Just as they were especially outspoken during the Reagan and Bush Sr. years, punk rock bands have again sharpened their teeth to pointy fangs on the latest US Presidency. The climate in the underground music scene leading up to November's reelection of George W. Bush was furious, but now that the left wing insurgence has been doused by right wing arrogance and ignorance, bands like Boston's The Unseen need to step up even more to continue fanning the flames of utter discontent. With their new album set for a May/June release on Tim Armstrong's Hellcat Records (previous releases were on BYO and A-F), The Unseen aren't expecting their new batch of music to change the world, but they're still pissed off and ready to rock. The band hits the road in February and March with Ramallah, Pistol Grip, and China's Brain Failure.
Jason Schreurs interviewed The Unseen singer Mark Civaitarese by email in mid-December, 2004.
How's the new record sounding?
Well, so far it's taking a long fucking time, but it sounds awesome. We are back at the Outpost. It's a great studio. We did both of our BYO albums there, so we decided to return there for the upcoming Hellcat album. The place is amazing and some fuckin' awesome records have been made there. Let's see: Slapshot, Blood for Blood, Dropkick Murphys, Roger Miret and the Disasters, Ducky Boys... those are some bands that have recorded there. Back to how our recording is going. Well, all the music is done. Now I'm at the halfway point with vocals. In all, we are recording 18 songs and only 13 of them will be on the album.
What is the major difference between this new one and your previous album, Explode?
On Explode, me and Tripp were the ones who wrote lyrics that seemed to tackle personal issues over politics. Speaking on behalf of myself, I was going though a lot of shit. I was at the point of a mental fuckin' breakdown. Tens of thousands of dollars in debt, wondering if I should hang up my boots and get a real job. That along with a bunch of other shit. I was also realizing at that point in my life how much I fuckin' truly despise the human race. True, honest people are far and few between. Real friends are hard to find. So I used all that anger and hate in my lyrics on the Explode album. And, believe it or not, it helped me regain my sanity. At that point in my life I wasn't paying attention to politics. I got to the point where I didn't even watch the news because its fuckin' filled with bullshit. Also, I had written so many political songs, I had no ideas. I didn't wanna' write the same songs over and over. But on this record it's still definitely angry and a lot of personal issues are tackled again, but also there are a few political songs. Some new political songs are "Force-Fed" and "Weapons of Mass Deception."
What are some of the lyrical themes on the new album?
A few examples are: "On the Other Side" -- This song is an explanation of thinking your life is worse than everyone else. Some people get to the point of almost killing themselves over problems. Well, in reality, if you could actually be in someone else's mind, you would see everyone has problems. "Hit and Run" -- This is an odd song topic for The Unseen. It is a fictional story. Kind of a short horror tale. It's about a guy who is drunk and runs over a little kid and kills him. He tries to get away with it but, in the end, gets caught due to forensics. This was originally an idea for my other band, Self Destruct, but I decided to use it with The Unseen. I've also been watching a lot of that show Forensic Files on Court TV. That inspired this song. One more: "Waste of Time" -- This song is out now on Give 'Em the Boot Vol. 4. This song is pure anger and discontent. It's about people having issues with you and talking shit behind your back. You can either confront them or just ignore they are alive. There are definitely a few people that this song is dedicated to. I came to a point where I realized that they want a confrontation because they need the attention. Well, fuck that. I think it hurts them more to be ignored. Some of the lines are, "Don't concern yourself with my life / I could care less what you do / You're just a waste of time."
You mentioned a guest vocalist on the new album? Can you tell us who?
Well, there may be a few. For backups, we will have Ken Casey from the Dropkick Murphys and Bill Brown from a great Boston band, Crash and Burn. Also, Lars Frederiksen was in town with The Bastards playing a gig, so we called him up and asked if he wanted to sing on a song. I didn't think it would happen but he fuckin' showed up. Now I think some kids are gonna' be psyched, but I also think some punks are gonna' be pissed. Lars is at a point where Rancid has done so well that some street/political punks view him as a fake or a sellout. Well, whatever, I liked Rancid before Let's Go came out and I still like them. They never changed their ways, style or image. Do I agree with everything they have ever done? Probably not. But guess what? No one is perfect. The fact is, I think Rancid is a great band and they are awesome people. Those guys help out so many bands and friends. Anyone close to them will vouch for that. And Lars, well I think he has one of the best voices in punk. That guy can scream like a motherfucker. It is an honor to have him on the record.
