If I can be allowed a moment to peel back the proverbial curtain on my formative concert-going years, Unwritten Law were quite literally the first punk band I saw live. Oz Factor was hot off the presses, and the band had (along with Dance Hall Crashers) landed a fairly coveted slot opening up for Bad Religion on the latter band’s tour in support of The Grey Race. The years that followed found this particular editor proudly waving UL’s seven-pointed-star fanboy flag.
It’s no secret that many an old-time UL fan strayed from the pack with the announcement that founding drummer and co-writer of many of the better songs from the band’s early catalog had been rather unceremoniously asked to leave. Rumors of drug use and a toxic band environment spread like wildfire through the grapevine, though very few public comments on what exactly happened.
Aside from frontman/songwriter Scott Russo, the remaining names and faces have changed several times over the last decade. Late 2013, however, brought a surprising development from the UL camp: Wade Youman had returned. The band played a few trial shows late in the year, and have now just announced plans to join up with bands like Face to Face and Strung Out on the Hits & Pits tour in Australia. Wade took some time out from his pre-tour prep schedule to chat with us for a half hour about what exactly happened leading up to his departure from Unwritten Law, what he was up to in the interim, how he and Russo patched things up, and what’s in store for the future. If I can be so bold, it’s one of the more compelling interviews I’ve had the pleasure to conduct for DS. Check it out below.
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I guess to start off, welcome back!
Wade Youman (Unwritten Law): Thanks!
When I saw the news that you were back and had played a show or two with the new Unwritten Law lineup, it sorta caught me by surprise. I’ve been a little bit out of the Unwritten Law loop for a while now…
But how, did that come about? How did the process of getting back into it start, and then we can sorta work backwards from there?
Well, I have to say that it just took some time for me and Scott to rebond as friends. It took a while. And then once we started gaining trust in each other again and becoming friends again, we decided that, you know, let’s give it a shot again. It was that simple. And then, once that happened, we tried it out on a couple of shows to see how we were going to get along. Everybody’s like “oh my god, what’s going to happen, are they going to get in a fistfight?” (*both laugh*) But what it comes down to is we’ve both evolved a lot as musicians and ever since I’ve been back in the band, we’re getting along better than ever. We love each other very much. And I think me being back in the band has brought new light to him; new energy from him into the band, so it’s a whole different direction. It’s really radical. I’m really happy playing now, whereas, toward the end of Unwritten Law, I was miserable. So, it’s great. And we’ve got Scott’s little brother playing bass now.
Yeah, and we’ve got an ace playing guitar, he’s from Poway too. So all of Unwritten Law is from Poway again. So everyone’s like really jazzed up. There’s a whole new energy. Me and Scott are just happy to be playing again with each other. We love each other better than ever now. But it did take a process of a few years of me and him hanging out, trying to write a little bit together. It was a pretty gnarly break-up, it was devastating when I was out of the band. So the healing process began and now we’re back!
Back when you were at the end of your first run in Unwritten Law, the internet wasn’t as everywhere…
Ha, I am that old, huh?
Well, we all are! (*both laugh*). But it wasn’t what it is now, so you sorta had to look harder…Facebook wasn’t around, Myspace wasn’t around, so you had to sorta had to look harder to figure out what was going on with the bands you followed. It didn’t seem to be that there was a whole lot said really on either side, unless you really dug in places, about what happened (when you left UL). So the rumor mill and the grapevine being what they are, you hear stories about what happens.
But it seems like everyone has talked about that it was a dark, self-destructive time there at the end.
I wonder, though, as bad as it is to be removed from a band that you started however many years before, do you think maybe that there was any positive about leaving when you did (because of the self-destruction going on).
I think when I was asked to leave at the time, I’ve been asked this question a lot now with these interviews, there was definitely drug use being used on both sides of the fence, mainly between me and Scott or whatever. But then there was a jealousy factor with a girl, with his girlfriend, so me and him got into it. But I think the main thing was I was wanting to go a complete left direction with the band and Scott was wanting to go in another direction. I wanted to be more from the Fugazi ethic, you know? I wanted to make these underground records. But at the time, the other members had kids and they just wanted to get these songs done, so we disagreed on a lot of things. We were just really hateful towards each other. At that time, me and Scott couldn’t even look at each other because we hated each other so much. It was the same way with Rob at the time. But the label pretty much came in and said “look, you guys have to pick one of these members or the fucking record deal is done.”
Yeah. Me and Scott just couldn’t see these things out. We couldn’t even look at each other. So the band decided to let me go. So of course I went “well fuck you!” That type of thing. It was just a really devastating, dark time in my life for the next year or two, you know? But we didn’t have the intelligence to step back and work things out. We were just going different directions, you know?
