Thousands of people start bands for a myriad of reasons. And the members of Unsound Foundation have heard ’em all. Someone with a modicum of instrumental proficiency might feel confident in their skills. Maybe they’ve got something to get off their chests. Perhaps they just want to jump around with the aid of a 97-db PA system. Maybe it is all in the seeking of lovers, drugs and free drink tickets.But the L.A.-based trio are far more determined in their mission.
“Piss off my parents?” bassist Josh Odaffer starts before breaking into laughter. “Avoid responsibility? It’s probably the same thing for everybody. But we all have a very strong love of music and just being a part of that world.”
Unsound Foundation (the name was a eureka moment inspired by a conversation Odaffer had with his father) started in 2011 after some great discoveries and a few not-so-great ideas. Odaffer and guitarist Tim Cravens lived together for two years before Cravens learned his roomie could play drums. Then fate intervened when the two were moving a couch down a stairwell and Odaffer fell backwards, delivering himself a bouquet of hairline fractures. “After an hour of playing, I could barely hold the sticks,” he remembers. “So I shifted over to playing bass because, you know, why the hell not?”
After a few vocalists and drummers of differing levels of commitment, a plan was in place: Drummer Allen Kronenberger would power UF’s engine room, while Odaffer and Cravens would alternate the lead vocal duties. “We’ve switched around a couple times during practice,” says Kronenberger. “If we could get Tim to play the drums, we could totally do fire drills where everyone can play all the parts.”
If you think this is just mighty quipping from a stereotypical bunch of “L.A. rock d00dz,” you might want to reel yourself back in. Call it fear or ennui, but the very thought of actual rock bands in an era of COVID-19 seems positively quaint. At closer inspection, it feels like nobody wants to be in a band. The majority of next-big-thing listicles and write-ups on blogs and websites are seemingly focused on someone with a laptop, feelings and a bag of Xanax-flavored Jolly Ranchers to suck on. While the men of Unsound Foundation don’t necessarily think there’s a “war on bands” per se, but they understand how self-insulation makes music sound.
“It’s an interesting concept,” says Odaffer. “The world has made it easier so people don’t have to be in a band. Especially with things like MIDI, you can just produce your whole album yourself and make it work. But the mistakes, the oddness that comes from working with other people—the things that you’re not expecting—that’s where the magic really happens.”
“I’d rather embrace chemistry than a dictatorship,” Kronenberger opines. “You have the ideas and the interaction that you get when you play that you can’t get as a solo artist. Not everybody’s Prince and can do it all themselves.”
“We’re happy to share that $20 paycheck from a show versus needing to claim it all for ourselves,” Cravens offers facetiously. “But if it was more like $40, then that would be a different story.”
Listeners checking into Unsound Foundation’s admirable debut, Inn For A Rude Awakening will find plenty of levels to explore. The trio have chosen to avoid the turgid assembly lines of faceless radio rock and mall punk posturing while still playing instruments— as opposed to tricked-out Kindles. Unsound Foundation are more spiritually aligned with the zeitgeist of ‘80s rockers who chose to express earnest commentaries and emotions without pretense. If this were 1986, we’d be dropping their tracks between such respected artists as the Smithereens, the BoDeans or the DelFuegos on mixtapes. “Eye For An Eye” feels like the Clash’s Mick Jones covering the best song the Gun Club never wrote. “Faded” is a reckless tale of people who seek friends at the bottom of a bottle, while “Good Ones”is a top-volume farewell to a person who only lives on in your heart, rent-free. But UF isn’t all beating hearts stabbed with icepicks to keep them on their sleeves: Moments like “Frankencar” (inspired by Craven’s luck with automobiles) and the caffeinated pogo-fest “Pounce” are the things that socially non-distanced, full-contact rock ‘n’ roll was made for.
“We’ve always had that slight difficulty of fitting into certain music communities,” Odaffer says. “We fit into a lot of different things because we’re not necessarily so straightforward. Our influences definitely span from ‘60s to current times, and we use all of those aspects to squeeze out whatever music that we’re hearing in our head. It’s not necessarily new wave. It’s all rock: a whole bunch of little things, but it has that nostalgic feeling to it.”
Smarter than the lineup for your typical stupor-star rock fest and far more engaging and exploding than some sad-sack with more gigabytes and rainbow hair dye than any real inspiration, Unsound Foundation are playing to win. You don’t need a sleeveless tee or black Ray Bans to represent for them. You just need to rediscover the liberation one feels when faced with cranked amps and a drummer in high gear.
“We want to make thinking man’s fun, rock music,” Odaffer summarizes succinctly. “We don’t want to be basic anything. Truthfully? We’re not doing this because we want to become famous. The reason why we’re doing this is because we love the creation of it. We love performing it. We just love every aspect of being in a band. And it would be great to help get the world back to where it was—to that camaraderie, that kind of group mentality of music again.”