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May 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Unwinding with Survival Knife | Concert preview

Survival Knife

Survival Knife, from left: Meg and Kris Cunningham, Justin Trosper, Brandt Sandeno. Photo by Sarah Cass.

If you’re from Olympia — a place where you can throw a rock and hit a punk — it’s tough to have much of an ego about your band.

And over dinner and drinks at downtown Oly’s hippie-Mexican dive Quality Burrito, a few weeks before their Barboza show this Saturday, Survival Knife singer-guitarist Justin Trosper, guitarist Brandt Sandeno and bassist Meg Cunningham — whose drummer husband Kris completes the lineup — present themselves as ordinary friends making music together.

But that’s not entirely true. Not every group has an icon — albeit a reluctant one like Trosper, former frontman for Unwound — in its midst.

If you love 1990s indie rock, you’re aware that Unwound was to the Northwest what Fugazi was to Washington D.C.; Sonic Youth to New York; Pavement, California.

That Tumwater trio never sought attention — no radio singles, no music videos — instead letting their eight-album, decade-long run speak for itself. Remarkably, by the time they hung it up in 2002, Trosper and his cohorts — including Sandeno, an on-and-off member — had yet to turn 30.

Even more surprising was what happened next: Trosper walked away.

“I already went to rock’n’roll school — I’ve got a master’s degree,” he quips, “so I didn’t feel like I needed a bachelor’s in art or music. I studied anthropology and geography in community college… went to Evergreen for environmental studies… and didn’t play a show for 10 years.”

Now 41, he admits “it was a little weird at first” when Survival Knife made its live debut two years ago, “but after it started, it felt pretty normal… like riding a bike.”

The foursome has worked quickly since, bolstered by connections forged during Unwound’s heyday. In addition to regular local gigs, they’ve released a pair of seven-inch singles for Sub Pop and Kill Rock Stars, and toured with Modest Mouse — whose Glacial Pace label issued their first full-length, “Loose Power,” last month.

The seven-song set — featuring “Fell Runner,” below — is rooted in classic punk, from its title, an homage to Iggy and the Stooges’ 1973 album “Raw Power,” to its concise, considered aesthetic, inspired in part by The Minutemen’s 1984 double LP “Double Nickels on the Dime.”

“We’re into the listening experience of a whole record,” says Sandeno. “Something like ‘Double Nickels’ isn’t just about how great the individual songs are. There’s architecture.”

Then there’s the scintillating riffs and tricky song structures, reflecting progressive rock influences that, for Trosper, have always been there — yet never so pronounced.

“Growing up,” he remembers, “I loved punk and metal bands that took prog ideas and made them more interesting, like Nomeansno and Voivod. Unwound never listened to Yes or Rush, but [producer] Steve Fisk, who is of that generation, would always tell us, ‘yeah, you guys are a prog band. You’ll figure it out someday.’ He was right.”

Trosper maintains a low-key, stoic disposition, but says age and experience have helped him both focus and relax — and after the interview, proves it, grinning his way through a razor-sharp Survival Knife set at the nearby Brotherhood bar.

“When you’re 20, it’s just like ‘Music! Feelings!’ But being a little older, you’re not as attached to certain ideas or ways of thinking. In a way, it gives you better material to draw from when you’re not just always doing music and art. After going back to school and having to write tons of papers, I don’t feel like I waste time anymore.

“Especially not in this band.”

7 p.m. Saturday at Barboza, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $10 (206-709-9442 or

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: Barboza, Olympia, Sub Pop


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