After a two year wait, New York punk outfit Uniform are back with their unforgiving fourth full length album, Shame.
Formed in 2013 by Ben Greenberg and Michael Berdan, each release from Uniform has dug deeper and deeper into their ferocious, signature sound of industrial electronics and unrelenting noise-rock. Abrasive in sound and subject, they are a necessity in light of the grips of Capitalism and the abuse of organised religion and human suffering.
Collaboration has always been something which Uniform have explored. In 2019 they joined forces with The Body to create Everything That Dies Comes Back, a productive influence they’ve gone on to project into Shame – the compressed use of electronics, ruthless unification of live and digital drums, the guitars layered heavily and never taking complete centre stage – yet still keeping that midrange throat kick that helps make Uniform so terrifying to experience.
The use of electronic drums, which has become synonymous with both their recorded and live sound, is now more concise and appropriated. It adds a razor sharp computerised layer – however with the addition of Mike Sharp on drums, ‘Shame’ feels more dynamic than perhaps the last releases, with feral yet organic flourishes of intense rhythm being weaved into the murderous landscape that the trio have constructed.
The increased use of live drums when mixed with the electronic creates this thunderous layer of depth and potency – the perfect stage for Michael Berdan’s feverish lyricism and Ben Greenberg’s savagely metallic guitars to further bring the audience into submission.
Lyrically, Berdan never holds back; his delivery precise yet spiteful and equally gut wrenching, every word being thrust out with vitality and importance. Their last release A Long Walk could be seen as an ode to anti-capitalism and everything generally fucked up in the world, while Shame could be seen as a deeper, self-reflective extension – a much more narrative-driven exploration into the human psyche, with nods to Berdan’s paradoxical conversations with his Catholic faith weaving in and out in ‘I Am The Cancer’ – “My shit your bread, my piss your wine, we salt the earth with tears, baptised in filth, now born again, lay waste these new frontiers, my Father’s belt, my Mother’s love, tried so hard to ignore, forever shall be, world without end, God is war & war endures”.
In Berdan’s own words “We are a punk band. I have been a punk since childhood and I’ll be a punk until I die. It has far less to do with the music that it does the way you approach the world” – as we speak with him, it becomes even clearer that Uniform are a band that takes everything great and true about punk music, pushes the genre forward and submits the listener into self reflection and pure catharsis.
I believe you started recording Shame before COVID started to really impact us earlier this year – how has the situation this year impacted you personally and as a band, and has it had any effect on how you reflect upon this record in particular with so much going on?
I mean, the fabric of our collective reality was completely altered within the course of a month or so. The impact on the band has been significant. We were on the road when stay-at-home orders started going into effect, which forced us to cancel half of a tour that we were already on. Now that we’ve put this record out, touring feels like a psychological imperative and the fact that we can’t do it is certainly messing with our heads a bit.
Like everyone in the world, It has been a strange few months for me. My father passed away in May (non-Covid related). As hard as that was, I’m grateful that I wasn’t on the road and got the chance to spend those last few weeks with him. Weird to not be able to have a big funeral, but whatever. My grandfather passed away two weeks ago (also non-Covid) and I got to be with my mom when it happened. Without Covid going on, chances are good that I would have been on tour and missed out on that, too. I didn’t really know Riley Gale but Wade Allison was an old acquaintance. Mike Sharp, our drummer, was good friends with both of them. Those guys were integral players in the lives of so many of my immediate friends, peers, and family. Everything is so fucked up right now for lots of people who I love.
Of course, the importance of the protests and the shift in public consciousness/consensus that have come along with them cannot be understated. People who look like me, who might have thought that they were doing pretty good in terms of being understanding and empathetic, have been forced to look much deeper and work on layers of racism that we didn’t even know or barely knew existed within ourselves and the world around us.
You could say that the events of 2020 have kinda reshaped the narrative surrounding the record for me, yes. These songs are attempts at self examination as it is. This year has shown that self awareness and empathy are nice but meaningless if they don’t lead to action.
Instrumentally, Uniform from the start has been this brutal juxtaposition of industrial electronics and guitar driven noise rock. Was this the vision you had from the formation of the band?
In the beginning, Ben and I just wanted to be a heavy band and have it be as easy and insular as possible. Incorporating a drummer and bass player at that time would have made for more personalities and logistics, so we went with the drum machine and synth instead. I’ve always been a sucker for industrial death metal and crust, so this was a format that I was happy to embrace, even if the intention wasn’t exactly to sound like Christdriver or something.
To extend from the last question, do you feel you are able to express yourselves as much creatively through contrast in this way, while ensuring that you are able to evoke what you wish to emotionally through the music?
I feel like getting our point across has gotten easier with time. We’ve done a lot of trial and error and I think we’re all the better for it. We’re at a point as a band where we have a lot of experience to pull from. We’re not limited to the rigidity of a drum machine and sequenced synth but we can still use that when it’s appropriate. We’ve gotten much better at pinpointing specific moments where noise, synths, and drum machines will have the best impact. Our pallet has broadened significantly.
This record feels almost more organic and dynamic with the heavier use of live drums, do you think it changes the dynamic of Uniform as a whole?
