New Jersey-based indie rock group Scoville Unit dropped their new long player, See What Can Be, not long ago, followed by the music video for “Fire Pit,” a track from the album.
Made up of Drew Iselib (vocals, bass), Gandhar Savur (vocals, guitar), Kevin Shelbourne (lead guitar), and Rob Hunsicker (drums), Scoville Unit’s sound blends pop-punk, indie rock, and retro flavours into tasty, unique music at once fresh and vibrant.
V13 spoke with Drew Isleib to find out more about the inspiration behind “Fire Pit,” their latest album, and how the band meshes their stylistic backgrounds.
What inspired your new single, “Fire Pit?”
Drew Isleib: “While some of our songs may be cryptic or metaphorical, this song is pretty earnest. It is really about those nights around a fire, telling stories and trying to conjure up good times. I’ve known Gandhar and Kevin since I was 17 or 18, so there are a lot of half-remembered stories to tell. While an acoustic guitar might reflect what a campfire often sounds like, we wanted to make something that feels like those nights- getting a little blurrier as it goes on. The bridge has a ‘chorus’ of vocals that I had recorded as a demo idea, but when the other guys heard it, they wanted to use it, as is, even with the occasional off-note because it felt more like a late-night singalong.”
“Fire Pit” is from your recently released album, See What Can Be. Walk us through your mindset and feelings as you recorded the album.
“After the shows for our last record got cut short by the pandemic, we all had a lot of built-up energy, and this is where we chose to put it. Making something felt very therapeutic when it seemed like everything was falling apart. So, we started demoing a bunch of new songs, and it was going along really well. I had been building a basement studio outside Philadelphia over a number of years, so it was an opportunity for me to also push that project along.
“Then, Gandhar dropped the bomb that he was moving to Costa Rica. So, we quickly scheduled a three-day session in my basement studio where Rob laid down all the actual drum tracks for a new record. We needed to do it immediately because Gandhar needed to be in the room for this, and he was moving away days after the session. It was basically the first time we had all seen each other since the pandemic started…and the first time we were all playing the songs together in a room. And after being in a really nice studio for the last record, this was a big adjustment. Basement drums can sometimes be terrible sounding, but we were blown away with what we were hearing out of the monitors.
“So, we finished that session and had great drum takes, and then Gandhar left. Initially, I felt pretty disheartened, assuming that the record would be on hold or might never get made, but Gandhar, despite being on another continent, kept everything moving. He built a studio in his closet in a house outside Tamarindo and was constantly sending tracks, workshopping lead lines with Kevin, bass lines, and harmonies with me. All the while, our talented and patient producer, Dave Bondy, was gluing it all together in his home mixing studio in Brooklyn.”
Do you use any special recording techniques in the studio?
“Our recording process was pretty straightforward, despite us recording our parts in separate places on this record – that was a first for us. But Dave certainly had a lot of special techniques in his mixing, which I can’t really speak to, but hopefully can be heard in the finished product. That guy is seriously a mixing wizard; this record would have sounded very different without his involvement.”
Who is in Scoville Unit, and which instrument do they play?
“Gandhar Savur sings and plays rhythm guitar.
Drew Isleib sings and plays bass.
Kevin Shelbourne plays lead guitar.
Rob Hunsicker plays drums.”
How did you get started in music?
“We all started playing in bands in high school. I bought a snare drum at a garage sale and was playing in a metal band six months later. I then played drums and sang for a harmony-filled power pop band called Velour44 in central Jersey. Gandhar and Kevin lived 15 minutes away and were playing in an incredible punk band, El Secondhand. Rob, also a Jersey native, was playing in punk and rock bands The Frantic, Moscow Girls, and Viceroi. We didn’t know each other back then, but we were all part of that same central NJ underground scene.”
Did Scoville Unit’s sound evolve naturally, or did you push it in a certain direction?
“Scoville’s sound definitely evolved naturally and continues to evolve with each record. Gandhar brought a lot of the punk energy from the start, and I mellowed it out with my indie, singer-songwriter background, and we met somewhere in the middle. We both love a good vocal hook and harmonies. Vocal harmonies are definitely the one thread that runs through all five records. And we are inspired by so much music – I think there is a little of everything in our sound.”
How do you keep your sound consistent on stage?
“So much is in the hands of the sound guy, and we’re not at a place where we are traveling with our own sound guy, so that can be a challenge. We take a lot of time to make sure that the monitors and stage volumes are right and hope that if it sounds good on stage that it will sound good in the club too. Luckily, sound guys tend to like us. Our melodies and harmonies are really clear in our songs, and sound guys tend to like that and want to bring that out in the mix. Also, Gandhar and Kevin have great half-stacks and use them even for small venues when it’s totally unnecessary – and sound guys love that as well. But truly, monitoring is key, because no one wants to sit through a set where two guys are trying to harmonize when they can’t hear themselves.
“We also spend a lot of time on live arrangements that often differ from the album version, especially since we don’t perform live with a keyboard player. We may have to play with dynamics or pick up the keyboard melody with one of the guitars or with the bass. And we always tend to play things faster and harder live, just to keep the energy up. Gandhar and Kevin have a very punk and metal background and as much as we can mask that in our recordings, it always comes through in the live shows- which is a good thing.”
What can you share about your writing process?
“The writing process has changed a lot over the years. Gandhar had typically been the principal songwriter, with the exception of a song here or there that I wrote. Gandhar would often come to us with the songs fully formed in his head. Our self-titled album was all that way. ‘See What Can Be,’ on the other hand, was a very collaborative record. Gandhar would present the pieces of songs that he had so far with a vocal melody and usually fake words. We’d all work on our parts and get feedback from the other guys. We’d make some lyric suggestions here and there, and eventually, the final words would emerge. Arrangements evolved drastically as well, from the original sketches that Gandhar would present to us. Sometimes they were just voice memos when he shared them. I had always been writing for solo records, but now we are starting to do a lot of co-writing for Scoville Unit, and more of my songs are being used for Scoville Unit instead of my solo stuff. Gandhar spent a few days in my basement studio last month, and we had the most successful co-writing sessions since the band formed. We are already in the early stages of demoing our next record and I think three or four of the songs on the next album will be songs I wrote.”
What is your definition of success?
“In the realm of music, success, for me, is putting out music that I’m proud of with people that I love to be with. And by that definition, we are really successful. I would love to play for a packed room, singing along to every song at every show we play and have millions of streams of our songs and all that stuff, …. but honestly, that is secondary to feeling good about making something and having a good time.”
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?
“Well, we just released three new music videos (“Reasons,” “Fire Pit,” and “In the Shade”) and the new album. So, our fans can hopefully dig into that for a while! We have a bunch of shows in the summer and fall, around the Philly / NYC / New Haven area, and hopefully, we can get attached to a tour or two. So hopefully people will come out and have a good time with us. And once things settle down a bit with this album cycle, we’ll be working on a new album as well.”