bands you've liked most of your life, and before you can voice how much of a thrill it is to meet them, they tell you they're a fan of your stuff!
I feel like I was a spectator, and now I'm the one doing it. It's cool and weird at the same time.
That's kinda the whole idea of punk rock, that anyone can do it, and everyone should do their part... There aren't supposed to be "rock stars," there are supposed to be cool, down-to-Earth people doing cool shit and respecting the cool shit done by others.
I felt that we're putting back into it what we got out of it.
You guys do the D.I.Y. thing throughout, including production and artwork...
Our production is pretty straight forward, and by this point, we know what we like. But we used a great engineer, Jim Siegel, who's worked with the Dropkick Murphys and the Bosstones and huge bands use him for stuff too... So if was cool to be in a real studio cuz the first two records were basement recordings, for the most part. He obviously knows a lot, so you can tell him what you want or play him a record and say, "Can ya make my guitar sound like that?"
He produced it huge, raw, and professional, yet not polished.
That's good to hear cuz that's exactly what we were going for. We didn't want a slick, over-produced record. But we wanted it to be really loud, straight forward, powerful.
You, The Dropkicks, and a few others (The Business, Agnostic Front, etc) have a hard, almost metal-sounding guitar sound, yet used in a punk rock context...
That's where most of us started - with metal - I'd imagine. It'd be hard NOT to've grown up on metal. In fact, we're so sick of punk rock now all we listen to is metal!
Like what? Metal's a loaded gun... Everything from Poison to Limp Bizkit to Creed has been called metal.
Not nü metal... I don't like or get the hip hop metal thing. I like orange juice and I like brushing my teeth, but I don't like them together, know what I mean? Two great tastes that DON'T taste great together...
What's the story behind the cover...
We were sitting there in my room - Mark (Unseen [no relation], drummer ) and I - trying to think of what to do for a cover. We were flipping through photos and we came across this one from Japan that had really cool neon lights and stuff. But using a picture as a cover is, ya know, whatever... But my girlfriend's jacket was lying there, with an American flag and a British flag and patches and stuff sewn and safety-pinned to the back. So I took the picture, busted out the dental floss, sewed and safety-pinned it to the jacket, then threw it on the scanner, and that was the cover...
That's what it's all about: Spontaneous creation and having the tools and skills to use them... Mixing lo-fi 'zine-ripping style with a working knowledge of Photoshop...
What's your background? Where are ya from and how'd the band come together?
The Unseen started with Mark, Scott, Tripp, and this other kid, Mark. They all went to high school together. They put out a 7", but the singer, that kid Mark, thought hockey practice was more important than band practice. And years before, Scott and I were in a metal band, doing covers and stuff...
Did you play out and record demos?
No, just basement stuff. We were in, like, 7th grade or whatever. So Mark left the band, and Scott got sent away to a boot camp-type thing...
Really? Shit, like Bill & Ted's for real... A lot of our parents threatened to send us to military school, but he actually went, huh?
Yeah. So they were out a singer and a guitar player, and I'd grown up with the guys, even though I was in Maine at that time. I was living in Alfred, in the south part of Maine. Basically, if you can't afford to live in rich, preppy Kennebunkport - where George Bush, Sr. has a house - you live in a trailer trash town like Alfred, which is three towns over. I grew up in and around Boston, but then my parents got divorced and I moved with my mom up to Maine. So they called me up and asked what I was doing for the summer... I was like, "In Alfred, Maine? Not a goddamn thing!" They asked if I wanted to come down and couch surf and play guitar for them for the summer, and I was like, "Shit yeah!" I had a bunch of songs I'd been kickin' around anyway, and when I'd been with them for a while and saw it was working, we started doing my songs as well. When Scott got back, I stayed on and that's pretty much that.
It's cool because we can have a complete fuckin' blow-out, almost coming to a fistfight-type argument, but we've known each other for so long, the next day, we're like whatever, like it never happened. We're like brothers...
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