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Survival Knife builds on Unwound, adds prog and smiles

The band will release singles on Sub Pop Records and Kill Rock Stars

SURVIVAL KNIFE: The band will release a single on Kill Rock Stars in early summer. Photo credit: Nikki McCoy

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Survival Knife is Kris Cunningham on drums, Meg Cunningham on bass, Brandt Sandeno on guitar and Justin Trosper on guitar and vocals.

Yes, Meg and Kris are married, and yes, Sandeno and Trosper are two of the original three members of Olympia's infamous '90s indie rock predecessors, Unwound.

All right, now that the obvious is mentioned, let's dig into the band. 

I met up with Survival Knife after hours at Lit Fuse Tattoo in downtown Oly, where Kris works as a tattoo artist. We sat on padded chairs and benches, surrounded by folk art, custom designs and sterile instruments of torture and delight.

My first impression is the comfort level they have with each other. Sandeno munches a burrito, and the Cunninghams engage in married banter. Trosper and Sandeno have been in a band together since they were in diapers (high school, actually, but same difference).

"There is a real family element," says Meg. "No pressure, no bullshit, no egos and lots of comedy."

It's true. There were plenty of humorous interjections about Justin Bieber.

I believe I was the only nervous person in the room. There was something about Survival Knife that threw me off my game. I was a bit star struck. I fumbled with my recorder. I ask awkward questions. I even giggled a lot.

I'm impressed with the band's recently recorded, yet-to-be released songs. "Divine Mob" is rather dancey. "Name That Tune" has a super, hard jammy intro with classic Oly riffs and a distinct Unwound feel. "Snakebit" has Meg on vocals, and switches up between speedy and chunky. "Gold Widow" is heavier than the others - a little screamy and noisy, too. 

I want to know how the band interprets its own sound and which song is its favorite. Knowing those are often difficult questions for musicians, I ask anyway.

"All our songs are brilliant," says Trosper. "We don't want to influence anyone by what we say.

"You could say we're prog-rock or punk-rock," he adds. "Otherwise, make up your own genre."

Since it seems as hard for me as it is for them to give a straight answer, I confer with Sub Pop Records, where Survival Knife is about to debut a 7-inch March 5.

Someone who is obviously a lifetime fan and comfortable drawing out the details wrote this review on the thread, "While Justin's voice and guitar tone are unmistakably his, which hence makes it very reminiscent of Unwound, Survival Knife are quite a different band. For starters, there's no use of the wall-of-feedback trick that was an important part of Unwound....Overall, They're more proggy hardcore. ... and super tight ... The most important thing is that I've never seen a band with Justin and Brandt look happier. Justin was especially mobile and witty. If I was kinda/sorta into the idea of an Unwound reunion before, that pining is now squashed. I'm much happier to see Survival Knife blow the fuck up in the next year or so instead."

It's been nearly two years since the incarnation of Survival Knife, and the band has been busy playing shows, recording (another 7-inch is due to be released early summer on Kill Rock Stars) and keeping up with social media, which Trosper notes is drastically different from any other time in his musical career. 

"Its weird" he says. "It's so accelerated, it makes you think differently and act quicker, or you'll lose what's happening."

Don't worry Trosper; it's all just part of blowing the fuck up.


LINK: Review of Survival Knife's "Traces of Me" / "Name That Tune"

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