Underground Uranium

I phoned Shane from a run-down phone booth near NYU and he cordially invited me to his apartment nearby to talk for a while. Shane is the lead singer for Uranium 235, an underground rock band from New York City. I picked up their CD in France in July ’98 as they were touring Germany. They hooked me as soon as I listened to them and became a regular on my radio show as soon as I got to Williams. When I heard that they were willing to give radio interviews, I jumped on the chance and used a visit to the Stock Exchange with my Winter Study Class as an excuse to get down to New York. The funny thing is, for the longest time I thought they were German.

So I walked to a rather innocuous looking apartment block through what seemed like a blizzard and forged inside. The door is open. Shane and Matt (lead guitar) grin at me. I plunge through.

JLP: So why “Uranium 235?”

Shane: Well, people have made symbols out of what they think it means. Uranium 235 is a stable element and when it collides with neutrons it gives off a powerful explosion. People associated us with that. When we come together on stage, we hit the stage really hard from the minute we get on to the minute we get off. So we use their definition. The real one, of course, is that we read that it was an important part of WWII.

JLP: How long have you guys been together?

Shane: We hooked up together in a studio in Brooklyn, the end of ’94. Me and Matt are the core of the band.

Matt: We had to search for some people too, through newspapers.

Shane: It’s hard, you know – I feel that this is the ongoing problem with this band. We’re not obviously heavy and we’re not obviously all keyboard, we’re kind of in the middle. So finding management and record companies or anything else is really hard because you kind of dance the line. People need to put a label on it so even with finding the musicians it took us a while. You know, people want to play either real hard or all on keyboards. It’s hard to sell. Diversity, for us, is just as important as anything else because we live full live and we try to project that in music. And we understand that it’s hard for people to put a commitment into it when it’s not fully anything live and we try to project that in music. And we understand that it’s hard for people to put a commitment into it when it’s not fully anything like what they’ve heard before.

Matt: It seems like people have forgotten: back in the olden days there were bands that were really diverse, then at one point in time, it seemed to stop.

JLP: How so?

Matt: It’s just the way the record companies try to put bands together. They want to keep the sound of success going, recreate the sound of that last hit with a new band, so there’s a stagnation.

JLP: Like with MTV?

Shane: That’s one thing we’ll never be is an MTV band. By choice, but also because it’ll just never happen. We want to stay as underground as possible as long as we can do it. There’s no problem with writing something that has appeal, that’s the whole reason we like music. We all can’t be Faust. Keep it pure.

JLP: So is it true that you have to sell your soul to make a record?

Shane: Well, in certain respects, yeah, you have to put any loved one in your life on hold basically forever, any plans for a future on hold until you know if this thing is going to work out.

JLP: So why do you do it?

Shane: It’s fun. Still is. You know our bass player (Jimmy), the first show we had he said, “I had fun tonight,” like we took him out on a date or something. It’s hard, though, two guys in the band are really on the skids. They barely have any money, even to eat. It used to be like that for all of us. As a matter of fact, the year we went out, we played something like three hundred dates in a year. We played like every single day, we lived in the van, the van was breaking down all the time. Me and Matt used to fix the van every other day. We never had any place to stay, we used to eat potato chip sandwiches. We had it really bad. Two of the guys never really recovered from those days. They’re living hand to mouth every day, hard core.

JLP: It seems to me that there is an underlying political message in Cultural Minority [the band’s most recent album]: something akin to the punk bands of the ’80s. What is it that you were trying to say?

Shane: Well, you look around and see the media – all forms of communication – everyone is trying to tell you to become one of the establishment. Our message is for people to think for themselves. Think different. That’s the way it should be. A child is an individual. He hasn’t been molded and formed to be part of the machinery of society. We want people to start thinking about it, saying, “Well, they can do it.” If everybody is headed that way, to look and sound the same, we want to show that, hey, there are other options and if you work at it, then it can be worthy of something.

JLP: So you don’t buy the saying that man is an inherently cultural animal?

Shane: Well, we want to get the message out that there is a choice, that there are cultural options.

JLP: So you’re just waiting for a good moment to release?

Shane: Well this album has to come out in the United States first. We’ve been waiting for this album to come out for a long time. This record was like a time capsule of how we felt and how we were thinking back in that time and I think it still has a valid point today. So it would be a shame for it not to have a chance.

(Note: due to a switch in record companies, all copies of Cultural Minority were pulled from the stores in the United States. The new nationwide release date is Feb. 22.)

Matt: We don’t want to do a slap up job. We want to make sure we are completely happy with what we are putting out. We’re not over this record yet. You know, it’s like having a baby, you’re not over having that baby until you finally see it grow up a little bit. Once we see this record mature a little bit. Then we’ll have the means to have a second creation. It’s all about emotion for us, and it’s emotional coming out with a record.

JLP: OK, so tell me about that show you had last Friday.

Shane: L’Amour? (Note: A Brooklyn club where Uranium 235 played with Modus Operandi) Bizarre. Yeah, well, the band that we played with had a lot of punks come, so there were a lot of punks and goths in the same room together. Kind of like the mods and the rockers. It was pretty cool, well behaved.

Matt: But it was almost like they were punk, but electronic punk.

Shane: Yeah it was cool, almost like the whole image is starting to expand. Everyone has their own thing.

JLP: Crossover?

Shane: Yeah, it was derived from the New Age scene of the eighties, a fusion of electronic and metal.

JLP: Does the recent success of bands like Orgy [who have picked up on this trend] give you any hope for a breakthrough?

Shane: You know, the way we look at it is that if you build your underground wisely, it doesn’t matter what you play. You know, there are so many bands out there who have built themselves from the bottom up. Orgy and all those bands, from what I understand, they did it from the top down. You know, me and Matt have gone into debt and worked our asses off to try and make this happen, specifically us two, you know we work hard to make money to make cassettes and get them out to the public.

JLP: What about the fans?

Shane: The ones we talk to are often from really bad broken homes but they’re very intelligent people who think very clearly about life – it’s just that they’re stuck.

JLP: So suffering creates deeper people?

Shane: Oh yeah, sure, either deeper people or a really disturbed society. Look at what Timothy Leary did back in the sixties, turned a society into a bunch of drug addicts.

JLP: What are the strangest things your fans have done?

Shane: Oh they’ve been really good, there’s nothing really weird about them. I mean, certain fans are obsessive, but so are we. So we scare them. We’re a band that’s so obsessive about what we do.

Matt: There are definitely some stalkers in the bunch.

Shane: We just stalk them back. They get scared.

JLP: Let’s talk about the New York underground scene.

Shane: There is no underground scene. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Matt: We’re trying to create that punk vibe, put the bands together again.

Shane: I think we’re a catalyst, I really do. And now that we’ve started to reach out to other bands, they start doing it too. I think there hasn’t been a scene here in about ten years.

Matt: Yeah, the hardcore scene. At one point the bands stopped supporting each other and tried to do their own thing but it died out because individually they didn’t have the support.

JLP: Ever heard of a conspiracy by evil space chickens to take over the world?

Matt: No – is that an online thing?

JLP: Just a popular theory. Any parting words for Williams students?

Shane: Just keep it real and we’ll be over for dinner soon.