Uniform is the brand new project from Michael Berdan and Ben Greenberg that, according to them, "is the soundtrack for our society's collective nervous breakdown." To me, it sounds a lot more like the soundtrack for their individual nervous breakdowns.
Uniform brings together a prolific front man and a prolific sound whiz. Berdan and Greenberg were arguably the two most prominent musicians in the Brooklyn harsh rock microscene in which their previous bands, respectively Drunkdriver and Pygmy Shrews, played. Since the end of those bands, Berdan has played in Veins, York Factory Complaint, and Believer/Law, and Greenberg in The Men, and with his solo project Hubble.
At once abrasive and melodic, their debut 12" will be released this summer on Beggar's Tomb, a new label from Frich Warwick of Parts Unknown and Radio Raheem Records. The A side is a seven minute song titled "Our Blood," and the B side is a ten and a half minute song titled "Of Sound Mind and Body." This record clearly sits in the context of the pair revisiting the sound of their older bands, but while exploring that through an almost pop-oriented lens that must get developed when you spend your days playing in synth duos and international indie rock success stories. Stream “Our Blood” from the release below.
Uniform will play their first show on Wednesday, April 9 at the weekly industrial party Nothing Changes, held at Home Sweet Home on the Lower East Side. They will be supported by Himomitsdad and DJ's Ron Morelli (L.I.E.S.) and Ciarra Black (No-Tech).
This interview was conducted in two parts: with Berdan in, you guessed it, an East Willamsburg coffee shop, and with Greenberg via email while The Men were on tour in Europe. I asked most of the questions, but relayed some from Berdan to Greenberg as well.
Noisey: How did UNIFORM start?
Michael Berdan: Ben said that he had had this dream about the two of us starting a band similar to our old bands.
A literal dream?
MB: A literal dream. Ben, what was the dream like?
Ben Greenberg: I remember a hard pouring sensation, and a huge wall of full spectrum noise. I was playing my guitar but I don't remember exactly what the part was. I do remember feeling the same trance/catharsis state that I used to slip into during particularly violent PYGMY SHREWS shows: everything flying around me in slow motion and feeling like I'm floating. But the clearest memory from that dream was Berdan screaming unholy hell and running straight at the frenzied crowd. I actually just got goosebumps thinking about it. I told him about the dream when THE MEN played at Rough Trade. Once we started talking seriously about it, it seemed clear that it was something we both have to do. That this kind of band is something that just lives inside of us and it's much, much healthier to have an outlet for it than it is to keep it bottled up. So yeah, basically your run of the mill homoerotic wet dream; starting the band is really just an excuse to get the guy alone in a motel room.
MB: We gotfood and talked through our ideas. We talked about our lives and histories. He played in PYGMY SHREWS, I played in DRUNKDRIVER, he recorded all the DRUNKDRIVER stuff. Those bands did fairly well in this niche area, and DRUNKDRIVER had this explosive breakup. When that happened, I kind of separated myself from everything for a while. I didn’t go to shows for a bit. I started hanging out with a different crew. We didn’t talk for a while. And we slowly became friends again. We’d run into each other on the street, and chat for a minute here and there, and those talks just kept on getting longer, and a little closer and more heartfelt. When this happened I kind of jumped on it. I miss my friend. I want to be able to play the way that we used to play. Not do the same band at all because fuck that, but I’ve done a lot of bands since then, he’s done a fuck ton of bands since then. We’ve both worked hard and we’ve both gotten better at what we do. We kind of took the ideas of everything we had been doing, and we get to bring it here now.
Musically how do you see UNIFORM as an evolution from previous bands?
MB: I think the band that it’s probably closest to sonically would be DRUNKDRIVER. I think there is a lot of BELIEVER/LAW in it too in terms of the drum machine and synth elements, and there’s a fuck ton of PYGMY SHREWS. We wanted to do something pummeling. We wanted to do something loud and harsh and long. We wanted it to be this thing that just kind of happens. This sonic event. And it just builds and builds and builds.
BG: I think we've got the same basic obliterative spirit: destroy first, cry later and all that. Extreme volume has always been really important to me. It's great to have a reason to start collecting annoyingly large and heavy guitar and bass cabs again.
