An Interview with Jeff Jacquay of Unashamed
A classic trip in time through the years of Spirit Filled Hardcore and beyond…
I first caught glimpse of Unashamed in 95’ at a show with Focused in Capo Beach, CA. and was blown away by the intensity of the band. Their brand of “Spirit Filled Hardcore” blew everyone in the room away with passion of heart and explosive guitars enough to jolt the building to the floor (exaggerated). I had never seen a hardcore show quite like that one. I was a noob and new to the scene of Hardcore but it was bands like Unashamed, Focused, Strongarm, etc. that brought me into this new world of “Christian” hardcore that completely changed my life and showed me that music of Faith didn’t have to be repetitive cheese ball metal or CCM oriented adult pop. Or even worse, the Newsboys. (no offense to you fans out there). This was legitimate hardcore music with a true message of hope for dying world and hope for a new generation of Christian youth. It was because of bands like Unashamed that I rededicated my life to the Lord. Years have long passed and these bands have long since been broken up. Members have carried on with their lives and people have generally changed. Times have changed, for the good or worse, it’s up to you to decide. My interview, this interview, is with the man behind the now classic band, Unashamed. His life, his glories, his hope. Welcome to the world of Spirit filled hardcore.
Brandon/IVM: Where do I begin? Well let’s start with the inception of the band Unashamed. Where did you guys meet and how did you first decide that you wanted to start a “hardcore” band? What were your influences at the time?
Honestly, I kind of feel like an old man reminiscing but here it goes. Unashamed actually existed before I joined so I’m not really sure all of the others met. There were 2 vocalists before me, Dave Bhanson and Dave Lauridsen. I was just a kid in the crowd going to see these bands play but I immediately found a place of acceptance as did a lot of us. I remember in the early days of the Spirit-Filled Hardcore scene like around early 93’, I’d go to these shows about once or twice a month and see Focused, Unashamed, Outnumbered, Plank-eye, Hold True, Change, and these 13-14 year olds who called themselves Bloodshed. This is when the bands were just forming, I think Focused and Hold True had demo tapes which was a big deal. I was playing music with some friends at the time. We called ourselves Found (which later became Never Alone on the first “Helpless Amongst Friends” Album). Early on, shows were a really small affair consisting of roughly 30-40 people so you would see the same people at the shows and naturally you’d become friends and try to start a band up together. It was a great network too. All of the bands would support the others, it was real D.I.Y .and you have to keep in mind, there was no internet availability so flyers, phone calls, and word of mouth were the extent of finding out where shows were. So I gradually became friends with Dave Lauirdsen, the then-vocalist for Unashamed and he’d invite me to go skate and we’d hang out. He decided he wanted to travel a bit so with his encouragement and the encouragement of an old friend Dave Nyguen I tried out with the band. I guessed they like it and asked me to join then and there in our bass player Shane’s garage. I remember the music being so loud that we knocked some oil over and our drummer Chris wiped it up with Shane’s dad’s nice wool shammy. He was pretty pissed but we thought it was funny. That was on January 1st of 1994, I was 17.
Brandon/IVM: About how long was it from your inception till the time of your first show(s)? Do you remember some of the first places you played at as a band? With what other artists did you share the stage with?
My first show with Unashamed was out in Riverside, CA behind this small record shop that some of the guys from VooDoo Glow Skulls owned. We played there back-to-back weekends so those acted as my first shows with the band. From there we just started playing all of the time, anywhere that would have us play. . In terms of bands, there were the usual suspects like Focused, Outnumbered, Bloodshed, Centerpoint and when we toured we’d play with Overcome, Strongarm, and Six Feet Deep. On our first tourin 1994 with Focused I remember Zao opening one show. They were awful at the time but the nicest guys. We’d play a bit with No Innocent Victim and P.O.D. They’d come up from San Diego and play and we’d go down there. Those guys didn’t get a lot of respect or credit back then and I never knew quite why. I always counted them both as an intregal part of the scene even though we had some 100 miles of distance between us.
Brandon/IVM: Spirit Filled Hardcore was a relatively new term at the time around the beginnings of bands like yourselves, Focused, Strongarm, etc. Who do you credit with coining the term? Did you guys feel comfortable being labeled as such?
I’m not where the term originated but everyone just seemed to adopt it. We would have these sweatshirts shirts with “Spirit Filled Hardcore” running big down the sleeve, it was our “crew” in a sense.. A part of me liked the categorization but another part of me despised it since I thought it created a separate scene or idea apart from the general hardcore scene. Overall it was fine though.
Brandon/IVM: What was it like being a part of the explosion of “Christian” talent at the time? What bands do you credit with re-shaping the scene? Who were your biggest influences?
