A friend of mine swears the Rolling Stones were once America's greatest rock n' roll band. Whenever I point out to him that they were British, he discounts that and says they're honorary New Yorkers with roots in the Chicago blues and have nothing to do with British music whatsoever. Hard to argue that point.
Unamerican may not be the next 'greatest' rock 'n' roll band - it's far too early for that, after all -- but they definitely give the American rock tradition a needed boost in the arm. Their guitar-dominated sound recalls the roots rock tradition of Tom Petty to the wall of guitar that is Neil Young, making their self-titled debut album one of the few true rock albums of the new millennium. That they hail from England was purely the stork's mistake.
Guitarist-singer-songwriter Steve McEwan, who toured as a guitarist for World Party, and lead guitarist Matthew Crozer met in a pub one day and bonded immediately over their interest in American music and their distaste for the fashion slaves of British pop. Enlisting bassist Pete Clarke (formerly of the Bugs and HoneyCrack, two bands not slated to be coming to a town near you) and drummer Tim Bye, Unamerican was formed. They're currently on tour opening for the Who, and look forward to receiving their honorary American citizenship as soon as possible.
Guitar.com: Steve, you were in World Party and that had come to an end?
Steve McEwan: The tour came to an end. World Party is really Karl Wallinger and he just needs people to tour. So I finished the tour and over a period of... It took quite a while really, because you have to find people you get on with and who can compliment the kind of stuff that you do. You see lots of gigs and poaching other bands.
Guitar.com: Did you have a sound already in your head?
McEwan: Kinda, yeah. We were all big fans of Dylan and Neil Young and that kind of sound that we knew that we wanted to record in America because we grew up listening to American music. So we all kind of knew what kind of sound we wanted. The great thing about Matt is that he plays completely different from the way I play. I'm a disciplined player, whereas Matt is kinda on the edge and doesn't always know what he's doing all the time but comes up with this really great stuff.
Guitar.com: When writing the songs, do you hear the band playing it already?
Matthew Crozer: I come up with these songs and half the time the band will say, "That's really shit" or "it's too singer-songwriterly" and other times it's great and everyone will be, "Yeah!" So I just write all the time and come up with the stuff and sometimes it's great for the band.
Guitar.com: What about the first single "She's A Bomb"?
McEwan: That's my least favorite song on the record. If I had my way it wouldn't have been on the record.
Guitar.com: You think it's too much of a single?
McEwan: It doesn't have that much depth to it. It's just really straightforward about explosive relationships and not getting involved. It's better live since it's direct and some people like it because it's very direct and that's why it's the first single. But it's not really in keeping with the rest of the album and what the band is about.
Guitar.com: What would you say would be more in keeping with the band?
McEwan: Songs like "Mary's Song" and "Spiritual" and "I Was Wrong," those are more about where we're at in terms of sonics and structure because they reflect more of the band's ethos.
Guitar.com: Can you put it more concrete?
McEwan: Just the way they came out, they have a spiritualism about them, a feel. Lyrically, I do like them because they just maybe communicate more. It's just a vibe.
Guitar.com: What's it like playing together? You haven't been playing together that long, right?
McEwan: Not that long. We basically did this tour of America. By the end of that, we really felt it was great.
Crozer: Before that, we really hadn't played much together. We'd been signed after only playing seven shows and after we were signed we didn't play any more shows because we were recording.
McEwan: We could really feel the energy by the end of the tour.
Guitar.com: From a band chemistry point of view, do you wish you could've toured a bit more before making the record?
Crozer: I would've liked to. But I don't think anyone else would.
McEwan: I love recording. I prefer recording.
Crozer: I'd record the record on the road (laughs). No one else agrees with me.
Guitar.com: You say you played seven gigs and you were signed. Every musician who reads the site is going to want to know how to do that.
Crozer: It was just luck. We could've played 70 shows.
Guitar.com: Where were you playing?
McEwan: In London. It's not like America where you can gig endlessly for months on end. In London there's only like eight venues.
Crozer: We played in smaller towns just warming up for the London shows, so it was really only four proper gigs.
McEwan: The one that clinched the deal was at the Fountain in Camden Town. It was at a place no bigger than a public toilet.
Guitar.com: Did you learn to sing from listening to so many American records?
McEwan: The only bands that sing with British accents are really daft like the Small Faces, the Jam, Blur. They did the whole lovey-dovey up-your-bum kind of thing. Normally everyone sings in an American accent. It's kinda strange but rock 'n' roll comes from America. Also, when you sing in an English accent, the words don't seem to flow as easily. American accent does have a drawl about it, a very singable way to it, whereas English accents can sound short and abrupt.
Crozer: The thing is we don't go out of way to sound American, that's just the way it comes out.
Guitar.com: What do you think of British bands like Pulp or Oasis then?
Crozer: Not a lot. In England, it's all fabby and fashion conscious. It's not about the music in England. It's more about who you're shagging.
Guitar.com: If you have success here in the U.S., do you think you'll be taken more or less seriously in England?
McEwan: We'll be crucified most likely. That's what they did with Bush. They did so well [in America] and then they came over [to England] and they were considered a fourth rate Nirvana. If you have a lot of success in America and you sound American, I don't know how the British press are going to react to it. Bands aren't really happening in England at the moment.
Guitar.com: Do you have new songs for the next record, things left over from these sessions?
Crozer: We have enough new songs for a second record.
McEwan: There were quite a few songs that didn't get used for this record.
Crozer: Not because they were substandard. Just because we had twenty songs we wanted to put on one record and there was only space for 12. Since that time, there's even more.
Guitar.com: Any advice for musicians starting out?
McEwan: Uh, keep at it. It can be a very slow process.
Crozer: You've got to have stickability to be a musician.
Guitar.com: Have you played Unamerican for Karl Wallinger?
McEwan: Yeah, and he hates everything. I went to see him with a bit of trepidation, and he sat down and listened to the whole record and he said, "No this is a really great album," which was very complimentary.