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Drugs, brawls and rock ‘n’ roll: A chat with Unwritten Law

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Band members are, from left, Pat Kim, Scott Russo and Steve Morris.
Publicity photo

From backstage drugs to onstage fights, Southern California pop punk outfit Unwritten Law has had its share of drama since forming in the early ‘90s outside of San Diego. That drama has translated into different lineups throughout the band’s nearly 20-year run, but two core members have remained constant – vocalist Scott Russo and guitarist Steve Morris.

In anticipation of their poolside show Friday night at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Russo opened up about violence among the band members, losing touch with Blink-182 and, inevitably, growing up.

On backstage fights:

We were definitely that band. We fucking beat each other up all the time. Even on stage, for that matter. We had Wade [Youman], Rob [Brewer] in the band, and they had to leave the band because it was such a turbulent experience with all the members together at one time. It was combustible, with the drug addictions and stuff going on.

On Blink-182:

We toured with them a million times; that was the band we used to bring to open up for us. I haven’t talked to those guys in a long time. They blew up and that was the last I saw of them. I actually sang on three songs on “Dude Ranch.” That was the first band we toured with, and they were opening up for us at the time. Then they blew up and all of a sudden they went away. I actually feel bad; I’m missing my little rich buddies now.

Calendar

Unwritten Law
July 31, 9 p.m.
Hard Rock Pool
Unwritten Law

On musical maturity:

If you listen to our albums from Blue Room to Here’s to the Mourning, you hear the influences that are coming in and out of our iPods as we’re writing records. Musically, the band evolves – I know that every band says that and it’s kind of cheesy, but it’s true. We’ve never really written the same record twice, and the proof is in the records themselves. No record really sounds like the previous one.

On going drama-free:

Everyone is stoked to show up at a show. Whereas before, after 10 years, everyone was like, “Fuck we have to go there? Wade is going to be high on this. Fuck, it’s going to be a nightmare; this is going to be a nightmare!” All those dramas are gone now. And you can see it when we play. When we play; we’re in love, and we throw it down.

On the band today:

Now, the band feels charged; we feel like we’re a real band. This is talking a 20-year span. … I think we’re adding that classy element. We were always a good rock band; we were always a cool band to write about because we always beat the fuck out of each other, but I don’t think we had the class that came with the longevity. And now that our band is sound and happy with who we are, what we are, and with the members, we’re charged to release a classic record. Straight up.

On the time the Russo lost a tooth onstage and former guitarist Rob Brewer ended up minus one pinkie:

We used to be a five piece - I’ll start the story off with that – and now we’re a four piece. One of our guitar players, Rob Brewer, still a good friend…we had written a song and we had practiced a song that we were going to play at the show that he hadn’t written on or recorded on, so he didn’t know it. When it came time to play the song he didn’t want to do it, but I had already committed to the song by saying, “Hey, this next song is called ‘Fight.’” … Inevitably he got mad at me, onstage in front of a sold-out crowd at the Anaheim House of Blues, three quarters of the way through the set.

After the song he was really bummed out. I went to give him a hug; he gave me a push; push came to shove; we ended up fighting on stage. He knocked my tooth out onstage. [I] picked up his guitar, and I go, “Fuck you, I wrote every one of these songs!” I put it on and I’m like, “Fuck you, where were we?” I went on and did those last songs by myself and with the rest of the band, and then I took off the guitar and threw it into the audience. The audience ripped his guitar into splinters.

By the time I got backstage, shit was just too hot. We ended up running towards each other, trying to brawl. He had a vodka bottle in his hand and he was trying to hit me with it. He hit a door hinge when he was coming down with it, ‘cause he’s a tall dude, and it broke and sliced off half his pinkie … we all left before the cops got there.

We had another show to do in Vegas a week later. We couldn’t make the show as a five piece, because obviously my homeboy had his pinkie off. He couldn’t play the show. We released him from the band. Losing fingers, losing teeth, sold-out crowds, fights on stage. The funny point is it was so out there and so surreal that the fans were like, “That was a great stage show you put on last night! That was crazy how you guys made believe that was a fight!” But it was a real fight, there was really shit missing, fingers and teeth.

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Jennifer Grafiada

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