by J. Bennett

Unida

w/Camarosmith, Dixie Witch, Argonaut

Sat July 5, Crocodile, 9 pm, $8.

Let's face it: Rock doesn't pay. Unless you're the Rolling Stones, or Aerosmith, or whoever--and these days, those cats are about as "rock" as Celine Dion covering AC/DC at the MGM Grand. For some folks, rocking is downright expensive. Take the dudes in Unida, an actual rock band from the parched Palm Desert region of Southern California, who, at one point in their beleaguered career, boasted two members of Kyuss--the legendary desert battalion also responsible for Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age--and an extremely promising and potentially lucrative contract with Rick Rubin's American Recordings. Unida's core members--guitarist Arthur Seay, drummer Mike Cancino, and ex-Kyuss vocalist John Garcia--have since pissed through a couple of bass players and have only recently emerged from a legal morass that kept them grounded for nearly three years.

The story is a familiar one: A promising band puts out two independent releases (1998's The Best of Wayne-Gro, a split EP with Swedish Kyuss disciples Dozer--a deleted rarity that now goes for upwards of $35 on eBay--and 1999's Coping with the Urban Coyote, on the now-defunct super-rock imprint Man's Ruin), gets scooped up by The Man (American), and records a full-length--only to have the contract transferred to another Man (Island/Def Jam) via its executive producer (Rubin). Island/Def Jam doesn't have nearly as much interest in Unida as American; deadlines are missed, frustrations mount, and shit starts going sour. Somewhere between Coping and American, bassist Dave Dinsmore leaves and is replaced with ex-Kyuss thundersmith Scott Reeder (who, in turn, recently parted ways with the band). "It was a pisser," Garcia says. "It really sucked being with American, having this really good relationship with them at first, spending close to $350,000 on a record, and then not even having a label or a proposed release date."

The record in question--which was almost called The Great Divide--surfaced on the Information Superhighway nonetheless, and my copy sounds pretty fucking solid. Burly, succinct riff-rock through and through, it's the kind of album that could bust MTV and commercial radio wide open--had it made it that far. It's way ballsier than anything the Swedish or Australian garage crowd could possibly muster, but perhaps not quite "metal" enough to make the rounds on the newly resurrected Headbanger's Ball. There's even a Josh Homme dis track (song two; the titles aren't listed) that goes like this: "Just a game to you/play all you want, I don't want to/You're just a joke, man/you used to be like me with the band/When I pull your arms off, you'll play no more/when I cut your ears off, you'll hear no more...." Despite the fact that Garcia goes out of his way to dedicate this song to QOTSA at nearly every Unida show I've witnessed, he insists that his relationship with Homme is at least reasonably cordial. "After you play with somebody for so many years, it becomes like a brotherhood type of thing. One time I'll see Josh and we'll get into an argument. The next time, we'll sit down and have dinner."

After severing their relationship with The Man, the members of Unida then found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to coax another label to cough up enough cash to buy the record from Island/Def Jam. It was the kind of bread that Seay "doesn't even want to get into."

But things are finally looking up. "We're gonna re-record the album and call it For the Working Man," Seay explains. "We're just gonna bust it out again--only quicker, meaner, rawer, and get it out. When we were recording it, it was voted 'most anticipated' album of the year in [British hard-rock weekly] Kerrang! or some shit. So even if it's just a European release at first, we'll try to license it in the States later on."

With an 11-date West Coast tour (culminating in Seattle at the Crocodile) already underway, and Slipknot bassist Paul Gray (the guy with the pig mask, if you're keeping track) filling in on bass temporarily (Seay was a roadie on Slipknot's European tour last summer), Unida will attempt to get back in the saddle. And maybe, just maybe, put out an album one of these days.

editor@thestranger.com

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