LOS ANGELES, February 12, 2014 — Unwritten Law, which formed in Poway, Calif., gained traction in the punk world after appearing in Taylor Steele’s surf videos in the mid-90s. The band would grow from a small San Diego punk band to a major label success. Unwritten Law has gone through numerous lineup changes since its first album, Blue Room, was released in 1992. Founding member Wade Youman, who left the band in 2005, has recently returned. Wade Youman took some time to speak with Wells On Music regarding the band’s history, his departure and return, as well as a new Unwritten Law album in the works.
Kevin Wells: How did Unwritten Law originally form?
Wade Youman: I think in ’86, I came up with the name, Unwritten Law, just a make believe band. Then I just started gathering members to come into the band. The last instrument we needed was drums, so I just got on drums [laughs]. Then in 1992 after I went through a s**t load of members, I met Scott and Rob and that’s who learned how to write songs and were able to put an album out.
KW: How much do you think the Taylor Steele surf videos helped Unwritten Law’s success?
WY: Completely. Humongous. When he put out those videos that mixed the surfing scene with punk rock music, that’s what got us our first tour with Pennywise. To answer your question, humongous [laughs].
KW: What was it like working with Greg Graffin on the Oz Factor?
WY: It was a completely magical dream come true at the time. He was my biggest hero ever and then all of a sudden he agrees to produce the first record without anything to do with Bad Religion and it’s my band that gets to go in with him in Ithaca and write a record with him. As you can imagine, it was completely magical. It was insane. It was radical and we’ve become great friends. He’s helped a lot of meaning and intelligence go into my writing since then.
KW: Yeah, Suffer was the first punk album I ever purchased. The artwork is still my favorite album cover.
WY: That is one of the coolest album covers ever. The other night I was just listening to Suffer. We were having some drinks with some friends and, ah man, that whole album is so gnarly. That’s just the phenomenal record of all time. I remember when me and Scott first started Unwritten Law me and him were fighting [over] who would get the Suffer tattoo first and then I came back the next day and he had it from the tattoo shop. I was like, “F**k,” [laughs]. Scott’s got the kid tattooed on his left arm. It was his third tattoo ever.
KW: Can you describe the feeling of going from a small punk band to a popular big label band?
WY: We never shot big all of a sudden, say like Sum 41 or somebody. We’ve definitely worked each step of every stage we were at. Once we did make it up to that Seeing Red stage, at that time, I was really upset about it. I didn’t want to lose credibility or be called, “sell out,” or anything. I came from the Fugazi roots thing. I kind of went through a little turmoil in it, but I loved it. A bigger fan base is great, you know what I mean? It was cool, man. Hearing your song for the first time on the radio is a radical feeling. The first time you get to tour across the nation is a rad feeling. The first time you go to another country is a rad feeling. The first time you open up for your favorite bands is a rad feeling. So, all those stages of feelings are rad.
KW: Why did you and the band part ways back in 2003?
WY: At the time, a lot of it had to do with drug and alcohol problems between some of the members. And at the time, I was really disturbed about being really big at that stage and I wanted to go in a more Fugazi direction. The rest of the members had kids at that time and it was completely clashing ideas of which way the band wanted to go. The label finally got sick of it and said, “One of you guys have got to go or the record deal’s gone.” Me and Scott and Rob, we were just not friends at all at that time and it exploded and I ejected.
KW: Was it strange seeing a band you started continue on without you?
WY: Yeah, it was an awful feeling, to be honest. I guess it would be the same feeling of divorce or something or the loss of a child, I guess to some people. I went into a really huge depression. It took me a while to start playing music with other bands and stuff. In the end though, it was the loss of a project that I was in. It continued without me, yeah, it was an awful feeling for a while, to be honest.
KW: What made you want to come back?
WY: Basically, it was the fact that me and Scott became friends again. We started talking a little bit and then we started loving each other a little bit and then, eventually, to make a long story short, we found each other again. We were best friends for a long time and we just came back together and then Scott said, “You what? You want to f**kin’ play together again?” I think we talked about a few things and now it’s just working. It’s just weird, we made up. We love each other more than anything in the world now and our magic’s back.
I’m kind of bringing back more excitement in him because he’s been in the band the whole time. I think a lot of things got stagnant for him, but now, a new light is back on in him. The songs and playing live are more emotional for him, I think. I’m crying on at least two songs when we’re playing now and I want to keep it that way, keep it real intimate like that. It’s just like a reemergence of me and Scott and it’s great. Our relationship is tighter than ever. I’m friends with all the ex-members of the band too. PK is really into his tattooing stuff and Rob is really into raising his kids. Rob does not really want to play in a bigger band anymore. Everyone’s got their own things, but me and Scott are here to play rock n roll [laughs].
We got a new member. Scott’s little brother is playing bass. It’s really radical to have family back in the band. We’ve also got a new guitarist now, who is also from Poway. His name is Ace. So, the entire band now is from Poway again. The true C.P.K. [Crazy Poway Kids] is back.
KW: Is there a new album in the works?
WY: Right when I joined back into the band, Scott recorded an acoustic record and a lot of them are like, some reinventions of some of the songs more to his reggae roots. There are some new songs on there that are absolutely phenomenal. I can’t wait for everyone to hear ‘em, but they’re really mellow. Some have strings in them. A lot of them have to do with break up problems because me and Scott are notorious for having girl problems. As soon as this is done, we’re going in to record a new Unwritten Law record, which I believe is gonna have more of its hardcore punk rock style base to it. So, that’s where we’re at right now, percolating.
KW: Will Unwritten Law be doing any touring this year?
WY: Yeah, we’re booking the Australia tour right now, which I believe will be starting in April. It will be the 15th anniversary of the black record and we got dates right now that are slowly being booked. We’re kind of just working in our new guitarist and I believe we’re going to be playing some shows with just me and Scott where I just play a cajón and he plays acoustic for his unplugged record. All of that’s just being booked now that we have our members set.
KW: Will you guys still cover I will Refuse from Pailhead?
WY: I don’t know. You know what? Scott and I recorded that song. That’s what made us bond again. This was about three and a half years ago. I went in and recorded all of the music for it and then he came in and did the vocals for it. As far as playing it live, we have the certain songs we’re playing to break in the new guitarist, but there are certain songs that I am going to want to bring back that me and Scott talk about. We’re not really at that stage yet, but we’ll be playing probably a lot more older stuff coming up on the Australia tour.
KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or the band?
WY: The ball’s rolling again. Me and Scott love each other very much. I’m happy with my band and I’m excited to see the kids again. Even though the kids are a lot older now. I’ve got, “For the kids,” tattooed on my chest. I gotta get this thing taken off because they’re not kids anymore. [laughs] I’m just really happy and I’m very grateful for all the fans who have stuck with us through the years. We’re gonna work on a new f**kin’ awesome record for you.
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News and also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music, and food. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball
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