When Survival Knife played at The Echo a couple of weeks ago, I was stoked to see so many friends coming out of the woodwork to check them out. People that hardly go to shows any more, and they not only stood by the stage but also lined up to buy merch afterward. Yet it was anything but shocking. The Olympia band’s debut LP is equally noisy and beautiful, with layers of texture and riffs that recall the patient geometry of Hot Snakes as much as the power of Unwound, the band that singer and guitarist Justin Trosper and guitarist Brandt Sandeno previously formed in 1991. (Need I mention that a certain demographic loves Unwound just like they do Fugazi or Shellac?) So their reuniting after 20 years and recharging with rhythm unit Meg and Kris Cunningham is a big deal. I couldn’t not corner Justin when the band blew through L.A.
MW: Survival Knife has a really tight, solid sound. The band is new to a lot of us but it seems like you four have been honing the songs and chemistry for a while…
JT: The band started in 2011 and practiced for about a year until playing a show–we weren’t in a hurry! The combination of people is an interesting dynamic with Brandt and myself having a musical history that goes back about 25 years, playing with Kris, who has a separate but equally lengthy musical experience of his own, and Meg, who is a relatively newcomer to being in bands. So the songs go through a variety of filters before becoming what they are. We all have preconceptions and habits that need to be questioned, but I think it works out for the most part. The editing table gets a lot of use, although people might not believe me since we have songs that are eight minutes long!
MW: How did your time away from music after Unwound broke up in 2002 affect you as a musician? Do you see it or approach it differently now?
JT: From high school to about the age of 30, I was headlong into the music scene and bands. My identity was very much attached to all that. So walking away was actually pretty challenging but ultimately a better thing for me as an individual and citizen of the world, so to speak. Even though bands can be a special thing, in long-term situations they can turn people into grumpy old dads with misanthropic tendencies, who are a chore to be around.
MW: Was it easy to recover your groove? Did you have a ton of energy and ideas ready to unload on the world or was there some rust?
JT: It feels easy for me. I’m in better physical and mental shape than I was before and, yes, I had a bunch of creative energy bottled up. I don’t have enough time to get it all out there so I’m trying to figure out a way to manage that. Planning ahead is more important for me now so I don’t lose ideas and energy. It’s exciting to be doing Survival Knife but, like before, I need a separate outlet to work on other stuff. So I have another thing that doesn’t have a name or an overriding concept. It’s waiting to emerge…
Besides being my go-to photographer for Giant Robot, my friend Ben Clark has taken pictures for the likes of Paul Frank, Emerica, Vans, Transworld, and Yo Gabba Gabba! But before Ben used cameras for a living, he shot for fun. When I heard about his most recent project, Wide Angle Sounds, which entails printing up some of his old, favorite shots of bands like Fugazi, Unwound, The Make-Up, and Rocket From The Crypt and putting them online, I was stoked and wanted to find out more. Hence, this Q&A. Holiday shoppers take note: the hand-printed 5”x7” shots are affordable, easy to frame, and cooler than crap.
The Satellite was shockingly uncrowded on Thursday night, but Corin Tucker’s new group proceeded to rip it apart anyway. Just like the Crazy Band (ex-Mika Miko) ripped up newspapers and scattered crumpled bits all over the stage as if it were a giant hamster cage beforehand–although I arrived only in time to watch the group and its friends clean up the carnage.
While it would be easy to compare the gig to any of the great Sleater-Kinney shows I’ve attended, seeing the band for the first time reminded me most of “solo” Paul Weller. Although their music isn’t super similar, she and the ex-leader of The Jam and The Style Council left hugely influential and amazing bands and proceeded to play subtler but just as intense and powerful music. Even moreso, while fans of the old band may go out to see its ex-singer do his or her thing, they will be blown away by the new unit’s intelligent chops and tightness.