Interview: Jeff Wright (Unconditional Arms)
Unconditional Arms is the brainchild of Bay Area musician Jeff Wright. UA’s latest album Formation was released in early 2020 on Sell The Heart Records. I first heard Formation a few weeks after its release and immediately took a shine to it. It evokes the postrock I obsessed over as a teenager, but with a heightened sense of melody and emotion; in other words, it really resonated with my emotional state as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted life.
Jeff and I chatted over email in April 2020.
Who, or what, is Unconditional Arms?
UA is a solo music project that involves the support and collaboration of many of my friends, who happen to be incredible musicians!
Tell me about the origins of the Unconditional Arms project. What was the original vision, and how did you bring it to life
The project started as a mission to record a full-length record for my son. I wrote and recorded all the songs and then ran a GoFundMe to get it on to vinyl for family and friends. One of the pledge options included a live performance of the songs, so I got some friends together and we did that on NYE 2013 (into 2014). After that, we all pretty much agreed that it would be a waste to end the project there so I have been writing, recording, doing some light touring, and playing in this project semi-full time since then. That first record was called Kinship.
Starting a musical project in honor of your child is a really sweet gesture. What does your son think of that first album?
At this very moment, he is six and a half years old. He doesn’t have it in him to understand or listen to it just yet, but, I think he would enjoy it. He could also hate it and decide he wants become a football player. Who could know.
How would you define the Unconditional Arms sound, and what gear do you use to achieve it?
UA has always been more focused on the feeling of the sound rather than the technical grandeur. That’s one of the most difficult parts of writing and collaboration in the project – being that filter. There are probably 7-9 songs that did not make it on Formation – not because I believe them to be bad songs, but because they don’t produce or invoke any specific feeling.
The band admittedly uses a lot of reverb. My guitar pedalboard is:
Most everyone who plays in the live iteration of the band has something similar, give or take a fuzz here and there. I’m not a big fan of delay (cause I hate it being off-time live) or fuzz/distortion pedals. I used the Loud/Louder as a preamp boost into my amps, which are both 65w tube – a Dr Z SRZ65, or a Music Man RP65. I find that wattage range to be perfect for preamp front end boost pedals because you can get that cool breakup without going SUPER loud. Having a dynamic drummer is very helpful as well – not having to play over someone/volume battle helps define a quiet moment and a loud one. Without those definitions set, I find things can turn into dissociative noise very quickly.
It should be said that most if not all the guitar tones on Formation were completely 100% picked by Scott Goodrich, my homie and sonic master behind the record. I chose all FX settings and performed the instrumentation, but, he re-amped everything on his own without any input from me. I literally wasn’t even there. I trust him. Everything sounds fantastic.
What’s your proudest accomplishment with Unconditional Arms so far?
I am extremely proud of Kinship and Formation: as standalone pieces of art and as a representation of my musical journey intertwining with my day to day life. If I can add another in here, the project has grown my friendship + musician circle in ways I could never imagine. The older I get, the more help I need to achieve my goals and vision for my music projects. UA has placed some seriously key individuals on my life path. I am extremely grateful for that.
How would you say you’ve matured/grown musically between Kinship and Formation?
Exponentially. I was 22 years old when Owen was born and wrote Kinship. I was coming off 5 years of touring 6 months/year with no real career insight. I have learned so much about responsibility, humanity, relationships, mental health, and adulthood since Kinship came out. Everything is so complex. I have a full-time career now, mortgage payment, joint bank accounts and the whole nine yards. On paper, I look like a normal citizen. Mentally, I am not. The album name Formation is a descriptor for the process it took to get to how I finally feel (and am), after years of trying to figure everything out. I have learned more in the last six years of my life about myself than the twenty-three beforehand, which isn’t exactly a casual experience.
What can we look forward to in the future from UC?
I’m gonna cool it on writing for the project for a while, but, I do have some b-sides and completed tracks I may release through-out the year. We originally planned to play live a bit more this year, but, with COVID-19 around I don’t think that is a reality any longer. Some people have been asking if Formation is the final record of the project. I haven’t really had a response for that, but, I hope not.