Northwest powerhouse bassist Vern Rumsey — most known for his work with post-hardcore trio Unwound — passed away this morning outside Olympia, Washington at 47-years-old. Ken Shipley, co-founder of the Numero Group, an archival record label who reissued the band's catalog in 2013, wrote a beautiful tribute on Twitter, stating "I had known for some time that he was not well, but his passing has created a new void in these already dark times."
Formed from the ashes of Tumwater, WA-based band Giant Henry, Unwound formed in Olympia in 1991 by Rumsey, Justin Trosper, and Brandt Sandeno (who was replaced by Sara Lund in 1991, who remained their drummer until the band's break-up in 2002). Their abrasive, dissonant sound caught the attention of Slim Moon of local label Kill Rock Stars; while the label had focused on spoken-word pieces at the time, after seeing the band perform live for the first time, he was adament about releasing their albums. Shortly after releasing their acclaimed double-LP Leaves Turn Inside You and co-headlining the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, the band broke up in 2002.
Rumsey went on to perform in the bands Long Hind Legs, Fitz of Depression, Oslo, and Flora v. Fauna. His most recent project was Household Gods, a project with David Pajo of Slint, Lauren K. Newman of Palo Alto (who sadly passed away last year), and Conan Neutron. Neutron wrote on Facebook this morning, "One of the sweetest and most pure hearts I know and one of my favorite bass players of all time. I can barely process this right now." Household Gods just released their debut album, Palace Intrigue, in June.
Rumsey also co-ran the label Punk In My Vitamins Records, and worked as a recording engineer on releases from Blonde Redhead and KARP, as well as making guest appearances on releases by XBXRX and Blonde Redhead's 1997 LP Fake Can Be Just As Good. He also recorded under the name RedRumsey, self-releasing the EP Compass Rose in 2014.
Local singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson wrote on her Facebook, "I don’t know what happened, but I was rooting for him just like he always rooted for me. I was such a big fan of him as a person and I was a total groupie of his bands... He is also one of the few musicians/friends from back then, that I looked up to, who let me know over the years that he liked what I was doing musically and he was proud of me. That really meant so much to me."
After the band broke up in 2002, Mike Simonetti wrote on the Troubleman Unlimited web site: "Unwound's influence will live on for a long time to come, and they were everything a band should be: independent and non-compromising in every aspect."
Numero Group's Shipley concluded on Twitter, "Losing Vern Rumsey is a reminder that an era has ended. That everyone gets old and and no longer fits into their shredded and ring-stretched punk band tees. Should you ever require a time machine back, I can think of no better transport than his chugging bass lines."
After 13 years away from the label he helped start, Slim Moon has returned as Kill Rock Stars president. Martin Douglas discusses Moon's return with both Moon himself and outgoing president Dr. Portia Sabin.