The Units are a
synthesizers and drums trio that originated in S.F. a few years ago.
Their sets are loud and fast and visually eliciting. Usually a combination
of films and slides are projected on two or more screens. They have
two independently produced records out; a four song EP (HIGH PRESSURE
DAYS), and a single (WARM MOVING BODIES/I-NIGHT) and a soon to be released
album on the 415 label (DIGITAL STIMULATION).
The band consists of Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber on synthesizers
and vocals, and Brad Saunders on drums.
SLASH: How are you doing after your big gig last night?
RACHEL: Well, not so great.
SCOTT: You see, it's the flea season in S.F.
(Units chime in): I have a sunburn ... insomnia ... rash ... lice ...
headaches and upset stomachs ... mumps ... chicken pox ... the gout
... spasms ... dropsy ... gas ... Parkinson's ... moles ... pimples
... psoriasis ... ceboriah ... sclerosis of the liver ... blockage of
the intestines ... cavities ... chronic nose bleeds ... post nasal drip
... heart murmers ... dyslexia ... gonorrhea ... meningitis and general
SCOTT: Things could be better.
SLASH: I saw you at Valencia Tool and Die last night and it didn't
seem to affect your performance. I also noticed that you weren't using
SCOTT: We will be this weekend at the Back DOR. We have some
new projectionists and have been working on some new film. Because of
all the time we've spent recording the new album we haven't had time
lately to get that end of the show happening.
SLASH: Your old film show seemed to be a satirical, broken up
combination of home movies, educational training films, industry assembly
lines, and porno that seemed to loosely fit the song lyrics. Are you
still using that or are you going for a whole new approach?
SCOTT: We've taken the best stuff out of the old film show and
turned it into a twelve minute movie with a sound track. From now on
it will be shown on its own as a film. A guy here in S.F. Has organized
a new wave film program that he rents to various places around the country.
So if anyone out there is interested in seeing the original "UNIT TRAINING
FILM" and other local new wave films, the can contact Richard Gaikowski,
P.O. Box 40684, S.F., CA 94140.
The new films and slides are similar to the old in their
homemade appearance, but of course as we write new songs the subject
matter changes to fit the songs.
SLASH: Where do you get all the footage?
RACHEL: A lot of the film is thrown out on Thursday nights in
the film lab district and you can come up with some really horrible
stuff if you spend a few hours a week in a garbage bin. Friends have
given us some good footage and what we can't find we shoot ourselves.
Our new slide projectionist is in the brain research program at Stanford
and has access to a lot of good imagery. Brad works at a film library
at S.F. State and has access to a lot of good stuff.
SLA*H: I saw you perform last year at the Mabuhay with the Dead
Kennedy's and at that time you were projecting slides on a carhood and
beating them with plywood guitars. Is that out of the picture for now?
SCOTT: We might digress back into that someday. It was a lot
SLASH: Rumor has it that you're putting out an album soon.
SCOTT: We've just finished recording an album called "Digital
Stimulation" on 415 records. In fact we just finished mastering it a
few days ago. It should be in the stores by mid Sept.
SLASH: How did that come about?
RACHEL: 415 Records contacted us about two months ago and everything
seemed to fall into place. We were all concerned about costs. We figured
from past experience we'd need around one hundred hours of studio time
to record and mix eleven songs. A $200 an hour studio like the Automatt
was definitely out of the question. Ken Wagner, a recording engineer
friend, just happened to call me at this time and said they (Big Pink
West) had just purchased a new sixteen track deck and that they'd give
us time for $19 an hour. They had a very nice studio with a good mixing
board and other nice equipment and since I'd worked with Ken on other
projects it seemed like the perfect place to record an album. 415 was
pretty skeptical about the place at first. It was too cheap ... too
good to be true. And since we wanted to produce it ourselves they worried
that we might end up with a shoddy product. But we were finally able
to convince them that with the rates being as inexpensive as they were
that we would be able to spend more time experimenting with the sound
and getting what we wanted. 415 was very good to us about that ... they
gave us complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. Though they never
said anything, I think they were quite worried right up until the end,
about what we were going to come out with. We heard suppressed groans
in the beginning when we had mentioned that we were doing three instrumentals
... and that one of them featured a guest artist on vibes. You have
to keep in mind the other groups on the 415 label. We noticed some rather
strained faces when we all went in to master the final mixes ... it
was the first time they had really heard the recordings. There were
sighs of relief after the first song had played. It came out really
SLASH: Did you do the final mixes?
RACHEL: We did it together with the engineers, Ken Wagner and
Mike Rosen. There were usually four of us turning knobs during each
mix. They gave us a lot of help and support in getting the sound we
wanted. They have since volunteered to be our soundmen for live performances.
We've had problems in our past recordings getting a good synthesizer
sound. It's easy to get a good mid-range sound but the high and low
end can really sound like buzzsaws and farts on tape. So we spent a
lot of time getting them to have an aggressive, cutting edge without
breaking up and hissing.
The greatest challenge was getting a good drum sound. We
wanted to get a melodic drum sound in which the toms were out in front.
I try to use them melodically and it seemed hard to get a warm sound
with an edge on it.
SLASH: Did you use any other special recording techniques?
SCOTT: We ended up doing the vocals in the tool room to get a
SLASH: Do you plan to use the vibes player at any live gigs?
RACHEL: We're hoping to use him and some other musicians around
town occasionally to bring some different instrumentation into our sets.
SLASH: How long were you in the studio?
SCOTT: About two months. We'd work at our regular jobs during
the day and record at night.
SLASH: What are your regular jobs?
SCOTT: I'm a tile setter.
BRAD: I work at a film library at S.F. State.
RACHEL: I work for a graphic designer.
SLASH: Are you doing the album cover design?
BRAD: Rachel is.
SLASH: How long have you been together?
SCOTT: The Units started back in '78. We had four guitar players,
a bassist, a lead singer, a drummer and I played synthesizer. Pretty
soon the lead singer and all the guitar players quit, one by one. Someone
stole the bass player's bass and I talked him into getting a synthesizer.
In fact several of us chipped in money so he could afford one.
But Brad and I were playing together long before that.
We grew up in the same town. In fact he lived on the same block I did.
Rachel and I met about two years ago. We collaborated on a performance
piece in the windows of the J.C. Penny's building downtown on Fifth
and Market and have been working together ever since then.