It was something that never really occurred to me and still is a little vuage. . We were all just playing music and being friends and so on. In terms of influence, I’ve always listened to a wide variety of music but within the genre of hardcore I was always a big fan of the 80’s stuff. The more positive and fast it was the better. Band like Youth of Today, Bold, 7 Seconds, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge, Instead, Uniform Choice, Minor Threat, Agnostic Front, etc. but I also listened to a lot of folk stuff like Neil Young, CSNY, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake and I used to get a l lot of crap for it too. I remember the night before me left for our first 3 month tour with Focused. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I went to see James Taylor live. But I also listened to a lot of late-80’s/early 90’s hip hop. So yeah, I listened (and still listen to) a lot of varying styles. It’s all music and it’s good.” I wasn’t really aware of the scope of influence that time had on some of today’s music until I was at Denny’s with Chad and Steve from Strongarm/Further Seems Forever in late 2005. They were telling me all of these things about bands out there today and how they came from the S.F.H.C. scene and whatever. I never really thought about our music continuing on after we had decided to stop playing. I’ve always been a firm believer that Strongarm was far more ahead than everyone else. Their music was far more advanced and explosive than what anyone else was playing at the time. Those guys are some of the best musicians and human beings I’ve ever met and they were a big influence on me both musically and as who I am as a person.
Brandon/IVM: Any memorable shows or times that shaped who you are today? Anything that really stands out in your mind?
A few stick out more than others. We played in this barn at Cornerstone in 1995. That was probably my favorite. I had a VHS recording of the whole show but I think someone stole it from my apartment. I imagine the recording is out there somewhere. We played a show with Outspoken, one of their last. I remember Ignite playing their first show with us. They wanted to see if they could squeeze into the line-up so we just let them have some of our time. We became pretty close after that. In 1994 we toured with Focused and we played a show in Atlanta, GA with Strife and Earth Crisis. Strife had been good friends but to play with Earth Crisis in 1994 was pretty fun since they were the biggest Hardcore band at that time next to Snapcase. Every time we’d go to Florida and play with Strongarm was hands down the best show we’d play on tour.
Brandon/IVM: Tooth and Nail. Where did you first connect with Tooth and Nail? What year was it that you first signed with the label and what led to the decision to be actively a part of their roster?
Focused had signed with them along with Plank-eye. I remember it pretty vividly. We we’re doing a show in Long Beach at this super small place, this was in 1994. I had a fever of 103 degrees. We met with Brandon Ebel before the show and he was interested in fronting us the money to record an album. We were looking to record so we agreed. We got in the studio and began recording, this was when we recorded “Silence”. About halfway into it he liked what he heard and we signed our contracts over lunch at Wahoo’s Fish Taco’s. A lot of people don’t know that that album was recorded in 3 days straight. I ended up doing the vocal tracks at 3am on the last night.
Brandon/IVM: How was your general relationship with the label? What are(were) your thoughts on Tooth and Nail?
Overall it was good. I fully understood that Tooth and Nail Records is a business and businesses want to make money. I have no problem with that. On the same token, as an artist, I want to have as much exposure and distribution as possible. So, for me, signing with Tooth and Nail was great because they were able to get our music out to a wider audience. That is all I really wanted to get out of signing with Tooth and Nail and it was great. If I was out to make money I sure as hell wouldn’t have signed a record contract by any means. But I give Brandon and Tooth and Nail a lot of credit and respect. Without them I don’t think we could have gotten out as far as we did. I think that Tooth and Nail made a lot it possible in terms of exposure. But as with any partnership you’re going to have differences and things to work through but in the end I was happy with partnering up with them. At the same time, there weren’t too many other options for us at that time.
Brandon/IVM: Did you have any favorite bands on the label (at the time). Which artists stood out?
Strongarm was on another planet then the rest of us. I liked MXPX when they came out with their first couple of recordings. We were friends with a lot of the other bands so it was a good thing overall. I would say something like “yeah, we were one big family” but that language might be a little extreme. I was a super big fan of Matt Wignall. He’s dreamy in a psychotic sort of sense.
Brandon/IVM: In relation to the hardcore scene, how did Tooth and Nail stand out? What was the general impression of the label at the time? What was the impression that the general scene had of “Unashamed”?
I think there was an overall acceptance of Tooth and Nail within the hardcore scene. Sure, there were some who dispised Tooth and Nail but that came from a hated of all things with ties to any religion. I think Equal Vision was in the same boat. But generally everything was cool. I think more people were focused on the individual efforts and recordings of the bands as opposed to labels. A label was just a medium for the things we were creating.
