Read our interview with United Nations, who recently released their sophomore album, The Next Four Years, via Temporary Residence.
United Nations is a punk “supergroup”, that was originally conceived as a side project by members of Thursday, Glassjaw and Converge. Their new album, The Next Four Years, was released via Temporary Residence last year.
A super deluxe box set of The Next Four Years was released that included two 7″ vinyl records, one 10″ vinyl record, one cassette, all inserted into a custom-made sturdy cardboard platform. It was packaged inside a custom die-cut full-color cover wrap box inspired by vintage New York Times newspapers. Each box set was assembled and numbered entirely by hand. Of course, as is the case with most limited things, the super deluxe box set SOLD OUT. You can still order the standard LP via Temporary Residence here.
Last week during SXSW, we had the honor of sitting down with Geoff Rickly, Jonah Bayer, and Lukas Previn (Zac Sewell and David Haik were not in attendance, but are also members of the band) who are all part of the current United Nations lineup, to talk about their new album, the current state of punk culture, their favorite record stores, and more! Read it below:
CV: What can you tell us about the new album? Any “fun facts” listeners or readers might not immediately know about it?
GR: Yeah, I mean probably the thing that most people wouldn’t know unless they had the vinyl box set is that the last song has two different endings, and you only get that experience if you listen to the 10-inch. We split it up into a cassette, two 7-inches and a 10-inch. If you listen to the 10-inch, for the ending, the needle can go a few different ways and you get different endings to the song. Most people don’t know that, that have heard the digital version.
CV: Interesting. So you can’t drop the needle and listen to a specific ending, right? It happens at random?
GR: Yeah, it’s random.
JB: I think the idea was that you listen to it a couple of times and you get the same ending, and then you listen to it again and you’re like “Wait, is this a different ending?”
CV: So how would you compare The Next Four Years with your self-titled debut?
GR: I think The Next Four Years is a lot more together. It’s a more organic record from a band that’s been together for a while now.
CV: United Nations has had a revolving membership, with different members, since its inception. Are the members that are involved now, the “core group”?
GR: This is who it will be. Yeah. We wanted it to be revolving but when we came upon this lineup, it was like, you know, this is who it probably should be for the rest of the time.
CV: The Next Four Years is supposed to be a critique of the punk culture. What are your thoughts on the current state of punk and where do you think it’s future is headed?
GF: It’s kind of, in a lot of ways, become a “whiney white boys club”. The complaints of it are from one particular point of view. I think it’s not meant to be ironic that we’re all also white boys. It’s actually exactly what we’re talking about. Its just people like us and our friends, you know? When is this going to end? Yeah, that’s where a lot of where my critique of punk comes from. It’s all the same people saying the same things over and over again.
JB: I think it’s also become really safe in a lot of ways. For example when people ask if “stage diving” is OK, I feel like it’s just part of the culture. It’s not good or bad, but it’s started become too safe and sterile and it loses the aggression and energy behind it.
GF: Yeah, agreed. It becomes rote instead of a question of why you’re doing things. So when something that was meant to be a question of authority, it just becomes the authority. It’s just really boring.
LP: Yeah I was going to say, dissecting the idea, is against the idea of it, do you know what I mean? If you’re going to look at every single aspect of what punk rock is, you probably shouldn’t. I don’t want to be a part of everything else that’s analyzed and critiqued and broken down into little miniature things. It shouldn’t be, because that’s how it started. Everything was happening and something else needed to happen.
GF: Yeah, it’s like eaten itself.
JB: I remember going to shows when I was 15 and being like a little scared, and I think that’s what I liked about it. Not that I wanted anyone to get hurt or feel terrified, but I think that little bit of “What’s going on here?” that’s kind of what drew me to it.
CV: Yeah, like the “newness” or unknown and now everybody knows what they’re getting into.
LP: I feel like when it started for me, it policed itself. And now it’s like there’s always a lot of security, barricades, etc. It used to police itself and we used to lookout for each other and not need people. And now everywhere you go there’s like crappy door guys and that shitty security guy up front hurting kids. This is not what this is about.
CV: The Next Four Years has received a lot of praise from different music outlets, and Geoff, you mentioned in an interview that you wanted to approach United Nations as an art project rather than just a band. In what ways is this approach different and do you feel it has directly impacted the success of the album?
GR: Oh hugely, I think it has. I think that it’s a lot easier to sort of grasp, when there’s all these different illustrations of what we’re doing and different points being made. It’s sort of like things to think about. It gives you a lot of context, and I think that’s sort of lacking in punk rock. It’s sort of codified. It’s made for people who know what they’re getting. So I wanted to break that out a little and make it more vivid and more 3-dimensional. I think that’s really, really helped people to take it.
CV: Is that something you’re going to continue to pursue with future albums?
