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Entry date: 4-23-24 – Today in Music – Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,


Today in the history of music is kind of a big deal. It is the anniversary of the release of the first Ramones record. In 1976, Sire Records released Ramones and the world has never been the same.


Now, I’m not a big Ramones fan. I do really like that record and if I listen to them, I want it to be that one, but it did change the music world in a lot of ways and the reverberations of that change are still being felt today. I have to doff my cap at those dudes, may they all rest in peace, for opening a door that I have thoroughly enjoyed going through time and time again.


Eventually, people would have made punk rock music. You can even argue that punk rock songs have been coming out since recorded music began. Some of those early country songs are pretty punk rock. Same with jazz. Miles Davis was definitely a godfather of punk rock.


Even here in the US, we had Iggy and the Stooges and Death playing some pretty punk adjacent music. “Proto punk” is what they call it, I think. Can’t say that I’m fond of that term, but I’m also not a fan of “post-punk” as a name, either.


I also happen to think that there were strong elements of punk rock in bands like The Who, The Kinks, and even the Syndicate of Sound. Listen to “Hey Little Girl” and tell me that’s not kind of a punk rock song.


I’m sure my more learned friends could point out a bunch of others, too.


Happy unofficial birthday, American punk.




In the early days of Hillbilly Devilspeak, I got turned on to Unsane. I don’t remember who said it, but after one of our first gigs, someone told me we reminded them of NYC trio. I wasn’t familiar with them, so I checked them out.


First and foremost, I was really pleased that someone heard a little of them in us considering that I hadn’t listened to them before. I considered it a huge compliment. When I picked up a copy of Singles 89-92, I was fully stoked. This was my jam.


In those days, I was kind of looking for bands who I could sort of push Hillbilly in the direction of without aping anyone completely. I had these new toys (a bass guitar and a lot of vocal effects) and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I didn’t want to sound exactly like the Butthole Surfers because A: no one can and B: I wanted to do my own thing…but…I was looking for lots of inspiration.


Unsane were very inspiring to me. I started trying to find out anything I could about them. One of the first things I learned was that their original drummer, Charlie Ondras, has just died of a heroin overdose about two years before I discovered them. It bummed me out. I really like his drumming a lot on Singles 89-92.


Learning about Unsane sent me down a rabbit hole of noisy New York bands so I am forever grateful to them for that, too. Cop Shoot Cop, Boss Hog, Motherhead Bug… there were all these bands who were linked in so way to Unsane, even if it was just seeing them on the same compilations or having band members connected in some way.


I especially like how Unsane’s songs are built in a way that I like to build songs in, which is basing the whole thing around a bludgeoning riff or two. Much of Singles 89-92 is kind of like this. Ondras was drumming his ass off and Chris Spencer has the songs wrapped around his beautifully noisy guitar.


“Burn” kicks the door open and then, as a listener, you get absolutely bludgeoned for the next forty or so minutes. “Vandal-X” is the shortest song but it’s as powerful as any of them. “Streetsweeper” is one that I played for EJ and Terry a lot when I got the record, too. I like it so much. The main riff is just big and oozes “Fuck you.”


I suppose all of the songs on Singles 89-92 have a major element of “Fuck you” to their sound. It could be the way that Spencer’s vocals sound. They are heavily submerged in a really nice distortion that I always hoped to be able to achieve here and there but could not.


When Unsane was out on tour for Total Destruction (1994 record that is great), EJ and I went to see them at The Nile. I remember just being blown away by the band. Their new drummer, Vinnie Signorelli, helped me mourn the loss of Ondras and they were even more powerful live than I could have imagined they would be. I believe both of us spent most of the evening standing there catching flies. When it was over, there was nothing else to do but buy the t-shirt. It was the coolest t-shirt, too. Just that bloody front of the big American car and on the back, it said “UNSANE” in big red letters. My ex-wife absconded with that shirt.


I could have just as easily written about Total Destruction, but as I considered which one of the two to write about, I realized that I like Singles 89-92 a little bit more. For one thing, there is a bit more variety in how the record sounds. After “Streetsweeper” is “Concrete Bed” and while it is still clearly Unsane, it has a slightly more hardcore feel than its predecessor.


There is also a bit more straight up noisiness on Singles 89-92, too. “My Right” is super noisy, as is “Jungle Music.” Spencer shows off some pretty good chops on the latter, too.


Over the years, I’ve enjoyed playing with Chris Spencer at a few shows and being at several more that we didn’t play. When he stepped away from Unsane for a bit and did Cutthroats .09, Hillbilly played with them at the Big Fish Pub. The Diamondbacks had just beaten the Yankees in the world series a few months before and we had a little bit of a friendly argument about it.


It was fun to get the last word, although he did keep throwing it in my face that the Diamondbacks had one only one World Series and the Yankees (those stupid fucks) have won a ton. Either way, it was fun.


Last year, we played with Unsane, and they were super cool to Liam, who played his first couple of songs with us that night. I think they were way more stoked on him than the rest of us, but it was still a fun show.


As I listen to Singles 89-92, it brings up a lot of memories of 30 years ago. I would listen to this record on the way to practice a lot to try and amp myself up for playing aggressively. A lot of time and miles have passed since then, but I can still feel pretty jazzed about making loud, angry music when I hear these songs.


“4-Stix” always puts a smile on my face because of the way the band just smashes the Led Zeppelin song “Four Sticks” in the face.


It’s a pretty fucked up record cover, but in those days (and even now) I appreciate it a lot. Unsane was never shy about their associated imagery. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that once Unsane steps on stage, they aren’t shy at all. Ever.




See you tomorrow.

Playing whiffle ball with the Ramones.

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