Vern Rumsey 1973 -> 1991 -> 2091

When I first heard Unwound’s “Kandy Korn Rituals” single in 1992, I finally heard a band that did everything I wanted a rock band to do in one song. Energy, anger, beauty, feedback, high tempo, texture and melancholy could easily be heard in any number of late 80s and early 90s alternative/underground rock bands, but I hadn’t heard a band that did all of them at once to my desired specifications.

“Against” is all of the above. Justin Trosper, Vern Rumsey, and Brandt Sandeno had created a whirlwind more than a song.

Months later, I would fall in love with their new debut album Fake Train, and I would see them live inside a dormitory at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. Sandeno was no longer in the band, and Sara Lund had already taken his place behind the drums. Sandeno was rhythmic glue to both walls of noise generated by Trosper and Rumsey. Lund brought yet another unique and subtle approach to rhythm to the band, heard throughout the rest of Unwound’s catalog.

Now Rumsey became the adhesive who laid down the menacing yet catchy bass lines holding together Trosper’s textures and Lund’s rhythms. Rumsey’s playing sounded like a hybrid of Minutemen’s Mike Watt, operating a conspicuous thunder broom, and The Fall’s Steve Hanley, who helped make The Fall as danceable as they were.

By lucky coincidence, Unwound were one of the most prolific rock bands of the 90s, releasing an album once a year on average — a frequency that was becoming rarer for rock music starting in the 90s. Unwound toured almost all the time, especially on the west coast of the U.S., hence I was lucky to catch them at least once a year. By 2002, I would have seen them more than a dozen times. There was no bad Unwound performance, although a few were absolutely stellar.

All of Unwound were sweethearts. However, Vern Rumsey stood out as the least shy of all the members, so he became the first band member I would briefly chat with after shows.

What struck me the most was that Unwound — usually Vern — would remember my name the next time they played a show. I did not grow up with them nor did I work with them in any business related context. If any band remembered my name 24 hours later while on tour, I would have considered that a miracle. So Unwound remembering my name roughly a year later after playing yet another tour made them kind and immortal beings to me.

It’s become a pastime on the Internet to argue which Unwound album is the best. My favorite is the underrated Challenge For A Civilized Society from 1998. Having became enamored with German kosmische aka krautrock during the 90s, I heard Can, Embryo and Amon Düül II throughout this album.

Rumsey’s first vocal spotlight in the studio with Unwound appears as “Side Effects of Being Tired” on this album. Hearing this compared to “Against” shows how much and how quickly the band had changed, matured and experimented in just 6 years.

The “1991 -> 2091” band logo circa 1993 seemed like a break of exaggerated confidence for a band that was usually self deprecating in person. 2091 is now only 71 years away. I certainly hope people will still be talking about the music made by Justin Trosper, Brandt Sandeno, Sara Lund and, of course, Vern Rumsey beyond 2091.

RIP Vern Rumsey

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