What's it been like working with Hellcat so far? Have you had any dealings with Tim Armstrong? What's he like?
Honestly, I don't know Tim too well. I met him a few times then I talked to him a bit on Warped Tour. He is a cool guy, quiet and down to earth. He has helped us before. He co-runs Machete. They do our merch. I have a lot of respect for Tim. Basically, we were lookin' for a label and he expressed interest. I sent a new demo to a good friend of his. Tim heard it and he said he wanted a song for Give 'Em the Boot Vol. 4 and that he wanted to sign us. So we went for it. So far, Hellcat has been great. A lot of cool people are involved, including Brett from Bad Religion.
You guys played 187 shows last year. It must have been tiring?
Fuck ya', it was exhausting. We did two headlining tours and a ton of tours supporting bigger bands. Let's see, we toured with Murphy's Law, Agnostic Front, Hatebreed, Dropkick Murphys, Sick of It All, Bouncing Souls, did some Warped dates... It was like this: Tour three weeks, go home for five days, tour for two months, go home for two weeks, tour for three weeks, etc., etc.
Did the band have any on-the-road meltdowns or mental breakdowns?
None I'd like to discuss, ha ha ha ha. A great tale was our van got stolen in the middle of a fuckin' desert. There was one road on a 300-mile stretch. We stopped at a small gas station to piss and some wacky drunk Indian guy stole our van. We got it back, but it was a fucked up day.
You guys must have gotten pretty testy at some points during the touring?
Well, ya', when you're on tour in a truck with the same people for months on end, it gets a bit hectic, but we actually do okay. We respect each other's space. I used to be a pain in the ass. Like five years ago, I'd be up at like 6 a.m., all loud, watching TV, making noise... But everyone is respectful now. I try and be as respectful to other people as possible. You have to. To do this, if you can't get along and be civil, then it won't last.
I noticed on your website that you like Rob Lind's stuff (Ramallah, Blood for Blood). I just interviewed him and he's an amazing songwriter. Isn't it weird how no one seems to know about his bands, but they are so good?
I'm a huge fan of everything Rob has done. Blood for Blood is big, Ramallah and Sinners and Saints are not well known. Rob is honestly, in my opinion, one of the best songwriters in music today. Ramallah is doing a new album and, from what I gather, Rob is gonna' do Ramallah full-time. Blood for Blood is a bit tied down. Buddha just had a baby and Ian is doing a lot of video work. He just shot videos for Agnostic Front and Slapshot. He also did The Unseen video last year. Back to Rob, ya', I do enjoy his work. I think this Ramallah album is gonna' bring him to a new level, if it doesn't get him killed first, ha ha ha.
To someone who doesn't The Unseen's music, how would you describe your sound?
Well, I don't know, people say streetpunk hardcore. I hate stereotypes. I'd say aggressive and angry if I had to describe it.
I notice a lot of similarities between you and Anti-Flag. Do you agree? And tell me about the decision to leave A-F Records.
Well, there are a few similarities between the bands. Mainly that we had a lot of similar song ideas in the early years. We did two albums on A-F Records. We left the label only because we needed more help from a label. At that point, A-F was run by Pat, Chris and Justin, and Anti-Flag was always touring and writing music, so they couldn't help us like we needed. Pat Thetic actually told me to go to another label. When we were ready for our third album, Pat said, "Go to BYO, they can do more for you than we can." Lookin' back, that was really cool of him. He could have put out our record and made money, but he knew we would grow a lot more on another label.
What about BYO? How was it working with them?
BYO was fuckin' amazing, I can't express how much respect I have for the Stern Brothers, and how much Shawn and Mark helped us in the years we worked with them. It was a hard choice to leave BYO. But we felt like we needed to try something new.