Chris Plummer (Unseen Adversary) - Sound In The Signals Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview the vocalist and bassist of Unseen Adversary, Chris Plummer. We discussed the band’s origins, early influences, recording, performing at Cornerstone, the band’s final show, and more. Check it out below.

First, thanks for the interview and taking some time to talk about the history of Unseen Adversary. 

My pleasure!  I have to admit that I get a little excited any time someone mentions Unseen Adversary.  That was such a special part of my life, and I don’t get the opportunity to talk about it that much.

I guess the best place to start with this is to ask how did you get into music and interested in starting a band? What/who introduced you to the Christian metal and hardcore scene specifically?

Music was always such an important part of my life.  We grew up with music all around us.  My dad was the Music Minister at church and got me involved with the church choir at an early age. Since “Christian rock” was an oxymoron according to my parents, I was not allowed to listen to it while growing up (although I did keep a secret stash of Stryper cassettes in my bedroom to listen on my Walkman).  After I started college, I found a Christian radio station that had a show on Saturday nights where they played heavier rock and metal.  I can still remember the first night I listened…I heard Bride’s “Everybody Knows My Name” and One Bad Pig’s “Man In Black”, and I immediately needed to have more.  I found a local Christian book store and spent hours upon hours listening through demo copies of anything they had listed under “metal” and adding to my collection.

Back then I didn’t have access to the Internet to research a band, so I relied heavily on cover artwork.  One day I see a new release that has a pretty cool cover art of a barren landscape with a dying tree, band named Focused, definitely looked worth checking out.  It started with a calm voice speaking directly to the listener, gradually building in intensity until he’s screaming, “Wipe the tears from your eyes, erase the fear from your heart, put your knee in the dirt and bow to the God who holds your blood red destiny in the palms of His awesome hands…IT’S YOUR CHOICE!”  The drums start and the guitar comes in, and it’s followed by these lyrics that just hit me so incredibly hard.  While it would still be a couple of years before putting the band together, it was that release and Six Feet Deep’s album Struggle that made me want to be part of that scene.

I know you guys started out as Phoenix and later changed your name to Unseen Adversary. How did you get together and start the band?

We had all grown up in the same church together, so we had known each other for years.  I was the oldest, followed by Brent at four years younger, followed by Randy and Travis at another four years younger.  At an eight-year age difference, we hadn’t really hung out together at all.  I had started doing youth ministry at the church, and there was a band named Johnny Q. Public doing a show in our area (I think this was in 1996).  Brent and I were going, and I invited Randy and Travis thinking that they might enjoy a Christian rock show (and I also think it was my mom’s idea…”Why don’t you invite Randy and Travis along? They would probably like that”).  We had such a great time that night, and at some point during the ride home, the idea of starting a band was born.  We played our first show on 2-1-97.
What made you decide on the name Unseen Adversary?  

We had originally used the name Phoenix as a way of representing spiritual rebirth, dying to self.  We thought we were heavy…at least until we got picked to play a big show, and they listed us as “punk”.  We were all pretty mad over that, because we really weren’t listening to anything punk at that time and didn’t want to be a punk band (but seriously, going back and listening to that stuff, yeah, punk was the best label for it).  So, we decided it was time to get heavier, and with that came the name change.

We sat around with a dictionary, Bible, and a notebook and just started trying to find cool words.  “Adversary” ended up being one of those words.  So, we looked to find passages in the Bible that used the word “Adversary” and came across Isaiah 50 – “He is near that justifies me; who will contend with me? Who is my adversary?”  It conjured up this image of being in the heat of a battle with an enemy, seeing God come stand beside me, and watching the enemy take off.  Like, “Where you going? Who wants a piece of me now?”  You still know the adversary is out there, but if you are standing near to God, he’s nowhere to be seen.

What bands or albums were some of your biggest influences around that time?  

We were listening to everything heavy on Tooth and Nail as well as bands from Victory Records like Earth Crisis, Strife, and Snapcase and Six Feet Deep’s Struggle on R.E.X. Records (which is still one of my favorite albums of all time).  Then in 1997 everything changed.  Solid State Records happened, and you got these now iconic releases from Strongarm, Zao, Living Sacrifice, Overcome…music that would not only influence us to change our direction to a heavier sound, but these were bands and albums that were leading the charge in the hardcore and underground metal scene (Christian or otherwise).  When I made the switch to doing vocals when we decided that screaming was the way to go, it was Shawn Jonas on Zao’s Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation album who was my primary influence.  Hands down, that album and Strongarm’s Advent of a Miracle were listened to far more than anything else.
The band’s faith played a huge role in both your music and your live show. For those unfamiliar with the scene, can you tell us what type of atmosphere and stage performance was important for you at the time?  

