2.Fall on Proverb
“I Hung Around In Your Soundtrack” Part 1 by Justin Pearson
I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I could do it better than the labels I had been dealing with.
I played in Struggle when I was fifteen. The band was my first attempt at music, and short lived in retrospect. But naturally, I pushed forward and started a second band after Struggle disbanded. I moved from naively playing bass over to vocals, also very naively on my part, which seemed fitting for what was in store for me. Three of us from Struggle started Swing Kids, and based off of the notoriety of Struggle, we managed to have a bit of interest right off the bat. Before we played our first show, we were asked to be part of a Food Not Bombs benefit compilation. That one track sparked a lot of interest in the band– or at least a lot of attention for a bunch of kids who were clueless as to how so many things work in the world.
Some kid from New York wrote to us, asking Swing Kids to release a 7” single on his new label. He wooed us by listing off a few bands that were of our caliber, and how they were also working with his label. We signed up before even ever meeting this cat, which was lesson one for me, since none of the bands he mentioned ended up on his label. A couple hundred bucks were sent over to get us into a studio in San Diego where a lot of bands had been recorded– Struggle had tracked our LP there, as well as our friends in Antioch Arrow and Unbroken. As we started recording, we quickly ran out of money- which was predictable, since we were not really prepared and had little experience in recording- so we coughed up some dough on our end and wrapped up the session. Before we knew it, our record was out, which came with a list of issues including an altered cover, added artwork by the label, and to top it all off, band t-shirts with the label’s logo designed by the label without our knowledge. All of this lead up to me realizing that I could do what others were doing at least as half-assed as they were, if not better.
From all of these complaints came a suggestion by Eric Allen, who played guitar in Swing Kids as well as Unbroken. Unbroken was Struggle’s sister band, and was easily one of my favorite bands at the time. Eric suggested I release two new tracks that they were going to record while on tour on the East Coast. He said I could use the material for the first release on a label that I should start, and jokingly called it “JP Records.” At that point, I realized that I had the upper hand on starting a label of my own. Most of the labels I knew of and had worked with (with the exception of Ebullition and local labels like Vinyl Communication and Gravity) had a hard time getting started, since they would generally release local bands that had not toured and were hardly known. I decided to take Eric up on his offer and plunge into something I had little knowledge of.
Using the two tracks that Unbroken recorded, I paid the band back $50 for the recording session, scrounged up some left over financial aid from community college that I hadn’t used, and contacted the cheapest record pressing plant in the U.S., better known as United Record Pressing. Their vinyl was thin and worth every penny as far as I could tell. I also figured out how to successfully scam covers thanks to some of my skater friends at Kinkos, who made everything for free. Ironically, I wanted to have the single look nice and slick, but Eric was dead set on making it look like most of the stuff I was trying to avoid doing. He wanted it to be photocopied and appear very lo-fi, or DIY as people were starting to call it. We taped up some cover ideas and Eric hand wrote the lyrics and liner notes. We “borrowed” the rubber stamp idea that our comrades were doing and had the first record ready for “JP Records.” The only issue was that there was no way in hell I would call the label that.
Since Swing Kids had just recorded and released our S/T 7” EP as well, I wanted to come up with an obscure name for my label. Somehow Three One G came to mind, which was the chorus for Joy Division’s “Warsaw”, a song Swing Kids had covered. I had no idea what the meaning of Three One G was, but it just seemed strange and, well, fitting. With my buddy working at Kinkos, we quickly got a thousand 7” X 14” double-sided cardstock covers printed for next to nothing. Black vinyl with a large 45 hold and silver labels; we added silver to the cover art by stamping “Unbroken” on every cover. Years and thousands of copies later, Eric finally agreed to reverse the white cardstock fold over cover to a binded black 7” cover, still with silver ink to have some sort of fluidity from the early pressings.
Unbroken eventually broke up. Only a few short years later, Eric Allen passed away, and I lost my best friend. Eric took his life, leaving a legacy of inspiring music behind. He still lives on in me and obviously in his music. The music and records he was part of have retained an underground following and have influenced so many bands and artists over the years. Eventually, Unbroken played a benefit show for Eric’s funeral costs and for a plaque in memory of Eric that was placed in San Diego, at the rose garden in Balboa Park. For the show, which also doubled as a proper modern funeral, we pressed a limited number of pink vinyl 7”s and hand numbered the ones that were sold at the show. There was eventually a couple last adjustments made to this release as we pressed a limited number of grey vinyl 7”s and a following black splatter vinyl pressing, letting Three One G’s first release go out of print.
Interview with Rob Moran: January 2013
Justin Pearson: Let’s talk about the overall aesthetic of the band, and your collective take on things musically as well as artistically. Drawing from metal, being straight edge, and of course Morrissey at the time was a pretty odd mix of influential elements. Do you think these aspects were intentional?
Rob Moran: I don’t think it was intentional by any means. I didn’t know Eric or Todd very well at the time when the band started. It was a chance encounter at Balboa Park’s Earth Day that we ran into each other. Once it got rolling and Steve started playing with us, he happened to be another guy that Todd and Eric knew that just happened to be straight edge and into British pop music like we were. From what I remember, there was never a mission in what we did or how we dressed, it all came about on its own as the years went on.
JP: I think the unintentional aspects that are what eventually defined the band made whatever you embodied more sincere. I recall when Unbroken was just growing into its skin, you had a certain sound and look that defied hardcore, and, even more so, straight edge. Even the more “progressive” bands such as Refused took obvious cues from Unbroken, in my opinion. I would have expected more backlash to what Unbroken became from those said communities, but it seemed the band was untouchable. It’s always risky being the first out of the door, don’t you agree? And do you think Unbroken was one of those bands to be the first?
