Interview: Uniform

The record isn't intentionally more or less bleak than anything we'd made in the past, but rather a diligently composed picture of who we are in the present.

Uniform have just released their latest album Shame and it has to be their most personal record to date and a definite joyous and harrowing listen. As well as being so hard hitting, emotional and bleak, the album has a transcendent quality as well and this mix throughout Shame makes it the most unforgettable Uniform record yet. Gavin Brown caught up with the band’s vocalist Michael Berdan to hear all about the album and its sound and creation as well as working with kindred spirits The Body, Uniform’s pre-lockdown tour and what music is influencing him and the band.

E&D: Your new album Shame is out now. How did the creation and recording process of the record go?

Michael: It’s strange to think about, but this was equal parts the hardest we’ve ever worked on a record and the easiest time we’ve ever had making a record. Does that make any sense? We all took the songwriting process to heart in ways that we never have before. Each of us brought our own individual ideas to the table and then we’d try to workshop them into songs as a collective band. I feel that we each felt secure in each other’s tastes and abilities while making this record in ways that we never had before, and that led to a much smoother collaboration than usual. As far as the actual process of writing and recording went, it was really quite simple. We met up in Austin, Texas for a few days last December to iron out our ideas and put together a demo. Then we went into the studio in New York in early February to track for a few days. After that, our buddy Randall spent some time mixing it. Then Covid happened and the world came to an end. You know… the usual.

E&D: Shame features your new drummer Mike Sharp and his drumming rather than programmed drums like you have in the past. How did this change the sound of the album?

Michael: Our friend Greg Fox played drums on The Long Walk and he did a simply brilliant job with what he had to work with. However, the drum parts on that record were initially written by Ben with a drum machine and so there is still a mechanical nature to song structures. This is the first time we ever wrote songs together with a drummer present and acting as an equal part of the unit. These songs belong to Sharp’s drumming just as much as they do Ben’s guitar or my stupid voice. Mike Sharp is one of the finest punk and metal drummers I’ve ever known, with a musical vocabulary that far exceeds the traditional limitations of those genres. There are still a ton of synthetic drum triggers all over the record, but Sharp’s playing made this stand out from more typical industrial trappings.

E&D: Shame sounds even more bleak and abrasive than you have ever done. Was that your intention with the album or did it happen naturally?

Michael: It happened pretty naturally. Basically, we’d been touring pretty much nonstop for a few years and it got to a point where we felt that our live show was significantly better than our records. We wanted to take our experience as a seasoned band from the road and couple that with everything we’d learned via trial and error from our past records in order to create an accurate portrait of where we are as a band today. The record isn’t intentionally more or less bleak than anything we’d made in the past, but rather a diligently composed picture of who we are in the present.

E&D: The album’s first single ‘Delco’ deals with your upbringing in Pennsylvania. Can you tell us about the song and was it a cathartic thing for him to sing about?

Michael: I don’t know if it’s cathartic. Putting that song together conjures a lot of feelings of humiliation, anger, and lingering fear. I equate catharsis with release. This song is about the long term effects on my psyche from people and events in my distant past. Long story short about the song: I hung out with some pretty fucked up kids in my neighborhood. A lot of bad shit happened and I got away from them, but dealing with those people forced me to develop some pretty negative defense mechanisms that have carried over into adulthood. Just how bad were these guys? Well, a bunch of them later joined an explicitly racist motorcycle gang. Two of the bikers made national news somewhat recently when one murdered the other and disposed of the body in an abandoned crypt. The guy who did it had recently gotten out of prison for shooting his then girlfriend in the face.

 

E&D: The title track is the most personal song that you’ve released. How was the experience of making that particular track?

Michael: Putting lyrics together for all of these songs made for some pretty heavy reflecting, and the title track was no exception. I’m constantly taking notes of whatever line or a phrase pops into my head at any given time. When it comes time to write a song, I pick a few items from these notes and build a narrative around it. In the case of Shame, I cribbed the line “That’s why I drink. That’s why I weep” from an old Twilight Zone episode and related it to my own experiences with self medication. It didn’t feel great to write this stuff down, but I think my vulnerability and discomfort lend to the strength of the song. I mean, at least I hope so.

