March 9 2011 12:00 AM

Unwritten Law singer tells the story behind the alt-rock band's new album, Swan

Unwritten Law Main
Scott Russo (second from right) and Unwritten Law
Scott Russo, Unwritten Law's lead singer, is fucking stoked. The San Diego alt-rock band's been on hiatus for the past several years, but on March 29, they'll release Swan, their first studio album since 2005. Russo thinks it's their best record yet. But, as he explains over the phone from his beach-side home in Carlsbad, the album was a long time coming. In advance of their CD listening party at House of Blues on Friday, Russo tells the story behind Swan, describes how his band "fell in love" again, explains why music needs "fangs," and in the process drops the f-bomb a total 46 times.

How are you?

Good. Waking up and enjoying a fucking beautiful morning.

So how do you feel about Swan?

It's fucking amazing, man, what are you talking about? [laughs] I feel like Swan is definitely the best. It's the best record in our discography. It took us a long, long time to write. It took us actually two complete cycles. We were actually going to call the record Swan Song. It was going to be the last Unwritten law record, because, you know, busy having kids and getting married, stuff like that. We signed to Suburban Noize Records about two years ago to do another record. During that time, we're like, ‘Fuck, let's put out one more dope record and lay it down, you know. We don't want to go out on the The Hit List [their 2007 greatest hits compilation.' We started to write the record and about, man, about, say, four or six months into it, you know, we had a good collection of about 8 or 9 songs going. And the songs were all kind of b-sides, man. Fucking, it wasn't very musical. It didn't have any fangs. It wasn't fucking dirty, you know.

It wasn't dirty?

It wasn't slutty enough for me, quite honestly. ---

It wasn't slutty enough for you?

[laughs] Well, like, you know, if you want to say dirty that's whatever you wanna say. But for me, music has gotta be fun, inventive, fucking dangerous. You know, for me it's a little bit slutty, a little bit fucking party and definitely a lot of fangs. No matter what it is, if it's a sweet, innocent—like fangs, like, you know, Florence and the Machine, that's cool. But if it's fucking, you know, like, just some fucking, real fucking, like, gritty, slutty fucking—the Black Keys, that's fucking cool, too. But whatever it is, it's gotta be real and genuine. We weren't writing that record the first time we wrote it. And about 8 songs in, we decided, like, ‘Yo, this is not the record that this band is going to lay down its legacy on. So either we can scrap this whole record and the last record will be The Hit List, or we can fucking restart over and make sure that we all fucking lay down the record that really, you know, describes our legacy.'

We ended up throwing away all those songs, writing again, and we worked for about six months crafting all the music for the second round of songs. When we started writing songs this is a different story altogether. These songs were musical. They did have fangs. They were real. The tempos were real. The beats were real. The guitar riffs were real. Everything was like it was fucking meant to be. It was pretty trippy shit, man.

Inevitably, we got to about 9 songs into the record at about 8 months later, and that's including vocals and everything, and we started having conversations with the record label. And we'd already let them know that this was going to be our last record, Swan Song, and go ahead and go forth with promoting it as such. We had a business meeting on a conference call with the whole band and the whole label, and like, ‘Fuck, the record sounds amazing. It's fucking Swan Song. It's gonna be a fucking big record of the fuck ever...' And I'm like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.' And I'm like, ‘First of all, like…' During this process, the band fell in love again. They fell in love with each other, with the music they were making. The other thing we were doing it was the first time in the band's career that we were all kind of focused and faced in the same direction and had the same goal in mind and we're making the same music that we all collectively wanted to make. It wasn't simultaneously different shit going on.

What do you mean you guys fell in love again?

This band has had a lot of turmoil. It's had a lot of fucking baggage. We've done a lot of damage between promoters and fucking other shows and other kind of shit like that. It is what it is. And the band really has been going in different directions since probably its incarnation. I'm saying we have one dude is into this, one dude is into that, one dude is into that. Well, throughout the years, you know, we've made music and it's been kind of eclectic like that. Our records kind of sound all over the place. In this record, we really were focused on the same thing and ironically each song, we had the same visions in mind for each song. Not saying every song sounds the same, but I'm saying everyone's like, ‘Fuck yeah, that's the shit, let's do it.' Everyone was feeling the same things at the same time.

I'm making a long story longer. What happened was is that, 9 months in, we had that conference call. ‘The record sounds good. Fucking Swan Song. It's gonna be fucking, this is your best yet.' I'm like, ‘Whoa, whoa. To be honest, I don't want to call this record Swan Song anymore.' I'm like, ‘I feel like this isn't the end of Unwritten Law. This is, like, the first thing we created that's beautiful and I don't wanna fucking step out and promote this on a negative note.' I didn't wanna do that. I'm like, ‘This is the most perfect thing we've written and it feels to me like a birth and we all fucking love each other now, we're all proud of this piece of product, we're on the same page about it.' And everyone's like, ‘I agree, I agree. This isn't Swan Song.' And someone was like, ‘We should call it Swan, as in the rebirth of this shit, and something disgusting and ugly turned into something beautiful.' And the record label's like, the record company's like, ‘Fuck yeah, whatever, that sounds even better.'

