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Walking the Talk: Uniform Reveal Grit and Guts Behind “The Long Walk”

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When I call Ben Greenberg and Mike Berdan to chat about The Long Walk, their third record as Uniform, the first thing I hear is the sound of seagulls cawing. The pair are in Milwaukee, where they’ve wrapped a show on their massive U.S. tour supporting Deafheaven and Drab Majesty, and they’re hanging out by a river that cuts through the city, though they’re not sure which one. These sounds of nature — water, especially — would draw meaningful connections to their new record as the interview unfolded, but for that moment, admittedly, the juxtaposition of two minimalistic punks and these Midwestern birds seemed strangely hilarious.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that a band that is so austere in their production is so strikingly forward in their convictions, but Uniform is endearingly humble while discussing the tour: both brush off the crowds’ enthusiastic responses (“We’re an opener,” Greenberg qualifies sheepishly), but their excitement is hard to mask. For the first time, they’re performing with a drummer: Mike Sharp of the Austin punk outfit Impalers. They’re using the tour to tease songs from their new record, for which they recruited prolific percussionist Greg Fox (of Liturgy, Zs, Guardian Alien, and ) in a last-minute moment of desperation after their scheduled drummer called in sick with food poisoning.

And as excited as they are about the tour, they’re practically ecstatic about The Long Walk, a verifiable ripper of a record that was recorded in only three days. But the band seems to work well with constraints. The new record is recorded on tape, Greenberg explained. His history as a producer has lent him an outsized appreciation for tape in all of its physicality; on The Long Walk, it’s essentially a fourth instrument: “The way I use tape for recording, I’ll usually bus a lot of microphones down to just a few tracks. So the drums, we’d probably use six to eight microphones on the drum kit, but we’d probably just use one track, or two tracks, and that’s a huge part of how the drums wound up sounding,” Greenberg said enthusiastically. “Nothing ever sounds as big and full and cool and powerful as just recording on tape.”

For Berdan, tape is about experimenting with new mediums: “That’s what a lot of the romance of doing this in the studio and on tape was for me, just like. We’ve done the thing in the bedroom, we’ve done the thing on the computer. We haven’t done a traditional, on tape, all played live band setup before.”

As a rule, on this record, Uniform prefers the challenges of nature — the limitations of magnetic tape, for one — to machine-generated affectations. On The Long Walk, Berdan’s barking scream shakes and reverberates, like marching orders conjured from a nightmare. This modulation, too, is a battle against the elements — his voice was recorded in Greenberg’s bathroom using a hydrophone, a microphone that’s capable of capturing sound underwater. “I’m drowning!” Berdan jokingly exclaimed. Greenberg, ever the obsessive producer, contextualized Berdan’s comments: “And we wanted it to feel that way too, because that’s kind of the nature of our band and how it feels. We want it to be overwhelming and feel like you’re drowning.”

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From the very first notes of the record, The Long Walk feels like you’ve entered a warzone. On the opener, “The Walk,” ambient, hazy feedback gives way to the band’s sludgiest, doom-inspired sound yet; all the while, Berdan’s voice, at once bleak and full of power, drips with gauze, rendering it intoxicatingly indecipherable. It’s a battle waged in muddy waters, and the band isn’t afraid to fully commit to the grittiness. On “Transubstantiation,” riffs chug forward and roar along like an incoming armada; Berdan’s voice, for the most part, thrashes about the track, giving the impression that he is, in fact, drowning. Fox, for his part, gives Uniform’s typically industrial sound some lived-in, fuller rhythmic accompaniments, and it’s hard to imagine parts of the record, like the impressively bright guitar solo halfway through the slow-burning march “Anointing the Sick,” with pre-programmed sequencers like in previous records.

What influenced the new sound? Everything from Norwegian black metal like “Deathcrush-era” Mayhem and Funeral to George Clinton’s pioneering funk collective Funkadelic (as Greenberg put it, “Cosmic Slop and Standing on the Verge of Getting It On were constantly on repeat when we were making this”). If you listen closely, you can start to hear the terrifying lyricism of the former melding with the chaotic rhythms of the latter.

Berdan wrote the majority of the songs as a response to his Catholic upbringing. “I went to church every Sunday, I was an alter boy, and how my family and how my community in general kind of views it is that it’s strictly theological,” he explained. “As I got older, certain tenants of the church as a governmental structure started to rub me the wrong way. In particular, their stance towards abortion, their stance towards sex before marriage and homoseuxality in general, and generally their more repressive policies when it came to sex and sexuality period. I found them to all-in-all kind of be hateful and repressive.”

But at the same time, Berdan expressed his ambivalence at abandoning religion entirely: “At the heart of all of them seems to be this idea of radical kindness and radical acceptance, which is something that I feel like I get a degree of peace from. And hearing a good direction from certain teachings of theologians and people who have studied the books, I wound up going deeper and deeper and a few years ago I started actively praying, viewing praying as a form of meditation, and kind of a way to set my intentions, to find a degree of calm and peace… and as I would do that more and as I would pay attention to the words of a good preacher or a good priest, people who knew a bit more about spirituality than I did, I found myself identifying as Catholic again.”

Ever the literary duo (the Wake In Fright track “The Killing of America” quotes Charles Bukowski’s anti-majoritarian poem “The Genius of The Crowd”), Uniform borrowed themes from their new record’s namesake, Stephen King’s novel of the same name. The story, published under King’s pen name Richard Bachman, imagines a dystopian America in which pubescent boys can participate in a yearly walk — if they fall behind, a dastardly fate awaits; the winner, however, gets anything his heart desires. The parallels to the band’s personal politics are obvious — warnings against following the majority; disdain and despair against the hopeless onslaught of late capitalism. Berdan sees it as a rebellion against the American ideal: “I’ve come to realize that I’ve never wanted any of that shit. I never wanted to have kids, I never wanted to have an office job.”

If The Long Walk‘s (King’s version) themes of conformity and militarism seem eerily prescient, Uniform’s record by the same name is the perfect soundtrack to our descent into our capitalist dystopia.

“I never wanted to just buy shit and consume and feed into something that is just based around crushing those that are smaller than you,” Berdan asserted. ”I found the themes of the book and what I was going through in my life to be somewhat congruent.”

— Arielle Gordon

The Long Walk released Friday via Sacred Bones Records. Follow the band on Facebook here.

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