Guitarist STEVE MORRIS tells the stories behind each song on UNWRITTEN LAW’s latest, Swan—their first new album since 2005.
When we started working on this album, there was a lot of interpersonal turmoil going on in the band and in our personal lives. We had all but completely succumbed to all the normal and somewhat extreme pitfalls of being a band. We had no money left, we owed money to everyone, everyone in the industry hated us and we were barely hanging on by a thread. No one really seemed to give a shit anymore. We weren't even sure if we even wanted to make another record and had taken a long hiatus between records. Everyone had moved on with their lives: getting married, having kids, etc. So the prospect of doing another album was fleeting, to say the least. But we had just signed with new management, a new label and things seemed like they could maybe turn around. So we pressed ahead anyway all the while saying, "Fuck it, who cares, let’s just make some music."
During the course of the writing process, we all became closer as friends and as a band. The music had really come into its own and was something that we could be proud to call ours. We had taken ourselves and the music from something ugly that no one wanted to be a part of and turned it into something everyone loved and was proud of. So the ugly duckling turned into a "Swan." That fit our story pretty well. As tongue-in-cheek as it may sound, it worked. We were working again, in every sense of the word.
“Starship And Apocalypse”
This song started with the title “Monday Bloody Monday.” PK [Kim, bass] came into rehearsal with the riff. The chord structure was exactly like U2's “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” but we jammed on it anyway. We wrote the chorus and the bridge, but it still sounded too much like the U2 song. So being the smart and master songwriters we are, we just changed the rhythm of the bassline a bit and there you go—problem solved. It’s our song now, not U2's! [Laughs.] But really, it’s just four chords in a certain pattern that sounded like U2. I'm sure they weren't the first ones to write that pattern, so it doesn't really matter anyway. Then Scott [Russo, vocals] layed down the lyrics and the chorus was bangin', but we fought back and forth over the line, "Fuck fuck, drunk drunk" in the verses. Some of us thought it was a little abrasive and hokey. Others thought it was cool and edgy. But as it turns out, everyone loves to fuck and drink. I knowI do. I'm a big fan of both actually. So there it stayed. Fuck fuck!
Okay, let’s see: a badass riff, badass lyrics, badass synths and badass production. What more is there to say other than this song is badass! It came from a riff PK had come up with. He showed it to us at rehearsal one day, and we all knew it would be a great song. We screwed around with the riff and put other parts to it. We originally had a big, rocking chorus that made the song way heavier than what you hear on the actual album. But in the end, Russo wanted to cut out all the fat and juts let the main riff stand on its own. So we did, and the song became a lot more basic but more straightforward. That made it way better. If it ain’t broke, don't try and fix it, right? The original riff was simple and pure, so we let it be what it wanted to be—simple and pure.
I freaking love this song. It came out of a riff I originally wrote for another song. But Dylan [Howard, drums] brought in a demo he made that had an awesome chorus on it, so we stuck that in and it worked perfectly. PK changed up the bassline, which made it move more, and Scott threw in the bridge. It's a really fun and rocking song—and cool because it has parts from all of us. This song is one of my favorites.
This is an example of a very well crafted song. It’s got great riffs, great melodies, musical and lyrical hooks all over the whole, damn thing. It’s got some great rhyming verbiage from Russo and is just a good song. Enough said.
”Sing” kinda came out of nowhere. It’s probably the best song I've ever written. I was screwing around with some random tuning and was playing this fingerpicking pattern over and over scratching at something. Then all of a sudden, the song just came to me like a jolt of lightning. It kind of wrote itself from there—the lyrics, too. I just followed what it wanted to say. It sort of felt like it wasn't even my song, but like I was just dictating for someone else. It was very strange but exhilarating at the same time. Scott changed up some lyrics to make it fit better. We tried having strings put on it, but it didn’t work. It was perfect the way it was. The song itself is about love and loss and that feeling of just wanting more than anything to make things better with your girl or relationship. It’s also about knowing no matter what, you'll both come out the other side of the storm. It’s a pretty general theme, but one I think every person will be able to relate to. At least I hope they will. So thanks to whoever or whatever made me write it!
It’s super fucking bad! This was one of those songs that was tweaked and tweaked every which way. I had originally written an entire song around the main riff, but something wasn't quite jelling. So Scott screwed around with the verses for a while and came up with the B-sections of the verse. They were cut directly from the bridge section of the song and a few parts from the old verses. It’s amazing what you can do now with ProTools. Had we been recording old school-style with tape, this song wouldn't have come about in the way you’re hearing it now. Lyrically, the song is just a fun “F you,” sing-along type. Scott just wanted to make sure y'all knew you weren't even close to being as badass as he is. Like he says, he isn’t afraid to choke out his own mama. That’s some bad shit right there!
“Let You Go”
When we’re working songs out, we usually title them based on what they sound like or what they remind us of. In this case, it was the Beatles. The “Beatles Song” may be one of our most courageous adventures to date. The main riff is super solid, the chorus is uplifting and mood and the post-chorus with the lead guitar line and vocal hooks is just fucking amazing. The bridge is totally random, but works perfectly. It’s just a really great and unusual song—especially for us. We were all just really stoked on how it turned out.
“Chicken (Ready To Go)”
This is a perfect example of our song-naming prowess! PK is getting his metal on in this song. He sent us all the demo he made at home and the title was “Chicken Scratch.” Huh? We listened to the song and holy crap. We said, “Hell yeah, we’re playing this song!” The guitar rhythm did indeed sound like someone was scribbling across the page, hence the working title. We kept “Chicken” in the actual title along with “Ready To Go,” which is a lyric in the chorus. The song isn't really about anything in particular. It’s just an anthem kinda song. It doesn't really need to be about something in particular, right? It’s a song for when you’re ready to get down and just kick ass.
“On My Own”
This song came about randomly. I’m pretty sure the beat came first. Scott wanted to have a song that swayed along with that type of pumping beat. So the music was written specifically to follow the beat. Ninety percent of the time, it goes the other way around. We reworked it a bit in rehearsal, then again after it was actually recorded. I originally wrote the lyrics while sitting in a bookstore, observing people and going through poetry books. The melody had been floating around in my head for a while. We wanted something kind of sparse to let the music breathe and do its thing. Scott and I reworked the melody and lyrics a bit and tried a few different choruses before landing on the one you hear. I really like this song because it’s emotional. The feel of the music and the lyrical content just strike a chord deep in you somewhere.
“Love Love Love”
Love love love love love love love love! Can you guess what this song is about? I don't think we said “love” in it enough to really drive the idea home. [Laughs.] I wrote the original basis for this song in one hour flat, top to bottom—music, melody and lyrics. It just came out of nowhere and very quickly. The best ones usually happen that way. No effort required. Funny enough, it wasn't even meant for the Unwritten Law record. I was gonna use it for something else. But I was at the studio one night, tinkering with this song and Scott asked what I was playing. I played it for him and he stood up and said, "We’re using that song!" So we did. We ended up using the demo I had instead of re-recording everything. Then Scott did his lyrical magic and flipped up the words and the melody and did some weird bass shit. I'm still not sure what he did, but who cares? It made the song even that much better. A bit more production, then—bam—you’ve got “Love Love Love.” That was too easy, son.
This was the first song that was written for the album. Scott brought it to us to play and we all thought, "Hey, if this everything goes up in a ball of flames, what better way to go out then with our swan song?" Scott had this song for a while—even before we committed to doing another record. So this song came first since it was pretty much already done. It’s a great title track—well, half title anyway. All in all, this is a good rocking song and straight up Unwritten Law style. alt