‘Supergroup’ is a spurious term, but there’s no denying that UnWed are a kind of powerhouse in the alternative music scene. Formed in 2013, the New York-based five-piece consist of guitarist/vocalist Arty Shepherd (from Gay For Johnny Depp/Errortype:11/Instruction/Primitive Weapons), bassist Jason Back (Hot Water Music), drummer Jeff Gensterblum (Small Brown Bike), guitarist Matt Kane and vocalist Neltie Penman. Initially started as an email project between Shepherd and Black – when the latter moved from Seattle to New York – it became slightly more serious. Only slightly, mind you.
“We made a decision early on,” says Shepherd at Saint Vitus, the bar/venue he co-runs in Brooklyn, “that we were going to be an adult band. Which worked out well, because our guitar player has a kid, I have a kid and if we can’t do something no-one’s going to be like ‘Fuck you, man! You don’t care about the band!’ It’s more like, ‘Cool! I get to spend another day at home!’”
Grungey and sultry in equal measure, the music that UnWed makes isn’t afraid to riff off the past – they’ve cited Hum, Deftones and Queens Of The Stone Age as influences – but is, at the same time, firmly a product of the here and now, and their desire to explore creatively together.
“I was really excited to explore the idea of having a female singer,” says Shepherd, “because I’m completely obsessed with Lush and Slowdive and that wispy, gothy, female vocal. I’d try and imitate it on my demos and it’d sound fucking ridiculous!”
Released in April, debut full-length Raise The Kids sounds anything but. It’s an accomplished, and intelligent, dark and visceral record, and one that thrives from the unrestricted creative freedom they feel by not having to conform to the pressures and expectations of their other bands.
“There’s a song on the album that I wrote called New Skin,” says Shepherd. “It’s like an Eastern-style acoustic song with weird, trippy synths in it, and I approached Jason and Neltie with that song, and they both say it’s their favourite song on the record because it’s so far out there. But it’s incredible how polarising the reviews that I’ve read are – one person’s favourite track in one review is the next person’s total dud. There’s literally no agreement on what the best song is. Which is great. I hate to think that someone would think a song is a dud, but the songs are all so different I guess you can choose to do that. In my history of making records, I’ve always wanted to make the Led Zeppelin III or even an early Smashing Pumpkins record, which is all the place. No-one ever faulted Billy Corgan for writing 18 different genres on one fucking album, because it was all good.”
And while Raise The Kids may have only just been released, the band have already started work on its follow-up. Yet Shepherd insists they’re also sticking true to their idea of being an adult band, that, as ‘older’ musicians who have been through the whirlwind chaos of life in a band as a youngster, they’re more than happy for this just to be fun and satisfy their creative urges.
“I think, in this day and age,” he says, “the idea of having ambitions is an antiquated idea. I could see, if we were 22 or 23 and could jump in the van for a year straight, but I don’t know. I can’t even see the young kids doing that anymore. We have people come through here all the time and I’ll have conversations with them and it’s like, ‘Don’t tattoo your neck or your hands, please. Trust me on this one. This shit don’t last forever.’ Our ambitions are honestly just to have fun. We truly enjoy each others’ company, rehearsal is a joy, songwriting’s a joy, being on the road is a joy, and that’s pretty much where it’s at at this point. We keep getting offered cool stuff, and we’ll keep playing. I want to make another record and I want to have fun. And maybe, in a little bit of time, when my kids are older, be able to travel a bit more, go back to Europe, do stuff like that and just play.”
For more information on UnWed, visit their official website.