“We were on tour when we got the email from Rolling Stone so we were all together and going ‘Is this a joke?’”
Super Unison frontwoman Meghan O’Neil Pennie is reliving the moment that her band – a gritty post-hardcore trio with riffs to rival Jawbox, half-screamed-half-spoken vocals that belie Pennie’s tiny stature, and a depth reminiscent of the late-90s alt-rock giants – found themselves on a ‘Bands to Watch’ list compiled by Rolling Stone, a magazine that epitomises the very opposite values of most of Super Unison’s traditional core of supporters.
Hailing from the infamously violent streets of Oakland in Northern California, and with a background firmly entrenched in underground hardcore, the shock of mainstream attention was palpable for the band – especially since this happened months before Super Unison’s impressive debut full-length, Auto, was even released.
“I can’t even say that [the recognition] exceeded our expectations,” Pennie laughs, “because we really didn’t have any to begin with.”
It should be noted that Pennie has a history of attracting attention from unexpected places though. Her last band, Punch (a name that accurately summed up the general tone of the music they made) had a song featured on the third season of hip millennial T.V. show, Girls. Now, the distinctive combination of Pennie’s charisma as a vocalist/bassist and guitarist and principle songwriter Kevin DeFranco’s knack for effortlessly merging and playing with genres, there is no doubt that Super Unison – rounded out by the talents of drummer Justin Renninger – have a future beyond the basement shows and punk audiences they have attracted from the start.
“Kevin has a pretty wide range of influences,” Pennie admits. “Justin and I really encourage and embrace the different ideas he has. There’s been a couple of occasions where he’s sent us a song idea but prefaced it with a ‘Maybe this isn’t a Super Unison song’, but we don’t want to limit ourselves with rules like that.”
That much is obvious from the first listen of Auto. Raw personal angst intermingled with biting social commentary (first single, Don’t Tell Me is pointedly feminist) rub up alongside one another, driven along by winding riffs and some surprisingly catchy hooks.
“Writing is how I process things,” Pennie says, “so when I’m seeing things go on around me, I can’t help but process it through music. It helps me to put things into words – literally! – and to cope with the overwhelming feeling that can go along with just existing, and watching others struggle.”
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Super Unison’s self-titled 2015 debut EP was a searing exploration of loss, separation and, ultimately, healing. It is marked and defined by an overwhelming air of catharsis.
“I haven’t admitted this before,” Pennie says, “but the relationship referenced [on the EP] was actually the end of [my last band]. I’ve gotten much better about putting myself out there with lyrics over the years. Writing those songs was cathartic and helped me process my feelings. It was like I needed to get that stuff out to get clarity and move forward [with Super Unison] in a positive way.”
Bright things clearly lie ahead for Super Unison. October will see them hit the road for a short US tour, and Pennie is hoping the US and Europe will follow soon after.
“Right now,” she says, “we’re just taking it one thing at a time.”
Super Unison’s debut album, Auto, is released via Deathwish Records on October 14.