Exclusive Q&A with Scott Russo of Unwritten Law

By: @brentXmendoza

Emerging from a flourishing early 90’s San Diego music scene with contemporaries like blink-182, Buck-O-Nine, and Rocket from the Crypt- Unwritten Law have stood the test of time with a career that now spans 20 years plus.

Friday, Dec 30 the band returns to their home away from home on The Sunset Strip with a new lineup and a treasure trove of hits from a career that continues to thrive.

So the band recently went through some lineup changes…

Well I mean the band kind of broke up about six years ago. We got an offer from one of our homies Kevin Zinger who owns Suburban Noize, and that’s when we decided to make another record. It took a long time; it took like 16 months, but out of that came Swan.

We did one tour, and the boys just seemed like they were pretty tired; and two of the guys in the band have young kids, and we’d been together for 21 years, and after that last tour, they just didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. There was no money being made…

It was just kind of a wrap… They were kind of done. Which is to be expected. That’s a long time to be playing music, and touring, and kids, and bills, and all that kind of stuff. But for me, this is my life; that’s all I do; I like to be creative and make music. So it’s more or less what I’m prepared for, but it wasn’t so much for the other boys. They opted to leave. So we picked up two new members; and we went out and did The Warped Tour this past summer, and another West Coast jaunt.

How did you go about finding new band mates? Were they already friends, people you knew?

Yeah, well one of the guys, the guitarist we got, Kevin (Besignano) was from Bullets and Octane. He had played with me in my solo project, Scott Russo and Big Big Bang, which is not rock n’ roll at all, it’s more like Portishead meets Lily Allen; but he’s been my friend for a long time; he is a guitar genius, and he was a guitar tech on the tour that Steve (Morris) was leaving on.

But before even Steve left the band, I remember thinking, “he’s not going to make The Warped Tour…” You know, the other guys were complaining about doing twelve hour days in the sun, and the whole thing…

So I told Kevin, “Steve’s not going to make The Warped Tour, do you know the set?” And he was like “Yea man, well I know half the set now…” I mean, he literally is a genius…

And that night, sure enough, Steve up and quit. And I was like, “I fucking told you man!” Anyways, that’s how I found Kevin, kind of a premeditative thing… and then through him we found our bassist Derik (Envy), another super talented guy, a blessing on the band for sure!

So playing music for twenty plus years, and going through various lineup changes… and even your own changes in life, how would you say your music has evolved?

I mean, I write the majority of the music, so it’s like the music really kind of changes with how I change in my musical taste. I mean, I’m a fan of all music to be honest, and there really isn’t anything I don’t like; and it just kind of depends on what I’m listening to, what I’m really into at the time.

I mean for this record in particular, I was listening to, just crazy shit- like a lot of Mickey Avalon, a lot of Patsy Cline and weird shit…it’s not weird shit, but just stuff that has nothing to do with the record that I wrote. I mean I was even listening to like Lady Gaga, ‘ya know just like weird shit man!

But I think that with me in particular, and how I write music, and what I want to put out, it’s all kind of choreographed or tailored to the project that I’m working on; like I know with Unwritten Law, you have to have the shorter guitar riffs and/or the acoustic style or whatever… You can’t really stray too far from that formula because, you know, we started as a punk band, that’s now a rock band, and it kind of has to stay inside a certain box. So when I’m writing songs, I always have to be inside that box- but lyrically I can take it to a different level that’s for me personally.

I’m just kind of sick of people pushing issues… everything just feels so stale and so serious right now, and I just don’t think that that’s the music for me. So I wanted to at least lyrically make a record that was fun and that was… I mean for me at least, I’m into falling in love, and I’m into partying, and so that’s what I think a lot of people can relate to because it’s very much a part of everyone’s life, where as a lot of rock out right now is very serious, and for me it’s kind of stale.

So all I want to do is make a fucking fun Friday night record, something that has some fangs, that really fucking… sticks in the jugulars of people out there that I feel are like me. I want to make something that people want to put into their record player without twisting their brain up too much… that was kind of the focal point of the lyrics for Swan in particular. But as far as the musical catalogue goes, you know, again it just goes with whatever it is I’m listening to at the time.

You mentioned falling in love… any new relationships that are inspiring the writing you’re doing write now?

Umm, well since I’ve finished the Unwritten Law record, I’m currently producing this band called Super Groupie, which are these three kids that are eighteen years old, and it’s kind of along the lines of Shwayze meets MGMT; and they’re really inspiring to me, ‘cause they’re kind of like writing lyrically the same kind of shit I’m in to, but musically they are all devastating!

One of them sings and raps, and one of them is a singer… one of them has this sort of trashy voice like Violent Femmes kind of style, and one of them has a Mike Posner type of voice… it’s kind of all over the place, but it’s really fucking cool, and that’s really what I’m focusing on right now; that and my daughter, who is also starting to sing now, and she has a really original voice, and she really writes some pretty fucking gnarly lyrics. So it’s pretty impressive and those are two things I’m really trying to focus on outside of Unwritten Law at the moment. And then when I finally get these two projects rolling, then I’m going to go back to my solo project and release my first record.

How old is your daughter?

Cailin (Russo), she’s seventeen.

And a budding musician as well?

Yeah, well actually she’s a model, and she just walks around the house and sings all the time… but she has an incredibly original voice! Like most girls, you know, kind of sound the same, sound all nasally… Where she has sort of this throw away, Amy Winehouse kind of voice; it’s like raspy and kind of like she doesn’t give a fuck, which I like, which I think is really cool!

And so she came to me and said she wanted to sing… So I produced three tracks for her, and I gave her the music and said come back when you finish these three tracks. And a couple of weeks later she came back with it… and her lyrical style and her vocal rhythm were just incredible. So I’m just really, really excited to see what happens!

As far as the Super Groupie kids go- they’re all pretty fucking dope, and so these two projects I really feel like, they can really do some damage.

I just think pop music in particular, sooner or later is going to have a bit of an edge to it, and I think it’s going to come from Southern California. I think these two groups are going to be in the forefront of that when it does happen. Pop music with a little bit of fangs just enough to fuck people up, you know, so it should be pretty cool!

It seems when you play The Sunset Strip, that you always seem to gravitate towards The Roxy. Is there anything particular about the room/venue that keeps you coming back?

Yeah, ‘ya know I’m homies with Cisco and Nic (Adler); and Cisco is one of my really good friends, who actually helped me with some of the lyrics on Swan…

So it just feels good there. I can go into the office and ask for extra guests [laughter]. I just feel like the place is home ‘cause the Adler family has been so good to me for at least 10 years. I actually feel guilty when I play other venues in L.A. [laughter]…

What can Scott Russo fans/Unwritten Law fans expect in 2012?

Unwritten Law is going to record a studio acoustic record. We did release one acoustic record, but it was live, for an MTV show… So I want to do one in the studio where we can have overdubs and harmonies and everything proper. So we will be releasing that sometime next year… other than that we’ll be working Swan all through next year, and hopefully I’ll be putting out my solo record towards the end of next year as well.

Unwritten Law plays The Roxy on December 30 with KiLR, Death By Stereo & Matt Toka. Tickets are available via Ticketweb & The Roxy Box Office at 310-278-9457. All advance ticket purchasers will be granted access to a 30 minute intimate acoustic set and will also receive a copy of “Live and Lawless! Even more – just for purchasing a ticket, you’ll get an Unwritten Law track instantly!