Yeah. It sounds like a lot of the tension was at least initially between you and Scott. How much contact did you have with Steve and PK and Rob at the time? Or did you totally close that door?
I didn’t talk to anybody. I was complete enemies. Then we had to deal with the lawyer stuff and separating… It was really dark. It took a while before I became friends with all of the members. Now I’m complete friends with everybody that I used to be in the band with. It took a while, though, you know? Especially with me and Scott, it took a long time. It’s completely back now, though. It’s great.
So what was your reaction hearing that, you know, Rob getting kicked out and then the fight that culminated in Steve and PK leaving. What was your reaction to all of that stuff going on at the time? Obviously it’s different now.
Yeah, it’s different now. But at the time, of course, I was like “fuck yeah, Scott got his ass kicked by Rob.” (*both laugh*) I still had a lot of resentments or whatever. And then I started working on other projects, and when the Steve and PK thing happened, I didn’t really know what was going on, I just knew there was self-destructive shit going on in the band. I had kinda stepped back from it, you know what I mean? I’d say, like, it is what it is, you know? At the time, a lot of different things came through. I was kinda childish about it at first.
Which is probably a natural reaction, I guess.
Yeah, it’s only natural. And you can use that metaphor in anything, like a divorce when someone gets the kids taken away from them. It’s pretty much the same kind of thing.
So then who extends the first olive branch between you and Scott? How do you guys start hanging again?
Well, actually, me and him got together and I went in and recorded a cover song that we used to play, a cover song by (short-lived Ian Mackaye project) Pailhead called “I Will Refuse.” I went in and recorded the music, and then we went to Scott’s house and did the vocals for it. It’s never been released, so we’re probably going to release it through the label because we recorded it. And then we hung out, and then slowly we started talking, like through texts and mutual friends. Then we saw each other at, god what show was it? I think it was like an English Beat show or something. We saw each other and had some drinks and were completely hugging each other, missing each other. We just had a great time. We just started randomly running into each other more and more and talking about music, and slowly becoming loving toward each other again. We started saying “I love you” to each other, and “I miss you” to each other. (*sighs*) Sorry, I’m a little choked up.
No, don’t be sorry at all.
Yeah, and then we became friends again. We were best buddies since the beginning of high school, you know?
We had each others’ backs in a lot of things. When I was in the band, even if we’d hate each other, I was always real protective of Scott, you know what I mean? Then it was lost and I was out of the band, he was still this person I’d protect…it was really weird. But now it’s back and it’s great and I’m just as protective (*both laugh*). Fuck with my singer you get knocked the fuck out! (*both laugh*)
Have you guys talked about a lot of that stuff and gotten down and dirty into some of the animosity that was between you, or is it more of like “you know what, we’ve grown up, let that stuff go”?
Yeah, I think so. We have talked about it. There’s personal things between me and him that we’ve figured out. We’ve squashed a lot of stuff. And I think us playing songs together live, the magic of it is that a lot of things are being worked out through the magic of playing live on stage. A lot of the stories are from me and Scott to the kids and the fans and we’re all one. That’s what the seven-point star means, you know? So a lot of that magic is being worked out through the powers of the universe, you know?
Right. Was there any trepidation to jumping into it again, you know, “do I want to be doing this again” or “do I want to be in Unwritten Law again” or was it like when the opportunity came up to play a show it was like “fuck yeah, let’s do this”?
Fuck, I wanted to be back in Unwritten Law more than anything in the world, man! (*both laugh*) I love it! There’s been other bands that I’ve loved to be in and all that, but there’s a family here…the fans and the family, you know? To me, it’s almost like I got my family back! Like I was that guy who got his family and his kids taken away and now he finally got custody of his kids back. That’s kind of the feeling I have now that I get to play. And having those ten years off, getting to come back to these songs, it’s like a whole new light. I think it’s really helping, and it’s bringing a new light and a new energy to Scott too, because he’s been playing these songs for twenty-something years without any time off. It had started to kinda dead weather him at times, you know what I mean, where it ended up being more like a job. I think right now he’s like super, super artistically charged and stuff. That was my job as a drummer, anyway. I wasn’t the singer, I was the drummer, I was supposed to embrace the band and serve the song. He’s got tons of creativity which is awesome. Through the loss of all that, I did a lot of learning, at that time, about music and my position in the band. I learned a lot in that time off. So I’m, kinda, in a way, grateful that that happened and that I get to come back to it. It’s kinda working out perfectly.
Well, aside from just being the drummer, you did a lot of writing early on, right? Not just musically but lyrically too, correct?