By this time in my life, I was listening to Christian music almost exclusively, and it wasn’t because I thought secular music was bad or anything.  There was just so much good Christian music coming out, and it was so easy to get caught up in all that momentum and want to be a part of it.  I mean, there was a genre specifically labeled “Spirit Filled Hardcore” where you had these guys who were boldly proclaiming their faith.  So, it never really occurred to me to not have a ministry-focused band.

We always made it a point to speak from the stage and to explain our songs (because sometimes it’s hard to decipher the screaming).  Since we didn’t have the luxury of loading up and touring across the country, we focused on our local area.  We wanted to reach out to kids whom we could build relationships with, kids who maybe didn’t have anywhere to fit in.  We spent a lot of time just hanging out with kids even beyond the shows.  There were at least a couple of different weekly Bible studies that grew out of the group, and we saw other kids starting their own bands.  The overwhelming number of people were super supportive of what we were doing, although we were kicked out of one church as soon as we started our set one night.

I remember being so upset and heartbroken.  It was a youth event with hundreds of kids, and we saw it as this total outreach opportunity to show these kids who had never heard anything like this before that, hey, this kind of music exists with lyrics that are positive.  We weren’t even five seconds into our set before we were told to stop and get off the stage.  We ended up renting a local venue for the following weekend to do a free show for anyone who wanted to see us but didn’t get to at the church.
Randy left the band and you guys continued on with some member changes. You were also in Edified for a while and then Unseen Adversary settled as a three piece.  I know at one point that Randy was performing some vocals for the band. Do you remember why he left and why you chose to continue as a three piece?  

So, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t that Randy left as much as it was that the band just broke up.  Brent and I were approached by another local musician and started playing some on the side, but we didn’t make it known to the others we were doing that.  I think we saw it as an opportunity to maybe get a little more serious with the band, but we should have gone about it differently and been completely open with the others.  After some heated discussion, we broke up and took a break from everything in 1999.

That summer Travis started doing vocals with someone else in a hardcore band under the name of Edified, and they invited me and Brent to complete their band.  We played quite a few shows together as Edified, but Brent, Travis, and I started talking about how we wanted to go more metal with our sound.  We knew we would not be able to do so as Edified, so we broke off and picked back up the Unseen Adversary name with Travis switching back to guitar/vocals and me picking up the bass along with vocals.  Why did we stick as a three piece and not reach out to Randy?  I think the three of us felt like the ball was already rolling for us since we had already been playing together for a bit, and we wanted to keep that momentum going just to see what would happen.
You guys played Cornerstone as well as shows with bands like Underoath who would go on to define the next era of heavy music. What was it like booking and playing shows in that era?  

It was tough.  With member(s) still in high school and two others with full-time jobs, we were relegated to playing shows that were within driving distance (6-8 hours one way was about the max).  Trying to find those locations before the rise of social media was a job in and of itself.  We played a lot at our weekly Bible study event.  There was a place down in Mayfield, KY that booked us for a lot of shows, so they became like family.  The music we were playing still hadn’t really caught on with many (especially in the heart of Kentucky), so crowds were pretty small.  With smaller crowds, we were able to take the time to visit with anyone who wanted to talk about anything.  Ultimately, as long as we were fed and got some gas money, we were happy to drive wherever to play.

What were some of your favorite bands you had the chance to play with?

One of the bands that grew out of our Bible study group was Drastic Action (who after several different changes would become Anne Hutchinson), so we played with them every chance we got.  A couple of other bands, Revealed By Fire and Drag the Stick, they were all part of this local scene that was growing…guys who were of the same mindset and shared the same love for this crazy music.  One of my favorite experiences was when Corpse (also local to us) invited us to pile in their van and head up to northern Ohio for a show…we had a small breakdown along the way and played for a really small crowd, but hanging with those guys was some of the most fun I’ve had.  While we did play with some bigger name bands, these local bands are who I would want to share the stage with if we all got our bands back together.
Cornerstone was such a massive festival for the genre. What was it like getting to play that festival? What were some of your favorite experiences at Cornerstone?

