I did this interview via email a few days ago with Ryan Butler, guitarist of classic 90s hardcore band UNRUH. Such an underrated band in my opinion, who put to record some of the best raw metal-infused hardcore from the period (1995-2000), having more in common with bands like RORSCHACH and good early death metal than EARTH CRISIS or their copycats... Thanks to Ryan for the interview, and replying quicker than anyone else I've ever interviewed...
Q. When exactly did Unruh form, and what was the scene like around Arizona when you started?What bands were played regularly and who was good?
Ryan: We formed in spring of 1995, my senior year. I was jamming with a friends band called Uruk Hai which I jumped into right when they were about to record and break up. I really enjoyed playing with their drummer Bill who ended up going on to do Unruh and Structure of Lies with me. And the other guitarist Nick was down to play bass in a new band with us. We just knew we wanted to be pretty much speed metal mixed with hardcore at the time. (Man, I haven't used the term speed metal in years! haha). There wasn't many bands here at the time. Not sure who was around heavy music wise when we started but some bands that were around in our early days that were good were Pay Neuter, Atomkinder, Tho Ko Losi and some others I can't think of.
Q. What 3 hardcore bands would you cite as being your main influences in UNRUH, and why? I am guessing that RORSCHACH was one important band that influenced you?
Ryan: Haha, Rorschach is my favorite band of all time with Iron Maiden a close second. If I were to name 3 in the early days it would be Rorschach, Voice of Reason, and Citizens Arrest. We stole Voice Of Reason's crazy 16th beat high-hat beats and used that a ton. I was really into the band Ire when we were writing the last LP. Always loved Assuck and a lot of crust punk too..
Q. What about a few metal or sludge bands that influenced you too? Early Earache Records catalogue?
Ryan: We were way into Slayer and lots and lots of death metal bands like Incantation, Suffocation, Autopsy, Carcass etc. I was probably more into those bands than anyone else. I did the bulk of the writing over the years, though. So, that influence definitely crept in. Nick the original bass player wrote a bunch of riffs on the first LP, 7", and split with Enewetak, but he was a huge death/black metal fan too.
Q. What guitarists influenced your style of playing the most during your time in UNRUH?
Ryan: There was really no definitive guitarist that I was into for our stuff. I was always into the Steer/Ammott combo. Hanneman and King obviously. I don't know. I've always been into a lot of Indie rock and classic rock and shit too. I drew influences from all over and still do.
Q. What do you think mainly seperates heavy metal from hardcore? I was just pondering this when thinking about whether UNRUH was really a 'metalcore' band (when compared with the shit that gets labelled that today)...
Ryan: At the time we just called it hardcore. But it was very much metal/grind looking back. At the end of our days the term metalcore started coming around a lot and we usually got lumped in with that. We even had a reviewer compare us to Mine once and say that we had that "emo" sound. There is definitely a huge separation between the metal scene and hardcore scene and we generally played to the hardcore scene, but did play some metal shows every once in awhile. There's so many more separations in hardcore and metal these days though. Most people nowadays when you say metalcore think of kids in sideways hats and grills. We were far from that. We grew up in the ebullition PC era of things but had a way more punk scumbag attitude. So, it was very much more different than the metal scene cause we had politics and DIY and all that other stuff. Plus punks/hardcore kids were way more made up of roughnecks than metal dudes ever have been or will be.
Q. Why did UNRUH decide to break up?
Ryan: We did a European tour in 99 that was rough to say the least. It was also one of the best times of my life. Tensions were a little high when we got back and things for me just felt like I was done with it. So, we stopped and Bill and I started Structure of Lies.
Q. What did you think to Europe when you toured? I'm from the UK myself but didn't get a chance to see you; what did you think of it? Did you have any crazy run-ins while over here?
Ryan: I love Europe. Ive been to Holland since and really enjoyed it. I don't think I'd ever want to live there. I love the wide open Desert here and no real cold weather. The UK is awesome. We did most of our shows with Phobia there and they were amazing. They treat you much like they do in the states though and gas prices were out of control even then. So, we were totally used to getting paid well, fed at every show as well as breakfast, cheap gas etc. Then we were shocked when we got to the UK. haha. I'd really love to visit London not on a tour. I've always kind of loved British culture. So, being there was really cool. Wish we could have spent more time there. We didn't really have anything too crazy in the UK. More in the mainland. Being with Phobia is always crazy though. Those guys are nuts.
Q. ENEWETAK (who you did a split with) seem, to me, like UNRUH's brother-band, in sound and attitude. Along with GEHENNA etc, you all seemed to play an original style of metal influenced hardcore that was fresh and new, all with bleak lyrics that seperated you from other hardcore bands singing about the same issues... What are your thoughts on this?
Ryan: We definitely were super tight with all those RPT bands. We did a split with Enewetak, a US tour with Fall Silent, and played so many shows with Gehenna I couldn't even count them. That was probably my second most favorite period of hardcore (the first being the early 90's when Born Against, Rorschach, Crossed Out etc. were around). We had so many good times playing with and watching those bands. We probably went to California to play with them every other month and one of those bands was in Phoenix every month or so. It was awesome. We never really knew where to classify ourselves, as well as those bands.
Q. When did you first discover hardcore? Can you remember the first hardcore record you heard, and first band you saw?
Ryan: I'm not sure. I'd heard a few bands by the late 80's and was super into metal since the early 80's. I remember buying Bad Brains "Quickness" shortly after it came out cause I was super into Mountain Bike racing and John Tomac talked about how he loved Bad Brains in an interview I read. But that record was super metal. I just thought it was kind of weird metal. I think a little later, maybe 89 or so a friend gave me a cassette of the early Minor Threat stuff and a cassette of Cro Mags "Age of Quarrel" and I was floored. That started opening the door to other things for me. I got way more into punk and hardcore at that point.
