Interview: Scott Russo (California) talks touring with Phil Jamieson (Brisbane)

Scott Russo is the lead singer of punk pop band Unwritten Law. He has teamed up with long time friend Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon to tour Australia in December. John Goodridge interrupted his dinner of taquitos to chat about the friendship, the tour and what happened on the Hits and Pits festival.

Hey Scott, looking at your Instagram it looks like all you do all day is hang out at the beach and hang with rockstars.

Yeah, I go to the beach a lot for sure. I love surfing. In my older phase I love surfing, as skateboarding tends to break things that I need, so surfing has become the more viable option. I love the beach and I love the water. Every time you jump in the water it’s almost baptizing.

So how did the partnership between you and Phil come about?

Actually it’s a pretty funny story. In ’98 or ’99 we were coming out to do the first ever Australian Vans Warped tour and that was January 2nd and 3rd. Before that we were playing the Falls Festival just before New Years Eve, and when we got there we were good friends with Ray Harvey, Living End’s manager, and we ended up befriending the Living End guys, great band and someone in the camp said “Oh you’re gonna meet these guys Grinspoon, they’re playing after you tonight.” So we meet these guys in the green tent (it’s not a room it’s tent) and we have a beef with them. Somewhere along the line we don’t get along. Rider Rage or something.

We played that show and then the next day we were playing in Auckland, New Zealand. This was a New Year’s Eve party with us, Pennywise and Grinspoon. We had to get on a plane from Melbourne to Auckland, and then we had to take a two-hour bus from Auckland to the venue site. On the three-hour plane trip over, me and my tour manager got pretty wasted and when we got to Auckland they put two bands in each bus and took a whole bunch of buses out to the festival. So I just collapsed into a couple of seats on the bus. Halfway through the drive I sit up and see this kid at the back, sunglasses on, bottle of vodka in his hand, going “who wants a White Russian?” I’m like “Fuck yeah, I want a White Russian”. I go the back of the bus, sit next to him and he pours me a drink and we just start shooting the shit and immediately get on and twenty minutes in, inevitably the question comes up “what do you do?” and he’s like “I sing for Grinspoon.” I’m like “No way. I just got told we were gonna hate you.” We do that show and it was great.

We flew to Noosa and I think we arrived on the 1st and played on the 2nd. We arrive at the show and they have all the bands camping. So we get a tent and I put all my shit in there and it fucking pours, right. All of my clothes, and this was back in the Jurassic days, I had a CD walkman player, it gets ruined, my clothes are all fucked up; I hate camping anyway, then they tell me out in these trees there’s six to eight inch spiders, huge webs and shit so they tell me to be careful when walking through trees, and I was like bro, no fucking way. So inevitably the next day comes, it’s the second, wake up, all my shit’s fucked up and I’m pretty pissed off, you know. One of my friends Nick Wright, who’s actually Steven Wright’s son from Easybeats, he was actually one of the head marketing directors for AARNet at the time, so AARNet has a bus out there, so basically I go chill in the AARNet bus. So it’s pouring outside and we’re just chilling on the bus and started drinking, whatever. Phil comes in, “hey man, what’s going on, great show whatever, words, words, words” and I explained to him that all my shit had got ruined and I hate camping and he was like “dude they put us up in five star hotels”. So he told me I could stay with him and his girlfriend, so I stayed in his room on the couch, so basically for the rest of the tour I just charged with Phil and stayed in his room. The rest of the band was in tents.

During that time though we became kinda like soul mates, definitely my brother. We partied a lot, we wrote some songs, we ripped some shit off, then we became really good friends. After that, every time we came to Australia they would come to the shows and I bought Grinspoon out to open in America. Throughout the years, Phil’s written on a couple of Unwritten Law records and I’ve written and performed on a couple of Grinspoon records, backing vocals and shit. That’s where the whole thing generated from and that’s where the whole purpose of this tour generated from, because we’d sit in hotel rooms and kind of have a pissing contest and as he’s playing something, I’ll add something and we kind of had this dialogue, so that’s where this show is at. It’s kind of just what we do in hotel rooms, partying together and us playing our songs, doing what we do.

So is this the first time you’ve played together like this?

No, the first time was about six years ago, I want to say, and it was just a one-off. I was in Australia and Phil was in Sydney and a mutual friend was having a cancer benefit and asked us to play. So we were like, yeah, we’ll do it. So we did it and it went really well and all the kids freaked out because we share a lot of the same fans. So when I was coming out here for the Hits and Pits festival I had a week off, so Phil hit me up and asked if I wanted to do a couple of shows – do Sydney and Melbourne, and I said “yeah, sounds dope.” So we ended up doing the shows and allegedly they both sold out in a day. So that was dope and we thought we really should take this on the road., not only because we were having a really dope time doing it, but because kids all over the country would like seeing this. So, that’s kinda what we were doing.