Brandon/IVM:What were some of your favorite rock/hardcore bands during those early years? How did it shape the sound of Unashamed?
I always approached hardcore with the same enthuasism of the earlier straight edge bands, especially the N.Y. scene. You know the whole sing-a-long, finger point, stage diving with a smile. That sort of participation was big for me. Danno, our guitar player, wrote all of the music and he was into a wide array or music. He was heavily influenced by Slayer and Tool along with a number of the heavier hardcore/gridcore bands. Me yelling “Go” with a finger pointed backed behind Slayer sounding riffs. It was an odd mix but it seemed to work and we had fun with it.
Brandon/IVM: There were some weird things that happened in the scene back those years particularly with spiritual attacks. How did you guys handle it? Not naming anyone or any bands but did any particular moments freak you out?
Not really. I’m not one to really judge where people are coming from. I think spirituality is an innate part of the human condition/experience whether one would see it as good or bad. I was never really freaked out when something didn’t fit into my worldview. I just looked at it as a growing experience more than anything, a chance to learn something new about what it means to be a human being living with other human beings with all of differences. People would come up to me and put a curse over my life, I remember being curious as to why another human being felt the need to do something like that. I do remember this one time we were touring on the east coast, I think it was in downtown Atlanta. When we would tour we would travel in this larger pacts with like 20-30 people. People from the bands and others who just wanted to hang out. I remember there were a lot of us walking downtown and this older homeless lady we passed on the street worked her way through everyone to tell me that, specifically, I was going to hell. I was fascinated why this lady singled me out of this whole group. It was good laugh though.
Brandon/IVM: Revelation Records, Equal Vision, New Age Records as well as a few others were hugely popular in the late 80’s early 90’s and they spawned pretty popular local acts at the time. What bands stood out to you and were you a fan of? Were any of those labels interested in Unashamed? If so, what kept you from signing away from Tooth and Nail?
I really liked the stuff coming out on Revelation during those years. Bands like Sense Field and Farside just blew my mind. Especially Sense Field. I was so taken by the depth and honesty in their music, just very qualitative. Their album “Building” is still one of my favorites. I listened to Shelter quite a bit. As Unashamed goes, we were approached by Victory at one point but we were graciously under contract with Tooth and Nail for 2 albums. It didn’t bother us though, we were happy as long as our music was getting out to people.
Brandon/IVM: Jason Carson of The Supertones/Saved joined your band in 95’ I believe and he brought a new passion to the band. What was it like working with him? How did it work out having a member of a “Ska” band in a hardcore band like yourselves?
Jason was a freak. I remember he’d come to our shows and just fly off the walls. He didn’t come from a very strong hardcore background but we actually thought that could bring a new perspective to our own music. He’s a great guy and deserved everything he achieved with Supertones, we were always close to those guys. A lot of times people tend to pigeon-hole someone to a particular genre of music like he’s “ska” or he’s “Straight-edge or whatever. I understand that type of thinking but for us it was more about creating art, in this case music, with people you truly enjoy being around. Jason was a natural fit and a super good drummer.
Brandon/IVM: Your last album “Reflection” had a lot of personal moments and songs rich in spirituality. What was it like writing that record?
“Reflection” was a little bit different for us since we had a lot more time to record. I was our first time recording with Jason and our bass player Matt so the time was good in that we got to develop some chemistry in the studio. Recording is so methodical and stale, especially when you’re a hardcore band recording. That’s why we did the live songs on the “Silence” album, to try and have that live energy within the recording. You also have certain progressive expectations with a second album you want it to be a documentation of where you’ve come and how you’ve developed from the last one. That could be a good or a bad thing but if it doesn’t have any forward progression to it then it runs the risk of lying dormant or repetitive.
Brandon/IVM: My general opinion of “Reflection” was a let down. “Silence” had this explosive live vibe to it and really set it apart from the pack. When “Reflection” released I was disappointed in the overall sound quality of the record. I know part of that is due to the low budget studio you guys recorded at (Bob Moon). What is your impression of “Reflection” now that you look back on it? Anything you’d like to change about it? Personally, I have always felt that if you guys would have been given the budget and studio time that Stavesacre or Focal Point would have had, your album(s) would have sounded incredible, but I know that wasn’t the case. Who decided to put you in with Bob Moon? Any feelings you’d like to share about that experience?