Can you talk about writing the music for UNIFORM?
BG: So far a lot of the music has come out of Berdan and I working with the drum machine for a while until we've got a pattern that feels right. There's a lot of layering. There'll be five snare samples hitting at the same time for each snare hit, for example. Then we'll work out a riff on the guitar or the bass synth. It's helpful to repeat a new part for minutes at a time, to kinda find the nooks and crannies in it that might lead to a second part or further variations of the existing material. I've been approaching my guitar parts like big blocks of sound. Some are more top heavy and some are bottom heavy. Clustering low notes together can create a tremendous friction which can be really useful. But we try to use harmonic development as a way of forming structures as well, so there can be something almost recognizable or relatable woven into the larger textures.
Berdan, what is it to be a front man?
MB: Oh god. Well, I’ve never wanted anything in my life other than to play music. A big problem there is I don’t fucking know how to do anything. Occasionally I’ve been able to fool people into thinking I actually know how to play an instrument. I fucking don’t. I am rather adept at jumping up and down and hitting myself in the face. I’ve gotten kind of good at that. Besides that I’m a fucking luddite. I can program in a sequence in a drum machine, I can program in a sequence in a synthesizer, and I can hit a button and I can make those sequences go. In UNIFORM I just jump up and down and hit myself. The only times I’ve ever felt free is when I’m going. When I plug in a microphone.
Who did you guys get into music with when you were growing up?
BG:The first show I ever saw was the MEAT PUPPETS, but my first favorite band was KISS. I saw them on their first reunion tour and owned every single album and VHS collection.
No I mean like, did you have friends that you listened to music with?
BG: I was in a band called the FUGUE that started when I was thirteen. We were definitely really tight but also very insular; I didn't make a lot of friends.
MB: Me and John Sharkey from CLOCKCLEANER, DARK BLUE, PUERTO RICO FLOWERS, all that shit, we became really close in my freshmen year of high school. We’re still best friends to this day. He got kicked out of school at the end of freshmen year, I got kicked out at the end of junior year. We showed each other music. There was another dude named Mike Myers. We had a triad. Myers was really into black metal, I was really into beatdown hardcore and techno and bad pop punk or whatever, and Sharkey was into bad pop punk and crusty shit. We all showed each other around. We would all try to start these bands but they never went anywhere. Sharkey didn’t start to really, really do stuff until he left Philly to move to Cleveland to play in BOMB BUILDER and 9 SHOCKS TERROR.
God I fucking loved 9 SHOCKS. There was this band in Albany [where I'm from] called THE JURY, and we sometimes called them 8 SHOCKS TERROR because they ripped Cleveland's style so hard, in a good way.
MB: 9 SHOCKS are the best American hardcore band in the past twenty years. If there is a fucking band to be obsessed with in America it’s 9 SHOCKS TERROR.
There’s still INMATES, but I wish there was a band like 9 SHOCKS that played regularly. There’s not really a band on that level right now.
MB: The thing with all those 9 SHOCKS guys is they did not seem interested in hardcore at all. They liked the URINALS and MODERN ENGLISH. You guys are really just freakers from Cleveland, and you’re brilliant. It was really kind of inspiring. It showed me that you could be into hardcore, you could play hardcore or play harsh music or do what the fuck ever, but you don’t have to get married to this one thing. You could be into all this other shit. That band opened up fucking doors, like you know, in my mind. They’re cool.
Ben, did you like 9 SHOCKS TERROR?
BG: Yes. But not as much as KISS.
What’s your favorite record store in New York City?
BG: Damn that's tough, there are so many sick spots. Academy, Co-op 87, the Grouch, Heaven Street. Generation Records was a mainstay when I was growing up. I'd always meet my friends there and talk to the guy in the used section about records.
MB: Hands down the most loving, caring, well curated, generous, best record store in the world is Heaven Street. One will not do better than that. It is a fucking honor to be friends with those dudes. They are remarkable people. Hands down. No doubt about it. Easy. But I sold all my records. When I looked at them I just felt like I’d see these stacks of talking points and failed DJ nights.