By Nicholas Jason Lopez
On April 3, 2020, Oakland, Calif. post-rock band Unconditional Arms put out their second full-length album ‘Formation’ via Sell The Heart Records, an indie label run in the Bay Area by Tsunami Bomb’s Andy Pohl.
Unconditional Arms was formed by Jeff Wright (The American Scene, Compltr) and also features drummer Ross Traver (Wavves), Randy Staat, Corey Reily (Prawn) and Max Senna (Facet).
‘Formation’ was mixed and mastered by Scott Goodrich and recorded at Nu Tone Studios, Secret Bathroom (RIP), Peermusic LA, as well as in the houses of both Goodrich and Wright.
The Music Bugle recently had the opportunity to chat with Wright about the new album and more.
Music Bugle – Can you tell us what the creative process was like for your latest record ‘Formation’? What sparked the name?
Jeff Wright – Big, loaded question. ‘Formation’ was written between 2003 and 2020. There were times of collaboration, a lot of writing alone in the various spaces I found myself in and times when things just happened naturally – flowing. “Bad Day No Reason” was written in one single get-together probably five years ago with Ross, Randy and Tyler. The album version has some slight adjustments, but nothing crazy. “Westbrae Sunrise” went through many stages – there are about five versions of that song. That’s the general writing tone for 90 percent of record, that process of trial-and-error. There are about 19 songs that were written during this time period that did not make it on to ‘Formation’ as well. I’ve been releasing them via Bandcamp on special occasions and for subscribers only – there is more to come on that score. The album name ‘Formation’ is a descriptor for the process it took to get to how I finally feel – and am – after years of trying to figure everything out. How to be a parent. How to be responsible. My interpretation of what it means to be a good person. What it means to respect yourself and your own decisions. I have grown in many ways since ‘Kinship’ – our first LP – and this record is an attempt to denote that change in succinct way.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Oakland, California to someone who has never been there before?
Jeff Wright – I moved to Oakland when I was 20, 10 years ago. It was a different, better place then. I actually don’t live in Oakland proper anymore, just outside of it, so I’m not exactly sure I’m qualified to answer this question. I moved in 2018, but I will say that I moved to Oakland because it was a place of acceptance, culture, activism and ideas. Now, it seems like people visit this area who are interested in an $8 latte, a job on the Uber campus, or to see what “the other side of the bay” is like. Do not come to Oakland if those are your interests.
Music Bugle – What’s your favorite song off the new record?
Jeff Wright – I love all of these songs, but I will say, I very much enjoy “Stifle.” Drone/Ambient music is actually a huge part of my daily routine. Developing anxiety as an adult sucks. One thing I frequent, to help me sleep, is ambient music – my #1 artist on Spotify is Hotel Neon, an ambient artist out of Philadelphia. I enjoy “Stifle”‘s placement on the record to transition the listener to a different listening field, as well as a standalone track that honestly helps me sleep.
Music Bugle – Do you feel social media makes it easier or harder for a band to stand out these days?
Jeff Wright – Probably easier. I find all the music I listen to utilizing social media or Spotify. I’m actually very bad at it – in comparison to someone who is very good – but I believe it just comes from a place of authenticity. I’m genuinely not very engaging unless we’re face-to-face. I’m the person who prefers an in-person meeting to a text or phone call. I think this could be related to why I’m not great at plunging away at the social media stream, even though I find it super valuable. The fanbase that UA has is largely comprised of people I’ve never met who found the project using social media and I am grateful for that.
Music Bugle – How did you decide the name “Unconditional Arms” for the band and what does it signify for you?
Jeff Wright – “Unconditional Arms” was never meant to exist past ‘Kinship,’ the first record. I wrote and recorded ‘Kinship’ as a welcoming gift for my newborn son, Owen. The project name “Unconditional Arms” was a way of expressing to my son that no matter what I would be there for him, as Scott Stapp might say, “With arms wide open.”
Music Bugle – How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected the band?
Jeff Wright – Well, ‘Formation’ came out on April 3rd, during shelter-in-place/COVID-19. I did initially have the thought that the timing was bad to release a record, but then I came to the conclusion that it had the potential to make someone who is otherwise struggling through this happy. That in of itself, even if it were for one person during this insane thing, made it worth it to push forward. Also I would like to say that Sell The Heart Records has been so fantastic in being flexible and easy to work with through this confusing time. Support STHR, grab a record! Otherwise, we had some loose plans to do more live shows this year. We played two in February that went really great with a few new players in the band. Our drummer, Ross, plays in Wavves and was about to be gone for a few months on tour and then we were planning to pick up a few more live dates, but all of that is unlikely to happen now.
Music Bugle – Who are some of your musical influences?
Jeff Wright – Haha. I listen to a ton of music. I created this project to create something influenced by elements around me rather than specific musicians or artists. I honestly don’t even listen to very much post-rock at all, which would explain why some people have described the project as genre-bending. If I am influenced by any musicians or artists, it is by the musicians/friends/collaborators that I have in my circle. Their projects include Opinions, AO Gerber, DMTV, Wavves, Feeling Sad, Facet, Compltr, Wavves, CITE, String of Hearts, Old Blush, Gal Pal – there are probably some I’m missing, but honestly I talk to these people every single day of my life. We share music together and collaborate.
Music Bugle – What has been your proudest moment while with this group?
Jeff Wright – I think I only realized this moment recently after ‘Formation’ came out, which is kind of insane because there were definitely a few shining moments in my mind previously, like playing with bands I admire – This Will Destroy You, Russian Circles, Foxing, King Woman, Prawn, The World Is.., etc. – Unconditional Arms has changed from being a singular, musical, entity in my mind to the fertilizer for some of the greatest moments, relationships, and community I could have asked for in my adult life. That is what I am most proud of.
Music Bugle – What are your future plans, as far as the rest of 2020?
Jeff Wright – I am looking at releasing some cool tracks from that back-vault I mentioned before and potentially doing a few smaller physical releases. I would love to play live, but that’s out of everyone’s control right now.
Music Bugle – What would you call the biggest challenge of being an instrumental band?
Jeff Wright – This isn’t an instrumental project, the singer just never shows up. Ever.