Mark Unseen – vocals, drums
Tripp – vocals, bass
Scott – lead guitar
Pat Melzard – drums
When I was in my freshman year of college, my little punk rock friends back at home had adopted a lovely blonde Swiss exchange student, and made her a fan of bands like the Unseen. When she went back to Switzerland, we all threw in money to buy her a going-away present. Brad picked out a silver cigarette case and matching Zippo lighter, and got them engraved with the lyrics “Goodbye America, Fuck You America,” from the Unseen’s “Goodbye America.”
Mark Unseen liked that story, and shared some of his own with me while on the band’s biggest headlining tour to date. Come out and support this rockin’ punk band from my hometown, Boston, MA, at the Bluebird on March 4th.
Kaffeine Buzz: So how’s your tour going so far?
Mark Unseen: Well, yesterday was the first show. It was great. It was in Boston, so we got to play in the hometown. It was a good show. We got a great turnout. We’re actually in New Jersey now, at the place setting up, waiting for the doors to open.
KB: Do you have any other bands coming with you, or is it just you guys and local bands opening?
MU: It’s us and this band from Philly called The Virus. Then local bands from where ever we’re playing are opening up for us.
KB: A friend of mine commented to me that we need to go back to the ’80’s because “punk was badass,” under Reagan. I think it’s interesting because it seems like there’s a resurgence of this type of punk band that actually talks about social issues. Do you think Bush has something to do with that?
MU: I’d say probably to an extent, yeah. I think regardless of who the president is, there are always going to be great punk bands. Sometimes when there’s a lot of controversy surrounding a certain president, maybe it might make it a little more popular to be a band like Anti-Flag, obviously, or like NOFX, that are actually really public about their anti-Bush ideas. It definitely gives bands something to talk about and that in turn gives kids something to get involved with, so obviously with Reagan back in the ’80’s–I don’t know if it was necessarily because it was Reagan or just that there were a lot of bands at the time that were doing stuff, like the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Youth Brigade, Reagan Youth obviously.
Punk just goes in turns where it’s a little more popular, then it fades away, then comes back and is popular again for a little bit. We’ve been a band for ten years, and when we started there wasn’t anything going on. There were hardly any local bands, and there were just a few bands that were doing stuff in other places, like the Casualties, Aus Rotten, Anti-Flag that were actually putting out records and talking about politics. That was like, IT. Now there’s so many bands, everywhere you turn around, it seems like. Also, it might be that it’s a lot easier to put out an album these days. With CD’s…it’s a lot easier to put out a CD because it’s so cheap. But back in the ’80’s, or the early ’90’s when we started out, it was still kind of expensive and people didn’t really know how to do it on a DIY level.
KB: So you’re from Massachusetts. Tell me what you think of John Kerry. Do you have an opinion on the subject?
MU: Not really. First off, I’m never home. We’ve been on the road for the past year. Then, I try not to concern myself with what’s going on today because it just seems kind of pointless at this point in my life. I used to care more about politics–I still do, but I just don’t really think we can change much. Half the stuff you read in the papers and see on TV is fabricated and lies anyway, so I don’t really watch the news anymore because I don’t believe half of what I’m watching.
KB: I’ve been listening to your Explode album for a little while, and on the track “Sick of You” you’re of course addressing the ever-present ‘sellout’ accusation, which I’m really sick and tired of hearing. It seems like you guys have heard more of that since you played the Warped Tour. Is that true?
MU: Yeah. Even before we did that we were starting to hear it, just because our music and our merchandise were starting to become available in stores like Hot Topic or Best Buy or Tower Records. A lot of chains started carrying our albums and such. It’s not even really something we had control over. If someone wants to buy and distribute your stuff they can, no matter what band you are. Kids would be like, “Why is your stuff in Best Buy and Hot Topic?” and half the time, I’m like, “I didn’t know we were in Best Buy, that’s weird…”
KB: Of course, you could ask them what they’re doing in Best Buy.
MU: And then of course we started to play with some bigger bands. We played with Hatebreed, who are like considered a national act at this point. They’re on a major label and they toured with Slayer, so kids are like, “Hey, why are you playing with this band?” “Why is your stuff for sale in this store?” “Why are you doing this tour?” But this is what we want to do. We’ve been doing it for so long, that we’re trying to make a living at it by doing it in respectable ways. But to some people that’s considered selling out.
Obviously the Warped Tour, once we did that, everyone’s like, “Oh, you sold out, you played Warped Tour,” but a lot of great bands played Warped Tour, in my opinion. Bad Religion, one of my favorite bands–they do it. Rancid, AFI, TSOL, The Damned, Sick of It All–they all do it. It’s really good for a band that tries to tour constantly. There’s a lot of areas where you’ll go and there’s no scene, there’s not much going on. So when you get to play in Iowa on the Warped Tour, then we can go back to Iowa by ourselves and probably draw like 60 or 70 kids, because they’ll be exposed to us by seeing us on the Warped Tour. Whereas if we never played the Warped Tour and we went to Iowa there’d be like three people there. So it definitely opens doors. People know who you are, they like the band, then they get into other punk bands. That’s cool to me, it’s like we’ve accomplished something.