E&D: What other issues do you deal with on the album that you can tell us about?

Michael: It’s a record about self reflection and the role many of us have in making a mess of our own lives. There’s a lot in there about sowing resentment among others by blaming people for my own missteps. I talk about the duality of the human spirit and the devil on my shoulder that constantly whispers falsehoods and encourages me to act in self service at all times. I talk about insomnia. I talk about self harm. I talk about the breaking point where a once empathetic individual loses hope and gives in to abject nihilism. Happy stuff all around.

E&D: What has the feedback on the new material been like so far?

Michael: Overwhelmingly positive. I’m pretty blown away by the outpouring of kindness that we’ve been receiving. It seems to be connecting with people in ways that our other records to this point hadn’t. The act of releasing an album is always equal parts exciting and unnerving and heaven knows that there will be people out there who fucking hate this thing. Talking about some of the ugliest recesses of my brain and having others identify with them is kind of a weird experience, but it makes me feel less alone and hopefully it makes them feel less alone too. I think that’s the goal.

E&D: What are the biggest influences on the sound of Shame?

Michael: It’s hard to say. The three of us have extremely different aesthetics and none of them really win out. We pulled a lot from hardcore bands like Crossed Out and Anti-Cimex, but there’s still a ton of industrial death metal and crust like Dead World and Spine Wrench. We’re constantly referencing black metal and noise rock, too. It’s all over the place.

E&D: Ben produced the album, how did you all work together to get the sound that Shame has?

Michael: We made a demo together in Texas. After that it was a matter of each of us practicing our individual parts and refining the material we had. Ben is amazing in the studio. He encouraged us constantly and because of his skill we were able to see the ideas we had for this record through to fruition, all the while doing double (triple, really) duty on guitar and bass. Now that’s some work ethic right there.

E&D: Randall Dunn mastered the album, how was it working with him and what did he bring to the album and its sound?

Michael: Randall’s mixing added a completely unique dimension to the record. He’s a genius with limitless abilities and an impossibly well trained ear. Randall is responsible for so much in the way of the effects on Shame as well as giving it nuance and depth. Having a set of ears working on the record outside of the band members is invaluable. It’s so important to have someone objective in your corner. Working with Randall was a real blessing.

E&D: Shame is your fourth album. How do you feel that Uniform has changed as a band from when you released Perfect World in 2015?

Michael: Man, 2015 feels like a lifetime ago. I feel like the core of what we wanted back then is still very much present. The fact is that we went from being two guys and a drum machine to becoming a fully realized band. We now know how to get what we want out of a song, where before we were limited by a deliberately minimal setup and lack of experience. I had a full time job during the Perfect World days and could only tour on my vacation time. Now, touring is my job (well, when a pandemic isn’t happening). It feels like what was once a project is now a way of life.

E&D: Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back, Your album with The Body came out last year. How was the experience of making that album?

Michael: It was so much fun. We really love those guys. Basically, the way our collaborations with The Body have worked is we’ll book some studio time with Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets and then we just kinda fuck around for a few days. We use the experience as an excuse to hang out with our friends and have fun. Really, making a record should be at least somewhat of a fun experience all of the time. If it’s all just toil and misery always then why bother doing it?

E&D: Uniform work so well with The Body. What is it about those guys that makes it sound so good?

Michael: Haha, you can thank Seth for that. He’s really the glue that holds everything together. I think that the project benefits significantly from having an exceptional producer. Other than that, I think it helps that we all don’t take ourselves too seriously. We try things out and if they work we keep them in, if they suck we ditch them. There isn’t too much though that goes into the music we make together.

E&D: Have you got any plans to work with The Body again?

Michael: Most likely, yeah. We were gonna start working on LP 3 together this past summer but Covid happened and now we’re all busy.

E&D: You released the live album with The Body, Live At The End Of The World, how was the gig in LA that the album was recorded at?

Michael: It’s funny you should ask that. We played two shows at Zebulon in LA that night. The first show was sparsely attended and kind of a bummer. The second show, which immediately followed the first, was just about sold out and everybody was stoked. The live album is from the first show. We recorded both sets and the first one, the one that was kind of a bummer, was way better sounding than the set at the crazy show. Go figure.

