The Rough and Ready Charm of The Unknowns
In true punk fashion, Brisbane rock 'n' rollers the Unknowns inject no nonsense, straight-ahead garage punk that rips through the speakers. The quartet recently put out their second album East Coast Low and we caught up with axe slingers Josh Hardy and Eamon Sandwith to discuss how they packed a punch across the new album, splitting their time also playing in the Chats, and how they've gotten to where they are now.
The Chats aren't the only punk powerhouse carving up rollicking rock 'n' roll in South East Queensland. The Unknowns, the band that actually inspired the Chats, deliver high-octane, pub-wrought garage punk, evoking the days when bands like the Saints and Cheap Nasties reigned supreme in Australia's punk scene. With this "gutter rock classicism" approach, the Unknowns have proven to be one of the most lethal punk bands tearing it up in the Sunshine Coast.
Emerging in late 2014 by brothers Josh (guitarist-vocalist) and Caleb Hardy (drummer), the Unknowns recently expanded into a four-piece with the addition of Nathan Montgomery (bassist) and Josh Hardy's fellow Chats bandmate Eamon Sandwith (guitarist). Earlier this month, the Unknowns released their second album East Coast Low, an amphetamine-fueled rush of fifth-gear tempos chock-full of scuzzed-out riffage, searing guitar solos, and a healthy dose of hopeless romantic melodicism that brims with a rough and ready charm.
To dive further into East Coast Low, we caught up with Josh Hardy and Eamon Sandwith to discuss how they packed a punch across the new album, splitting their time also playing in the Chats, and how they've gotten to where they are now.
Paperface Zine: Congrats on your guys' new LP East Coast Low! I've been anticipating this one and it already sits at the top of my favorite records this year! Tell me, what's it like having it out especially considering all the effort putting it together the last few months.
Josh Hardy: Appreciate that! It feels great to have it out finally. We have been playing quite a few of these songs in our live set for a while now, so it feels great to finally have them in physical form so we can start fresh.
PZ: What has it been like touring recently with San Diego rockers the Schizophonics? We've been pretty lucky to have them play Rochester a couple times.
JH: Playing with Schizophonics has been so great. I'd say they are probably one of the most exciting live bands I've ever seen! Pat and Lety Beers are truly a spectacle to behold on stage. Great humans too. I think we will be friends for a long time. Anyone reading this, if you haven't already, I'd highly recommend catching them live or even just listen to the records. Great band.
PZ: This record has been a longtime coming since 2020's Nothing Will Ever Stop. Since then, you've recently expanded into a four-piece with Chats frontman Eamon Sandwith. How did this happen and Eamon, what's it like now being part of the fold?
JH: Yes we have Eamon now, also Tom Butler behind the kit. Before my brother was drumming, but since the pandemic we mixed things up a little. Eamon has always been one of our biggest supporters as me and Nathan grew up in Coolum. In fact the first time I met and hung out with Eamon was at a house party The Unknowns played when we were in high school. We have been around for a while in some form or another.
Eamon Sandwith: It's been unreal playing with the Unknowns because I was a fan for years before joining, so I was already familiar with the songs and also friends with 'em all too. Plus it's been more challenging for my guitar playing so that's been cool too.
PZ: What has it been like for the both of you like splitting time between playing in the Chats and the Unknowns? Is it something that you have to plan around?
JH: It's been proven quite easy, I guess yes there is definitely planning involved but we just love playing so when we aren't doing heaps of Chats stuff I fill in the time off with Unknowns stuff and plan releases around it too.
ES: Yeah it's not too hard to work around, but both bands play semi-frequently so we plan stuff in advance.
PZ: Let's backtrack now. How exactly did the Unknowns form?
JH: The Unknowns formed in late 2014, with my brother Caleb on drums, my best friend at the time Dexter on bass and vox, and me on guitar and vox. You can listen to some of our early demos on Bandcamp. It started with the idea we would be pretty much the band we are today, but we were far worse [laughing]. We played pubs and RSL's around the area we grew up when we were still in high school, usually pitching to the venues we were a cover band of sorts, but then we would get there and played half-arsed covers of the Kinks or something then play originals for the rest of the set (usually at the average punters displeasure). It was kind of one of the only ways we could get shows in the area at the time where we grew up, and I can imagine it's still the same.
PZ: Aside from Eamon joining the band, how have you guys grown musically or evolved our sound over the years?
JH: Different members have come and gone so I think that's got a lot to do with our sound changing a bit as we have always recorded live, but aside from that, I feel we've always had our own sound. I think this current lineup is the best we've had.
PZ: Talk to me about what it was like putting this new record together. What were the sessions like and when did it take place?
JH: Well we recorded it in June last year with Cody McWaters, who worked on the last Chats record, over the span of one week. All of it was tracked live over the first three days then we went back and overdubbed the vocals and some extra guitar parts. It was pretty easy for us to get it done quickly as we usually try to rehearse HEAPS before we record so we can make the live tracking process run as smoothly as possible. It was then mixed by us and Cody a week later, then mastered by Mikey Young. Tom came up with the idea of calling it East Coast Low. I guess the name and the tone of the record reflects on growing up in a small regional/coastal town on the East Coast of Australia and the sense of isolation and being left to your own devices you get in order to create your own style.
PZ: Any favorites off the new album or ones you enjoy playing live the most?
JH: "Rid of You" is one of my favorites to play live, but I also like playing "Thinking About You." Just love playing down strokes with my boys!
PZ: I really dig that this record takes the best bits of pub, power pop and '77 garage punk — it really reminds me of the Lurkers, Protex, the Undertones, the Exploding Hearts, and of course Cosmic Psychos.
JH: Cheers! Well, we love all that stuff and have since we were kids! So I guess it came through in the delivery. Safe to say though if the Saints didn't exist we probably wouldn't be here.
PZ: The new record also takes a detour down hopeless romantic, touch-and-go power pop. Some of these tracks sound like love letters that were never sent.
JH: You're too kind! A lot of our songs have always been like that maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. I have the habit of sharing too much through the songs I write especially with the Unknowns, but I need to do it in order to reflect. I guess if people out there can relate, I'm doing okay?
PZ: How did the opening cut "Shot Down" come together? That one includes one of the best hooks I've heard all year.
JH: It was a song we wrote about a year and a bit ago, I guess it just started of as a bit of a riffy one then we decided to break it up at the end after the second guitar solo with that hook. It just sounded and felt good to us so we just ran with it.
PZ: What's the Brisbane underground rock scene like currently? Who are some of your favorite local bands that should be on our radar?
JH: There are always good Brisbane bands kicking around. Eamon's partner Macie has just started a cool band called Prink. Other Brisbane bands like Piss Shivers, Knifer, Landlords, and anything the Corbett brothers do (6ftHick) is cool. All the art rock stuff too.
PZ: Moving forward, what's next for the Unknowns?
JH: We are keen to just keep writing and releasing records. We also just want to keep playing shows all over the place. We want to start planning a trip over to Europe and hopefully America in 2024-25. Safe to say we won't be disappearing any time soon.
East Coast Low is out now on Bargain Bin Records.