Turntable Interview: Sara Lund (Unwound)
Sara Lund is undoubtedly one of the best drummers in the Pacific Northwest — and has been for as long as some of you have been alive. Her steadily adventurous drumming built a solid foundation for Unwound throughout the ’90s and early ’00s. Now she plays with both the Corin Tucker Band and Hungry Ghost. On the cusp of Unwound releasing a live LP — the first new release from the band in years –- Sara stopped by Turntable.fm to talk about Unwound, Olympia in the ’90s, and what a Skrillex is.
Melissa Locker started playing “See You Later” by Heatmiser :
SARA LUND: Funny that you are playing Heatmiser because I was just sticking a Quasi song in there!
STEREOGUM: Oh I have a Quasi song too. But you’ll hear that one later. Thanks for agreeing to do this by the way!
SARA LUND: Hi! Thanks for having me! Funny, I never really listened to this band. Not sure how I missed them at the time. I was definitely aware of the Portland scene. Buddies with Hazel.
STEREOGUM: I used to go to allll the Hazel shows and once snuck a press pass to photograph Heatmiser.
SARA LUND: What were your Portland years?
STEREOGUM: Born and raised and educated there
SARA LUND: Nice!
STEREOGUM: Portland high five! First question: How many bands are you currently in?
Sara Lund started playing “Imaginary Person” by Ty Segall
SARA LUND: Ha! So to answer your question…I’m actually not sure how to answer it. I guess I’m in two bands, but really only one is currently active. Hungry Ghost is definitely happening. Would it be appropriate for me to load a Hungry Ghost song into my queue?
STEREOGUM: Feel free!
SARA LUND: The album came out in July.
Sara Lund started playing “Now What” by Quasi :
STEREOGUM: You had a busy release schedule this year! Between that and the Corin Tucker Band album. And now Unwound is putting out a live album.
SARA LUND: I know! Crazy to put out 3 records in one year. They should put me on the cover of Rolling Stone!
STEREOGUM: Seriously! What inspired you guys to put out a live album now after all these years?
SARA LUND: I just want to quickly mention while we’re listening to Quasi…I went to a show on Monday night that was Quasi and the Blues Explosion… so great!
Melissa Locker started playing “Fairytale In The Supermarket” by The Raincoats
STEREOGUM: Oh man, I wish they were bringing that show out East. I would love to see it.
SARA LUND: Andrew Price from Hungry Ghost and I once rode in the back of a band in the freezing cold down to Portland to see the Blues Explosion and Jesus Lizard at Satryicon. I think that was probably 1993
STEREOGUM: I think I was at that show! Weirdly Mark Arm – who I had never met before — snuck me in saying I was his kid sister.
SARA LUND: Yes, I’m sure you were! Do remember if it was New Year’s? For some reason I think it was…
STEREOGUM: I can’t remember that part. I just remember what’s his name from Jesus Lizard lying on stage and some one dumping beer on him. I was very scandalized.
SARA LUND: Andrew was in a band called Irving Klaw Trio, who I should also load into the queue… he is from NYC and was a huge JSBE fan and I was from the midwest and was a huge Jesus Lizard fan
STEREOGUM: …loading Jesus Lizard into queue
Sara Lund started playing “Handclapping Song” by The Meters
STEREOGUM: So back to my question about Unwound. Why release the live album now?
SARA LUND: Oh yes. Well… we had planned on doing something like this a long time ago, but lost momentum almost immediately. Basically, I think there was some PTSD happening after the band broke up and we all just needed to walk away for awhile. Justin completely walked away from music altogether for like 10 years. But this record is all stuff that was recorded during our last big tour. We met a kid who ended up following us all around and recording all of the shows.
Melissa Locker started playing “Portland” by The Replacements
STEREOGUM: Unwound was notorious for always touring, do you think the PTSD stemmed from that?
SARA LUND: Well, the last tour was pretty traumatic, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily touring that caused the PTSD.
I was referring more to the trauma of the break up
STEREOGUM: Ah, has enough time passed that you can talk about the break up now?
SARA LUND: Yes
STEREOGUM: What was it that finally did you guys in?
SARA LUND: Honestly, it was an unchecked serious drinking problem. We are all culpable… but it was clear we were not all on the same page and eventually the drinking got to be too big of a problem to ignore
And it became impossible to work together
STEREOGUM: Unfortunately that seems to be the cause of a lot of band breakups.
Sara Lund started playing “911 Leo Express” by Irving Klaw Trio
SARA LUND: Yes. It is very easy to fall into substance abuse when you are touring a lot. There’s not a lot else to do. And if you already have that addiction gene… then you’re a goner.
STEREOGUM: I’m sure. So this kid followed you guys around on tour and recorded all your shows. Did he give you the tapes?
