In the studio with Chris Unck

“I grew my hair out and never went back.”

I got to spend some time shooting the shit in the studio with underground musician, producer, and wild-man Chris Unck. Chris’s musical cohort, Mike, and couple members from Program the Dead, Nico and Dave, also happened to be there and decided to join in. When I arrived, Chris was at the sound board, mixing a new track for Program the Dead. He was surrounded by beer bottles, bongs, smoke, cigarette butts, and equipment. Later, he revels in how this is the way a real rock n’ roll recording studio should look. This is where it happens.
I met Chris, randomly, over a year ago. I was hanging out with my friend Marc and ended up meeting with Chris in the Varsity parking lot. Chris had an old Wurlitzer in the back of his car that some guy found in a dumpster and sold to him for fifty bucks. We head over to a closed-down, red brick mechanic’s garage that was to become the short lived “585” venue down on North Avenue to set up the Wurlitzer. On the way there, Marc played some of Chris’s solo work for me in the car. His sound was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, rooted in 1960’s revolutionary rock revival all blended up with the grunge of the nineties.
Back in May, I went to see Chris play at Olde Smith’s Bar with his Black Roses. His first album, Country Roads and Love, had just been released. Marc gave me a copy of it and I’ve been listening to it ever since. I thought it might be good to call him up and see if I could get an interview in.
Just to give you a little background on Chris, I asked him to talk about his musical history up to this point. He says that it all started when he heard Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” as a kid. From seeing Idol as his first iconic rockstar, he later got a toy guitar and rocked out on his couch. Then, he heard The Beatles’ “White Album” and it’s uniqueness and creativity, he says, was like nothing he’d heard on the radio. Chris played trumpet in the marching band, but it wasn’t until his sister introduced him to revolutionary rock like Nirvana, The Sex Pistols and Led Zeppelin that he felt liberated. After that, he says, “I grew out my hair and I never went back. I picked up a guitar and started playing with no instructions.” From there, Chris and his little brother formed their first band called “Dead Pig Ashtray”, which played in backyards and pool parties for six years, only to break up right when they got signed. Chris then started a psychedelic band called “Stereofiction”, “which”, he says “was a band based off of the feelings you feel when you’re completely insane.” Stereofiction put out a couple albums, then he moved on to a garage rock grunge band called “Sold Out” that eventually broke up in June 2005. Afterwards, he decided to go on a solo career path, though he started learning producing skills as soon as his first band. Chris’s most recent project is producing Program the Dead’s latest album. He feels honored to be trusted with total creative control over PtD’s production.

I asked Chris, “how did you get to where you are today?”

Chris: “By listening. By listening and reading and paying attention and not opening my fucking mouth. A lot of hands on. When you really devote yourself to something, you’ve got to give it your all. We starved and we did everything we could to learn anything we could at a time when we could afford it, which is when you’re young. You should cram your brain full of shit when you’re really, really young cuz that skill, it keeps you from being someone else’s bitch.”

Nico chimed in and asked Chris if he had any producers that inspired him or he envied, for any reason. Chris explained that his inspiration comes from a “melting point” where he can hear greats like Brendan O’Brien, Steve Albini, and George Martin in the arrangements he produces. He say that it sounds egotistical to liken himself to such big names, but it’s what he hears in the bands that they produced that he loves, not what they have done.

I asked Chris if he had any advice for the world and young artists. He says “Whatever you do, do it well… You got to learn it. You got to learn everything about it.”

~ by Dante DeStefano on July 31, 2007.

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