Published on September 20th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


Metronome Charleston Anniversary: The Unawares

The Columbia-based Unawares are not your average Midstate power trio. Whether their eclectic, punkish rockstuff is derived from exotic botanicals, rare Swiss booze, or a simple love and appreciation for art-punk and experimental rock (or all of the above) may never be known. But this fact is solid: they rock unpretentiously with an analog work ethic and a no-nonsense attitude.


The Unawares (photo by Hammond)

Earlier this year, singer/guitarist John Watkins (tone: shrill, eyes: mean), bassist James Wallace (tone: thumpy, eyes: bespectacled), and drummer Rhett Berger (tone: clangy, eyes: googly) released a masterpiece titled Absinthe Acres. They independently tracked and mixed it on non-digital equipment with no overdubs. Engineer/producer Chris Wenner oversaw the sessions.

From the choppy funk and anxious inquisitiveness of opening track “Gold Box” to the manic spazziness of “Be a Farmer” and the gear-shifting wackiness and dissonant passages of “Take it Away,” Absinthe Acres is as psyched and brain-tingling as the medicinal elixir for which it’s titled.

The Unawares have been up to this type of mischief forming in 2006. Their 2007 debut Tooth Dip EP got things rolling. In the years since, they’ve explored and experimented with their rock formula, often in speedy tempos. Berger executed more than a few unexpected accents, fiery fills, and sudden rhythmic detours. Wallace pushed some jazzy/proggy bass scales and led the melodies and main riffs of some songs like a rhythm guitar (imagine Minutemen’s Mike Watt and Pere Ubu’s Tony Maimone jamming with David Byrne and stragglers from the Fall). Watkins raged against the hum-drummity of life with his piercing power chords, trebly amp tone, and abstract/absurd lyrical rants.

The Unawares at the Tin Roof (photo by Ballard Lesemann)

The Unawares at the Tin Roof, 2012 (photo by Ballard Lesemann)

“Somebody from the Columbia Free Times once said something about the band’s sound being like you’re about to drive off the road, like you’re waiting for an accident to happen or something,” Watkins told Metronome Charleston last spring. “But ever since the beginning, we’ve just said that the Unawares is simply rock ‘n’ roll. When people say they need a description, we just tell them we’re a rock ‘n’ roll trio with songs that are three minutes or less with hardly any guitar solos.

The Unawares will co-headline the Metronome Anniversary Party on Fri. Sept. 20 at the Tin Roof, hitting the stage around 10:30 or so (right after the Fairy God Muthas’ set). Shout out for “I Gotta Have Ya” and watch Berger rattle those 16th notes, Wallace pluck those blues licks, and Wallace howl the disturbingly sexy chorus, “I gotta have yahhhh!”

The Unawares are the only non-Charleston band on the bill for the Metronome Anniversary Party on Fri. Sept. 20. Hell yeah. For more info, visit theunawares.com.





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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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