For 10 years, Justin Trosper didnt play a single live show. He didnt release any albums, either. And he barely even picked up his guitar during a hefty chunk of the 00s. At 30 years old, the musician from Olympia, Washington, went into a state of semi-retirement.
This is significant, given how prolific Trosper was in his 20s. From 1991 to 2002, he fronted Unwound—an influential post-hardcore trio that released seven albums and toured frequently. Then, after a tour in support of their most highly acclaimed— and best—album, Leaves Turn Inside You, Unwound split up and Trosper hung up his axe. He didnt step away from music entirely, having recorded a handful of albums for other bands here and there. But most of the decade that unfolded was spent on personal matters, including finishing college.
Twelve years later, hes returned to the stage with a new band—Survival Knife— and as he explains in an interview from his home in Olympia, he needed to spend some time away from music before he was ready to plug into his Marshall stack again.
I stopped playing shows in 2002 and didnt play another one for 10 years, he says. I did a little recording here and there for other people. I didnt do any bands or anything. I kind of decided I wanted to try to do things beside music. I was so music-focused for basically my whole 20s, so I just focused on other stuff in my life.
Survival Knife, which formed in 2012, is a considerably different band than Unwound. While it features two of that bands original members—Trosper and second guitarist Brandt Sandeno (plus bassist Meg Cunningham and drummer Kris Cunningham)—the new band only occasionally deals in abstract, muscular post-hardcore. Survival Knifes 2013 debut 7-inch single, Name That Tune, is plenty abrasive, but it compresses their punk-rock energy into a more accessible package, reminiscent of Hot Snakes and The Wipers. The second single, Divine Mob, which opens their debut album, Loose Power, is the closest the band comes to classic new-wave punk.
Theyve expanded their sound dramatically since the release of their first couple of singles, but when they began playing together, there was only one definite idea on the table: Dont repeat the past.
A lot of the time when you start a band, you have some ideas. And I think, to some degree, I wasnt really too concerned or could predict really what we were doing, Trosper says. In the back of my mind, I was probably thinking, I dont want to start a band thats just Unwound Part 2. And so I think weve approached songwriting a little bit differently. Were older, and we have different skills, and our brains are a little bit different.
Theres a melodic sort of interplay that is, I think, pretty drastically different, he adds.
Survival Knife—wholl play at Soda Bar on Saturday, May 10—released Loose Power on April 29. The album builds on the momentum of the two singles and stretches out the bands boundaries a bit, bolstering their punk-rock edge with the ambitious progressive-rock influence of groups like King Crimson, which materializes in eight-minute-plus epics like Cut the Quick and Heaven Has No Eyes. But prog-rock isnt the only kind of progressive agenda thats emerged in the bands music; the latter song features some of the most explicit sociopolitical lyrics Trospers ever written. The track features a repeated chant of Too big to fail, and the title comes from a Chinese idiom: [It] sort of means people that profit from other peoples suffering. Because if that can happen, then Heaven is looking the other way, Trosper says.
I was just trying to describe institutions—these big institutions, whether its the church or the government or banks that are set up so, even when they fail, theyre not allowed to fail, he continues. Its not just the banking thing. I think, like, colleges can be too big to fail. Theyre broken models that arent allowed to revolutionize.
The four members of Survival Knife have decades of experience playing music between them, but, as a band, theyre more about pursuing new ideas than rehashing whats familiar. And while they just released a new album and will tour the country in support of it, Trosper explains that theres another radical idea hes come to embrace in the decade since Unwound called it quits: Theres more to life than being in a band.
I was younger, and that was very much the center of my existence, he says. Everything I did with all of my effort as if it was the most important thing in the world. Now its a little more compartmentalized. I do music with a lot of effort and put a lot of time and energy into it. But its not the whole focus of my life, nor can it be. It has a lot to do with where you are in your life at 25 versus when youre 40.
The center of the world kind of shifts.