Unwritten Law is a quintessential San Diego punk rock band that formed in Poway, CA in 1990 with original members Scott Russo (vocals), Wade Youman (drums), & Steve Morris (guitar). The current lineup of Scott, Wade, Chris Lewis (guitar), Jonny Grill (bass), & Scotty McLaughlin (guitar) released their new record The Hum last year in July. The group is now on the road touring the new record!
We caught Unwritten Law backstage at The Observatory in North Park last month to chat about their early influences, a nightmare tour that almost cause them to throw in the towel, & Scott Russo’s philosophies on staying true to himself as a writer & musician.
The Hum is out now & available everywhere!
Interview with Unwritten Law
Q: Who did you guys resonate with at the beginning of your career? Any other bands or people who inspired you from the jump?
Scott Russo: Yeah, from my mom’s side of the family it was like The Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Patsy Cline. Lots of pop and old country like that. My dad, on the other hand, he really pumped in Earth Wind & Fire and Michael Jackson, and shit like that. There’s a lot of soul from his side. Our cousin produced the Chicago records: Jimmy (James William) Guercio. We listened to a lot of Chicago, and a lot of Jackson 5. Janet Jackson, when she came out. It was a lot of Earth Wind & Fire. So I got a lot of soul from my dad, and a lot of pop from my mom.
I think what really got this band moving is, we were listening to a lot of punk rock. At the time it wasn’t the punk rock that you’re probably thinking about like the Epitaph bands and the Fat Wreck Chord bands. We were growing up listening to 7 Seconds, Bad Brains, and The Misfits. A lot of melodic punk rock. Minor Threat was a big thing. And then when Bad Religion released Suffer that really kinda set the stage for us. We were like 18 or something, and we were starting to try to write music. We were kind of trying to emulate stuff, as you do when you’re younger. So we were trying to make these kind-of Minor Threat songs, or whatever. Really jagged and never my forte, I’m not gonna lie. But when Bad Religion’s “Suffer” came out, it really changed the game. In reality, it was a whole new style of music. A form of music. That really kind of put us on a level where it was okay to write melodies and do harmonies, and those kinds of things. That kind of put us into a certain trajectory to create where we are now, so that would’ve definitely shaped and molded the band to a certain degree.
Along with Bad Religion, Bad Brains had a lot to do with us. If you listen to any kind of Unwritten Law shit you’ll hear lots of reggae or offbeat undertones in different instruments or in the guitars themselves. That’s where our whole shit came from. And then we got old. We like Muse now.
Q: What do you need with you on tour to make you feel like you’re still at home.
Scott Russo: You know what? I think we need one of those little Bluetooth speakers at all times. I don’t really care about something like a blanket or a teddy bear. Nothing like that.
Chris Lewis: I think it gets harder and harder as you get older. I think you kind of become more of a creature when you carry more stuff with you. You’re so planted in your ways, but we all travel pretty light.
Jonny Grill: I always bring something of my daughter’s. Like, I’ll bring a pair of her jammies.
Chris: I used to bring a picture, but now I have a phone!
Scott: I used to bring a picture of my kids for the bunks.
Jonny: When we were out in Australia in 2020 my daughter was 6 months old. So I’d wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning, and go hide in the bathroom and FaceTime my wife so I could say, “good morning. Good night.”
Q: Tell me about a couple of the biggest moments that stand out as hardships or obstacles, or potential instances that almost made you say, “you know what? This is it. We’re gonna throw in the towel.”
Scott Russo: I think a real boiling point was the Free Candy tour. We went out as perfectly healthy adults, and we came back as shambles of human beings.
Two days into the tour our guitar player breaks his arm, so he can’t play guitar. So the tour manager has to play guitar. Now he’s in our band. So now we got one dude with a broken arm driving the RV, tour manager playing guitar. We start making our way out East, and we’re out in Kansas. We were driving, and I remember this is when shit started getting dark. We rented this RV from a dude and gave him some money to have it made into a tour bus. We found out later he kind of took the money, did whatever he wanted with it, and gave us this shitty bus he used to grow weed in. So, the ceiling is covered in silver paint for hydroponics. There were only two bunks, and they were facing sideways, so when we’d stop you’d fall off. It was a big pile of shit. Super, super dangerous. It had no shocks, so it’d bounce in the middle of the night. There were black widows. It was wildly unhealthy and unsafe.
No shit, in the middle of nowhere a storm was coming to us in the next three hours. Tornado warnings. So, I’m lying in the back completely fucking out, and the roof rips off. Everyone’s like, “Russo, you gotta get up!” I was like, “Chris, do I need to get up?” And he said, “yes, you’re going to die.” A cop pulled us over, which is weird, and he gave us the rest of our roof. We had to pull over into a Walmart to get rubber sealant, and Chris, with a dislocated shoulder, had to reseal the roof. I couldn’t believe we stayed together after all of this.
The guy we rented the RV from was late. He didn’t even show up for the first four or five shows. So he meets us in Tucson or something like that. I’m standing there loading in, and the guy comes up to me. Chris is hyper allergic to dogs, so we were like, “first of all, no dogs.” This guy comes up to me. His name is Weasel. No longer with us. R.I.P. He comes up to us with a dog in his hand, and he goes, “yo, are you ready to party?” I’m like, “I am, bro, but you gotta be driving.”
So, we finish the tour. We did live. We brought the RV back to a parking lot in Escondido, put the keys in the tire, took a photo of it. That’s the end of that story.
Q: Obviously, you’re all passionate about this, and you’re still pursuing your passion, which is awesome. Are there certain things that keep you motivated? How do you keep that passion alive?
Scott Russo: For me, it’s the amount of effort we put into The Hum. We put in five years of our lives. That’s all I did, all Chris did, for five years. So, it was a lot. We had it almost done before the pandemic, and then we finished it during the pandemic. It was mixed, mastered, and it just sat in our pockets for a year and a half. That’s what has really been a driving force recently. We feel pretty good about this record that we’ve made. We want it to see it see the light of day, ya know? Get it into people’s playlists. Whether they accept or like it is with them, but I believe it’s a really good record. That’s been the driving force: believing in your own product and trying to get it out there to people.
Q: So, talk to me about what’s next. You guys have obviously had a long career and are still very much going after it. What do you see for the future of the band and future projects?
Scott Russo: Honestly, I can only assume this band will tour this record for the next two years. Personally, I don’t want to do a lot of long tours. I like to do vacation touring. I love the United States, but I will go to Australia, Japan, Europe, South America. All that kind of stuff. We’re going to tour this, and just get The Hum out there. We’re old men to a certain degree, and music is a young man’s business. So, it’s not like we’re out there trying to reinvent the wheel, or getting famous or rich off this. Truly, it’s about the passion, so I want to see this record through and get it out there, and maybe get to another record. Who knows? I want to start writing. I know Chris has been writing.
Q: What would you say to new people starting out in the industry.
Scott Russo: We came from this school of Mötley Crüe, Pennywise, and just full debauchery. It made things inherently difficult for us to advance to the next level. Those kinds of things haunt us to this day. That being said, my daughter Cailin Russo is a pretty big singer right now, and she’s coming out with a new record. I gave her the advice that Rick Devoe gave us at one time, blink-182’s old manager. He said, “if you do no wrong, you can do no wrong.” Meaning, don’t do anything that’s going to offend the universe. Then the math can play out the way it’s meant to be, if you’re pure. Be a good human being, and be truly genuine with your craft and your songwriting. Don’t make music for other people. Make music for yourself. Just be dope. That’s pretty much the gist of it.