Interview: Unbroken

Unbroken - Photo by Matt Miller

Unbroken - Photo by Matt Miller

When hardcore band Unbroken called it quits in 1995, for many, it was the end of an era. For a band that claimed that “the final expression is giving up all expression,” it seemed as though the group’s voice was silent – something that would only live on through nostalgia.

But in the course of the past 17 years, Unbroken has continued to rear its musical head, proving that the group has not yet said its final piece. The revival came slowly, first in the form of compilations (2000), bootlegs (2002), and reissues (2003), and then in the form of a reunion (2010).

Many fans wondered: why now? Although the idea had been proposed to the members before, they never bit. But after enough time had passed, it merely took a worthwhile cause for them to consider playing shows again.

“We all have jobs, and money isn’t really, like, a factor in it,” guitarist Rob Moran said, explaining why they’d turned down offers of large sums of money in exchange for shows in the past.

But then, when it came to the idea of benefit shows, the group realized they could donate the money to groups or individuals in need, and suddenly the appeal of getting back together grew.

The initial reunion shows in the United States benefitted groups like Planned Parenthood, educational programs, and women’s shelters, as well as helping to cover the cost of medical bills of a friend with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

But once the first show was agreed to, Moran shared that the biggest challenge wasn’t the logistics, but rather the members convincing themselves that it would be a successful endeavor. Because, in spite of all the interest, a small part of them all expected that the reunion would be a failure.

“It was just getting the nerve to play in the first place,” Moran explained. “I just didn’t think anyone would even care, you know. So the last thing I wanted to do was, like, go and play this show and have a big, you know, deal made of it, and then we show up and there’s like five kids or, you know, people just didn’t care. I think that was like a huge challenge in and of itself…wondering if people really even cared, still.”

But they did, and they came out in droves.

Moran recalled the band’s first show back, and seeing kids in the front row crying, and hugging the band members, something which continued to happen with each successive show.

“It definitely threw us for a loop. The kids were fanatical,” he shared, citing that the band wasn’t sure how to deal with the response. “[But] it’s an amazing feeling [and] a good problem to have.”

In addition to the unanticipated reactions, Moran shared that the band also had work to do with one another, particularly in regards to rebuilding its personal rapport.

“None of us, like, hate each other. It was never ever a breakup like that. [But] to be able to get together in a room and become friends and feel like a family again and play those shows, I mean, that was a huge challenge…just trying to be friends again,” he said. “I remember when we first decided to do the show in Chicago, and L.A., we sat around in a room and just talked for like two or three hours. We didn’t even practice. It was more, like, just getting to know each other again and that type of thing.”

Additionally, they all had to face the reality that the once five-piece band had been reduced to a four-piece, after former guitarist Eric Allen took his own life in 1998. While each member had worked through it in his own way, playing together again was a fresh reminder of the missing piece of the Unbroken puzzle.

“I think it’s very different, just from the fact that Eric isn’t there. That dynamic is gone,” Moran said. “We thought about having a second guitar player, but it’s just, I mean, I just don’t think emotionally it would work for us. So in that sense, the dynamic that the five of us had on stage and kind of that loose swagger that Eric brought to the shows is definitely gone.”

Emotional realities aside, the band members also had to revisit their songs and, in a way, make them better.

“We were a very sloppy band back in the day,” Moran said. “[And now] I think we have to play a lot tighter because there’s only four of us.”

The band still practices, but not as much as was first required. And when it does, it’s typically Moran with members Todd Beattie and Steven Andrew Miller. Then the three send the songs and setlist to Dave Claibourn – the one member no longer living in Southern California – for him to listen and practice along to.

Last weekend, the band played its first and only show in Mexico, as a dual benefit for an orphanage in Tijuana and a San Diego all-ages venue The Che Cafe. And although the two cities are less than 30 minutes from one another, it was also a gesture for the fans in Mexico, who can’t always easily cross the border to see shows.

Now, the band is in Europe for a six-city stint, as a follow-up to the one-off London show of two years ago.

“A lot of kids from the mainland were really upset that we didn’t come over, but, you know, just due to time, we just couldn’t make an actual tour happen,” Moran said, referencing why the band hasn’t played Germany and surrounding countries since 1995.

So while the main purpose of this tour is to support an anti-racist anarchist organization run out of Prague by friends of the band, Unbroken figured it was time to give the people what they wanted. This will also include playing two songs the band hasn’t played in the U.S.

“[The goal is to] kind of play each region and give people a chance to see us, so [they] don’t have to go out of their way or spend a bunch of money to come out,” Moran said. “Unfortunately, just due to time constraints, you can’t just do…a tour and hit everything at once…it just has to come in waves.”

Other places the group has played include a South American leg in 2011. Meanwhile, Unbroken is also in talks of playing Japan in Spring of 2013.

“It is kind of a reunion but I think it’s taking longer than we kind of anticipated it to,” Moran said. “[But] then after that, it’s kind of done. There’s no reason to keep it going.”

And although each week brings a new offer of another show, most often in the states, Moran said the band is definitely done with playing domestically.

“We said if we ever, you know, decided to do another show in the states, it’d probably be in a garage or a house show, just some secret fun show,” he said. “[But] we’re not writing new songs, so there’s nothing new that people are going to see…what we do is emotionally special and I don’t want…to wear it out.”

As for the onslaught of other broken-up bands getting back together in the past year, Moran shared that each band has its own reasons for revisiting the past.

“People can do whatever they want to do with…their reunions, and it’s not for me to say. I could care less if people make a million dollars off a hardcore reunion or make nothing. It doesn’t really matter to me. I just know why we’re doing it,” he said. “It’s using something that we’ve been given for something good.”

Unbroken plays tonight at Festsaal Kreuzberg in Berlin. The show begins at 20.30.

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