SARA LUND: This kid… his name is Mike Ziegler and he is kind of notorious bootlegger. He has an insane collection.. I think he has every Nirvana bootleg…
SARA LUND: Anyway, yes he gave us the digital files a couple of years ago
STEREOGUM: How’s the sound quality?
SARA LUND: It is ok. Not great. Everyone buying the record should be warned that it is definitely bootleg quality. I mean, he was using decent gear, but there was nothing fancy going on.
STEREOGUM: And how did you pick and choose what songs you wanted on the album?
SARA LUND: It’s not like a great introduction to the band. It is for fans. But there are some really great performances on there. Well Justin and I listened to every single show and made a chart and then just figured out the best versions of each song. Not every song from the set made it on the record as there were a couple that just didn’t really ever come across that well. But there is a lot on there. The full recording is over and hour long. The LP is missing 2 songs, but you will get them with the download.
STEREOGUM: What are your personal highlights?
Melissa Locker started playing “Mouth Breather” by The Jesus Lizard
SARA LUND: Oh man I love the Jesus Lizard! Personal highlights… I think We Invent You, Terminus, and Arboretum. They each have something extra special about the performance that sets them apart from the studio versions
Sara Lund started playing “Get Up” by Hungry Ghost
STEREOGUM: With the new album coming out, any chance of a reunion show?
SARA LUND: Not at this particular juncture.I should also talk about the website.
STEREOGUM: Okay. What website?
SARA LUND: So this record is a piece of an online archive that we are just starting to develop
STEREOGUM: Oh cool!
SARA LUND: Essentially, Unwound pre-dated the Internet so anything that is up on the web now is fan generated. This website we are making is like us admitting we existed and taking some ownership of our legacy
STEREOGUM: Nice. Did you decide to do this because of the live album? I mean, the internet has been around for a while now
SARA LUND: Originally, we were just going to release this live record as a cheap download through the website, but then someone offered to help us put it out on vinyl. We are slowing combing through piles of stuff and kind of making things available in reverse chronology. There will also be some t-shirts to buy.
Melissa Locker started playing “California” by Quasi
STEREOGUM: Awesome. Is the archive going to include just audio or flyers, posters, other memorabilia, etc.
SARA LUND: We are starting with Leaves Turn Inside You era, and then going back through the 90’s and then back to the early early days when Brandt Sandeno was the drummer and even back to the pre-Unwound band, Giant Henry. Flyers, posters, photos, video…There is also a blog component where we will be giving an oral history.
STEREOGUM: If fans have things to contribute, how should the go about getting it to you?
SARA LUND: There will be a way to contact us through the site. We want to be able to curate the content so … yes… we definitely want fans to send us stuff, but it will be up to us if it ends up on the site.
There is also a full video of our very last show. Nicely shot and edited…
STEREOGUM: Is the website up yet?
Sara Lund started playing “Wires” by Red Fang
STEREOGUM: What’s the web address so people can check it out?
SARA LUND: unwoundarchive.com. You can go look at it now if you want, but there is still some stuff that is not quite functioning. By the way, this is my husband’s band.
STEREOGUM: Okay! By the way, how did a nice girl from the Midwest end up at Evergreen State University in Olympia?
SARA LUND: Well, a couple of ways. I had a little bit of history in Olympia. My family moved there from Bloomington, IN in the mid 80’s, but then my folks split up and my mom went back to Bloomington. I lived there 1985-87, for 8th and 9th grade, and then went back to Bloomington, too. I went to a tiny hippie high school called Harmony and Evergreen was the natural college to go to after that high school experience. Also, I wanted to come to the IPU convention, so I hopped on a train in Aug of ’91 and headed west!
STEREOGUM: The time period in Olympia has become pretty revered for music history nerds.
Melissa Locker started playing “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth
SARA LUND: Yes, I was lucky to be a part of it, though I’m not sure I realized that at the time.
STEREOGUM: Was there any sense that you were making a whole new genre of music or at least part of a big movement? Was Olympia in the 90s
was it a hotbed of creativity between like minded folks or just an accidental mass musical epiphany?
Sara Lund started playing “Can You Hear Me” by Lee Dorsey
SARA LUND: Well, Unwound was sort of in a class by ourselves… not to sound too something…
STEREOGUM: I guess Unwound couldn’t really be considered grunge or riot grrl
SARA LUND: Not really. Although we were definitely a product of the NW, in some ways we might have fit in a little better on the east coast. But that could have been because we were combining a NW and Midwest sensibility. Not that that equals the East Coast, but it is something different than what was happening in either place
We were definitely part of the Olympia scene. I mean, it was (and remains) a very very small town. But there was an energy happening there… it was a very cheap place to live, lots of punk houses with plenty of practice spaces to go around and plenty of house parties for bands to play
Sara Lund started playing “Dancing Drums” by Ananda Shankar
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised by the attention that got showered on the scene?