RM: We were far from untouchable. People hated what we did then and do now. Back then we were “fags” for dressing nice or playing more metallic hardcore, or we weren’t straight edge enough for some people. Pretty ironic, considering the scene is supposed to be open minded to new avenues of expression. We clicked with some people and bands, and that was where we shared our ideals. I don’t think we were the first in anything, really. Perhaps we provided an opening for people that felt and looked like us to express themselves. People were straight edge before us, people liked The Smiths and Joy Division before us…we just screamed about how we loved that music and the way it made us feel.
JP: Maybe “untouchable” is not the correct word. But looking back in retrospect, you were innovators in many ways. I can completely relate to, and was there for, a lot of the negative attention that Unbroken got, but at this point in musical history I think that Unbroken stands out and still stands strong. It’s apparent by the response you got after reuniting and playing a string of shows all over the world. A lot of older hardcore bands can’t pull that off now, or if a band tries to, their actions lack sincerity. But I suppose my perception of Unbroken ties into so many facets; the obvious look that the band achieved, as well as the style of the album art and so on. There was so much more to what the band did, and it was not the obvious route that most bands of the genre(s) that Unbroken was aligned with took. Also, not many straight edge bands, or hardcore bands could pull off playing shows with Heroin, Clikitat Ikatowi or Slant 6, and more importantly, have those actions be relevant or understood. Do you think a lot of the “off the beaten path” steps the band took were thought out, or just came naturally? And do you think that those steps were a product of being from San Diego and the way things developed over the years, with a slew of innovative bands and artists who emerged from the city?
RM: As far as the look and feel of things, the records from “Life Love Regret” on had a purposeful look to them. I think going to shows in San Diego, you would see the most insane bills like Bad Brains and Pitchfork, or Crash Worship and Drive Like Jehu… it was also growing up watching bands like Amenity play shows with bands like Final Conflict and Sub Society. We learned early on that being straight edge is more of a personal thing and you don’t have to only play with straight edge bands. The diversity of seeing shows with different types of genres and crowds in San Diego was something I think we never took for granted and learned that the more different the bill, the better. It allowed you to hear different types of music at one show, see different people with different politics etc. All of it was more interesting and rewarding than anything school could offer. I feel that it all translated subconsciously into what Unbroken became as we grew up and found our own identity. Running around with people like you or Scott Beiben further added to how we felt that being outsiders is an okay thing. We never felt really accepted by very few bands in Hardcore back then…Mean Season, Undertow, those were the bands in our genre that we were close to, while we would also be friends with Antioch/ Heroin/ Clikitat people too. Again, I point to how diverse San Diego was that taught us to not pigeonhole ourselves. Yeah, we were a straight edge band, but I always felt we offered more than that. I can honestly say that without Vinyl Communication (the Label and Store) and Amenity, Unbroken would have never existed. Those people had opened up the path for kids like us to do what we did. They showed us that diversity in Punk/Hardcore/Politics/Music was, is and always will be a great thing.
JP: At the point Unbroken let me release “And/ Fall On Proverb”, you could have had anyone release those two songs. Why did you let me do it? I understand that Eric was in Swing Kids with me at that time, and I was tight with all of you in Unbroken, but why did you put that trust in me? You could have released it on just about any label of your choice. Seems a bit crazy on your part. But then again, maybe we all had lower standards and expectations back then.
RM: I think a lot of that came from the sense of community San Diego had. Unbroken, like most people in San Diego, didn’t care if you were punk, straight-edge, or whatever…what mattered is if you were doing something to help push art. Some people booked shows, some people helped start venues, while others did zines and labels. It was mid 1994 and people just started to really notice who we were. New Age Records was a massive help, as without them we would have never been able to get off the ground in the first place. With Three One G, it was a chance to help a friend and also try something unexpected. As I have said in other interviews, we didn’t fit in with your typical SxE group of bands and people. In turn, you didn’t fit in with what was going on in the Punk/Hardcore scene either. You were a friend that supported us from the start, so why not help someone that was there for us? It just made sense; it was a record put out by an outsider, written by outsiders, and meant for outsiders. That record changed everything for us by not only exposing us to people that may not have normally heard us before, but also by allowing us to push the boundaries even more by moving away slightly from the Metal vibe we had and into more of a hardcore Rock and Roll Vibe. In an odd way, you needed Unbroken and Unbroken needed you in order for this to happen. I don’t think we would have elevated to where we did without the record. While “Life Love Regret” has its merit for sure, people wouldn’t have even noticed that record if we didn’t push boundaries with people like you and Scott Beibin.
JP: Why do you think the packaging for the single had to have such a “low budget” appearance? I wanted to make it look nice and sleek, like a “real record” and also like what Unbroken had been doing. But I distinctly remember Eric insisting that it had to come out looking sort of shitty. Of course, over the years, it started to look a bit nicer and morph a bit, but I always wanted to know why you guys decided on that aesthetic for that single.
RM: If anything, it was a response to the slick packaging and a call back to the DIY aesthetics from punk bands that we loved. I think Victory records was starting to peak with its crazy slick packaging and we had also just released something pretty slick (albeit dark) with “Life Love Regret”. We wanted to make the record not only sound punk when we recorded it, but look punk as well. I pretty much controlled the artwork for LLR and Eric really wanted to have a hand in doing art for the Three One G record. I was kind of shocked at first when I saw the mock up, but when I got the final product and I put the record on, it all made sense to me. Eric was very much correct in that the vibe of the record was more than just the music, it was how it was presented as well. He was very much ahead of his time when it came to certain things and this was for sure one of those moments.