Yeah. Well, on Blue Room, me and Scott sat up in the garage for two days and wrote the lyrics in literally two days.
And then Oz Factor, I did a lot of the writing. A lot of those songs that are like, about UFOs and about the scene, and Scott wrote a lot of more personal songs, songs about love affairs and love problems, that kind of stuff. So we kinda mixed them. Then we kinda co-wrote on the black album. What it came down to later is that he writers great hooks, and he started to become a really good song writer. So I would come up with ideas for a song or a theme, like for instance “Coffin Text,” where there was a chapter out of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and he would take it and write it. So that’s what I like to do. That’s how it was on Elva too. Sometimes I’d come up with a cool riff and maybe a little melody and then I’d just hand it off to Scott and off he goes. (*laughs*) So that’s kinda my job now, you know?
Sure! Were there times in writing stuff, like you said for Oz Factor or a song like “Coffin Text” where you come up with this idea that’s maybe a little out of left field and then Scott, who has to sing it, looks at (the lyrics) like “what the hell am I singing about here?” (*both laugh*) How much explaining of that stuff would you have to do, or was he cool to sing whatever?
(*laughing*) That’s a completely weird question, man! You get weird ideas for songs all the time, you know, and I come from more of the aspect of the magical, planets, scene stuff…so as long as we’re open-minded and put our energy into it without ego there, it made it seem to work out, you know? And now that I’m back, Scott’s evolved as a songwriter now. It’s cool! Coming up, writing this new record that we’re going to be doing after this unplugged one, it’s going to be exciting to see what comes out of it. I’m really excited about it!
Does it feel like old times in some ways? Does it feel like Blue Room and you guys sitting in a garage and writing again?
No, not necessarily like Blue Room. We were just little kids then, and it was a whole other thing. Now it just seems a little bit more grown up. There’s a certain way that we do this now. My job is to serve the song. Now, even if he’s singing a song about one thing that he’s singing about, like if it’s one of the newer songs, whatever he wrote it about, when I’m playing drums, it can affect me in a different way. It can mean something else to me. It’s under my own interpretation. And that’s great, who cares, as long as I’m serving the song. So he can be singing “Suzanne,” which is about a girlfriend, and I can think it’s about fucking travelling to Mars on a space shuttle. (*both laugh*)
It sounds like things are pretty busy in the Unwritten Law camp now. I know there’s been talk of this acoustic album that hopefully we see the light of day of sooner rather than later.
It’s fucking awesome! It’s great! There’s songs on it that are just beautiful. It’s really mellow. He does “Save Me” and songs like that, kind of a reggae version of that song, which is the way it was written. A couple versions of other songs that are just phenomenal. There’s violins in it and stuff. Be prepared to cry on a few of them. But in a way, I think that’s kinda calm before the storm, because he’s going to put out this mellow thing that’s really cool, and then after that, we’re going to just jump right in and make this gnarly record.
Well, and you guys it was just announced today that you guys will be going to Australia on the Hits & Pits tour with Face to Face and Strung Out and Ten Foot Pole and bands like that.
I’m excited! I’m so excited, oh my god!
That’s a pretty gnarly first tour out!
Yeah! I just can’t wait. I can’t sit still about it.
And that’s a hell of a lineup, too.
What can I say about that! I couldn’t be happier. I love Australia more than any place in the world. I think that a real bond and community happened with the band there. And playing with old friends like Strung Out and Face To Face, we all grew up playing together before we all had pubic hair, and now we’re all grown up and older. I think it’s going to be a great thing for the bands and for the fans. It’s going to be completely awesome.
You guys always did pretty well in Australia, correct? Seems like you were touring there regularly?
Yeah, ever since we first went there, we built a really good fan base, a really cool following there; a really loyal fan base. And that’s where our only gold record is. We made a lot of friends there. It’s almost like we were actually born there. In fact, I think I have an Australian flag hanging in front of my house!
Really (*both laugh*)
Yeah, Australia’s always been cool. I’ve got some great, great memories there which I can’t wait to revisit.
Right! And then the plan is to record another album?
Yeah, so far, that’s what we have lined up right now. He’s gonna release the unplugged record. We’ve been doing some shows where I just play a cajon, which is like a box.
And me and Scott just play and we do backups together. It’s more intimate. So I’m pretty sure we’re going to be doing some of those shows. And then we’re booked for the Australia tour, and then we just officially got the new lineup settled in. As soon as I joined, the other guitar and bass player left. So once I got back in the band, I almost got to rebuild my band, you know? It’s great to have John Grill in there. John, Scott’s little brother, I remember when he was in diapers almost. He’s rocking. And our new guitarist, Ace, is phenomenal. He’s from Poway. And they kinda made it through the trials , so now we’re officially a band. It’s cool, so now we can start moving forward.
