New Local Music: The Unawares – When The Trees Are Empty

Okay, okay—it’s not really “new” (the record came out in February), but we here at Jasper just got rolling, so you’ll have to forgive us for reaching back a bit. The Unawares are a three-piece rock band fronted by guitarist/singer John Watkins and backed by bassist James Wallace and drummer Rhett Berger. And these guys have a very particular, and awesome, notion of what rock and roll should be.

Actually, you know that band Jack Black supposedly joins in High Fidelity? The Unawares are what that band would have sounded like in real life. These guys synthesize a whole host of elitist-record-clerk favorites from the 1980s, most notably groups like the Pixies, Guided by Voices, and the Meat Puppets. And, hey, there’s really nothing wrong with that. In fact, it sounds pretty great—delightfully odd rock tunes full of crunchy guitars, indecipherable-yet-catchy vocals, and an emphasis on keeping it short but sweet (3 out of 15 songs break the 3:00 mark) can really pay some strong dividends. The group has released two full-lengths and an EP prior to this, but it seems like When The Trees are Empty has finally captured the “big” rock potential of this garage punk three-piece, kind of like the way New Day Rising did for Husker Du. The band has always had succinct little rock fancies that hit you over the head and disappear shortly thereafter, but this time you kind of get the feeling that these tunes would work just as well in the outdoor theater or hip concert hall as  in the sweaty barroom clubs and dives that this kind of music is normally found it. Kudos to Chris Wenner, who records the band’s records and provides the magical glue that re-creates their live sound on tape.

Anyway, aside from all my musings, Columbia really should (and often does) count itself lucky to have a rock and roll band of the style and caliber as The Unawares. Check out the band’s website here:

-- Kyle Petersen

(Kyle Petersen is the music editor for Jasper Magazine. Read his most recent article on Josh Roberts and the Hinges in Jasper Magazine Volume 1, Number 1 at