Interview: Chris Lewis and Scott Russo of Unwritten Law

Unwritten Law

Recently I was able to schedule a Zoom call with Chris Lewis (lead guitarist) and Scott Russo (lead vocalist) of Unwritten Law to discuss the band’s latest album, The Hum. In this interview, we chatted about the 20th anniversary of Elva, the legacy of Unwritten Law, as well as the songs they are most excited to play live during their upcoming headlining tour of the United States.

I really enjoyed the direction you guys took on The Hum. Can you describe the recording process?

Scott: We recorded the record twice! We mixed it twice, and actually fixed it twice. It was a very long process. We started in January 2017. We knew that we wanted to make it with our good friend Joe Marlette, who had worked with both of us on finishing the acoustic record, back in 2015. And so, we kind of had a rough idea in mind. I was just telling him how we spent time with Wade in the rehearsal space, six months getting all the “skeletons” written. And then Wade did his own thing for a while, and started another band with Eric from Sublime. Then we retreated basically…I have a studio at my house and got a studio at his place. And so we just kind of kept writing, and kept honing the songs.

Chris: For a bit…and knowing that we have the drum tracks already done. It was kind of a weird thing. And so we really got through the bulk of the recording, we started what, December? So we’re in the studio, over the holidays. And then at the beginning of, and then a little bit in January, we had most of it done. And then we had to go on tour. So we’re in Australia, in February of 2020, when things started to happen. And people forget about this. We literally bought masks, ahead of COVID, because of the fires that were happening down in Australia. We all rocked up with these KN-95 masks, and then people started wearing masks on planes, and we’re like, what’s going on? And we got home from Australia, at the end of February.

Scott: We were off for three days. And then we went to Hawaii to play one show on February 29 2020. And we got home three days later and the world kind of shut down. And there were no more bands and studios after that. So we really just split, and then the label was really cool. They were like, “well, we don’t want to put it out until you can tour on it. So take some extra time.” So we took some extra time! <laughter> We went back through it and in some cases, went back to the original demo drums and really just made it what we wanted it to be. And because with the first cut of it, we were kind of like, “no, I’m not sure this is it”…I mean, we recorded all the songs in the same BPM as we did the demos, and we briefly lost Wade for a second, but he gets lost sometimes <laughter> And we needed to record because we were under contract, and they wanted the record by a certain date with time codes, pictures and three videos, whatever it was. And we had to get in the studio, so we recorded the record and we mixed the record, we got it done. But then we were like, “man, this isn’t it.” And then I had an idea, I said, “Hey, man, why don’t we put Wade’s demo drums into the sessions and just see what the songs sound like.” So then Joe was like, “Yeah, I’ll try and do one song and see how it sounds.” So he did the one song, pulled everything down to zero, chucked the drums in and mixed it back up and the song came to life. And for whatever reason, it just felt right again. Like “oh shit, we’re sitting on something that could be pretty dope.” And then when we got the record, everything was clean and perfect and pristine. But it was just missing something personally, for me, and that idea to chuck Wade’s drums in and we saw what else we could do from there and then Joe basically makes the record a whole second time for us. That was very kind of him.

Awesome, and it sounds incredible. I wrote the review for your guys’ latest album, The Hum, and Unwritten Law has been a beloved band from the punk community for a long period of time. What do you think makes this band so special? 

Scott: I mean, special wouldn’t be the first adjective I’d use…I think one thing that makes us band kind of different is that everyone in the band is extremely passionate. I think everyone is also very honest, and I think that we try to write music like that. We never tried to put music into a certain genre or to catch up with a genre, or be ahead of the curve of the genre. We’ve always kind of made music that we thought was dope. And for me personally, I just like to make sure my kids weren’t embarrassed, and that’s where I kind of do it and I try to make every song like a toy. And so it was fun in some way to try to kind of reminisce the way I felt about music. We tried to add dimensions to songs, meaning we want to have kind of like a Nirvana-type, really low verses and explosive, choruses and such. And so I think when we attack songs, it’s not again, trying to chase or be ahead of the curb of anything, but just to make something that’s sincerely fresh and quite honest. I think that in turn makes any band special, they’re coming from the heart, and they’re not coming from a place or an origin of trying to get something or be something because that really wouldn’t be the case.

Makes sense. Yeah, and I understand you guys are going to be doing a headlining tour with Authority Zero and Zebrahead. What songs are you most excited to try out live from the new album?