Yes, it does. Even though Ben and I toured and recorded constantly as a duo, it still felt more like a project than a real band. Having a third person has invigorated us in a manner that we’d never felt before. Everything about the writing process of this record was collaborative, with Mike, Ben, and me all having equal say. We trust each other enough to know that whatever suggestions anyone makes is for the sake of the song. We try a lot of ideas out. If something doesn’t work somebody will say so and whoever wrote it doesn’t get offended. We all want to make something that we’d like to listen to, start to finish. Hopefully we’ve done that for a couple of people on this one.
To me, the dynamism in the sound of your live and recorded output goes hand in hand. Is it important for both to not differentiate from one another, or are you attempting to explore something different through each channel?
It used to be important to only record what we could replicate live, but that kind of rigidity has largely gone out the window. If we’re in the studio and we have access to something that will sound good, we’ll record it. Trying to figure out how to pull off studio sounds in a live setting is something that has to come later or we’ll just wind up limiting ourselves.
In the last two years you’ve worked quite deeply in collaboration with The Body, it was quite a unique prospect that developed from the output you worked on together. Did working in this way inform how you approached your own writing or recording process in the solitude of Shame?
Yeah, it did. For me, everyone that I’ve ever made music with has taught me something. We all pick up on little tricks and flourishes from each other here and there, and that’s only natural. The Body and Seth Manchester, who produced those albums, are remarkable. I love looking over Seth’s shoulders and trying to understand what he’s doing. The guy is brilliant.
‘Shame’ retains the unrelenting violent essence of your sound – but as far as the production goes, the album presents more clarity when compared to your past releases. Was this a purposeful dynamic you wanted to exhibit? Was working with producers outside of yourselves a conscious decision to perhaps express something you haven’t before?
We very much wanted to make a cleaner sounding record. The Long Walk was sonically antagonistic in a way that was important for what we wanted in that moment, and Wake in Fright was kind of an exercise in computerized maximalism. On this record, we wanted to craft something concise. We took what we liked from the earlier records and left the rest. We chose to work with Randall in mixing because he’s a friend and a master at his craft. He’s someone that we could trust to understand the material and take where it needed to go, in ways that maybe we hadn’t even considered. I think that we’re learning that having an objective set of outside ears is important.
Within the record, there are themes of the inner struggles of the human condition which I imagine certainly comes from first hand experience forming your narrative. Do you feel like there’s an element of catharsis in exposing such deeply personal subject matters?
Eh, I don’t know if catharsis is the word for it. If I’m being honest, it’s sometimes borderline humiliating to say things to the world that are usually reserved for my therapist or some shit. However, I felt that it was important to let the writing process go wherever it was gonna go. This is the direction that it took, and I accept that. My hope is that some people out there can relate to these words and maybe feel a bit less alone.
In the same respect, does it leave you feeling exposed, especially within the intense pressures and expectations of strength in society that we continue to be made vulnerable to?
Yes, exactly that. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do this but I’m inherently shy as it is, and letting this out en masse definitely dredges up some feelings.
This record is very heavily narrative driven and you could say that lyrically this leaves it more open to interpretation. How comfortable are you with the listener forming their own meaning after experiencing your work?
Over time, I’ve become increasingly more and more comfortable with people assigning their own meaning to my work. Once you put something out into the world it’s not really yours anymore. Art is to be experienced, not coached through. If you see something in my work that I didn’t intend to convey, that’s great. If you don’t pick up on my pretentious ass references, that’s great too. This music belongs to whoever is listening to it.
To follow on, your lyricism has always touched on religious themes and I believe you’ve been vocal musically of your exploration of your faith. I’m wondering from a personal perspective if your connection to faith and organised religion has been tested considering the current state of society within the US, where faith and particularly Catholicism is seen as so embedded within the political system?
It’s certainly paradoxical from time to time. All major world religions have basically the same ultimate point to them: be good to each other. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. It’s all basic golden rule stuff. I don’t think that Catholicism is any better or worse than anything at its core. It just happens to be the religion I grew up with and therefore I’m the most familiar with, plus it’s something that makes me feel close to my family. I find great solace in prayer, meditation, and ritual. The way that I practice Catholicism isn’t so much a belief structure as it is a practical meditative application. I believe in God but I do not believe in heaven and hell. I feel like it takes great hubris to even try to speak to what happens after we die. It might very well be nothing, but if it’s something then I’d bet it’s far beyond the realm of human understanding.
I’ll try to be succinct here because I have a tendency to go off in tangents when it comes to this subject. I believe in God but I’m not gonna lose any sleep as to whether or not God exists. If there is a God, I believe God to be divine and perfect. The church is an antiquated governing body made up of human beings. Like many governments, its power comes from the fear of its adherents. This leads to gross imbalances and abuses of every kind. Ultimately, my hope is that it is dismantled entirely and built back up without the emphasis on superstition and authority. God should be a source of comfort, not an avatar of oppression.
Finally, your sound thrives off the raw, primal sound of what we determine to be hardcore and punk, and NYC is known for being at the forefront of the movement. For me, hardcore/punk culture represents independence, inclusivity and progression, both in community that extends beyond the music and the genre itself. What does the notion of hardcore/punk represent for Uniform personally?
To me it isn’t as simple as saying “fuck society.” What I think we should be trying to do is to create a safe refuge for everyone who doesn’t feel comfortable in their own proverbial skin out there. The code should come down to treating each other with love and respect while we try to build a better world.
Shame, the new album by Uniform, is out now via Sacred Bones. The visuals for ‘Life in Remission’, directed by A.F CORTES, can be viewed below.
Words: Kieran Herbert Photography: Ebru Yildiz