Advertise with The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover Issue #94
MORE Interviews >>
Subscribe to The Big Takeover


Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs

Follow us on Instagram

Follow The Big Takeover

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World : A Quick Conversation with Chris Spenser of UNSANE

17 March 2023

Let’s start with some background, how did the band initially come about, what musical paths brought you together, and what are some of the influences on the band – musically, lyrically and non-musical too?

Chris: Initially, I had been writing a bunch of songs on a 4 track and was looking for friends to play them with. A friend of mine (Pete Shore) from school was interested in learning bass, so we started working on the songs.

We heard about a guy with a drum kit in his room (Charlie Ondras), so we went over to see if he’d be interested in playing. We all liked bands like SPK, Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division and some old 60’s garage rock, so we started out just playing long noise jams for fun. Eventually, we started working on a set, looking into actually playing shows and trying to find a practice space in Lower Manhattan.

Charlie had met a guy named Jon Spencer and his girlfriend Christina at a Billy Idol show, and Jon invited us to share a space that he had on Avenue B. At the start, it was Pussy Galore, us, and the Honeymoon Killers. After a while, Cop Shoot Cop moved in. At the time, the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan was a great place to get started, although it was pretty lawless and drugs were sold openly on the street. The chaos of the environment definitely had an impact on our sound, and Pete and I started driving taxis out in Queens, which also created a somewhat negative narrative.

We got shows at places like CBGB’s, The Pyramid, ABC, No Rio and the Lismar Lounge with other bands from the neighbourhood, and things started to happen…

Although there have been a few breaks in the band, you seem unable to stay away from the UNSANE brand for a long time. What is it that keeps calling you back?

Chris: From the beginning, the sound and approach of UNSANE have represented what I love in music—something of a condensed, pure approach for me. The noise, aggression, anguish and purity of the three-piece is what I find most rewarding musically. I have done a few projects with other people (Human Impact, The Cutthroats 9, UXO & Celan), but UNSANE is what I find most rewarding.

Its clarity of purpose for me personally makes it incredibly difficult to stop doing. I want to continue to write and play this stuff until I die.

And over the 35-plus years of the band, what has changed for the touring artist? And what remains the same?

Chris: When we first started touring, we needed to be more conscious of maintaining a sustainable way of doing it. It was basically three of us with a friend who did sound driving around the country, sleeping at friends’ houses or people we met at the show, trying to get out there and play.

There was a lot of rounding everyone up the next morning to get to the next show, crashing in cat hair and beer, and general disorganization. As we started touring more ( at one point, over 315 shows a year for four years), we realized that it really helps to keep things more organized and have a quiet place to sleep, have everyone stay together and establish something of a schedule to get to where we needed to on time and in good shape.

What has remained the same is the “us against the world” brotherhood of performing the best you can under extenuating circumstances. Playing in a different city every night is rough enough without external problems. In the pre-internet times, it was a lot more challenging to get the word out…

Similarly, how different is recording compared with the process of the early days?

Chris: Not much has changed for us in that we record live all together in the studio. Most of the pre-production work is now done in a home studio, which means we’re a lot more prepared when we get to the final recording, but it’s much better to play the material live in practice and recording. Obviously, things are a lot different recording digitally compared to the early analogue recording process, but there’s no substitute for recording together live.

And has the band’s sound changed over the years?

Chris: We’ve gotten better.

Is there anything different between the musician you are today and your younger self? Are you still rallying against the same things? Do you still see the world the same way?

Chris: I really feel that I’m the same person down inside, although I’ve definitely learned from countless past mistakes and seem to be better at avoiding unnecessary problems and issues. Society has changed a lot since the early scum life in 80s New York, and now there are different issues to deal with.

It’s still fairly easy to write a song that means something to me personally. I may not see the world the same way, but there are still things that are fucked up and worth writing about.

Could you give us some of the highlights and low points for the band, and you personally, over the band’s career?

Chris: I would say the high points have been playing to thousands of people at festivals, and the lows would be both the death of Charlie Ondras and the times of extreme tour burnout.

And, where next for UNSANE, and where next for you personally?

Chris: UNSANE is heading out on tour in Europe for May/June and Australia in September as well as writing new shit. We’re hoping to initially put out a box set of 7″ singles, which would be the heart of a new full-length. For me personally, just more writing, recording and playing music…

UNSANE Tour Dates


04/05/2023 DE Osnabrück Bastard Club

05/05/2023 BE Eeklo N9

06/05/2023 UK London Desertfest London

07/05/2023 UK Southampton Suburbia

08/05/2023 UK Brighton Green Door Store

09/05/2023 UK Huddersfield Parish

11/05/2023 IE Cork Cyprus Avenue

12/05/2023 IE Dublin Lost Lane

13/05/2023 UK Belfast Voodoo

14/05/2023 UK Glasgow Nice N Sleazy

15/05/2023 UK Newcastle Anarchy Brewery

17/05/2023 BE Brussels LA SOURCE BEER CO.

18/05/2023 NL Rotterdam Baroeg

19/05/2023 DE Bochum Die Trompete

20/05/2023 DE Jena KuBA

21/05/2023 AT Wien Arena

22/05/2023 HU Budapest Robot

24/05/2023 SI Ljubljana Channel Zero

25/05/2023 AT Linz Kapu

26/05/2023 AT Ebensee Kino Ebensee

27/05/2023 CH Delémont SAS (Toxoplasmose Festival)

28/05/2023 CH Fribourg Nouveau Monde

30/05/2023 FR Marseille L’Embobineuse

31/05/2023 FR Bordeaux Mac 3

01/06/2023 FR Tours Le Foudre

02/06/2023 FR Clermont Ferrand Lieu-Dit

03/06/2023 IT Torino Spazio 211

05/06/2023 IT Recanati Dong

06/06/2023 IT Roma 30formiche

07/06/2023 IT Pescara Scumm

08/06/2023 IT Bologna Fermento In Villa

09/06/2023 IT Bergamo Rock in Riot

10/06/2023 IT Vicenza Bocciodromo

– Australia:

21/09/2023 AU Melbourne Bendigo Hotel

22/09/2023 AU Frankston Singing Bird Studios

23/09/2023 AU Melbourne Max Watts

24/09/2023 AU Rye Haba

27/09/2023 AU Canberra The Basement

28/09/2023 AU Wollongong La La Las

29/09/2023 AU Sydney The Lansdowne

30/09/2023 AU Brisbane The Zoo


More in interviews