INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY THE UNABOMBERS AND ROB BURLINGAME
In 1995, the music scene in Virginia was very different than it is now. Prior to the rise of mainstream use of the Internet by bands to promote their music, THE UNABOMBERS formed in December of that year. Consisting of guitarist and lead vocalist Trey Gares, drummer Greg Wise, and bassist Forrest Lucien, set their eyes on the road to give their music a true test. Almost 20 years later, the band has three full-length album releases under their belts, as well as features on multiple compilations. They have been praised throughout Virginia and beyond, and they have received multiple accolades for their high-energy live performances. We spoke with Gares regarding their perspectives on the local music scene and how it compares to when they started, the messages they promote, and their passion for the DIY ethic
On your Facebook page, your band is described as “Roots Rebel Street Rock.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Basically, “roots” stand for the heart, as does any good music that I like. All good music comes from the heart versus cerebral, which is the brain. Now as far as “street,” our band is not just about me, it never was; it’s about a message and, not to sound facetious, a movement. It’s what we believe in, and as far as the “street,” we think we give voices to people that don’t have voices. We talk about stuff that other bands don’t talk about, and it’s for the people. We don’t look at THE UNABOMBERS as just three people; THE UNABOMBERS are the people. That’s the way it’s always been, and the “rock” part is because we rock the fuck out.
What sort of message are you trying to promote with your band?
I grew up in the [Washington], D.C. area, and when I moved down here to start a band, there had been a tolerance of Nazis. People said that they weren’t with them, but they tolerated them. So one of the first things we did, not just by ourselves but also with a bunch of other people, we removed them by force and haven’t seen them around for 13 or 14 years. It’s about fighting against oppression, and it’s about actually taking action versus just talking about stuff. It’s the realization that the world is pain and the world is tough, but what are you going to do about it? We believe that we can make it better step by step.
Since you mentioned that you are originally from D.C., I noticed you guys also have a pretty solid fan base in Washington, D.C. Do you play up there frequently?
We do as much as possible. We are actually playing there this weekend.
Your band has been around for almost 20 years. How has the Hampton Roads music scene evolved over time since you guys started making music together?
It’s actually a lot easier for bands to get shows now. I think it more like a worldly view [of the music scene]. I’ve never really looked at us as a “local band.” We travel, and I think that is the ultimate test of any band. Me being not from here, I think certain bands can fall into traps of playing their hometowns too much. When you listen to your friends, they are going to tell you what you want to hear, whereas to test your band, you have to go on the road. I was never from here, so it was never a big deal for me to play around here.
As far as evolving, it’s much easier to get shows. Back when we started, anytime you booked a show you would have to send a package off through the mail to whatever club you wanted to play at, and you weren’t always going to be successful. It was hand written because we didn’t even have a word processor when we started — none of that, much less even the Internet. It’s so much easier to get your music out there now, but I think people take it for granted. If I wanted to be heard in New York, we had to go to New York when we started. So we did. Whereas now you can just upload a song, and it can be heard in China, Germany, and all over the world. I also think clubs are much more open to booking punk rock bands around here now. They still flinch at us, but that’s because we have a reputation for not putting up with bullshit. There’s also a ton more bands than when we started, so I think that’s a good thing.
I definitely agree. What are your thoughts on the current state of the Hampton Roads music scene?
I think there as many bands as their ever were. I think that focus needs to be more on getting out of town, like I was alluding to earlier. We’ll play with what I call “hobby bands” that do it for the weekend or just for kicks, but we look to our peers for bands that we really hang out with and support — bands that actually travel and put their music to a test. Places like a burger joint down the street, or Tap House or Belmont [House of Smoke] seem like the only places bands in Norfolk play. I don’t think there is a hard edge to too many bands that I would like to see, and in light of all the protests that have been occurring around the world in the past month or so, rightfully so, I don’t see many bands touching on that subject or even talking about it in between songs. That’s kinds of upsetting and almost offensive to me. Bands can talk about getting fucked up, or sleeping with whomever, but anybody can do that. It takes more [courage] to take a stand, and I wish bands would do that more often. But as far as talent wise, we do have some bands that are as good as any from around here. On the hardcore side, we’ve got PUSHING ON, PAPER TRAIL, CONQUERING ROME, DIE FASTER, and all these incredible bands. On the bar punk side, THOMAS MCDONALD AND THE RECORD COLLECTION, AGENDAS, and tons of great bands are around now. … I just think sometimes people get complacent very quickly. Your head can get gassed up, and that’s something that I had to deal with when we were starting out. … Hopefully, we’ve never been that band.
Has your band been self-managed the entire time you’ve been together as THE UNABOMBERS?
DIY is one of our laurels. It’s something we take very seriously, and I think a lot of bands turn to DIY because they get turned down by labels, which is not really DIY in my opinion. You are falling back on DIY [before] you embrace it. But from the get-go, we’ve always been DIY. We got money for one of our releases, but we’ve turned down multiple labels because at the end of the day, I don’t want to get 30 copies of the record and have someone else controlling everything. There are so many comps that w’re on that I haven’t even gotten a copy of, and people have heard us on the radio that didn’t know it was us without doing the background research. But DIY is our ethos, and we put our blood, sweat, and tears into it. It means more because it’s 100 percent ours. … We are the top tier guys, and we control everything. We’ve always been that way, and we always will be.
I saw on your Facebook page that this past Halloween you guys played as 138, a MISFITS tribute band. Do you guys do that every year?
That’s me and the drummer, Greg Wise. That came about four years ago. My friend Jo Birch, who was running the Belmont at the time, she had the idea in June or July [of that year]. She called me up with her idea for a halfway to Halloween show, and she was like, “Do you want to learn fifteen or sixteen songs in two or three days and play with guys that you’ve never played with in your life,” and I thought it was so ridiculous but I jumped at it because it was a challenge. So I jumped in and joined. Two of the guys from the original thing stuck around, and then we put Greg on the drums because, in my opinion he’s not just one of the best drummers around here but also one of the premiere punk rock drummers in the world. Also, his background vocals are so strong. So in the past four years, we have done it as a four-piece with me and Greg, and a [couple] guys named Mike Chappel and Butch Waring.
As THE UNABOMBERS, have you been working on a new album recently?
Constantly. For us, it’s always been about the live show. I called some bands around here lazy, but they look at it differently than us. They put out a couple records a year, but they only play one or two shows a year. We play about 50 shows a year and put out one release a year. We have triple the [amount of] material to put out a new album, but it’s a matter of the right time and place. We don’t make moves unless it’s 100 percent certain, and we feel 100 percent behind it. So almost every show, we’re debuting new songs, but when it feels right to put out [our next record], we’ll do it.
Do you have any other upcoming shows you would like to announce?
December 20 we are going to D.C. to play The Pinch. That’s the best punk rock club in D.C. January 3 we’re at Riffhouse in Port Norfolk with STEP BACKWARDS and a bunch of other bands. That should be a big one. Also, we’ll be at the [Virginia Beach] Oceanfront, which has really turned around, at a place called Retro [Café] on January 31. In the past five of six years, Norfolk has kind of had the lead as far as punk rock shows go, but for the past eight to 12 months, we have made an effort to bring punk rock back to the Oceanfront. There is the right ownership now, and one of our friends actually owns a club there. It’s really kicking Norfolk’s ass right now as far as crowds going off and [booking] better shows. We’ll [also] be back at Retro on February 27. … Great shows are happening around the Oceanfront now.
For more updates on THE UNABOMBERS, be sure to “like” their Facebook page.