E&D: You cover ‘Hate The Police’ by The Dicks on the album. It’s a fitting choice with all that is going on with police brutality, especially right now. How did that go down on the night and did you feel it was the right time to make a statement like that?

Michael: We covered that song throughout the tour (well, until we had to cancel the remaining shows halfway through the tour, that is). When we do collab stuff we always like throwing in a cover or two. ‘Hate The Police’ is one of the best punk songs of all time and given the climate even before George Floyd it felt like an obvious choice.

E&D: What other punk and hardcore songs would you love to tackle in the future?

Michael: We’ve talked about doing The Mob’s ‘I Wish’. Hoping that becomes a reality someday.

E&D: How has the live album been received and was it a bit bittersweet listening to it, now that there aren’t any gigs going on for the foreseeable future?

Michael: To be honest, I don’t think I’ve listened to it. I really hate hearing music that I play on once it’s completed. It makes me feel very awkward. But yeah, it’s bittersweet that the record exists for sure. I mean, I think it came out while we were supposed to still be on that tour!

E&D: The album was recorded live just before the world went into lockdown. How was the tour going before that happened and what were some of the highlights?

Michael: The tour was great! Honestly, the highlights for me were hanging out with my friends and going to Waffle House every night. Golden Donna was with us for the first few shows and he killed. Such a talented dude and solid human being. I adore Foie Gras and Dreamdecay. It was a real joy getting to know those guys. Spending time with people like them renews my faith in the world. Well, kinda.

E&D: Who else would Uniform love to work with on an album?

Michael: We’ve got a few collaborations in the pipe that I can’t talk about yet, but I’m very excited. It is gonna be super fun!

E&D: How have you been keeping busy during this pandemic?

Michael: My dad died in May after a short but intense battle with pancreatic cancer. That kept me busy with family stuff and just general grieving for a while. Other than that I’ve been working on a ton of solo electronic music, as well as some individual collabs with friends. I’m happy at home with my partner and our dog. Been watching a ton of tv and catching up on reading, like a lot of people.

I’ve been grinding on an ambient project with Andrew Nolan from Intensive Care and doing a ton of modular industrial and techno by myself. Can’t tell you about the rest yet.

 

E&D: How has it been in New York with everything shutting down during these times?

Michael: It was pretty surreal for awhile. There’s nothing quite like taking a drive to Time’s Square and finding the entire place empty. Love it or hate it, this city is usually brimming over with life. When it gets quiet it makes me feel very uneasy.

E&D: When do you think that live shows will start happening again?

Michael: It’s hard to say for sure. We have some tour dates booked for early 2021 that haven’t been announced yet and I won’t be surprised if they have to be moved. My guess is that people will start touring again in relative comfort come late Spring of 2021. That might be optimistic, though.

E&D: What has been the most memorable show that Uniform has ever played and what made it so memorable?

Michael: Probably the first time we played in Moscow. The people there are ravenous about music in such a beautiful way. The first time we played there was during a big techno party and kids just went nuts. It was such a good feeling, man. Other highlights were our last show in Milan as well as the Colors of Ostrava festival last year. In Milan, the room was packed and the crowd wasn’t letting us leave so we covered Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ on the spot, without having ever practiced it. The same thing happened at Ostrava but we picked The Misfits’ ‘Hybrid Moments’, again having never practiced it. Ostrava was a giant outdoor festival that was being headlined by The Cure and we figured that everyone would either hate us or just not watch. We were wrong.

E&D: Your Spotify playlist Wake Up And Smell The Shame features an eclectic mix of everyone from Crass, Voorhees and Tech Level 2 to Ice T, Sly & Robbie and Last Rights. Are all these songs and artists an influence on Uniform and Shame?

Michael: I supposed they are, in their own way. We each pick songs for that playlist over time, and because all of our tastes are so different it the results are pretty all over the place. If you want to play a fun game, try guessing which member of Uniform picked which song. Spoiler: I picked all of the cool ones.

E&D: What other music have you been listening to at the moment?

Michael: I’ve really been into the new Ireen Amnes album on Sonic Groove and the new Teste on L.I.E.S. Been digging the last few Primitive Knot releases really hard. Oh, and pretty much all of the Himukalt stuff. I dunno… lots of techno and industrial stuff.

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