Is there any chance those other songs you guys scrapped will be released?

No, there'll be no chance of that. What we will do is we will catalog—a lot of times we catalog certain parts. Like, our brains are all on Pro Tools sessions. We will just like the bridge. We might just like the chorus. We might just like one line of the song. We can take those things and re-craft a whole song around that. We didn't do a lot of that in this cycle. The total writing time—the first time was about six months. The second time, you know, it took us about 9 months. The whole record took about 14 months to write. It truly was our Chinese Democracy but weren't letting anything fucking through the cracks. Our record company was sweating us for fucking… They wanted it in four months. Basically [for] a year they were sweating us to get the record. We weren't going to deliver it unless it was fucking fire all the way through. We couldn't let this one suck, you know what I'm saying? Every song had to be devastating in every format.

So how's the band now? Do you have any future plans?

Yeah man, we plan on playing San Diego on Friday. We play L.A. on Saturday and then we jump on an airplane to go to Australia and tour Australia for two weeks. I think I fly to Hawaii on the way back and do a solo acoustic performance there and then meet up with the rest of the band when our American tour starts with Authority Zero on the second of April. We will tour that all the way up until we meet up at the Warped Tour and then we do 25 dates on the Warped Tour. Come back and do laps, do Europe, do Japan, do Australia again, and then, you know, rinse and repeat.

So why did you guys decide to have three different fan designed covers?

We really didn't want to have three covers. We wanted to have one cover. We'd gotten, like, one or two art proposals from the record company that were less than fucking what we wanted to have that matched our record that we felt like we wrote. It'd been impossible to kind of beat a dead horse, and, you know, ‘Oh, we don't like this one,' keep on another one, another one, another one.

Tommy Lee had this genius fucking idea with Methods of Mayhem. He has all his fans just send in sound bites basically—so they can do just a drum beat, they can do just a guitar riff, just a bass line, just a fucking synth line, maybe just someone scatting some fucking Brazilian fucking rap. They all send in all these little tidbits of fucking sound bites, he sifts through all of them and then makes fucking music out of them. Point being is that he's involving all of his fans in being a part of his record. I'm like, ‘That's fucking genius. How can I utilize that strategy?' So we put it out there to have our fans design our artwork cover and we ended up with fucking hundreds of artwork submissions. And the reason why we had three is because the band could not settle on just one. It was just impossible.

It's like we could not get on the same page. One person liked the slutty one, one person liked this chick on a thing, and I liked this one with these flies on it—these flies that made up a swan, which to me was the idea I wanted to create. I wanted something disgusting to make something beautiful. Inevitably, we kind of meshed all three ideas together to make what is now the cover of Swan. But inside the record we put each exact cover as [the artist fans] made them. So we have the official kind of melded one, and then we have all three of the contest winners inside the record itself, untouched, exactly how they delivered them.

This is your first studio album since 2005. What've you guys been up to since then and why the long wait?

As I said, we've been having kids. We've been getting married. I've been producing and working with a lot of other artists, kind of what pays the bills, and getting on with life. We've been doing this almost two decades now, and you know, again, it's been a really rocky and rough road. However, the reason I can imagine we're still doing it is because we feel incomplete. Our mission has not been finished, you know what I'm saying? That was the real kind of push to make this record as gnarly as we could make it. And so the five year hiatus is not us going, ‘hey, let's take a break. Let's just settle down. Let's go have a kid. I can't tour, I can't do this, I can't be here for this.' Those times happen more and more often, you know what I'm saying? So inevitably it was fucking three years later, and someone came up to us and wanted to do a record and we were like, ‘Yeah. Fuck yeah.' It was our old friend Kevin Zinger [head of Suburban Noize Records, SRH Productions and Regime Management] from San Diego, who basically started putting on Unwritten Law shows in the beginning. So it's funny how the whole thing came full circle. Now he's our manager and our record owner.

This record company came and wanted to do a record and we all decided to do fucking one more, that's kind of [how] the whole thing came back together. We created Swan and it truly is, you know, like I said, it is what it is, man. It's 11 songs and no fucking b-sides, no fucking bullshit, all fangs, all fun. It's what music fucking needs, man, and I can't wait to give it to you on March 29, that's really what the fuck's up.

Unwritten Law plays with Slower and Super Groupie at House of Blues on Friday, March 11. They will play tracks from Swan in between sets.


See all events on Friday, Oct 21