After years of discussions and mutual admiration, Human Impact, a New York indie noise supergroup, comprised of members of NYC stalwarts, Unsane, Cop Shoot Cop, and The Swans, finally came together right before the global pandemic shut down live music, New York City, and the world. Comprised of former Unsane guitarist and vocalist Chris Spencer, Cop Shoot Cop electronicist Jim Coleman, former Swan’s drummer, Phil Puleo, and Swan’s bassist, Chris Pravdica, the musical collective of Human Impact is creating disturbing, jarring, and vital new music with a message. The band is now hitting the road to support their 2020 self-titled debut full-length release and their 2021 EP, nine new songs all on Ipecac Recordings. I finally reached the frenetic and affable frontman, Chris Spencer, while taking a short break from weeks of tour rehearsals and preparation.
Why Was It Finally Time To Leave Unsane And To Do Something New?
Nothing big, we just reached the point where we (Spencer, Cooper, bassist, and drummer Jon Syverson) were all living in other places-Italy, Mexico, where ever, and no one seemed to want to get together for a tour. It (the Unsane) kind of lost the creative drive. I ended up writing most of the last record (“Sterilize” by the Unsane on Southern Lord Records) by myself.
I Read That You Had Wanted To Collaborate With Jim Coleman For Years. How Did That Finally Happen?
We played a show at St. Vitus Bar (legendary metal bar and club) in Brooklyn, and Jim showed up out of the blue and said: ‘Do you want to do something finally?’ Back in 1997. I asked Dave (Curran, former bassist) and Vinny (Signorelli, drummer) if it would be cool if Jim could join the band, but they wanted to keep it a three-piece. We were friends before in the mid-’80s, even way before Cop Shoot Cop for him. So, we were waiting forever.
How Far Back Do You Go With Jim?
I guess like 1986 or so; we were just kids back then.
Do You Feel Like The Music You Make Has Elements of Cop Shoot Cop, the Unsane, And The Swans, Or Is It Completely Different?
There might be a slight element of the Swans, maybe with Chris. Then again, I think Michael Gira runs things. There’s no way to help but sound like our other former bands—Cop Shoot Cop, Swans, and my band. I think when you put it all together—the four of us—we’ve gone beyond those other bands in terms of our sound. In the Unsane, the guitar was constantly going as we were a trio. I can have a little more space in Human Impact because of Jim. It also allows Jim to develop more of an atmosphere, lower dynamics, and more development in our new material.
Do You Find That Your Fans Or Audiences Are Hardcore Fans Of Your Other Bands, Or Are They New Fans?
Generally, but then there’s kind of a new generation of fans that have never seen our other bands, so it’s new, and they want to hear what we’re doing. I think they’re almost all aware of our former bands. If you look up the Human Impact videos (YouTube) and read the comments below, they’re mainly about our former bands.
Why Does Your Type Of Music Seem To Come From New York? And By Your Music, I Mean Noise, Industrial, and Punk?
I don’t think so. I think it’s because everyone is so on top of each other. LA is spread out, but most cities are usually on top of each other and can be claustrophobic. Things are noisy, loud, fast, but things have changed a bit in New York, but not a lot.
Is New York Music More Literate Or Complex When It Comes To The Arts or Music?
Yeah, I think we might be. I just watched that Velvet Underground documentary (“The Velvet Underground” by director Todd Hayes), and even when they (the VU) were in LA, they were fish out of water; everyone in the band was still wearing black. So there’s a New York vibe.
What Are The Most Significant Changes You’ve Seen In The Music Business Since You Started Your Careers In The 1980s?
From my point of view, it seems like when we started out in the late 1980s; more bands were really trying to be original. It’s rare now to find a brand that’s really that truly original or dramatically different at this point. The labels have far less power than before, not it’s much less because of the internet; you can get your music out there. Things really were busted open by the internet. I don’t think you can make as much money now as you could a few decades ago. So there are a lot of aspects to the changes. Oddly, you can still sell vinyl, but that’s totally indie, and it’s hard to carry a lot of it (vinyl) with you on tour.
Back in the 1990s, many bands got stuck on the back burner and thrown against the walls. I’ve known more than a few bands, and I’m not going to mention any names that got signed to majors and only sold 60-80,000 albums, which is great, but not if you’re on a major. This one band I know owed them (the label) two more records, and the label stopped promoting them, and the tour support dried up. The Unsane just lived in a van and it kind of worked out for us. It worked out for us. We never really wanted to be on a major. We did one record on Matador that went through Atlantic Records.
