For 20 years, the San Diego group has produced an ever-evolving soundtrack for the surf/skate laid-back beach lifestyle in coastal towns around the world. The band has released seven full-length recordings, including their newest, “Swan,” and toured the world relentlessly during the past two decades.
Lead singer Scott Russo took a break from his busy schedule to share the latest news about the band with Noozhawk.
Paul Mann: Unwritten Law began at a pivotal time for music in San Diego County in the early 1990s, which saw an onslaught of energetic new bands, such as Blink-182, Sprung Monkey and Buck-O-Nine, that seemed to fit the beach and skate lifestyle of young listeners. Can you talk about your roots in this environment?
Scott Russo: I was born and raised in San Diego. I grew up skateboarding and surfing. I rode for H-Street, Gullwing and Airwalk back in the day. After H-Street fell apart, I rode for Zorlac for a bit until my music took precedence.
I really never wanted to be in a band. I just wanted to skate — that was it. Music found me. I grew up surfing as well, but skating was my first love. I guess if you lived by a mountain, you would ski, snowboard or hike. I grew up by the beach.
PM: You were an integral part of the Vans Warped Tour early on. This year you were back on top of the roster for the 2011 Warped Tour. Could you explain your special connection with this annual event that exposes many young music fans to a treasure trove of new music?
SR: We were lucky enough to be invited to some of the very first Warped Tours. In those days, that kind of festival had never been done — straight punk rock and a lot of it. It’s amazing what Warped has done for the music community in general. Now it brings all life forms of the musical youth movement. It’s still revolutionary, and it’s an honor to be asked back, especially since we were banned for inciting a riot in Sydney, Australia, and punching out one of the stage managers. Needless to say, we were asked to leave the tour within seconds of that show.
Through the years we have mended our relationship as we have all grown as people, but “let it be,” you know? Warped was very instrumental in making Unwritten Law and many other acts what they are today. It was dope to get back to it.
PM: You just released your sixth studio album, Swan. Could you talk about your new recording and how your music has evolved over the years, from the early skater punk sound to a more complex and intricate rock sound?
SR: With anything you do in life, time and practice help perfect your craft. We grew up on punk rock. That was our influence when we started writing music. Over the years we have been exposed and turned on to so many new bands and music that it is obviously going to show in our songwriting. It is what it is, and we are just this much further down the road in our craft.
PM: When The Clash released the Combat Rock album in 1982, I was so taken with the album cover, featuring the phrase, “The Future Is Unwritten,” that I had it airbrushed on my surfboard. I am always reminded of that album when I hear your name. What was the origin of the band’s name?
SR: No. Unwritten Law just sounded dope, and it wasn’t taken yet, but The Clash is in my Top 5 rock acts.
PM: You have gone through several personnel changes over the years. You now tour as a four-piece band. Can you talk about how this has affected your sound and live performance?
SR: When we were a five-piece, we really just sounded like we had two guitars with just a thicker live sound. This first show we did as a four-piece we figured out which songs needed two guitars. It really hasn’t changed with the members leaving. Since I do almost all of the writing, even down to kick and snare patterns, and write with my guitar, I just put on a guitar for the songs that sounded empty — problem evaded.
PM: Your music has always been closely associated with extreme sports. Can you share any connections band members may have with surfing, skating, etc.?
SR: See Answer 1.
PM: You have been working with Suburban Noize Records since 2008. Can you talk about what it’s like working with your new record company?
SR: Suburban Noize is different than working with any other label for us because we have known Kevin Zinger, owner, for as long as we’ve been a band. He used to be a promoter in San Diego and threw some of the first Law shows. We are family — longtime fam.
PM: You did an interesting acoustic project in 2003 in which you recorded a DVD, Live In Yellowstone. How did that project come about?
SR: There was a show called Music in High Places that MTV was doing. They would take rock acts and put them somewhere tropical or in the forest or in the wild, and record them laying acoustic. Since most of my songs are crafted acoustic and then later translated to distortion, it really wasn’t a far stretch for The Law to pull it off. We got drunk with the producer of that show on set one night and talked him into releasing it with us as a record. They teamed up with Lava Atlantic, and the rest is history.
PM: You did another live DVD in 2008, Live and Lawless, in Hollywood. What was that experience like?
SR: It was pretty stressful. We hadn’t ever done a live distorted set DVD, so the pressure was on to get it right the first time, you know? No second takes. Yeah, that’s pretty much how that went.
PM: What did fans hear on this summer’s Warped Tour? New material? Old favorites? Surprises?
SR: Haha. D) All of the above.
PM: Do you have any message for hard-core fans of Unwritten Law?
SR: Thank you for the love, my Unwritten aliens. We look forward to breaking s*** with you very soon.