Chris: I was just talking to Wade about this last night. It would be the first half of the record. It’s kind of like the obvious choice. But we’ve since we just released the double video for “Magnetic” and “The Hum,” that was one of those songs that we really do like to truly work out in the room and as far as making sure the drum beats and the arrangements were all right. And, and having that power behind, I really would like to see how it translates live.

Scott: I’m excited for “Dark Seas,” I know that’s going to be in the setlist. I think that “Ghosted” is going to be in, “Magnetic” is going to be in, “Dark Seas” will be in, and “Beggars,” too. I think that’ll be a well rounded part. It will be a complete 15 hours but you have to play some old songs as well, but I’m just excited to go play the new songs, because it’s been a decade.

Right, right. And you guys also recorded some of the music videos like for ”The Hum” and “Magnetic” which you kind of alluded to. In some of these video shoots, they include the actor Tyler Posey, so I was just curious how pleased you guys are with the final product, now that it’s finally out there?

Scott: It’s unreal art. My brother, Joseph Russo, is the cinematographer and it’s wild how the whole thing kind of came about. He said, “Do you want to do a movie for the record? A whole movie front and back?” And we’re like, “that’d be awesome.” We ended up getting some funding but that fell through so the dream kind of folded at that point. But Joseph was on board and said he still had these visions for the record, you know, he’s been my brother my whole life but he’s never made one video for us. But, finally came to fruition and he’s like, “okay, cool. I want to make a teaser. I’m going to do this and do that.” And during this time we had made one of our other friends make a video for the first song just to awaken the audience for “Ghosted,” and we got the video back two days before we were going to film a sizzle in Bombay with my brother. And as we’re going out there I’m watching that video and I didn’t love it. So when we get out there I start seeing my brother finally film for the first time and it’s just beautiful, everything’s just immaculate. And like, “I’m sorry bro, but you got to make more videos for us.”

What happened with this is, our friend Christian was on tour with Law Inside and Tyler Posey and he and Tyler hit it off, turning it off to their budding friendship. Tyler mentioned he was a fan of Unwritten Law and Christian was like, “Oh, that’s my family!” and Tyler said he wanted to meet us and so Christian was like, “I can make that a reality.” ComicCon came to San Diego, and I live in Mexico, so I couldn’t attend. But Chris and my brother went to do something for my brother’s company, I believe. And Christian was there and he’s like, Tyler’s here, do you want to meet him? So they talked about doing a video.

Chris: Yeah, we actually didn’t meet him in San Diego. Basically we just met up with Christian and he was like, “Hey, do you know Tyler Posey?” So I just hit him up on Instagram, and said, “Hey, we should hang out. And hey, do you want to be in a video and that was it!”

Scott: Yeah, and he came through and he was like, just literally the sweetest soul and being at the level that he’s at, in life and his career and everything else. For him to so freely give up his time and his craft, everything else for us was like, wow, you know you’re talking to Unwritten Law, right? You sure he’s got the right band? <Laughter> And he showed up with bells and whistles and he handled it. I believe all he wanted in return was to write a song with us. Like, we can do that. Yeah, then so when my brother finally had the concept of the whole movie that was gonna be condensed into 10 minutes and he made the double video and we are all like, I mean, I can only speak for myself…but we’re beyond excited about what visually it brings, the freshness of it, and the kind of the collectiveness it has a cohesiveness and as with the other pieces that we released. This is our big “here we are” moment.

The video is awesome. It turned out great! I just got through watching it again, before the interview, and it turned out perfect. And also the new record has a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies,” which features your daughter, Scott, on guest vocals. So that was probably a trip for you getting her involved also on the record. Were there any other considerations for other cover songs in this album? Or, was that it?

Scott: No, that was it, I think. That won’t be the first Fleetwood Mac song I choose but Chris had a vision. And so like he’s like, “I’ve always wanted to do ‘Little Lies’ and see if your daughter will do it.” My daughter <Cailin>, meanwhile, is on her own trajectory with her own sound and songwriting and music career. And so it’s like, well, let me see if I can get her down there. And, she wanted to come down and be a part of it. And the song came out great to me, I love it. It sounds a bit like The Police. And so I think it would be awesome for my fans. I’m biased to a certain degree, but with this voice that to me, it’s just like between Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse, and just it’s just….

She did great on the track!