I Remember When The Melvins At Least Had One Album Picked Up On Atlantic.
Yeah, but Nirvana promoted them, and that helped a lot. They got that push. I’m not sure how much being on a major helped them.
Your Music Is Chaotic, Angry, And Unorthodox. Does Your Music Reflect Your Collective Emotions, Or Is It Just A Part Of Your Personality?
Oh, definitely. (laughs) It’s all sincere with me. I think it would be extremely hard just to make it up. It’s my real persona. I really do vent my real frustrations. And, I think a lot of people share those same frustrations. I was initially surprised by that.
New York Has Always Seemed To Have Been The Home of Edgy, Noisy Music.
Yes, some people want to play rock star, and then some people need to play music to get it out of their systems. There’s a big difference between those two groups of people. I didn’t want to be the vocalist or a frontman, but no one else wanted to sing, so I gave it a shot, and here we are.
The Band Name Human Impact Seems To Evoke The Idea Of Our Impact on The Environment. Was That The Idea Behind The Name?
I mean, yes, of course, but there’s also the image of the body hitting the sidewalk aspect. So there’s definitely some dual meaning there.
How, If At All, Did COVID Impact the Band’s Development? Had You Already Formed Human Impact Before The Pandemic Shut Things Down?
Yes, the song “Contact” was about a virus that got spread on a plane, and it was written and recorded almost four months before the shutdowns. It was crazy. We had to get it out as fast as possible. Then, the shit really hit the fan, and we were like fuck, we have to get this out, or we’ll look like we we’re capitalizing on COVID. We didn’t want to be a year into it (the pandemic), then we released it, and look like we are taking advantage of man’s misfortune. We hoped to avoid any criticism.
Our whole first record was already done before COVID really hit, like March 14th or so. So we were a few months ahead, and then our record release was when NYC was shut down. That was the last day you could have live shows in New York. People weren’t going out anyway because it was the height of the fear factor.
We saw people getting buried on the Island, and it was so crazy. I have a friend that’s an EMT, and he has been traumatized, but he’s still doing it. It really hit NYC hard, and it was very concentrated.
How do you do anything? We decided to make all these videos, which was cool. Then, we decided to do some recording in a bubble and lockdown. We all four got tested before hitting the studio in Hoboken. We made the video for “Recognition” during that time. That’s how we spent our time recording, rehearsing, videos, and then, a lot of tours got postponed, canceled, rescheduled, and then everything was shut down. We tried to stay busy and not go crazy.
Do You Still Enjoy Touring After All These Decades, And What Do You Enjoy The Most?
I just love playing live, yeah, man. I’m so used to it after all this time. It’s cool, and I’m used to the lifestyle, and it seems normal to me. When I was drinking it much harder (laughs). Back then, you just drink the next day, and you’re hungover, and it’s just a cycle of stupidity. I cleaned it up. I don’t want to be burned out, especially when touring. I like having the energy to perform.
Some Of Your Lyrics And Quotes Seem To Indicate An Uneasiness With Technology And Social Media. Is It Kind Of A Love-Hate Thing?
I see it as very fragile. An EMT could take it all out. Banking and everything are so dependent on just this one thing—the internet. It’s one thing, and It seems so fragile and how much trust we all put into it. It just seems dangerous.
Are All Of You Fans Of Each Other’s Previous Bands?
Oh, yes, totally; we shared a rehearsal space with Cop Shoot Cop, Pussy Galore, and Railroad Jerk years ago. Matt, the bass player from Cop Shoot Cop, actually used to live in the space.
Do You Remember Playing St. Louis With The Unsane?
Oh, yeah. Good memories. We’ve always had a lot of fun, and as I can recollect, we always had good shows there.
Human Impact will be performing at Off Broadway on December 4th.
FALL 2021 TOUR DATES:
11/26 Brooklyn at Market Hotel
11/27 Baltimore at Metro Gallery
11/28 Philadelphia at Kung Fu Necktie
11/30 Pittsburgh at Club Café
12/01 Indianapolis at HiFi
12/02 Detroit at Lager House
12/03 Grand Rapids at Pyramid Scheme
12/04 St. Louis at Off Broadway
12/05 Kansas City at Record Bar
12/06 Minneapolis at 7th Street Entry
12/08 Chicago at Empty Bottle
12/09 Louisville at Headliners Music Hall
12/10 Newport at Southgate House Revival
12/11 Cleveland at Grog Shop