Tracking down these guys proved to be less than simple since they both have been taking turns traveling to Europe for vacation time the past few months. In the end, I was able to contact Nic by email with these questions which he kindly answered for me. For any other information on Unwed Sailor, go to their website http://www.unwedsailor.net
Clara: What is the current roster for Unwed Sailor and what do they play?
Nicholas: Unwed Sailor currently consists of Johnathon and myself in the core, playing bass and guitar respectively. The drummer situation has been a little tricky since Donnie left and so we've had to settle with a couple of "part-time" drummers until the situation gets resolved. On our new record Matt Johnson played the part beautifully and for the last three shows we borrowed Rory of the Ativin/Early Day Miners fame. If our touring plans for next spring go according to plan, we'll be taking Nathan from The Casket Lottery along with us. I think Unwed Sailor is a fairly open, collaborative effort and we have a history of inviting different friends to contribute little parts here and there to our songs.
Clara: How did the band come into existence?
Nicholas: That is a question that Johnathon could probably give a more accurate account. From what I know, he wrote a bunch of songs that didn't really fit with what Roadside Monument was trying to achieve. He ended up recording four of the songs with Dave Bazan and KC Wescott, and then Made in Mexico decided to release it.
Clara: How long has the band been together?
Nicholas: If you want to start counting from when "Firecracker" was recorded... probably a bit over two years. I've been involved with the band since April of '99 and am proud to lay claim to being the longest running member besides Johnathon himself.
Clara: I know you guys just finished recording "The Faithful Anchor". Can you tell us a little about the direction you went with this and what we can expect from it? Will it follow the sound that you produced in the "Firecracker" ep?
Nicholas: I think the songs from "The Faithful Anchor" will be distinctly different from those on the ep and this of course has to do with a number of factors. For example, besides Johnathon, "The Faithful Anchor" was written by an entirely different line up of people and I think we all managed to inject our own styles and influences into the songs instead of trying to emulate what the ep captured. About half the songs are a lot more rocking. People who've managed to see us in the last six months will have an idea of what I'm talking about. We tried to introduce a more aggressive element into the picture. At the same time, we also took on a more atmospheric, minimalist and almost classical approach to songwriting.
Also Dan Burton, who kindly recorded the full length, was a great guy to work with in the studio and was full of fantastic ideas. He made us sound like U2 on the "Joshua Tree" or something! I think a lot of people will be surprised by our use of keyboards parts which, while being subtle, added a lot of texture to the songs and helped to bring out the guitar/bass parts a lot more. At the same time I must stress that people who enjoy "Firecracker" will more than likely enjoy the full length. It's still very much Unwed Sailor... I'm honestly happy with every song on the record. Johnathon and I tried to be real careful of not writing songs for the mere sake of filling up a full length and so we I think ended up with eight unique-sounding songs clocking in at around 35 minutes.
Clara: Is the band full-time for you guys or do you have jobs on the side?
Nicholas: Johnathon and I both live at JPUSA. We both have responsibilities here (his being PR work for Grrr Records and mine being web development for Cornerstone Festival) that keep us from doing the Unwed Sailor thing full-time. Besides, without a drummer we can't push it too much. JPUSA is pretty supportive and flexible when it comes to bands taking time off work to do shows but our current arrangement with Rory doesn't really allow for much more than weekend shows since he has to work during the week.
Clara: How has living in JPUSA affected your music writing, if at all? Could you explain a little about JPUSA also for people who might not know anything about it?
Nicholas: JPUSA has been a blessing in the sense that Johnathon and I live four floors apart from each other. There have been times where one of us would have an idea for a song and then we'd proceed to staying up until 2:30 in the morning working on it. We don't have to deal with only being able to get together once or twice a week like other bands might. Also, most importantly, because of the way our lives are intertwined at JPUSA, Johnathon and I have become really good friends and spend a lot of time just being there for one another. Unwed Sailor is an extension of that relationship.
JPUSA is an acronym for Jesus People USA. In a nutshell it is a Christian community located in the heart of Chicago's inner-city and we are blessed with lots of opportunities to serve the poor and homeless in our neighborhood. The community has its roots in the Jesus People movements of the early 70s, when a large number of hippies discovered the love and grace of Jesus Christ yet found little or no acceptance from the mainstream churches. We run a warming shelter, a pregnancy crisis center, a retirement home for senior citizens and various other outreach programs, and have also in the process established a number of profitable businesses to help support our ministries. I think we are best known for Glenn Kaiser, Rez and Cornerstone Festival. Visit http://www.jpusa.org for the full scoop.
Clara: Where did you grow up and how has that shaped who you are today (if at all)?
Nicholas: I was born and raised in a tiny British colony on the southern tip of China known as Hong Kong. I then moved to Melbourne, Australia when I was 17 to attend college. Upon graduation I decided to move to Chicago to live at JPUSA and have been here for almost two years.