Yeah, Bob Moon is a good guy. He actually engineered all of the recordings we ever did. We recorded “Silence” at the Green Room in Huntington Beach, CA. And we recorded “Reflection” at this studio in Anaheim, CA. Bob’s studio was out in Riverside, CA so he’d make the trek into these “foreign” studios that weren’t his own. We didn’t really want to work with anyone except for Bob, he’s just really good at what he does so the decision was ours. The budget for “Reflection” was actually much, much higher than “Silence” but that can be good or bad depending on what you want to get out of it. I think some of that has to do with the changing of members and equipment as well. Chris, our drummer on “Silence” would hit his drums so hard as opposed to Jason who was more technical. I think some of that explosiveness was lost but I think it was replaced with more subtle yet technical playing. But I think overall that each album is a great documentation of where we were as a band at that particular time so I’m happy with them all.
Brandon/IVM: Moving forward now…Alot of bands broke up in 1996 right around the explosion of Christian music and labels like Tooth and Nail. What led to the demise of groups like Focused, Unashamed, Bloodshed, etc.? What finally led to your departure from the “Scene”?
I think it’s just an element of time and desire. Everyone was just ready to move on with where they were going artistically and in general life so instead of having new members every album we decided to keep it sort of sacred and just end it so we could pursue other interests and keep Unashamed what it was. We were each playing in different bands at the time too and I think musically we just wanted to do new things.
Brandon/IVM: Did any former members carry on with music? Any bands that they joined? Without the power of the internet back then it was hard to keep up with former members and future projects. All we had were “fanzines” and you know how reliable those things were ;)
Yeah, Jason was doing Supertones and everyone knew that it was going to be huge when they started playing. Danno was playing in Mend (Helpless amongst Friends 2). I was playing with some of the Bloodshed kids in Rainy Days and was doing this band called Resolve with Tim Mann and some of the Centerpoint guys (Helpless Amongst Friends 2). Matt went on to do the Dingees. So yeah, we all kept playing music, just not together.
Brandon/IVM: How did you feel about the explosion of groups like Mxpx, The Supertones, Value Pac, Plankeye, Strongarm, etc. after the departure of Unashamed? Anything you’d like to share? What was your general impression of the scene?
I thought it was great. All of these bands persevering in their scenes to become what they became (or are becoming). I think it’s great. I’d always get a kick out of seeing certain bands stickers on cars or write-ups in Rolling Stone or to see P.O.D. blow up on MTV and get nominated for a Grammy. That stuff just blew my mind. But those guys deserve it, some of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. Sure, I get those “what if we stayed around longer” thoughts here and there. I think it’s a natural human tendency to think that way. But I was always rooting for them since they’re friends. Strongarm becoming Further Seems Forever was just amazing.
Brandon/IVM: What happened to you after your band broke up? Where did you find yourself personally and musically?
I just played music for a little while until I got interested in other things like photography and other artistic mediums. I was playing with some friends in a band called Open-Field System and then we morphed into a group called Tetzel Would Be Proud. I love playing music still to this day. I got married in 1998, her name is Melissa and she’s one of the greatest human being to have ever walked the earth I’m convinced. We spent a few years just traveling around wherever. We just had our first child, a beautiful little boy name Benjamin.
Brandon/IVM: As you may have already guessed or been a witness to, Christian Music has evolved and changed drastically over the years. Much of it due to this whole “Christian in a band” mentality that has kind of shaped where people fit in. What is your opinion on Christianity and music? Do you feel that the tagline of “Christian Band” is outdated? Any thoughts? My general impression is that Mxpx came up with the “Christians in a band” idea first back in the 90’s. That may be true or false but that’s where I believe it came from. What do you think about that? How did you feel at the time?
For some Christians, there seems to be this idea that being a human being is a bad thing or that being a Christian means your super-human or something. I never believed in the term “Christian Music” because the term just doesn’t make sense and it makes the music seem less qualitative for some reason. It really comes down to an issue of image and how bands want to be portrayed in a media sense. They want to create an image of being “Christian” or “Christians in a band” or whatever. I remember a conversation with someone who was in a “Christian” band. They wanted to kick someone else out because of a certain sin. If that were the case, I told him, then all of them would have to be kicked outt. I’ve always just thought that we’re all just people creating music. To be honest, I don’t know who’s a Christian and who isn’t. It’s not mine to judge. I really think it’s just more about image control, which is a whole different issue. And I don’t think that music can gain salvation so I think the term is a little silly.
Brandon/IVM: Of all the classic bands, only Mxpx, Starflyer 59, Joy Electric, and NIV remain. Why do you think that is? How do you feel about the aforementioned bands?
To be honest, I’m totally amazed at their longevity and I think it’s great. They must enjoy each other and the things they create. I envy their artistic chemistry.
