Odds are that, when Rob Brewer was a kid, his mom told him that patience is a virtue. That eternally maternal sentence “The world doesn’t revolve around what you want this instant,” probably came out at least once, maybe even followed by a terse “wait your turn.” But at this point, Brewer, one half of Unwritten Law’s napalm-fueled guitar tag-team, is sick of waiting—waiting for things to sound right, waiting for the record to be done, waiting for a chance to show everyone that five guys from San Diego can morph mid-air and still land a serious blow.
See, it’s been three years since Unwritten Law released its self-titled third disc. While the album didn’t sell like crack on an East L.A. street corner, it did become a standard for any kid who liked their punk-inspired grit rawk delivered with FedEx speed and lacking any reference to poo. They scored a minor hit in the SoCal-soaked “Cailin.” The group toured so damn much that Law might as well have been the weekly house band in nearly every all-ages hovel in America.
But then things came to a stop. In the summer of 2000, the band left the bus behind and headed to the studio. The sessions yielded an album—one that would never see the light of day. “There was just stuff consistently wrong throughout the entire thing,” Brewer says. It took the group another year to hire a new producer and take a second crack. The album worked this time, but the timing sucked. The attacks hit. Release dates were pushed back. It’s like Brewer has been stuck in purgatory just waiting for his chance at redemption.
“It’s frustrating as musicians to have these songs sitting around for so long,” he admits. “At this point it doesn’t really seem new. All our friends and family have heard it way too many times. We just need to get moving now.”
And all that waiting has had an affect on Unwritten Law’s place in the power pop world. Fans have gotten older. “Cailin” is a distant memory for everyone but the truly dedicated. It means that the band has to come out like a politician who’s just survived a scandal, pressing flesh whenever and wherever the quintet gets the chance. It explains why Unwritten Law is playing support for the likes of Sum 41, a group of kids that were merely zygotes when Brewer was buying his first records. Even Brewer admits that it’s a little strange, but it has to be done.
“It’s just the way it is in the music business,” he says. “I remember when Bad Religion went out and opened for Blink-182 and we were all like, ‘What? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?’ But people grow up and have more things to worry about than going to a show on the weekend. We still have our fans, but for us to thrive for the next few years like we want to we have to go out and re-introduce ourselves to the kids who go to shows and have allowance money.”
Yet the key to Unwritten Law has always been that the group isn’t just for the Oxy set. Sure, the band can pack the wallop of a steroid-injected Superman, turning any pep rally into a pogo contest. But the group also has a depth that few rock bands even dare fathom outside of the designated power ballad slot. The evidence: Unwritten Law’s new album, Elva (Interscope), due out Jan. 29. Blatant blasts of basic rock like “Mean Girl” are stacked up next to tracks like “Seein’ Red,” an anti-conformity love anthem that’s equal parts VH1 comfy-pop and hook-heavy sonic turmoil. “Actress, Model” is one of the most witty and scathing odes to Hollywood since David Mammet’s State and Main. And the straight-up reggae of “How You Feel” would scare most turn-and-burn groups off. For Brewer, it’s a testament to what the group has always been capable of.
“We were just open to doing a lot of new things that when we were younger we just were capable of,” he says. “Yeah, there’s still a bit of the punk element in some of the stuff, but this is really where we really meant to be, a real high-energy rock & roll that you can’t turn your back on.”
But even if people somehow manage to miss what Unwritten Law has cooked up, Brewer isn’t going to be disappointed. He doesn’t care too much about selling a billion records and signing autographs in front of the neighborhood mall’s Sam Goody. He just wants to make sure that he can strap on his guitar for a little while longer.
“You know, I’ve come to accept that as a musician, you can’t take your reward from how many units you sell. Sure, we want to do better than the last one, but just want to keep playing and making records and trying to come up with that perfect song. That’s what it’s supposed to be about.”