Photography: Samantha Marble
Lead singer of New York hardcore noise duo, Uniform, Mike Berdan, can’t sleep. His lifelong battle with insomnia may be exhausting, but it also inspired one of the best albums of this year—and 2017 just started. The band’s upcoming release, Wake In Fright, due out Inauguration Day, is an aggressive treatise on violence, addiction, excess and greed. Berdan, along with multi-instrumentalist, Ben Greenberg, crafts hyper-critical electronic hardcore that fucks you up, like you haven’t slept in days. The record’s second single, “The Killing of America,” is no exception, combining Berdan’s existential lyrics with actual sounds of war. Pulsing heavy metal riffs clash against the singer’s vocals, thrusting listeners into the Uniform void.
In a time where everything is referential, and all bands sound the same, Uniform is completely their own. Greenberg’s hypnotic mix of punk, metal and electronica beneath Berdan’s intricate lyrics, create a sound that’s both abrasive and addicting. “The Killing of America” challenges gun violence and American indulgence, in a way only Uniform can.
“The title is taken from this Leonard Schrader movie called The Killing of America,” says Berdan. “It’s a documentary about gun violence in America in the early ‘80s. We started writing it around the time the Atlanta shooting happened, and we were hearing about a new mass shooting every day. This was just our way of speaking to that.”
“This was the first faster song on the record, and it almost felt like a starting point for a lot of the other songs,” adds Greenberg. “Like, ‘If we can pull this together and make this work, where can we go from here?’—it kind of became a window into the whole album.”
As a whole, Wake In Fright takes listeners inside the depths of self-loathing psychosis. With “The Killing of America,” Uniform marries stark realism with a contagious energy—another reason they’re our favorite New York band.
Listen to the BULLETT premiere of “The Killing of America,” and read our interview with the boys, below.
Tell me about Wake In Fright.
Mike: It’s a little more abrasive than our past work, and structurally, it leans on metal and hardcore punk more than our previous albums. But at the same time, the songs are a bit more defined, even if they seem a little less experimental.
Lyrically, what inspired the album?
M: It’s a lot of little stories about people who are afraid to change. The title, Wake In Fright, is taken from a 1971 Australian film about a school teacher trying to get back to Sydney to see his girlfriend, but he gets stuck in a small town and finds himself emotionally, physically and spiritually broken down by the locals. I always liked the title, and I was going through a period of insomnia when we first started writing it. So some of the songs are about dealing with insomnia in not so healthy ways. But the album is really about people who are at a breaking point in their lives—people who do things repeatedly that once made them feel good or relaxed, but all those things backfired. Now, in many ways, they can’t sleep, and are having a hard time engaging the world, which is something I’ve had to deal with on and off my whole my life.
Musically, what influences did you draw from?
Ben: There’s no one band in particular, that really informed how we came at it. It was more that we finally allowed ourselves to go a little farther than what we had explored previously—faster tempos, a more layered approach to the production. We were really just looking for ways to challenge ourselves within the format we had already set up.
Why did you choose to sample sounds from war?
B: I wanted to use sounds that are immediately evocative when you hear them—maybe you don’t know specifically what you’re hearing, but it immediately elicits a subconscious response. The sound of a gunshot or an explosion—there are human instincts that kick in. If you hear one of those things in real life, your body has a real visceral response to it. That’s what I wanted to recreate on the record.
You mentioned that this record is more abrasive than your previous work. Was that a conscious decision?
M: I don’t think we initially set out to make a more abrasive record, but in the end, that’s just what we liked—and it was just how we were feeling at the time. We definitely didn’t sit down and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to make a death metal record now, and this is going to be the morbid angel part’—it just sort of happened that way.
B: We have a big focus on the economy in our music and I try to always make sure that whatever’s going on at any given time, is as focused as possible, and whatever comes next is a natural extension of what came before.
What was your process like?
M: With our first couple releases, we would meet up once or twice a week, write a song and record it—it always happened really quickly. With Wake In Fright, we really wanted to allow ourselves to breathe—to see what we could come up with when we didn’t feel like we were under the gun.
B: We were able to really reimagine a lot of stuff. We were able to play around a lot with feels and tempos, which is kind of funny for a band with an electronic rhythm section, but it’s nice to be able to lay things out and see what really works—see how things are by themselves, and in the context of the record.
I know you were both in bands before Uniform. What can you do with this project that you couldn’t do with previous ones?
M: We had worked together in a lot of other facets, and we really wanted to try and play together, just us two—plus, we didn’t really want to deal with any other people. Sonically, though, I think Uniform is just a development of things we had done in the past—not trying to rehash anything, but just a logical conclusion to everything else we’d been working on. Hopefully, our next record will be compounded upon that. We never want to stop developing—we don’t want to tread old ground.
B: We’ve both been in a lot of incredibly loud bands and we’ve both been fortunate enough to play with a lot of other musicians who are really talented. To be able to try and conceive of something from a completely blank slate, was really exciting. I’ve bounced through a lot of bands in my life, and some of them have felt like my own, some of them haven’t. So to be able to build something from the ground up, that exists on its own terms and within its own context—that was really exciting.