Words by Jonathan Stout
To say that life in America over the past four years has been tumultuous would be an understatement. As a growing divide among the nation’s people grew deeper, the unprecedented disaster of the COVID-19 virus only served to complicate things further. Racial injustice, issues of women’s rights, nationalism and the growing gap between the rich and poor have all been on the forefront of many American’s minds. With this subject matter being so relevant, it seems like the perfect time for some of the angriest punk rock to be created. As former Black Flag vocalist Henry Rollins stated during his Joe Rogan interview: “This is not a time to be dismayed, this is punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.”
Enter The Unfit from Seattle, who released their self titled debut last June on Share It Music. All 29 minutes of the album barrel forward at lightning speed, snarling at and rejecting the dishonesty of modern society. In a time of abundant social unrest, the 10 tracks offered on The Unfit serve as a perfect soundtrack of the times.
Off Shelf: So your bio says that you originally got started in 2012. What took you so long to release a proper full length?
Jake Knuth: Yeah, I don’t know. I guess it’s a few things. The whole idea of selling and promoting a thing isn’t the fun part of this for me, you know? Writing and making the music and playing are the fun parts. Those are things sometimes I do just for my own sanity. So, I was always a little conflicted about putting out a record. We’d go back and forth on it, and over the years it kind of became an afterthought. We had been fine with just sharing tracks with friends and posting on SoundCloud.
The whole “hey, check out my band” for shows, for the purpose of getting and promoting shows, feels gross enough, let alone caring about selling a product and having to give a shit about how our band is received on a larger level and making money and all that. For me this music is cathartic and can feel like an extension of myself, so for that to be wrapped up in business isn’t great. That’s not ideal. Just speaking for myself. That probably sounds kind of pretentious.
OS: No, it definitely makes sense. So there wasn’t necessarily a lot of motivation to release your music until you were approached by Share It Music. You mentioned The Unfit being a cathartic project, but was there also a touch of the punk related ethos of anti-careerism in there as well?
JK: Yeah, it’s a cathartic project for fun and for venting. We’ve been friends and played music together on an off since high school, so we just like to play. And I’ve had a lot to vent about over the last ten years. And as much as I want to share this music and of course am happy for people to hear it and connect with it, I don’t like getting caught up in caring what other people think and having to sell ourselves and all that, so again, yeah, it was a back and forth on whether we wanted to release anything, and ultimately it was like who cares. But I’m happy Cayle asked, Cayle from Share It Music, and everything’s gone great with the record so far. All the covid stuff aside.
Anti-careerism isn’t a deliberate part of it, but that does make sense to me in that it seems like a bummer that anyone should be financially motivated for creating music, you know? To the extent that someone is settling or compromising, writing mediocre or meaningless songs because they have to, instead of real inspiration or having something to say. I guess that’s part of why it takes a long time for us. It has to come from somewhere and really mean something if I’m going to get up and shout it into a microphone for a bunch of people. But if you can make a career out of genuine creative expression, and not lose that joy and spark, then go for it. Or even if you can come close. That beats the shit out of most jobs.
OS: Your album is a rolling ball of fury through and through. There is a lot to be pissed off about nowadays, what are some subjects that fueled the fury of the album?
JK: Let’s see. Dishonesty and hypocrisy. Bad faith. Bad faith in politics. Bad faith in governance. Bad faith in discourse. Bad faith in the media. Bad faith in every aspect of society. The disconnect between our leadership, our system, our culture, and what’s best for humanity and the planet. The idea that being a cutthroat competitive prick is the norm for success in the world. That fighting and winning at all costs is better than trying to find common ground and possibly having to endure some humility.
That so many people are spending their lives in servitude to bullshit and soulless institutions instead of doing what they want or what they know they should be doing. That so many people feel stuck in painful or meaningless lives and are suffering and struggling every day. Feeling like they don’t have a place. Wanting to give up.
Yeah. Other stuff too. There is a lot to be pissed off about.
OS: Your sound expertly melds together white-knuckle speed and aggression, resembling early 80s west coast hardcore, with a contemporary grunge punk pummel. Who are some other enduring punk bands that you feel have influenced and inspired you to continue to create within this genre?
JK: Probably the best show I’ve ever seen was Pissed Jeans like ten years ago. They’re the fucking best. I had been a fan, but that show took it to another level. And I think I was probably writing music at the time and without a band, and wondering who I could get to sing the songs. Because I’m not going to sing. And Pissed Jeans for sure inspired me around that time, and probably bands like Fucked Up and OFF because I think they had records out and were getting a lot of attention around the same time. And it was sometime in that period eight to ten years ago I realized that I don’t have to sing. I can shout. Hardcore vocals, I can do. So yeah, there’s a Black Flag and OFF kind of hardcore influence for sure and also a nastier noisy Pissed Jeans, Butthole Surfers kind of influence.
OS: What was it like releasing your highly anticipated album during the pandemic? Were you forced to cancel tours/release shows?
JK: Yeah, I don’t think we could have timed things any worse. It hit right around when we started to release tracks from the record and book shows around the album release. Everything was derailed. We’d been getting together a lot and playing and were stoked to get shows lined up. Considering routings for some little tours. Then all of our communications with bookers just stopped and it just went without saying that everything was cancelled. And it was too late to change release plans, so we’ve had to just watch everything happen from home, from the very beginning. One cool thing about it though is seeing that people are still finding the music on their own and liking it even without us out promoting it.
OS: The DIY and punk communities have not been immune to turmoil over the last two years, as many are becoming more socially conscious and the ripple effects of our splitting society have carried over into the subculture. Burger Records completely folded after being exposed for highly toxic and predatory behavior towards young female fans. Michale Graves, former singer for the Misfits, openly declared himself a proud boy and flashed the white power symbol. The culture is definitely shifting. What kind of changes would you like to see within the DIY music communities of Seattle and America in general?
JK: Oh man. I don’t know if I feel qualified. I didn’t know about the Michale Graves thing, but I will say what I’ve heard about the Burger stuff was really gross and awful. Obviously that kind of predatory behavior is everywhere in all walks of life, not just toward young girls but toward all women, and the cultural shift that seems to be happening to really end and collectively condemn that shit in men is great.
As far as our splitting society in general, I just wish everyone could really come at things with some humility and compassion and try to have conversations in good faith with people who have different ideas and opinions. I guess I don’t mean extending compassion to everyone. Like not in this context where we’re talking about predators or anything like that. There is a line. But just generally in our discourse I think more humility and listening would be a good thing. I don’t know how to get people to do that, but that could be really helpful.
OS: How have you maintained sanity during the pandemic thus far?
JK: Trying to take it easy. I don’t mind staying home. Staying off the phone has been helpful. That’s probably been the biggest thing. Staying away from negativity on the phone and trying to stay positive.
OS: With the future of live shows currently being uncertain, what are your plans for the future of the band? Are you using this time to work on new material?
JK: You know, I guess we don’t really have a lot in the way of plans. We do have some new songs. Maybe we’ll have a new record of material just in time for things getting back to normal.
There’s this real need for fan engagement and content right now with the no shows, and I feel a little torn in that I’m not on social media and pretty much stay away from all of that but I get the need and the interest in continuing to post stuff for people who like the band. We do have some footage from a performance we shot a while back that we’re looking at doing something with, and possibly a new video in the works.
In fact, there is actually something we’re working on that might come out in the next couple of months now that I’m thinking about it. Can’t say for sure though, so I don’t really want to get into detail. We’ll see.