Getting to play at Cornerstone 2000 was a dream come true!  Even though we had not been contracted to play the festival, we went ahead and hauled all our gear up there in the hopes that we could get picked for a slot on the Impromptu Stage.  Now, this was before bands started bringing their own generators and setting up their own stages all over.  Anyone who wanted to play a set on the Impromptu Stage showed up and put their name in a hat, and they would draw for a random slot during the day.  On the day we put our name in, we were one of six bands picked to play out of about 70!

We brought with us a bunch of fliers we had made to pass out in case we were picked, scribbled down the time of our slot on each one, and passed them all out.  We had a decent turnout and ended up almost getting kicked off stage because I went to throw a couple of CDs out into the crowd (a practice I did not realize had been banned due to people getting injured). It was hot, sweaty, and magnificent!

Other favorite experiences? Being on the stage with Strongarm during their last set, seeing Saviour Machine perform at midnight, Living Sacrifice on the main stage…too many other awesome performances to list. You could almost sit down and make a list of all your favorite bands, and they would be playing at some point during the fest.  I’m a total fanboy as well, so just getting the chance to meet the bands in person to let them know what their music meant to me was a bonus.

You released a three-song demo that got reviewed in HM Magazine. What was the recording process like for that and who produced it?  

I remember us getting that demo reviewed, but unfortunately I can’t remember much else about it.  I want to say that maybe it was Jay Mattingly from Corpse that helped us to record that over at his place.  Whether it was that or if we recorded straight to tape ourselves, it was something that we felt like we could hand out.  We sent a copy off to HM Magazine hoping to be featured in their reviews.  Issue #77 arrived on my birthday in 1999, and there was our review in the back from Doug Van Pelt, “These guys pummel their listener with a brutal hardcore attack.”  The review was brief, but it felt nice to have some sort of validation from a musical standpoint from someone we considered an authority.

The following year we did a four-song EP entitled Do Not Be Afraid of What You Are About To Suffer…  We did the recording ourselves at our church using the church’s soundboard and mics and running the audio out to my mini-disc player.  We recorded the drums and guitars at the same time to produce an instrumental copy.  Once we had that where we wanted it, we would play it back through to record the vocals over the top.  By no means studio quality, but it was a quick and easy way to have copies of our music to get into the hands of the people who wanted it.  I bought a CD burner for my PC and burned CDs and printed artwork for the cases as needed.
I know the band was somewhat close with Tooth and Nail artists. Did you ever talk with any big indie labels about signing a record deal?  

I had to go back through my notes on our old website, but I found that we actually had some sort of recording deal with a label named Circulation Records.  Nothing ever came of it, though.  I don’t remember any details of it, so it must have been my brother who was more involved with working that deal.  Apparently the recording kept getting delayed, which prompted us to record the 4-song EP we did on our own just so that we could have something.

Looking back, I can think of so many things I would have liked to have done differently from a promotional standpoint.  I think we could have gotten our music out to so many more by leveraging the Internet beyond just having a basic website.

You played your last show at “Hard Edge Fest 2000”. What was that final show like?  

It was incredibly emotional and everything that I could have hoped it would be, but in the end, it still felt like it was time.  Since it was local, we were able to have many of our die-hard fans at the show.  We had Randy up on the stage with us at one point, and it was perfect to have the four of us who had started this journey together again.  It was a celebration of the music, and we offered it back to God who had blessed us with the opportunity of being involved in this special project.

Before the band broke up you were teasing an upcoming full length. Did you actually make it to the writing or recording process at all? Where do you think you would have gone soundwise?  

We were always writing new material and had plenty of music to record a full-length album, but as mentioned earlier, the label we were with kept pushing back the recording date which never materialized.  All we have are the demo, four-song EP we did ourselves, some live recordings on cassette, and live videos.  I’m thankful to have as many copies of us in concert so I’ve got access to those songs, but unfortunately that is it.

As far as the direction we were heading…we were always trying to get heavier, and I know that means different things for different people.  For us, it was using two distinct screamers, guitars tuned down to C, lyrics that were uncompromising and sometimes uncomfortable.  It was always more about a heavy groove than the speed.  For those who heard us towards the end, I believe that we had finally settled into our sound.  It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the chance to develop that any further.

Why did the band decide to break up and not pursue music together anymore?  

It was just one of those things where we all came to an agreement at the same time and were at peace with it.  It felt like it was time to call it, which is weird because we had just gotten back from Cornerstone and we were in Louisville opening for Underoath.  We had really hit our stride and knew who we were as a band, yet we collectively had the thought of, “I think this is it.”  There was no fight or drama.  That chapter had come to an end for us.  We each felt like God had something else in store for us, but it was no longer in the form of Unseen Adversary.

Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened had we doubled-down and pushed ahead through that, you know, what could have been…but I feel like it happened for a reason and shouldn’t have happened any other way.
Afterwards your brother played in Anne Hutchinson. Did you play with any other bands or think about it?  

There were a couple of one-off shows I did with my brother and some other local guys right after we had called it quits, but that’s been about it.  I ended up moving to Washington state and wrote and recorded some stuff on my own while up there, but that was more from a hobby standpoint than anything really meant for public consumption (although, I was pretty proud of some of my stuff and would like to go back and polish it up a bit).  After moving back to Kentucky, Randy and I actually hooked up with a couple of guys shortly, but that wasn’t meant to be.  I’m hoping that once I complete the remodel on my house and have a legit practice space that I can get back to playing and writing on a more serious level.

Did it surprise you that three or four years after the band broke up that a lot of bands from that Tooth and Nail, Solid State, Takehold scene had pretty big commercial success?  

I don’t think it was surprising at all.  Like I mentioned earlier, several of these bands were at the forefront of the scene.  Where Christian music had typically had the reputation of being years behind the secular market, you now had these Christian bands that other bands were looking to and being influenced by.  I think it took the hardcore scene mentality, a culture of being passionate and outspoken about your beliefs no matter what they are (Christian, straight-edge, vegan, whatever), that really allowed for people who weren’t necessarily believers to respect these bands and what they had to say.

You uploaded a lot of your personal footage from your band as well as footage from a ton of other bands like Dashboard Confessional, Zao, etc. a few years ago. What made you want to make sure you documented the scene as it was happening and then share it later on?  

To tell you the truth, I don’t think I ever thought about it that way when I was doing it.  I’ve never been the type to go to shows and get in the pit or hardcore dance or whatever.  I’ve always gone to shows to watch the bands, so I’m always there in line super early to get a good (hopefully undisturbed) vantage point to watch the show.  I must have seen someone else recording a band at some point in time that gave me the idea of doing the same, so it was what I did.  You go to a show, and it’s this brief, incredible moment in time…and then it’s gone.  You talk about it afterwards and have the memory of it, but that’s it.  At the time, I was recording these shows so that I could have something to go back and watch again, my own personal collection.

YouTube was not even a thing back then, so sharing these shows meant making copies of tapes and mailing out to anyone interested.  As technology advanced, I wanted to make sure that I converted my tapes to digital format just in case the original tapes were ever damaged.  Once YouTube became a thing, it was a no-brainer to upload my content in the hopes that others who maybe missed out on that era or those who were there and just wanted to reminisce could see this footage.

That Dashboard Confessional video from 2000…no one in that room had any idea how big they were going to be.  Heck, Chris Carrabba apologized for running out of CDs to sell and told us to download a copy off Napster.  Then the Zao video from 1999 in Evansville…I think that was the first time seeing the Liberate lineup and is still probably my favorite show of all time.  I’ve got lots more tapes to go through, so hopefully I can get more stuff posted up soon on my channel.
Do you still listen to those classic albums? If so, what albums from the genre have stood the test of time for you?  

While I find new music to listen to, I still regularly listen to a lot of the stuff from that era…it’s just timeless for me, the soundtrack of that part of my life.  So much good stuff…Zao, Strongarm, Living Sacrifice, Extol, Few Left Standing, Narcissus, Six Feet Deep, Focal Point, Spitfire, Circle of Dust, Eso-Charis, Snapcase…I could go on and on.

As far as standing the test of time?  Strongarm’s Advent of a Miracle, Living Sacrifice’s Reborn, Zao’s Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest…those are pretty much the holy trinity of that era.  If any of those albums were to drop today for the first time, people would go nuts.  They aren’t only great albums…they left their mark on so much of the music that would come after in the following decade.  Some albums I need to be in a certain mood to listen to, but these are good to go at any time.

Thanks for taking the time to talk about the band. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?  

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share!  Unseen Adversary is something I look back on very fondly and proudly, and I feel blessed to have had the chance to do what we did.  To anyone reading, please make the most of every moment you have been given and love the people around you.  Life is too short to spend any of it angry or bitter.  Stay safe, stay well, and God bless!

Find more information on Chris and the band:

Instagram (Chris)
Instagram (Band)

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