Tune in to Hear Nebraska FM, 8-10 p.m. on Monday, April 3, to hear Unmanned perform live.
By Annie Bohling
April 3, 2017
Lincoln garage rock band Unmanned boasts evident maturity on its newest album, to be unveiled on Friday at its album release show at 1867 Bar.
The sound on “Favorites” is sharp, slicing the ears satisfyingly.
Each part – Jordan Elfers on drums, Jason Morris on bass, Kelly Houchen and Dave Arredondo on guitars and vocals – is clean, clear and distinct, but never isolated. Magical cohesion and immaculate structure are at the core of nine-track “Favorites.”
The four men, who have been playing together since 2011, say the album differs from their last two releases in that it’s less garage rock and progressive rock and more rock and roll and pop rock. Vocal harmonies by Houchen and Arredondo and the band’s self recording also define “Favorites.”
“Once we started writing the songs, we said, ‘Let’s write a really hooky album,” Houchen said. “Lots of hooks. Almost like pop.”
But it’s still garage rock, the guys said.
“’15 of 30’ is like the last album,” Morris said, referring to a track on the new album. “It’s the most aggressive song. It’s heavier than the others. Everything else is pretty poppy and happy.”
“Favorites” is much more vocal heavy compared to the band’s 2016 and 2013 releases, “Night Friends” and “Powers,” respectively.
“One thing that is way different vocally is that they’re doing their own back-up vocals, their own harmonies,” Elfers said of Houchen and Arredondo.
They know how to harmonize better together now, Morris said.
“That was the fun part about that aspect of the recording,” Houchen said. “We got to spend time on it. We actually got to sit in a room with a guy who loves doing it.”
Houchen is referring to Evan Miles Anderson, who helped produce, engineer and mix the album. The album was mastered at Sage Audio Mastering in Nashville.
“Evan was a pretty integral part of the process,” Houchen said. “He cleaned it up, tied it up. … He definitely needs credit.”
Unmanned, especially Houchen, has been collecting recording equipment for the past year or so. That collection combined with equipment brought in by Anderson allowed the band to record “Favorites” in their practice space above two bars near 11th and M streets. The recording process was smooth and efficient. Elfers said he recorded his drum tracks in six hours.
The band started writing tracks for the new album two years ago. They released “Night Friends” less than one year ago and had remaining tracks that didn’t fit with the rest, so they were saved for what became “Favorites.”
“‘Loud Sisters’ took us a couple of months to write and ‘Crushed’ took us a couple of years to write,” Arredondo said of two tracks on the new album.
Most of the band’s songs start with guitar, bass lines and lyrics brought to the group by Arredondo or Houchen.
“The theme of my writing for this album has a lot to do with being a local musician and how it can be frustrating and sometimes not very fruitful,” Houchen said. “Sometimes I think, ‘Is this fun?’ But it’s always fun.”
Lyrics also spotlight the general experience of growing up, the guys said.
“I think the long and short is that what we came up with is more lush, full, dynamic,” Morris said. “I know we’re all super psyched for this one and looking forward to prospects of doing more together.”
Because the group isn’t a touring act (Arredondo is married with two kids, Houchen is married with a child on the way, Elfers is in five bands), they put energy into recording and playing live shows when they can.
“If we weren’t doing this, we’d go insane,” Morris said.
The band doesn’t plan on slowing down. They see themselves making music together for a long time, Houchen said.
“We’re just starting to get good together,” Arredondo said. “When we play live, we’re finally fast and loose and comfortable.”
Just as in the case of “Night Friends,” the band has even more songs that did not make it onto “Favorites.” Unmanned will soon start recording yet another album.
“Favorites” will be released as a digital file and as a cassette with fold-out art and lyrics inside. The band decided to put their music on streaming services, too.
“I just want people to listen to it, I don’t care how they listen,” Arredondo said.
Before wrapping up the interview over a couple of beers at the Dutch Uncle, the men of Unmanned answered what local acts they recommend. They named Bogusman, the Grand Poobah, Halfwit, No Thanks, Bien Feng, Sweats, The Ambulanters, Dirty Talker, Her Flyaway Manner and Dancing Dead.
Find out more about Unmanned and preview the new album on the band’s Facebook page.
Annie Bohling is one of KZUM’s tireless interns.