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Inquisitive

THE UNWOUND SOUND // Ten years on, the Olympia, Wash.-based punk rockers have delivered an epic album that finds them... well, artier than ever.
Interview Jenny Tatone Photography Jim McGinnis
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I can't help thinking it's the surreal-feeling house and the isolation of the Olympia countryside that accounts for the evolution of Unwound's sound from distorted punk-rock to the full-fledged but non-abstract art-rock found on Leaves Turn Inside You.
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Saturday, August 4, 2001

It smells like shit in Olympia, Wash. The pervasive odor grows stronger as I drive out into the countryside. Later, I'll blame it on the chickens.

Pulling off a desolate highway onto a gravel road, I think about the directions Unwound lead singer/guitarist Justin Trosper, sounding sleepy, gave me just minutes ago. "What's your address?" I had asked.

"My address? I don't ... I'm not really sure. It might be 8529," he had responded wearily.

Driving along the narrow gravel road for about a quarter mile, I understand, with only two houses barely in sight among a sea of weedy grass, why an address out here is irrelevant. "The big white two-story house on the left," Trosper had said.

The small rocks crackle beneath my tires as I make a sharp left turn into the driveway. It's difficult to see the house, shrouded by tall trees, in its entirety. The front door is open wide. The house — striped by shade on a partly cloudy, unusually humid day — looks abandoned. Brushing his shaggy light-brown hair from his pale, somewhat dazed face, Trosper emerges from the basement, greets me, shakes my hand.

As Trosper — tall and slender, attired in a zip-up navy blue hoody and black pants that have both seen better days — prepares tea, I wander about the house; it seems like no one lives here. There's little decoration or furniture. The '70s-style living room — there's a staircase with iron railings at one end — is long and narrow. It's a big, nearly empty room — two non-matching secondhand sofas are the only furniture. A framed poster leans against the wall waiting to be hung.

Just off the kitchen, where remnants of this morning's breakfast are scattered about the counter tops, is an old kitchen table with a fish tank — mildewing and filled with gunk. A silver, velvety cat meows at me. Through the windowed back door I see a barbecue, where I envision Unwound and their friends gathering, chatting and laughing at summertime parties.

But inside the house it feels abandoned, cold. Mostly, things seem oddly or carelessly placed, as if no one hangs out in these rooms long enough to care.

Later, I'll know why. And I'll blame it on the basement, a.k.a. Unwound's practice space and studio, which they call Magrecone.

Could be all the movies Trosper's watched. Could be the maturity Unwound — Trosper, bassist Vern Rumsey and drummer Sara Lund, all 28 — gained over the decade they've been together. But I can't help thinking it's the surreal-feeling house and the isolation of the Olympia countryside that accounts for the evolution of Unwound's sound from distorted punk-rock to the full-fledged but non-abstract art-rock found on Leaves Turn Inside You. Trosper calls the epic two-CD set, released earlier this year, "an obvious shift but a natural progression."

To "up the ante" onstage, Unwound have added a second guitarist (David Scott Stone, who most recently spent a year and a half as the Melvins' second guitarist) and a keyboardist (former Unwound drummer Brandt Sandeno) for touring purposes only. "I want there to a noticeable difference at our live shows, to keep people interested," says Trosper. Unwound kicked off a national tour at the end of last month (August 2001).

Magrecone — a soundproof room in the large, dank, cold, wet basement — is where Unwound make their music. Bordered by old black-and-white press shots of movie stars from the '50s and '60s, the low-ceilinged room has been painted a bright but deep blue. With recording and mixing equipment lining the walls, only portions of the blue can be seen.

Tossing a few blueberries in our mouths, chatting about the garden's bounty and glancing in the hen house, we drag together a few plastic chairs, squint beneath the bright white sky and, with chickens clucking at our feet ("We eat a lot of eggs," says Trosper), begin the conversation that will leave me with just two unanswerable questions: "What does define art?" and "Why does it smell like shit in Olympia?"

After I interview Trosper, and Jim photographs the group, we all head downstairs and Unwound — smoking cigarettes and drinking Budweiser — proceed to rehearse with new guitarist Stone for the first time while I bundle up in my sweater and wonder if all their gear is safe down here.

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