I mean there was a lot of bad publicity about Hits and Pits in Perth.

There should be. Fuck that dude; he ripped off $57,000 from our band personally. The two shows that me and Phil played for ourselves, they weren’t even part of the festival, he collected on those shows and took that money too. From the beginning, we got there and they had one hotel room for four of us, four adults. We weren’t meant to headline and they made us headline every night. It was the most bizarre experience ever. At the end of it, I’m sure you know what went on in Perth, we weren’t even meant to be headlining, we went on at 11.30 and they didn’t tell us there was a midnight curfew and to cut it off. After getting ripped off and not paid, we were supposed to get paid every night, dude never paid us, straight up. Anyway you can put up whatever you want, but fuck that guy and fuck that tour.

Obviously there’s a lot more to putting on shows than people realize.

Logistically, you kinda gotta do the math before you book a band and from what I understand he owed money on previous shows and previous tours because the shows that we played were basically all sold out. They were expensive tickets so we know he grossed well over half a million dollars. Didn’t pay us, didn’t pay Strung Out, didn’t pay Face to Face, didn’t pay anybody. Didn’t pay his crew. I’m still friends with his tour manager that he hired, Scotty, he’s in the hole like 4K , I’m in the hole like 5K from that tour, so we were pissed at the end of the tour and yeah we smashed the stage.

I see you’re hanging out with the Stafford Brothers at the moment.

Yeah. Those guys are two of my favorite people on the planet. I met them at Coachella and I’ve become a fan of EDM now, but at that time I really didn’t know a lot about it, just wasn’t tuned into it. So we had mutual friends, they came over to my friend’s apartment, and at Coachella one night we ended up raging all night and seriously those guys are comedians, so by morning my stomach and face were hurting from smiling and laughing so much.

They just seem really genuine guys.

Yeah, they totally enjoy themselves. I can’t say enough good things about the Staff’s – they’re unreal.

California and Australia seem to have an affinity. Is it deliberate that you’re coming down over summer?

No, but I’m super stoked about it. I’m actually really hyped about that for sure, because the summer’s been super epic up here, so hopefully it translates down there as well.

So what sort of solo projects do you have on outside of Unwritten Law?

I just completed recording an acoustic record for Unwritten Law. At the same time I let go of my management and my label and I’m looking for a home for my new management to put my record up now. Wade and the rest of the boys want to do a distorted record but we want to put out this record that’s already completed first. Meanwhile I’m producing for other artists. That’s kinda what I do.

So do you have more opportunities having had that UL heritage?

I guess definitely from the first shows when I started out that would be a yes, but with Unwritten Law comes all these horror stories of us beating each other up; I mean half those stories are true. So along with the success that we’ve had comes the baggage of this dysfunctional band that we are. I mean to me it makes a great rock story because you never know what you’re gonna get when you see us play, you know what I’m saying. I heard the same thing about Sublime. You don’t know if they’re gonna beat each other up or what’s gonna happen. I think there’s something kinda cool about that. I mean you might just get more than your money’s worth at that show.

So what else is on the cards between now and Christmas? What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m really focused on producing my daughter Cailin. She’s turned out to be an amazing lyricist and melody writer. Two years ago she came to me and said she wanted to sing, so I produced a couple of tracks and they’re devastating. She’s moved to LA and her career is taking off and she’s taking music meetings with people right now. I produced five tracks for her and a handful of pretty gnarly other artists have been working with her as well, so that’s where I’m kinda focused right there. I don’t want to spill the beans, but I have a duet with Samantha Black and it’s called The Blacks. Another artist I’m really focused on right now is Lindsay Perry out of Florida who’s a Billabong ambassador and another band called Super Groupie, which is three kids from my hometown, San Diego.

Sounds pretty busy.

Well yeah I make music. I can’t do anything else really. It’s more like by default.


Tickets on sale NOW!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Tickets from and all Oztix Outlets, PH 1300 762 545 and

Thursday, 18 December 2014 – Republic Bar, Hobart, TAS
Tickets from and all Oztix Outlets, PH 1300 762 545 and

Friday, 19 December 2014 – The Corner, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets from and Corner Box Office, PH 1300 724 867 and

Saturday, 20 December 2014 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
Tickets from and all Moshtix Outlets, PH 1300 438 849 and

Sunday, 21 December 2014 – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
Tickets from and all Oztix Outlets, PH 1300 762 545 and

Monday, 22 December 2014 – Leagues Club, Entrance, NSW
Tickets from and all Oztix Outlets, PH 1300 762 545 and

Tuesday, 23 December 2014 – Waves, Wollongong, NSW
Tickets from and all Oztix Outlets, PH 1300 762 545 and