Q. What was the worst thing about hardcore in 1995 when Unruh started, in your opinion? What bands did you really dislike and why?
Ryan: Good question. I don't know. I was always into everything that was hardcore and metal. There was always bands I didn't get into, but I mean I was into the whole Revelation/Victory thing, crust punk, hardcore, old school hardcore, all kinds of punk etc. So, I don't know. Probably about 1996, clap dancing made it into Arizona and I fucking hated that shit.
Q. Were any of the band straight edge? What was the deal with straight edge in the mid 90s in and around Arizona ('gang' violence?)
Ryan: I am, but have never really claimed it or anything. In the mid 90's all the SXE kids here were Christian and really centered around this band called Overcome. So, there wasn't really violence or gangs here until the early 2000's.
Q. What's the funniest story you can tell about your time in UNRUH?
Ryan: Dude, I have so many. It'd be hard to pick just one. Most of them centered around the last bass player of the band, Mike Bjella. Probably the night he stabbed himself in the head multiple times with a fork in Switzerland. It's a long story, but that alone should make you laugh.
Q. What was the best show you played and why? What bands did you always like to play with, and what bands are you glad to have been able to play with? What was your worst show?
Ryan: Man, you ask some challenging questions. Best show? I don't know man. We played one in Phoenix with Gehenna, Enewetak, Fall Silent, and Tho Ko Losi. It doesn't get much better than that. I don't know, we played rad shows and toured with rad bands the likes of Assuck, Phobia, Man VS. Humanity, Stack, Creation Is Crucifixion, Reversal of Man, Dillinger Escape Plan opened for us before anyone knew who they were, State Of Fear, Seein Red, Stalingrad, Machine Head, Catharsis, Congress etc. etc. Worst show? I don't know. I had tons of bad nights on tours, but locally, probably my birthday where I spent the day in traffic school for 8 hours and then played with Disembodied, Converge, Overcast, and Ten Yard Fight and we almost got in a fight with Ten Yard Fight. What a birthday. Blah.
Q. How important do you think having some kind of message, whether it be political or social (or whatever), is to being in a hardcore punk band? What do you think of the strongly political/activist hardcore scene of the early-to-mid 1990s looking back?
Ryan: I thought it was fucking great and it opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. I still think it's awesome when bands do it, but it's not like it used to be. I was never in a band with an overly political message though, I was more into the dark side of shit as were most of my vocalists. I was never too into writing lyrics. Wellington was the only band I ever wrote all the lyrics for and I wrote like three Structure of Lies songs, but I usually leave that to the more poetic people around me.
Q. You also played in WELLINGTON right? What other bands have you done time in? What bands are currently in, and what are the other guys upto?
Ryan: I played in a pop punk band called Richard Cranium when I was 15/16. I played in Lyburnum with the singer of Unruh. We actually had a song on Ebullition's Amnesia comp. Super Moss Icon esque type of band that originally sounded like Rorschach. Wellington, Unruh, Uruk Hai, Structure of Lies, Mercitron, North Side Kings, and now Landmine Marathon is my current band. The original bass player, Nick isn't playing right now. The second bass player, Jason, is in a band from Texas called Healers. The third bass player, Mike is in an amazing band from here called Black Hell and does a noise project called Gog. The singer, Mike, isn't playing right now. And the drummer, Bill, is in a rock band called Antique Scream. Most of them have moved on and have kids etc. and don't do the full time band thing. I'm still as into it as ever and Landmine Marathon is extremely active.
Ryan playing in Landmine Marathon.
Q. Who do you prefer, CROSSED OUT or NO COMMENT?
Definitely Crossed Out. No Comment ruled, but was really just DRI on speed. Crossed Out was the most insane, angry thing I'd ever and still have ever heard. I've never heard anyone match their intensity and brutality. Funny, cause our drummer and I just went to see this band called Ceremony who was doing the Crossed Out/Infest thing (though I'm not sure they're even aware of it) and all these SXE kids were huge into them and going insane and I'm sure they had no idea that the sound is 20 years old.
Q. What are your 5 favourite hardcore records EVER, and what's so good about them?
Ryan: Fuck man, here you go again. I hope a lot of people read this, cause this is straining my brain quite a bit! Rorschach "Protestant" is definitely number one, can Black Flag's first four years of EP's be one album? I'm saying yes. Ok, that's 2. Minor Threat's first EP. That's 3. Um, Citizen's Arrest "Collossus". That's 4. Shit. I don't know. Let's say, Fall Silent's "No Strength To Suffer". That's just the icing on the cake, but all of those records are amazing.
Q. What's the worst thing you've ever seen happen at a hardcore show?
Ryan: Man, all kinds of shit. I've seen some people get pretty messed up. Saw a dude get stabbed right in front of me at a Neurosis show in Phoenix. Huge brawls. All kinds of stuff. It's pretty safe here these days though.
Q. If you could bring together 5 bands to play a show, who would you choose?
Ryan: Current bands? Hmm, let's say Graf Orlock, Bolt Thrower, Carcass (they're doing a reunion!), Saviours, I don't know, um, Despise You. There we go.
Q. A metal question to end on...What's your favourite Black Sabbath record, and why? Are you a fan of Dio-era?
Probably Paranoid. I don't know. I have this rad box set called "Black Sabbath: The Ozzy Years" and I just rock that. So, I don't listen to any particular album generally. Mob Rules is the shit though. Some of their doomiest stuff was with Dio!