SARA LUND: Yes it was disorienting.
There would be these awesome music festivals, like IPU and YOYO a GOGO and all these people would descend on the town and then half of them would decide to move there. But then when they did, they quickly realized that it was not like that all the time and most of the time there NOTHING to do. Which is probably another reason why everybody started bands. But most of the people there were these super nervous, anxious kids… made worse by everyone walking around feeling like they were in a bell jar. I couldn’t have handled living there at all if I didn’t leave to go on tour all the time.
STEREOGUM: Must have been very strange
SARA LUND: There were some amazing, sweet, fun people… but there was also an awful lot of high school like mentality.
STEREOGUM: How so?
Melissa Locker started playing “Normal” by Screaming Females
SARA LUND: Oh just small town gossip and in-fighting. People not saying hi to you when you passed them on the street
STEREOGUM: Ugh, that sounds like middle school, which is worse!
SARA LUND: Some people reacted by taking it very personally, and some people defended it by claiming there were too many people to say hi to everyone. I grew up in a town where you smile and nod and even say hi to everyone you pass in the street, whether you know them or not, so that was very confusing. Wait, didn’t we just hang out a party last night and now you can’t even take 2 seconds to look up and say hi?
Sara Lund started playing “Wave Goodbye” by Ty Segall
STEREOGUM: Yuck. So getting out was a good thing
SARA LUND: But then again, downtown really was like the living room. So you had to pass through it to do anything and if you were grumpy… it meant seeing people whether you wanted to or not. But yes, I couldn’t
wait to leave Olympia. That said, I made some of my very best friends for life there.
STEREOGUM: And how long have you been in portland?
SARA LUND: 13 years
STEREOGUM: So that’s home.
SARA LUND: But I started a relationship with this town in the early 90’s I had wanted to move here after the first time I came here
Yes, Portland is home. I moved here right on the cusp of the Big Change, but I was on the margins of the old days, so I am very aware of the differences.
STEREOGUM: Wait, what’s the Big Change?
SARA LUND: I just made that up… Nu Portland… trying to make an umlaut.
Melissa Locker started playing “Mezcal (Version)” by Sean Na Na
STEREOGUM: Oh, new Portland. Right, that.
SARA LUND: Yes, which I have a love/hate relationship with. It is also very disorienting! I can’t really figure out how to be in a new band here…
STEREOGUM:What do you mean you can’t figure out how to be in a new band here. You’re in three! Or two.
SARA LUND: I mean how to exist as a new band here. But a lot of that is probably just navigating the new world of music, which is so very different. But in terms of starting a new band in Portland… There are so many millions of bands, it is hard to wave your hand above the crowd to get noticed, even if you have awesome pedigree. Being good at self-promotion seems to be the be all and end all. And we Gen Xers are notoriously bad at that. Self-promotion was NOT cool in the ’90s.
STEREOGUM: True. Bands have to go above and beyond to get noticed these days. The internet has a weird way of levelling the playing field. That said, your new website sounds like you guys are getting the hang of self-promotion
SARA LUND: The whole everybody start a band! It’s good for your self-esteem! thing got really out of hand. I mean, I’m glad people are making music, but some of the specialness seems to have been lost. Oh, you’re in a band? Well who isn’t? And can I just sound like an old person a little bit more here for a second?
Sara Lund started playing “She Said” by Scratch Acid
STEREOGUM: On the internet no one can tell if you are shaking your fist.
SARA LUND: I live in a transitional neighborhood and have been here for 12 years. All the black people are moving out and these young white kids are moving in and playing their crappy loud rock music until all hours of the morning! Actually, if it was actual rock music, maybe I wouldn’t care. The young people do not play rock music!
STEREOGUM:What are the kids playing these days?
SARA LUND: I just feel like most contemporary music lacks an edge. It’s all so clean and pretty. I need to be able to bang my head or shake my booty!
STEREOGUM: Skrillex style?
SARA LUND: I don’t know what that is.
I am old.
STEREOGUM: Hahaha I love that.
SARA LUND: Sounds like techno, is it?
STEREOGUM: It is.
SARA LUND: I prefer live instruments
STEREOGUM: Ask Corin Tucker! She played a bunch of it during our Turntable interview
yeah, I saw that. But wasn’t that because her 11 year old son liked it? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
STEREOGUM: Kids these days! Anyway, I should let you go.
Thanks so much for chatting with me!
SARA LUND: Thanks for having me!
STEREOGUM: Maybe I’ll see you at the Survival Knife show in Portland.
SARA LUND: Oh yes! I will be there.
STEREOGUM: Awesome. I’ll find you and come say hi.