KB: Actually, the last time I saw you guys was in Boston, with Oxymoron [in 2000]. I was standing there, hadn’t lived in Boston for a while, and the people behind me were talking about, “the Dropkick Murphys, when they were a REAL Boston band,” and I was just like “What?”
MU: More people started to like them, so it makes the die-hard underground kids go, “Fuck them, they sold out,” and it’s like “Why, because other people started to like them? It’s not their fault.”
KB: It’s kind of sick that you’d say it’s their FAULT that people like them.
MU: It’s weird. You’re supposed to alienate yourself from people. Why? I don’t understand it. People will talk, like “I don’t want these kinds of people at the show,” well, why not? It’s not like people are born super punk rock. Everyone gets into punk through certain bands at certain times in their life. For me, I got into punk rock through bands like the Sex Pistols, and the Misfits, bands that were punk bands, but were accessible at mainstream stores, that kind of crossed over to an extent. Social Distortion, a band like that, you could go into a chain record store and see one of their albums, and that turns you on to more underground stuff. Or a band like Rancid, they obviously got really big. A lot of kids got into punk rock because of Rancid that wouldn’t admit now that Rancid was one of the first punk bands they got into. It’s like they’re ashamed of it. It’s just weird. I could go on for hours about it.
KB: I’ll talk to these sixteen-year-old kids who are like, “So and so sold out,” and I’m like “Talk to me when you’ve moved out of your mommy’s basement and you’re trying to pay your rent. I want to hear about your punk rock ethics then, and how you’d never put out a record on a major label.”
MU: It’s just funny because most of the kids don’t realize that most of the bands they look up to and are really into were on major labels. A lot of the bands out of England in the ’80’s were on major labels, like the Stiff Little Fingers, Cockney Rejects, so many bands. They had subdivisions, but they were actually on like Warner Bros. A lot of these kids don’t realize that a lot of the patches and T-shirts they wear, a lot of the albums they own are on majors. It’s got a different name on the back of it because that was the way they did it. So people are like, “Oh, you guys sold out, blahblahblah,” but it’s like if they just did some research, they’d find out that half their record collection is on a major label. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones were on majors. It’s like, when did it become this thing that you have to be on a certain label to be a punk band?
KB: So Paul [Russo, guitar/vocals] is not with you guys anymore, right?
MU: Yeah, we kicked him out of the band–it was kind of a mutual thing–like probably in August or September. He wanted to move away. He wasn’t really into the style of music anymore. He didn’t contribute much to the new album. We pretty much wrote it without him, so it was just better to go on without him. I think he’s living out in Salt Lake City right now. I’m not sure what he’s doing. Ever since he left the band we’ve been on tour. He left in mid-to-late August, and we’ve been on tour since September. We’re writing new songs, but we haven’t found a permanent replacement yet. Certain friends of ours have been helping us out until we find a permanent replacement. Basically all we need is a rhythm guitarist, because Scott’s our lead guitarist. We basically just need someone to fill out our sound, so it’s not like a huge deal.
KB: To wrap things up, I was flipping through a bunch of old notebooks last night and I found something I had written where I had scribbled at the bottom “Oppressors be warned, all dreams come true someday.” I’m just wondering if you still feel like that or if you’re a little more jaded these days.
MU: I think that was one of Paul’s lyrics, so you’d have to track him down. As far as how I believe, I don’t think all dreams come true. I think if you work at something for a long time and try really hard, you can achieve your goal, or come pretty close. An example is that we’ve been busting our ass doing this for ten years, and it’s finally starting to pay off. So if you stick to it and don’t let people tell you, you can’t do it…we’re not rich by any means, but we’ve succeeded. We can play a show now and we draw a crowd and we have a good time doing it. If you work hard at things you can achieve it, but more so if it’s on a smaller level. You can try your whole life to achieve world peace, but it won’t happen. You can try to run your own successful business, or learn a trade, or something like that, you can achieve that way. So that’s how I can relate to that quote.
The proof is in the pudding. The Unseen sold out their Chicago show just a few days ago. In their tour on their web site, www.unseenpunks.com, Tripp’s posting apologized to all the kids who didn’t make it in, with a promise they would play a bigger venue the next time they come around the windy city. What they didn’t expect was how early the show ended – 8pm. “So we took advantage of the extra time by doing laundry, catching up with old friends, buying much needed supplies, fixing the truck… no wait that would be the responsible thing to do. We just ended up drinking way to much and blacked out (some us before 10). I don’t remember much but if I did anything to offend the great city of Chicago I apologize.”
Unfortunately, the BlueBird where the Unseen, The Virus, locals Clusterfux will play Thursday, March 4, has that pesky curfew. Although we don’t expect the show to end as early as 8pm, get there early to take it all in – doors are at 7pm. You can also get more information on their release, Explode, at www.byorecords.com.