Brandon/IVM: Hardcore has given way to metal-core, core this and core that. What are your thoughts? Do you like the steady evolution of these styles and bands?
I actually don’t listen to any hardcore or metal-core or any core for that matter. I’m really into some of the stuff that’s come out on Dischord like the Faraquet and the Medications, Q and not U, The Make-up, Fugazi, etc… I think I’ve gravitated to music you just can place in a certain category. In the last 6 months I think I’ve only really listened to Deerhoof. I saw them live in San Diego in March. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I also think there’s some good acoustic stuff going on to. Like Devendra Bhanhart, and Jose Gonzales. But I really like some of the stuff coming out on Galxia like the Mattson 2 and Ray Barbee. I’m really in Thomas Campbell and the stuff he puts his hands to.
Brandon/IVM: If you’d like to see any one thing changed about the music scene, what would that be?
I think some of the changes going on right now are really good. I think the Internet is a good thing for music. Downloadable music has made it very accessible. Using the Internet as distribution puts more control into the hands of the artists as opposed to some guy who crunches numbers behind a desk making decisions for the artist. Recording technology has been great too in that it’s easier to document your music, although, it still takes a bit of skill and practice to do it well. Something I learn from every recording. I think it’s easier for people to just play music and have other people listen to it.
Brandon/IVM: Switching gears for a second here…You recently started writing for your solo project. How has that been? Has it been tough to find an audience? Has the internet helped in your endeavors?
So far its been pretty fun but challenging as well. I was playing music with some friends a while back called Open-Field System. We basically had three acoustic guitars with a whole slew of pedals and we all three sang. We’d spend hours messing with feedback and pedals, timing and things, it was really a fun experiment since three acoustic guitars usually is a bad idea. But it was fun. From there I just started writing music on a little 4-track recorder. Some friends of mine encouraged me to keep writing. I have no real goals other than making each time I play different from the time before. I usually make stuff up as I play live. A bit of feedback and dilapidated chords. That keeps it a little fresh and different but sometimes its horrible. My solo stuff is a little more mellow but I just started a new little project called Line End. As far as audience goes, I’m just appreciative if even one person is interested what I create. The Internet has been good though, although, I have a real love/hate relationship with things like Myspace. Sometimes I just feel embarrassed being on there.
Brandon/IVM: Where would you like to see your solo music go? What directions are you taking? Any labels you’d like to work with?
I don’t really care all that much with having tons of exposure. I don’t think I’d be able to handle the pressure emotionally or mentally for that matter. So I just write songs, record them, play them live, and post them (usually on Myspace) for free download. I’m happy with the intrinsic value in creating music or with other artistic mediums. I usually play places and work with people I enjoy. Being from Los Angeles there’s quite a bit of exploitation that occurs so I just try and stay far away from that whole scene. In terms of labels if the right thing came along and someone wanted to support what I do then I’d probably be into it. Although, I’ve never been good at setting goals and keeping them. I’m more into just doing my thing and whatever naturally happens is cool. I’ve met some really talented people along the way like Tyrone Wells and this girl Jamie Hardy. People who have this raw, natural talent and it shows.
Brandon/IVM: The inevitable questions arrive. Will Unashamed ever reunite? What needs to be in order to see a reunion? Do you have any plans to play shows as a band again? If you were to reunite, would it lead to another record in the studio?
Ah yes, the inevitable question. I’m not sure to be honest. I’m not one for nostalgia really. We actually got back together and played Cornerstone in 1998. That was partly out of guilt since after Reflection came out we called it quits and never toured with those songs. To be honest I haven’t spoken with anyone from the band in quite sometime. But if they were into it and the conditions were cool I’d probably say yes. If we ever did a reunion show it would be cool to use all of the money and donate it to a foundation for children or something of that nature.
Brandon/IVM: Strongarm has announced plans to explore a reunion and possibly a reunion nationwide tour. Would you guys like to get back together and jump on that tour? How do you feel about Strongarm reuniting?
Personally speaking that sounds like a blast, I couldn’t think of anyone better to do that sort of thing with. I hope they make it to Los Angeles. If so, I’ll have my tickets in hand.
Brandon/IVM: Are there any parting words you’d like to leave us with?
It still amazes me that people from all over the world take the time to write me letters and emails with expressions of gratitude or just desiring merchandise. It’s very humbling when other human beings are encouraged in their individual lives though something you’ve created and they share that with you. I guess that’s the biggest payoff. Human beings creating positive change and inspiration in someone else’s life. That’s what really matters in the end, at least to me.
Well that about wraps us this interview with Jeff Jacquay, the man behind Unashamed. Thank you for your time and for your generosity in doing this interview. God Bless!