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Brooklyn duo Uniform makes the accidental soundtrack of 2017

By
Brad Cohan
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In the wake of Trump’s victory, Uniform’s harsh metal and hardcore anthems seem custom-built for these uncertain times. Of course, the timing is coincidental: Conceived well before the election results came in, the duo’s scorched-earth second album, Wake in Fright, captures guitarist-producer Ben Greenberg (formerly of Zs, the Men and Pygmy Shrews) and vocalist Michael Berdan (ex-Drunkdriver) combining Big Black–ish industrial clatter and early Black Flag–influenced aggro-sludge-punk frenzy, all fueled by a slew of piled-up drum machines, electronic explosions and splatter, and six-feet-under screams. Ahead of their show this week, we chatted with the pair about politics, insomnia and playing without a drummer.

How did Uniform originally come together?
Ben Greenberg: I had this crazy dream one night. It was just the two of us and a drum machine that was so fucking loud. I ran into him the next day and was like “Dude!” I know it’s ridiculous but that actually happened because we had just been seeing each like every day and it was crazy timing.
Michael Berdan: When we started this, we hadn’t worked together for a long time and it was kind of fortuitous that he moved onto my street and we kept on running into each other. I didn’t have a band at the time and I was looking to make music and he was looking to branch out from the Men a little bit. It was right place, right time. 

After being in bands with four or so members, what’s been the experience of the duo lineup?
BG: Being a duo makes a lot of things easier: writing and creative decisions. Any decision making is so much faster—there’s no splitting into teams of opinion, which is not to say we agree on everything. It comes really easily and maybe that’s because we’re in our 30s now, too, but it’s definitely pretty chill.
MB: It’s great. It makes communication remarkably easier. We don’t have to negotiate five personalities or four or three—it’s just me talking to my friend. Where the disadvantages lie is it’s always helpful if there’s a tiebreaker. Let’s say Ben and I don’t agree on something. There is no arbiter. There’s no one who’s going to throw a deciding vote in. We just get mad at each other, step away and a couple of hours or days later we come back and say “Oh, sorry” after we've thought things out. In that case, it kind of turns more into a marriage thing than previous bands have been [laughing].

You use a drum machine but you would never know it listening to Wake in Fright. How did you get it to sound like a real, live drummer?
BG: It doesn’t sound like just one drum machine because it’s not. Each kick drum that you’re hearing is a few different drum machine kick drums and a couple of live kick drums that I’ve taken from my own recording sessions. I then spend a long time gathering samples of explosions and gunshots. When you layer it all on top of each other, you hear places that had drums but it’s actually mostly explosions and implosions, which is kind of the reverse because we were trying to take a drum machine and make it sound like an explosion before and now we are taking explosions and making it sound like drum machines [laughing].

Do you think you lose anything not having a drummer live in concert?
BG: For what we do in Uniform, it just doesn’t feel lacking. I don’t feel like the live show is missing any physicality or volume or propulsion. It’s something that’s come up but even when we first started doing this band, it took about a week until after we played our first show for our friends to start hitting us up like, “Hey, if you ever want a drummer!” [laughing]

Ben, the guitars remind me of early Black Flag: sludgy, noisy and hyper-aggressive.
BG: Greg Ginn has always been a huge influence on me as a guitar player. I always use those solid-state Peavy PA heads from the '70s because that’s what you always see in pictures of him playing in the early Black Flag days. They sound just like him. They are all super loud and really cheap, too, so you can bring a bunch of them on tour and if they break, it doesn’t matter. 

You do seem to be angrier and noisier on Wake in Fright than 2015’s Perfect World.
MB: I feel a greater anxiety about the world, but as far as being angrier in person, no. I’m a pretty regular guy with a day job, a fiancée and a dog. I don’t have that much to complain about. That being said, this is a particularly dark time in human history, and things are much harder for other people. Right now, I’m trying to listen to people who are more immediately affected by the national and global climate, and [I’m trying] to act accordingly.

Wake in Fright was released on Inauguration Day, and people are connecting the record to Trump and the current political climate. Intentional or coincidental?
MB: One-hundred percent coincidence; it’s an angry record and people can interpret it however they like, but we absolutely did not set out to make a political statement of any sort. Obviously, things have changed, and in context, things can be read that way. 
BG: This record isn’t about the President but if someone hears our music and feels a connection to it or they feel like they could relate to it the way they are feeling about the world in general, right now, you can’t deny someone that. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel a connection. For us, this record and this band is a continuation of all the music that we’ve made in our lives and the vast majority of that has been about feeling hopeless and disenfranchised and frustrated and angry and scared. Whether or not they realize it, I think a lot of people have felt that way for a very long time and now those feelings seem to be a central part of the discourse around the current political climate.

But the timing is not ideal as far as the release of the record is concerned.  
MB: It just is what it is. There’s just no way around it. It’s not a happy accident. The world is a fucking dumpster fire, and people are trying to organize, and people are trying to stand. It’s pretty hard to be like, “Hey, check out my cool new music.” 

You do address some current issues on Wake in Fright though.
MB: The only song that had a political lean when we set out to write was “The Killing of America,” which speaks to gun violence by and large. The rest of the record is really about just very basic people in very basic situations. It’s about people suffering from insomnia and general anxieties and how they deal with them.

I’ve read you suffer from insomnia.
MB: Yeah, and that was a large impetus for [the record] and where the title came from.

Do you think the feelings of insomnia and anxiety are conveyed in your music?
MB: That’s the intent a lot of the time, in particular with this band on this record. Playing music has always been a tremendous release. I don’t really know many other ways to communicate. I often yearn for some kind of understanding in this primal screamer kind of way. I don’t know that I necessarily always get that, but I do get to yell my head off.


Uniform plays Brooklyn Bazaar Thursday, February 9 at 8pm with Black Marble + YOU (bkbazaar.com). $12–$15. 

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