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
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
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,
The song's success at that station practically guaranteed airplay at
"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
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
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."