Unwritten Law Push Song On Their Own, Score Big

Though Interscope said it didn't want more singles, band was determined to give 'Cailin' a shot.

When it appeared that Unwritten Law's label had given up on their latest

album, the San Diego pop-punk quintet set out to build a radio hit on its

own. And it worked.

The band's new single, "Cailin" (RealAudio

excerpt), is getting airplay on about 65 U.S. stations, but

guitarist Rob Brewer said the song almost wasn't sent to radio. Three

previous singles from Unwritten Law (1998), the band's third

album, failed to take off. And when Interscope began dropping artists

after its parent company, Universal, merged with PolyGram in December,

the band became worried.

"We were kind of expecting the worst," Brewer said. "They said, 'We're

going to keep you guys, but we're not going to really work the album

anymore. We want you to go back and do another one.' And that was kind

of a bummer, because we had always thought that 'Cailin' would be a good

radio song."

So the band's manager, Bill Silva, contacted an independent radio promoter

— the people labels hire to persuade stations to play singles —

to shop the song at KROQ-FM in Los Angeles and several other West Coast

alternative-rock stations.

Del Williams, the promoter Silva hired, explained why KROQ was the first

station targeted. "It's not just a radio station, it's a life force —

for not just the industry, but for music fans," he said. "The way that

station can compel people to [listen to] music and to bands is, I think,

unparalleled."

The song's success at that station practically guaranteed airplay at

others.

"We kept hearing from [KROQ] that almost right out of the box it was just

a great impact song with listeners," Silva said. "Consistently it was

... one of the most requested songs. It was just really connecting with

the audience. So with that kind of feedback coming in, it just became

undeniable on a national level. It was something that other stations had

to get."

Williams said it's rare for bands or managers to contact him directly;

he estimated that he hears from maybe three or four each year. Of those,

he said, few are projects that he feels strongly enough about to get

behind.

Still, Silva gave it a shot and couldn't be happier with the results.

"It's just one of those situations where if the regular formula doesn't

work, sometimes a different formula can," Silva said.

Once "Cailin" started taking off, Silva aided the song's momentum by

hiring additional indie promoters; he said he also got help from Interscope's

head of alternative radio, Brian McDonald. "Del opened the door and Brian

came rolling through with the heavy artillery," Silva said.

McDonald and other Interscope representatives could not be reached for

comment by press time.

"Cailin," a bouncy, midtempo ode to lead singer Scott Russo's 6-year-old

daughter, features DJ scratching and the endearing chorus "Hey little

girl, look what you do/ Oh, I love you."

It shows only hints of the hard-charging punk rock the band is known for,

but Brewer said the group isn't worried about longtime fans' reactions

to Unwritten Law's softer side.

"I think we were [worried] at one point," he said. "Going back to the

second album, Oz Factor, we were like, 'Oh no, this is too slow.

What are people going to think?' I don't think anybody in the band has

that state of mind anymore. ... If we just make music that we like and

not worry too much about what people are going to classify it as, then

in the long run we're going to be OK."

Nor is the band worried about people buying its CD and being surprised

by the rest of the album's punk and hard-rock tracks.

"I've heard DJs play the single and say, 'Hey, it's weird — this

song is slow and pretty, but it's nothing like the rest of the album,' "

Brewer said. "People said that about Sugar Ray when they had 'Fly,' but

I feel like the rest of our album is really good. It's not like there's

a bunch of bad songs and then one single."

Unwritten Law — whose lineup also includes guitarist Steve Morris,

bassist Pat Kim and drummer Wade Youman — emerged from the same

fertile punk scene as their friends Blink-182. (In Blink-182's single

"Josie," when Mark Hoppus sings "My girlfriend likes UL," he's referring

to Unwritten Law.)

The band released its debut album, Blue Room, on indie label Red

Eye Records in 1994. Oz Factor (1996) was produced by Bad Religion's

Greg Graffin and issued on Epic. Unwritten Law currently are holed up in

a house in Los Angeles, writing songs for their next album.

Brewer said the success of "Cailin," which last week was at #27 on

Radio & Records' Alternative chart, hasn't changed the band's

approach to its new disc.

"You would think that a successful song like this would make us write a

bunch more lovey-type slow songs," he said, "but in reality the album

we're working on is a lot more rock 'n' roll — a lot more on the

heavier side — than this [most-recent] album."