The Pack a.d. Reflect on the "Punk Rock Perspective" of 'Unpersons' 10 Years Later

"The intention and the feeling is more important than the polish," says singer Becky Black

Photo: Mark Maryanovich

BY Alex HudsonPublished Jan 25, 2022

In a career defined by loud, grimy garage albums, the Pack a.d.'s 2011 release Unpersons just might be the loudest and grimiest of the bunch. At the time of its release, the Vancouver duo of Becky Black (vocals, guitar) and Maya Miller (drums) were four albums deep into a career arc that took them from the moody blues influences of their early work towards the stomping, streamlined punk rock of more recent releases. And with Unpersons, they were particularly unrestrained in their full-throttle approach.

Unpersons was produced by Jim Diamond, the Dirtbombs bassist who worked on the White Stripes' first two albums, and he helped to inform the Detroit garage grit heard on fuzzy stompers "8" of "Rid of Me." Standout single "Haunt You" highlights a wordless singalong hook, while "Positronic" branches out with roomy reverb, digital robo voices and a cowbell-bopping beat.

To celebrate the album's recent 10th anniversary, Mint Records is reissuing Unpersons on glow-in-the-dark vinyl on February 4. Exclaim! caught up with Black and Miller to discuss the album's genesis in an office building, embracing its lack of polish, and the status of the band following last year's farewell album It was fun while it lasted.

What do you remember most about making Unpersons?

Black: We briefly had a practice room that was in an office building, and we wrote most of the record there. One of the album titles we considered was Office Rock, before the Orwellian title Unpersons was ultimately chosen. Another fun fact: at that time, we started playing a cover of "Deceptacon" by Le Tigre that ended up mutating along the way into what became our song "Sirens."

Listening back to Unpersons now, what stands out?

Black: I always struggle not to find a million faults listening to our previous records, but enough time has passed for me to consider the faults as part of its charm. We never used a click track until, I think, Positive Thinking, and you can tell how the tempo changes throughout some of the songs. But we also never considered ourselves to be polished musicians. We were always coming from the punk rock perspective, where the intention and the feeling is more important than the polish.

Is there anything you wish you did differently on this album? Conversely, is there anything you did better here than any other time in your catalogue?

Black: A person can always look back, being older and wiser, and see how differently they would have done things, but experiencing has nothing to do with hindsight. I wouldn't change anything on that album, or anything else in my life, for that matter. Trial and error is always necessary for growth. If anything, our earlier work was, in some ways, more liberating, simply because there was less pressure. After the unexpected success of Unpersons, we probably put too much pressure on our work rather than letting it be as organic as it was. I feel like we've managed to circle back to that original mindset in more recent material. Evolution isn't progress, but an ongoing process.

Unpersons seems like a key step in your move away from the bluesy style of your first couple albums and the garage-punk of more recent albums. Where does this album sit in terms of the rest of your discography?

Miller: Well, I think we've moved away from all of those original sounds as a focus. Our more recent albums are smoother affairs with punk edges. Becky really dove into melody and, as our songs became more intricate, her vocals flowed more over top of the music. I think that the amount of touring we've done over the years, and there has been a lot, has really honed our abilities, and the countless bands we've played with or toured with also impacted the shape the sound took on different records.

You recorded Unpersons with Jim Diamond, who produced the White Stripes. What was it like working with him?

Miller: It was a very easygoing and fun process. We recorded in Vancouver and mixed in Detroit at his studio, Ghetto Recorders. As Becky mentioned, we still weren't recording to click tracks at the time, but this was definitely a bunch of songs that didn't feel like it was needed. We purposely wanted to have a live-sounding album. So, most of the final beds were done using one take and then building on it. It felt exciting to make. One of my favourite recording moments was creating the intro to "Positronic." I recorded my voice through a shitty little toy voice changer while Becky tweaked around on her guitar and Jim played around distorting it on a guitar pedal. 

In March 2020, you announced your final album. Since then there's been a pandemic. Has that changed your future plans as the Pack a.d.?

Miller: Yeah, we even released that album. It seemed a waste of time to sit on the record so we went ahead and released It was fun while it lasted in April of 2020. I don't regret it. Regardless of the pandemic, things have changed and we've never been a band that's sat around waiting for things to happen for us. And no, we were never breaking up and we're not breaking up now. And yes, of course the pandemic changed our plans somewhat, in that we have had to reschedule the album tour multiple times. So, bonus, now we get to tour that album and celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Unpersons at the same time. After we get to do these tours, we're going to put the Pack on the back burner for a bit. I'm writing a book about the band and Becky will be releasing a solo album. 

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