I think if anything, growing up in a culturally-diverse society like Hong Kong taught me a lot about tolerance. I went to an international school for the vast part of my pre-tertiary education and at any one time there would be as many 15 different nationalities within my class of 25 kids. I learned from an early age that people cannot be treated differently based on the way they talk or the color of their skin. In fact, I never understood how ugly racism was until I came face to face with it in Australia.
The people of Australia as a whole are pretty open-minded and accepting, but at the same time there were those who vehemently opposed Asian migration (which accounted for less than 4% of the total population). Being Chinese I learned how it felt to be patronized or be on the receiving end of a racial slur. But it's not like I had a miserable time down there. I actually made some great friends, got to be part of a vibrant hardcore scene and developed a love for vegemite!
Clara: What are your opinions on the state of music right now? For example, the division of 'secular' and 'Christian' music and just the overall direction it's heading.
Nicholas: To be honest, I don't keep up with much of what's going on in music so I doubt I can offer too valid an opinion. The only thing that I've been following closely is the concerns of digital formats like mp3s and what that holds for the future of online music. I'm really happy to see the Internet as a means of disseminating music, especially for young artists who lack radio, label type support. All of a sudden anyone can upload their songs and make them accessible to anyone else in the world with an Internet connection. Great music sites are popping up all over the place. I really like what insound and supersphere have achieved. It was so different a few years back, when my music purchases were almost entirely influenced by reviews/ads in little zines and what a pain it was to mail order items based on the tiny descriptions offered by black and white catalogs.
As far as the secular/Christian division goes, it is one big joke but at the same time it's not something that keeps me up at night. I think there are lot more important things in life that people should be concerned about. It's good to see bands like Pedro the Lion and POD make a successful leap over to the so-called secular scene. The CCM market itself is not inherently a bad thing although I definitely would like to see a higher standard set. Contemporary Christian art is for the most part is embarrassingly mediocre. I don't care if there are artists who decide to concentrate exclusively on CCM, just as long as they manage to create good music and are trying to do something original and refreshing, whilst retaining their integrity.
Clara: Are there any CD's you've been listening to lately that you would recommend?
Nicholas: The Original London Cast recording of "Les Miserables" has been playing incessantly ever since my trip to London last month. I honestly thought it was the worst of musicals prior to this experience but now to me it's like the best thing since sliced bread. Also, the self-titled (third release I think) Labradford full length is another one worth checking out. I only discovered this band recently but the music is very soothing for work purposes. The Innocence Mission's "Birds of My Neighborhood" is a fave for this time of year. I've also been digging up a lot of bands I used to listen to a decade ago... Ned's Atomic Dustbin's "God Fodder", James' "Laid" and The Lemonheads' "It's a Shame about Ray" should be in everyone's collection.
Clara: Going back to Unwed Sailor, do you attract a certain 'crowd' of people at your shows or are there diverse groups that are there?
Nicholas: I don't think the music of Unwed Sailor is restricted to a particular subculture of people. The best example would probably be our show with Zao and four other earlier this year. The crowd was made up predominantly of metal/hardcore kids (which we were quite nervous about playing to) and yet the majority turned out to be real supportive and sat through our entire set. We did a youth group-type show in Wisconsin and a few parents expressed great enthusiasm about our music. Of course, with Johnathon's involvement with Roadside and Pedro in the past, we have been able to draw in a similar crowd.
Clara: What kind of responses do you get at shows, since Unwed Sailor is set apart from other bands in that it's all instrumental? Any future plans of including lyrics?
Nicholas: The responses at shows have been surprisingly positive. In the beginning I think I tended to be rather nervous about how people would react to instrumental music but it seems that the majority of people who've taken the time to check us out really do appreciate our songs. Somehow, the music alone seems capable of moving people. It's always interesting to talk to people after a show and hear their interpretations. Our songs seem to give people feelings of hope and joy, it inspires them and in turn inspires us.
Clara: What future plans do you have in store for Unwed Sailor? Any touring possibilities? When should we expect the CD to come out?
Nicholas: Copies of the new record are being sent to a few labels we're interested in working with. For now Johnathon is just getting the word to our network of friends and hopefully that will be enough to get things rolling. I can't give you a set date for the release. Also in the works is a split ep with Early Day Miners. We might record those songs when Johnathon gets back from Europe in February. That will be released on The Great Vitamin Mystery some time in April if I remember correctly. Other than that, there is also some kind of a 3" CD that will be part of a subscriber-based series similar to the Sub Pop singles club. The name of the label has managed to slip my mind but a number of incredible bands are involved so I'm quite excited about that one.
As far as touring goes, we are hoping to do a tour of the east coast sometime in April.