Scott: Yeah, thank you. And so I’m like, “Babe, it’s for the fans and the fans will freak out when they hear Cailyn sing.” And sure enough, it came to fruition and it was so well executed and to me, it’s my favorite recording of my life. Because I got to record with my daughter, and so there’s so many feelings and emotions and attachments to that song in particular. It was Chris’s vision and we pulled it off, and I like to believe that we did that song justice. And I can’t remember it really being done in any other time in history, like father and daughter doing a recording like that.

Yeah, and that’s really cool that you were able to pull that together because it’s such an iconic Fleetwood Mac song and to bring it into new audiences. And also the punk community they might not have gravitated towards that type of music before, is opening different eyes and ears out there too. So I applaud you guys for that. Also, you guys recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of Elva too in the early part of January of this year. Does your band get nostalgic looking back on these key album anniversaries and accomplishments in your collective careers?

Scott: Every time like a zero comes at the end of something, I’m like, “wow, It’s been that long”  Kind of like time traveling. It is bizarre. I’m not gonna lie. It is Wednesdays turned 20 and 25. And we’re coming up on 30 years with Blue Room at some point soon. It’s wild, and only when I see exotic I will never remember it. I can’t remember dates. But when I see it posted on it’s birthday, I’m like, Oh, wow. 

I wrote a retrospective review about it too. That kind of puts some more eyes and ears on it too. So yeah, well, I’ll send it to you after the interview. And The Hum seems to be getting generally favorable reviews from critics and music fans alike. And longtime fans of Unwritten Law seem to be really digging it. So what does it mean to you to get this direct praise from so many people at this stage of your artistic careers?

Chris: Oh boy, I mean, as a fan first I remember being very nervous about this, like not wanting to screw up the legacy. And it means a lot, I’ll tell you that, to come into a band, and that’s kind of been my MO is like parachuted into bands my whole career and to get to stick around long enough to do a record with a band that I loved before I was in it, and then have people actually like it and care for it… It’s unreal.

Scott: Yeah, for me, I was definitely nervous. Obviously, not releasing a record in 10 years, having new members and being away from everything for so long. It was weird then also, in addition to being putting in the 10-year track record, but the four and a half years that we, Chris and I spent in a studio, generally ourselves. A lot of times no kind of outside life. For me, really, it’s just just the record, just the record, just the record. And then we give ourselves, I guess, that much time and that much energy and focus into something when it’s like, done, I’m not sure if I was ever done, or whatever it is, you just have a horse blinders on. I remember telling Chris like, the day before it came, I think I had a meltdown with it and I remember having a panic attack. And it was like, eight o’clock the night before the record came out. I mean, this isn’t done, this isn’t done, I should have done this, like freaking out. And I remember as soon as it was released in Australia, and then in the UK. And then Europe, and then and then the US. It’s just like Ontario, Great Britain. And when it was out, it was weird because I went from a shift from like, 100 to negative 100. And instantly, it was like, Okay, it’s out, okay, I can’t touch it anymore. Okay, I can’t do anything about this anymore. It’s done. It’s out there in the universe and that was quite refreshing in itself, just knowing that it was out there and for it to be received well, in addition to all of that stress, it was really comforting. Because it was a lot, man. I don’t panic too often. But it was a real moment.

And I’m glad that people are still digging the tracks and looking forward to the US tour. It seems to have a lot of good traction. Any last words for fans or any reason for them to check out the upcoming tour?.

Scott: Yeah, we’ll have more dates already getting yelled at for like Sacco and Fresno kind of thing. So hopefully, we will put more dates together. I kind of rather like at this stage of our career to do shows in small little batches, and prepare for those like, independently. But yeah, that’s it, the tour and we’re going out with our good friends up ahead and our good friends Authority Zero along with Tyler Posey, who we’re ecstatic about, obviously a love, love relationship and, and our good friend Tony Lovato from Mest. So we’re just excited to get out and play the songs. We can’t wait for people to hear them. And that’s where we meet.

Awesome. So I wanted to share something with you, Scott. I don’t know if Chris is aware of this. But we met at something called the HFSfestival, way back in the day…<Holds up photo of me and Scott>

Scott: I remember that festival. That is amazing, just smoking cigarettes. Thank you so much. I remember that. That was a wild festival in a stadium, right?

Yes. That was at RFK Stadium, which is actually still standing, but they don’t really use it much at all for like, except for I think maybe the Foo Fighters played there last.

Scott: I remember that show being extremely wild for us because we had never seen anything like that as a band. Even as a band it was like, Whoa, we’re in a stadium. I feel like Freddie Mercury! Thanks so much for having us, man.

Yeah, it was great seeing you guys!