Unwritten Law was part of the mid-90s explosion of pop punk music out of California that would include Green Day, Blink 182, and Rancid. Hailing out of Poway, California, a small suburb outside of San Diego (where Blink 182 also formed), Unwritten Law has toured the world over with bands such as Blink 182, Bad Religion, Pennywise, and Offspring.
Their self-titled album (aka The Black Record) in 1998 would finally obtain radio status with hits such as, “Cailin” and “Teenage Suicide.”
But it was 2003’s “Elva” where the band would see their biggest success to date.
The song, “Seein’ Red” (often mistitled “Follow the Leader”) went on to hit #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks, followed up by “Up All Night” which would also crack the top 20. Just before the pandemic hit, the band returned back to the studio working on the follow up to 2011’s “Swan.” Recently I spoke with lead singer, Scott Russo, about their soon-to-be released seventh studio album, their upcoming show at Soma, and what it’s like to have a daughter win a Grammy writing for Kanye West.
Kevin Gomez: How have you been spending your time the last two years without playing music?
Scott Russo: You know what, I played a lot of music. I think I might have played more music. During the pandemmy (his words) we finally wrapped up the Unwritten Law album and also, I have a band that I’m doing in Mexico called, elFuneral. We have about thirteen songs written for that project, as well.
KG: what kind of music is elFuneral? And are there plans to eventually bring elFuneral to the States? I would love to see you guys play.
SR: basically, it’s like 60s reggae meets Haunted Mansion, beach goth. Imagine Portishead meets The Skatalites, but with pop songs. It’s the kind of music I want to hear and that I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. Actually, I’m not really trying to force it and promote it the same way I would Unwritten Law. I kind of just want to play shows in Mexico; I live in Mexico now.
KG: Does the new Unwritten Law album have a title? What can we expect from the new record?
SR: I don’t think I’m supposed to say yet (laughs)…it’s “The Hum.” You can expect a lot of hard work, a lot of soul; we put a lot into this. The record has been done for a year and a half and it’s just been delayed because all of the record-pressing plants have been backed up. People are saying it sounds very mature. A lot of people are saying it reminds them of the Black Record.
KG: I’m really looking forward to hearing it. It sounds like you were working on this prior to COVID.
SR: We started writing it, I want to say in 2016, maybe 2017. We actually recorded the record twice. The first time we recorded it (pauses) we had a falling out with Wade (Youman, founding member of Unwritten Law). So, we hired our friend, RJ (Shankle, current drummer for Strung Out), who’s a great drummer. We tracked the record with him once and when I got it back and listened, I was like, “Man….this is not the record I needed to make. This doesn’t sound like what I wanted it to sound like.”
So, I told our producer that we need to have Wade’s drums back in there. So, we tracked it again with Wade’s drums in there and now it has fangs. But this is four years of writing and recording.
KG: I was actually going to ask, how are things with Wade now?
SR: Great. I just left a five-hour practice with him. Wade is still the same dude. He’s beautiful. He’s beautiful, he’s crazy, he’s genius. He’s all those things mixed into one person. He’s a character, but there’s something about that guy. He has soul. And that’s undeniable. He plays with soul. As soon as we added Wade’s drums from the demos back into the recordings for the new album, it’s like, this is Unwritten Law. So, when we finally approached Wade, it had been a while since we talked. We told him, “the new album is dope and you’re on it. And we love you, let’s make this right.”
KG: this will be the first album with guitarist, Chris Lewis, and bassist, Jonny Grill. How was that experience?
SR: Chris is my everything. He’s also an amazing human being, in addition to being one of the most talented people I know. Jonny used to be the guitarist for Civet on Hellcat Records. He’s my actual brother, so having him in the band keeps me sane. I feel like I’m at home no matter where we are in the world.
KG: You wrote the song, “Cailin” about your daughter almost 25 years ago. She’s now won a Grammy (for her writing credit on Kanye West Hurricane.) What’s that like for you?
SR: I mean, it goes without saying, obviously proud. I’ve been writing songs since I was 14, so more than 35 years. She started writing songs at 17, and like, she came out the gate writing better songs than I have with 35 years of experience. She released her first EP, House with a Pool, with her band, RUSSO and it was like five hits in a row. Then, she wanted to go solo, and she released, The Drama.
A couple years later, she told me that Yeezy (fashion collaboration between Kanye West and Adidas) hit her up and wanted her to come in. Cailin meet with Kanye and they talk about songs and fashion, he showed her a couple of designs and asked her opinions on them and then she left. Cut to two days later he invites her to this meeting Monday morning at 9. And it turns out Kanye was writing for “Donda” (West’s tenth studio album which debuted at #1 and went platinum). He chose her, Kid Cudi and two producers to helped write a few songs on the album. And the song she helped write, “Hurricane” won a Grammy for Best Melodic Rap Performance.
KG: I’ve heard a rumor that a while a very youngUnwritten Law waited for their original lead singer to show up for practice you sang Fugazi’s“Waiting Room” with them and they gave you his job. Any truth?
SR: Kind of true. The band was basically a party band in Poway. I lived with a couple of skaters in an abandoned house called, “The Blue Room.” We just found this place that happened to have running water and electricity, so we thought it was a miracle, too good to be true. There were three massive cans of blue paint, of all colors, lying around. So, we painted the walls blue, and I tagged it.
At the time, Unwritten Law didn’t really even have a singer at the time, just a couple of guys that would mess around. I used to throw parties all the time at the Blue Room and at one of these parties, Unwritten Law showed up and started playing all of these cover songs. They asked if anyone knew the words to Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” and I said I did. So, I sang with them and literally as soon as we finished, Wade turns to me and says, “Hey, man. We need a singer. Do you want to join the band?” It took me about half a second. They gave me six songs to take home. I sat there and wrote lyrics and melodies, and inevitably that would turn out to be Unwritten Law’s first six-song demo. And the rest is Poway history.
KG: Unwritten Law’s first full band show in two years will be at Soma in San Diego Friday, April 29th. Do you have anything special planned?
SR: We’re actually previewing the record, unbeknownst to the record label (laughs). After a year and a half of sitting on this, we’re giving this to the planet. I’m excited for people to hear this. We also have a lot of special guests stopping by: my homie, Marcos, from P.O.D. will be playing a song. The horn section of Buck-o-Nine is going to join us to play a song. We have the lead singer of Spray Allen coming by to play cello for a song. Cailin will come down and do a song with us. But honestly, more important than our first show back, it’s the release of our new record, which we’re all really proud of.
KG: I’m hearing buzz around the grapevine and rumors. Actually, a video promo that you guys just released says the night will feature a performance by, “original members of Unwritten Law.” Is that true? That would be incredible.
SR: O.G. members? Hm…(pauses). You might just have to come down and see for yourself (laughs).
San Diego, California
April 29th, 2022
I can’t recommend checking out a band any more than I can this one. Unwritten Law is electricity in a bottle on stage, and their music is heartfelt as well as entertaining.