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There Ought to be a (Unwritten) Law



    Being a North County guy originally, I've always kept tabs on Poway’s Unwritten Law. I, as well as all of my friends, had a copy of UL’s 1991 debut, Blue Room, and we used to see them play regularly all over the county. And while Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin produced their sophomore follow-up, Oz Factor, it was five or six years in the making, and I had somewhat moved on by the time of its release. The albums that followed were disjointed at best and followed that same glacial pace, while the band suffered a few disasters -- some self-inflicted, some acts of nature. Since 1995’s Here’s to the Mourning, the band has effectively been on permanent hiatus, only releasing a “greatest hits” and a “live” album.

    But guess what? They’re baaaaaack. They’ve beat band issues, disasters natural and otherwise, and are set to release what they’re calling “their best record ever” on March 29. I spoke with singer Scott Russo before he previews the new album for fans on Friday night at the House of Blues downtown.

    Scott McDonald: Hey, man. It’s been a while.
    Scott Russo: Yeah, it’s been five or six years since we came out with a studio record. We did release a greatest hits album and a live record in that time, but, yeah, it’s been a while. A lot of things have happened to the band, but lately, it’s just been things like having kids and getting married.

    SM: Some of “those things that happened” were fires and bombs, right?
    SR: The fire at my house was just a freak accident. And the fire department was on call from Mira Mesa, so by the time they got to the station and then to my house in [Rancho] Penasquitos, it was a wrap. My house was burned up. It was pretty f---ing crazy. And it was a bit ago now, but Steve [Morris, guitarist] was the one who got bombed. He was living in an apartment complex, and the neighbor beneath him was some kind of weirdo dude. He didn’t like when Steve walked on the floor above him, so he made a couple of dry-ice bombs and threw one up on Steve’s balcony. Steve didn’t know what it was, so he threw the f---ng thing in the freezer. When it went off 10 minutes later, it blew out his ears and shattered a bunch of stuff. And when the security guard and police came, they found another one on his doorstep. It was nuts.

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    SM: The new record has Del (tha Funkee Homosapien) on it. How’d you guys hook up?
    SR: My best friend is Danny Way, the skateboarding legend. He’s actually the one who gave me his house in Carlsbad, where I still live now, after mine burned down. We’re in a band called the Click together, and sometimes we have rappers guest on it. Del was coming into town, and Danny had to split town unexpectedly. Danny pointed him in my direction, and we were going to track him over the Click, but I couldn’t find the f---ing drive where I had those songs. Del was actually the one who suggested we make a new one. I was making a cocktail and thought of "Chicken,” from the new album, but didn’t think he’d be that into it because it’s a fast rock song. But after I played 10 seconds for him, he was like, "I wanna rap on that s---." I said, "F--- yeah!" and we tracked it. And that was how that whole s--- went down.

    SM: You let fans design your album art?
    SR: Well, when we first got the drafts of the album art from the label, they weren’t … um … they weren’t … well, let’s just say that they weren’t our favorites. I’ll put it that way. And Tommy Lee had this thing with his band Methods (of Mayhem) where he had fans send in ideas for music -- beats, a vocal line, anything -- and he makes songs out of them. In my mind, that was f---ing genius. Not only does it help with the process, it gets fans talking about it, and it makes them a part of it. I just thought it was such a f---ing good idea, I was thinking to myself of ways that I could rip that s--- off. So when we were faced with some really s---ty albums covers, I knew it was a great time to let the fans be a part of it. And instead of a couple of choices, we had hundreds. I mean, this is really the revival of Unwritten Law, and we wanted to make sure our fans were a real part of it as well. And we were able to make it happen that way.

    SM: A revival?
    SR: Absolutely. And it’s kind of ironic: The new album’s title didn’t start out as Swan. It was supposed to be Swan Song, as it was going to be our last record, and we wanted it to end gracefully. We were fine with that, and we going to market it accordingly. But nine songs in, we were talking with each other and were really liking the sound of the record. We were really feeling like it was f---ing amazing. After a while, we decided that we really didn’t want to come off of this record with any kind of bad tone. It really is our best record ever. And we were going from something kind of f---ing ugly to something really beautiful. It was then that I started thinking that we needed to call the album Swan instead of Swan Song, because it wasn’t the end of Unwritten Law, it was really the revival of Unwritten Law.

    SM: So what does that mean for the band moving forward?
    SR: In a way, I feel like we have a sense that we haven’t yet accomplished all the things that we were supposed to do. We’ve made a couple of good records, but during those times, no one was ever on the same page. The reason the records have kind of been all over the place was because there’s always been a lot of battling. There’s no need to butter it up. There’s been some f---ing dark times. Never happy on the road, hard to get us all in the same room -- it’s been bad before. And it was just a reflection of how we felt. Same is true, in the opposite way, on this one. On this record, we were a strong, cohesive unit. We were all working toward the same goals. We all feel like this is the best thing we’ve done and can’t wait for people to hear it.