Interview with UXO guitarist/vocalist Chris Spencer| By Hutch
Unsane guitarist Chris Spencer had an idea. Acted on it. He then made an awesome record with guitarist and vocalist Steve Austin of Today Is The Day. That’s how simple he makes it sound. Spencer is sparing with his words. No frills or adornments. Spencer’s debut self-titled record for his new project, UXO, was released on Reptilian Records—yes, the Baltimore based once-brick-and-mortar storefront—which has released Negative Approach’s compilation of demos, ‘90s female fronted D.C. ska band, Checkered Cabs, Dwarves, Triac, Easy Action, Action Swingers, Supersuckers, Fight Amp, Cutthroats 9—which also features Spencer—Throat, Pig Destroyer’s picture disc 7”, and more. The seven song EP, UXO, comes on a 12” record.
The music of UXO is hard noise rock. You can hear the stems of ideas that would flourish into Unsane or Today Is The Day tracks, but these seven songs are different enough to bring in new listeners. Rounded out by rhythm section bassist Aarne Victorine and drummer Patrick Kennedy, the heavy riffs embedded in grooves and feedback ride along calculated, rollicking beats.
Spencer explains plainly how this project was spawned: “Steve and I have been friends for a very long time. I knew he had a studio in Maine. I called to see if he wanted record a few songs. A friend was helping me run a label for a little bit, Lamb Unlimited. He had to bail out, unfortunately. So, I figured I could put out a record with Steve. Not a big deal, very casual.” While, yes, he calmly explains the different steps, some effort must have been put into a project with this much oomph and grit.
Spencer denies putting too much planning into the songs he wanted to bring to Austin. As easily as one can jump in a truck and drive, Austin carried his ideas like a water bottle in the beverage holder. “Typically, everything I have ever done, I don’t want to have a preconceived concept,” Spencer says. “I go in and I wing it. See what happens. I think it is better with a lot of spontaneity.” That is great for him, but there are others involved. Luckily, Austin has been twisting riffs in his version of caustic metal/noise since 1992. Over the span of 11 full-lengths—including a vicious return to form with 2014’s Animal Mother—it’s obvious Austin can mold and form brutal songs. Spencer hands him that compliment. “Steve is a very smart and creative person, as well as being easy to work with,” he attests. Another piece of the puzzle easily snaps into the big picture.
“Initially, we started fucking around with his drum machine,” Spencer states. “Rhythmically, we figured out how to approach it.” Spencer throws a few scraps out about his writing process with Austin: “I said something to him about an idea, he would say something back. We pursued it. That’s about it.” Spencer’s brevity, stirred in a humble tone, directs us straight to the point. This is not an opportunity for him to revel in what great job they did; the drenched chords and plodding beats relay that succinctly. “We recorded basic layouts for songs, got them done,” he says simply. Then, Austin took the reigns as Spencer went back to his place. Austin contacted Kennedy and Victorine. This and technology allowed Spencer “all the time in the world at my place to record.”
The recording and inherent communication lasted for three or four months. Austin then had all the ammunition to craft these bestial songs, the thick riffs, the drums, the rumbling bass, and the screaming vocals, layered low to resonate with a haunting tension. Spencer admits, “Steve had done a million mixes.” That is when Tim Green was brought into the picture. He mixed and mastered the record. Spencer applauds, “He gets the real good low end sound to help us out. We go crazy doing whatever we want. We weren’t limited by studio time. After that, it is good to have someone like Green come in. He has an objective ear.”
UXO got started with the release of the album with a few shows at the end of February. They played the Northeast, doing Philly, Baltimore, NYC, D.C., and Boston. Spencer is again casual as to what will follow: “We will see from there. I’m busy. Unsane is going to start doing stuff again. Our drummer got really hurt. Now, he is doing better. We are playing this spring at festivals and recording more stuff soon.”
Spencer explains how UXO got onto Reptilian, a small but potent label when it strikes. Their eclectic mix of bands makes complete sense when Spencer iterates the meeting. “Reptilian, that’s a friend. All of this is a circle of friends,” he explains. “None of this is about a giant, stupid business plan. UXO is friends putting something out. We know each other. We trust each other. Steve shopped the album around a little, people were slow to get back. So, I called up Chris [X of Reptilian]. He liked it. He is behind it. It is all just friends.”
In no way are Spencer’s short replies interpreted as curt. The man is friendly and light in his responses. Spencer simply does not waste time with filler or ornamental verbiage. UXO’s album reflects that. Get in, kick ass. His insight is similarly brief regarding whether UXO will be a living organism. “I look forward to doing more with them,” he assures. “It would be cool to write a full-length with them. We’ll see what happens. I’m playing it by ear. I look forward to doing more shit with them. You never know.”