Do they play on the acoustic stuff too or is that just Scott?
I think Scott mainly did it. I think he had a couple hired musicians. He had someone come in and play violin. A lot of the beats are synthetic. So he pretty much did the acoustic thing as his project. He made it by himself pretty much. I came in right when he finished recording it. I’m just embracing it. I’m kinda glad that I wasn’t on it, because I’m just enjoying listening to the songs. When you’re on it and you record them, you get sick of them pretty easily…
And probably hyper-critical, I’m sure.
Yeah! Right. So now I just get to listen to them and say “yeah, this is awesome!” and get pumped up. It’s really cool, and I think fans are going to really dig it.
(Conversation turns to the trials and tribulations and dark side of being a long-term scene veteran)
It definitely has its ups and downs. (Drug use) is a big problem in the music industry, especially in the punk rock industry. We’ve lost a lot of people. It’s a blessing that nobody in Unwritten Law ever died, because we fucking used to party pretty gnarly, you know what I mean. And the scene has lost a lot of people recently, you know. Tony’s loss was real heartbreaking. I don’t know what I’d ever do if one of my band members ever died, even the ex-members. That’s got to be the most awful feeling in the world. You know, what Sublime had to go through. For me, a non-religious person, I pray about the fact that we’re all still alive and I don’t take that for granted.
I think Tony’s loss especially hit incredibly hard. I knew of Sublime…I was like 16 or 17 when Brad passed away, and Sublime wasn’t really big in our scene in New Hampshire at the time, but No Use was. They played in Boston quite a bit and I think everyone sorta looked at Tony like he was one of the good guys and like your buddy.
He was one of the good guys. He always used to give me shit, like “you guys gotta quite drinking so much,” you know? I got to have a really rad moment the last time I saw him. My old band, Demasiado, was opening up for him at the Casbah in San Diego. We got to talk about old memories and we got to play together, we played together on stage. So my last memory of him was so great. It’s just heart-breaking for him and his family.
(Skipping ahead to balancing a cleaner, less chaotic life with being back in the band)
There’s always going to be drugs and alcohol in the music industry.
But just playing, to me now, I don’t really need all of that stuff to feel the magic of music. Rock and roll is a great drug!
Absolutely! And it seems like you and Scott are on the same page with that stuff now?
Absolutely! There’s no chaos now. There’s no hard drugs. We’re not taking Ecstasy on stage and playing and tripping out anymore. We’ve grown up and we’re smarter now. Before when I was playing, I didn’t care if I fucking died on stage. I didn’t care if I died the next fucking day. I was like “who cares! It’s punk rock! Fuck your rules! I don’t care if I die tomorrow!” Now that I’m older, I want to live! (*both laugh*)
There’s a line in the movie, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, the documentary that I think Jim from Pennywise got the ball rolling on, “The Other F Word,” about fatherhood and punk…
As a matter of fact, I watched it two nights ago.
Oh did you?
Yeah, that’s awesome. I recommend that movie to anybody. Anybody that grew up in the punk community especially. I think it’s a phenomenal movie.
I actually use it in groups (at my day job), particularly guys that are dads now but didn’t have their dads around growing up.
Yeah, that’s a big thing for me. It brought up a lot of shit about the abandonment of my father. For him not being there…it just seems like, what’s with fathers and punk rock kids, man? They either were abusive or they just weren’t there. But all these punkers now with kids are just great fathers and some of the greatest people in the world. I guess sometimes diamonds do come from shit, you know?
Right! But there’s a line in there I think from Brett Gurewitz, where he says that punk rock wasn’t supposed to grow old, it wasn’t supposed to grow old, but then it did. It’s still here, so you kinda have to reevaluate a little.
Yeah, that’s very, very true. And that’s coming from a very, very smart human being. That’s true…we got older and decided it’s probably better to live! Who would have known back in the day when we were all saying “fuck the system” and “I don’t give a fuck about you,” that we ended up becoming intelligent creatures with intelligent creatures for kids. I knew we were doing the right thing! (*both laugh*)
And we actually got to just play with the Adolescents and Pennywise last month. That was like my third show back. It was awesome, it was good seeing Jim back, because I love him very much, he’s radical.
Right…and that’s two bands right there, between you and Scott in UL and Jim and the guys from Pennywise, that were able to patch things up differences and move forward. From where I sit, it’s sort of inspiring.
Yeah, who would have thunk that all of those punk rock fuck ups would know how to patch shit up! (*both laugh*) We were supposed to die at 27!