Unsane’s Chris Spencer Talks Tour, New Music, History & More


With a discography boasting eight full-length records, three live albums, and a myriad of miscellaneous odds and ends, it can be hard to know where to start with a group like Unsane. But not to worry – this year, the veteran rockers are hitting the road, touring the world as a treat for a fanbase that remains undying.

Indeed, if you’ve missed the boat on Unsane over the last 35 years, your time is now to soak in the sights and sounds of one of the more unique bands within the genre. Unsane is still linchpinned by day one frontman and guitarist Chris Spencer, who is now ably backed by Copper (bass) and Jon Syverson (drums), making up Unsane’s most formidable lineup yet.

As he prepares to hit the road, Chris dialed in with MetalSucks to recount his origins in music, the formation of Unsane, his latest rig rundown, his songwriting process, and what he’s most excited about in 2023.

What first inspired your interest in music?

My mother and older brother both played and sang with bluegrass types when I was little. My older brother taught me some shit on guitar, and I was hooked.

Can you recall your first gig?

Yes, it was also my first date with a girl. She really wanted to see Aerosmith at the enormodome, and I was really into her, so I went. I was 12, and her dad drove us and some friends. He dropped us off, and we went inside and found our nosebleed section, smoked a joint, and watched the show.

Once we were stoned, we realized we could get closer if we tried. Somehow, in the ocean of people, we got separated, and I never found her or our friends. I ended up walking forever and getting the bus home. I swore I’d never do that again and ended up going to a lot of small punk rock shows soon after.

At 12, I was pretty impressed with Aerosmith, but it left me wanting to see if there were shows in clubs that were a bit more intimate. I had been playing music with my friends a bunch, and it seemed like there had to be an alternative to the arena rock show.

Who most influenced your sound, and how is that best illustrated in your style?

My mother was in a bluegrass band when I was a kid, so I was definitely influenced by that and the blues stuff her bohemian friends played. I was into Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and other assorted classic rock until I got a bit older, then stuff like Link Wray, Joy Division, Bowie, The Stooges, Flipper, and The Birthday Party in my teens.

How did Unsane first form?

I had been recording a bunch of shit on a four-track and was looking for people to get something together with. I had started skateboarding with Pete Shore and asked if he’d be into learning bass. He was, so we started trying the songs with a drum machine.

One day we heard about a guy at our school that had a giant bag of weed and a drum kit in his room. We immediately went over and introduced ourselves to the guy (Charlie Ondras). We spent the next few months hanging out, playing long, extended jams for fun. We added a second guitar player (Matt Wheeler) and started working on a set to play shows.

From that original embryonic beginning, we moved into a practice space with Pussy Galore and Cop Shoot Cop and started playing shows in downtown Manhattan. Matt left the band, and we solidified our sound as a three-piece. We bought a van and started touring the country non-stop soon after that.

Unsane’s Chris Spencer Talks Tour, New Music, History & More
All images courtesy of Discipline PR/Image credit: Cody Cowan

How has the band evolved since its earliest days?

The band really evolved as Vinny Signorelli joined on drums after Charlie passed away; Dave Curran joined on bass a couple of years later. There have been multiple drummers since Charlie’s passing. Will Scharf, from the band Keelhaul, joined the band for a period when Vinny quit (although he re-joined later), Dale Crover and Cody Willis (from Melvins) filled in for a tour, and Jim Paradise (from Players Club) filled in for some shows.

My friends Cooper and Jon Syverson are playing in the band now, and we head out on tour tomorrow. I really feel like the band has maintained its basic sound while developing musically throughout. I like how things have developed while embracing the raw power and aggression that I’ve always loved.

Tell me about your newest music, how it came together, and what you’re working on.

I tend to write shit the same way I always have – start out with a guitar or bass line (or a pattern on a drum machine), develop that, then start adding breaks, intros and endings, and other crap until it’s basically a cohesive song without vocals. I’ll play it for the guys and see what they have an interest in, then develop it further with them. I’ll then try vocals, and we can make more changes to accommodate whatever sounds better.

Right now, I’ve got a few ideas recorded, and the guys are gonna kick in some stuff they’d like to try. After the upcoming tour, we’ll start trying rehearsals of the new shit and recording. We’re looking at trying a 7″ format with one A-side rippers and a B-side alternative and doing a box set of six or seven of them.

What are some of the challenges and joys of creating music in the modern age? Do you feel punk and metal listeners still care about full albums?

There are some great aspects to making music these days. It’s pretty easy to develop shit at home, not difficult to make videos, and simple to get shit out to people. A label is good as far as name recognition and exposure to their audience, they have a publicist and can hopefully get you on good tours, but it is possible to get a lot of shit done yourself. I’m not sure if people still care about the LP format, although I’ll always like it. There’s also something really cool about a single that rips. Either way can work well.

What’s the division of labor like for the band in the studio?

We all kick in on writing, Coop runs the rehearsal space, and Jon’s the tour management wizard. I’ve been getting shit together for our “Lamb Unlimited” label with my friend (and our manager and booking agent), Tod Cote (Leafy Green Booking). In the studio, we all just try to play our best. It’s definitely a group effort. We’re all good friends and are open to whatever ideas any of us have.

Which songs from your career mean the most and why?

Chronologically: “Vandal X” and “Bath.” I like the spontaneous, sincere assault of them. “Scrape” and “Empty Cartridge.” They’re super fun to play. “Committed” and “Over Me.” Again, very fun to play. I also like the conviction-ridden take that was used. From there, I’d go with “Against the Grain” and “Only Pain.” I like the songwriting that was going on then. “Pigeon.” Just because of what the song’s about – a friend’s failed suicide attempt. Pretty sad, but glad he’s ok. “Factory,” “No Reprieve,” “Lung,” and “We’re Fucked.” I wrote almost the entirety of Sterilize alone and was pretty focused at the time. I really like how those songs turned out.

Unsane’s Chris Spencer Talks Tour, New Music, History & More
All images courtesy of Discipline PR/Image credit: Cody Cowan

Tell me about the gear you’re using. Do you prefer vintage instruments or new ones?

All my shit is old. Right now, I’ve got two beater Telecasters for the tour and a ’78 Tele that I covet. All have different pots and pickups—higher output than stock. I’m using two amps live: a ’69 Fender Pro Reverb with a ’71 silver face twin reverb. For pedals, I use an ’81 DOD 250 preamp and a late ’60s Cry Baby that I Frankensteined into a box with a knob. It’s pretty obvious why I use this shit. I fucking love how the setup sounds.

Is there a piece of gear, guitar, or amp that inspires you most? 

An old twin with a Tele. I’ve just always been hooked on it.

What’s the secret to creating good punk and metal music? 


What’s next for you in all lanes? Tell me about the tour and what you’re most looking forward to. 

Right now, we’re looking at starting a US West Coast tour, a European Tour in May/June, and Australia in September. We’ll be recording new shit in between tours. Honestly, I’m looking forward to all of it. It’s really a privilege to be traveling around, playing all the time, and doing new shit with two really close friends. It’s also pretty amazing to work with so many cool people. I’m feeling pretty lucky right about now.

Unsane’s Chris Spencer Talks Tour, New Music, History & More
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