GR: Yeah, I’d like to, very much so.
JB: Yeah Geoff always has these really amazing ideas. Like he’ll present it to us and we’re like “Can we do that? Is that possible?” Then we’ll go back and forth for a while and then when it’s finished it’s like “Oh yeah, this was great. I can’t believe this came together so well.”
GR: It’s pretty gratifying when it does come together well in the end.
CV: Your music is supposed to be a critique, or a satire of the current state of punk culture. When you released The Next Four Years, it came in this crazy deluxe-boxed set with two 7-inches, one 10-inch, a cassette…the works. Was that release somewhat of a satire of the vinyl culture and where that’s headed?
GR: Right. Everything is more collectable than the last thing. Everything is more refined and everything has a mythology. So we decided to break out this mythology of a band on its rise. We had 11 vendors to make this record…that’s different companies contracted to make one product. It was a total headache. And Jeremy from Temporary Residence is known for his packaging. But this one tested all of his boundaries. A lot of this stuff has a double edge to it. It’s satire but it’s so beautiful, you know what I mean? I enjoy how over-the-top it is. It’s great.
JB: We also went in to the office and helped assemble them. It took so long. Temporary Residence only has a couple of employees.
CV: Oh! So you guys actually had to put the box sets together?
JB: Yeah we did it all. Like those cardboard platforms you had to fold a bunch of times in order to put everything in.
GR: Yeah and if you got it wrong, he would make us re-do them. Like even a little bit.
JB: Yeah that was the gold one [sticker] and there was a silver one for the cassette. And we did it wrong and he’s like “Yeah, we’re going to have to re-do these.”
CV: I read that one of the tracks plays at two different speeds. How did that come about and what was the thought process behind that?
GR: I had always wanted to do that with something. We started recording that song and it had some really super fast parts and some slower parts. If you slowed them down to a 33 speed from 45, it was markedly different in a good way. We talked about how Reversal records sounded like when you first put them on but you didn’t know what speed you were supposed to put them on. They’re like a doom band but they sounded super heavy and then your friend comes over and says “dude, wrong speed” and flips it up and they’re really fast. So I always liked that aspect of this kind of music. It’s almost too fast to be at the speed it’s at so if you flip it down to 33 and it still works. So we recorded it that way but I took this into consideration when recording the vocals, so I recorded the vocals at separate speeds, so that when you would change the speed, the vocals would sound right at either speed.
LP: A friend of mine just sent me the YouTube link to the Sunbather 33rpm and it’s so beautiful. It’s so insane. Because of the atmospheric nature of it, it’s so much longer, like 60-something minutes. But it’s incredible. It’s still a great record at the wrong speed.
CV: So what are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl? Do you think it’s going to continue to increase in popularity? Where do you think it’s headed?
GR: I really love the increase.
LP: It’s weird because I don’t really feel like it went away for me. Ever since I started going to shows, that was when I started collecting vinyl. The one thing that I think is great about it is that physical music is being appreciated again and not just ethereal “cloud” music. You can hold it and experience it. With ours, you get a real sense of who our band is when you open that box set and go through everything. When you download a song it’s just so empty and soulless almost. Even if it’s a great song, there’s a disconnect for me where I’m like, “I can’t be a part of this somehow.” I still love music that way but for me, the reason why it’s continuing is because of the physical nature of it. I think people want to hold what they love.
GR: I 100% agree. And I also think that it forces you to listen to records. I mean, that’s all I listen to at home. I just love listening to records, they sound better…they really do. They truly sound so much better. Anybody who argues that just doesn’t have a good sound system…if you have a decent setup. If you have an entry level Music-Hall or an entry level Pro-Ject debut. If you have one of those with any decent needle, it sounds better than anything else. It just does. There’s too much data that’s between the bits. The lossless…you can do lossless music but that still sucks up all your data and it sucks up all your memory on your computer. To get the quality that you get on vinyl, it’s just not practical. At that point I would much rather listen to something physical. It’s just way better.
JB: The only problem for me is that I had to calm down my vinyl [collecting]. There was a period where I was just on vinyl message boards all day. I’m a little bit of a completest and there’s so much stuff that I would have to have everything and I just had to be like “OK, you’re not going to own every record…you need to chill out a little bit.” I’d go for a run and I’d tell my girlfriend “No Idea is going to put up this preorder, but just check every 5 minutes.” I felt like it wasn’t healthy for me.
GR: I had to make sure I wasn’t a collector when I got into vinyl. I buy LPs. I don’t buy 7-inches that are limited. I buy LP’s and when I have the choice I usually buy the non-limited version just because I want to listen to it at home. I don’t want to care if I destroy it, because that’s part of it.
JB: Also living in New York, there’s very limited space so most of my vinyl isn’t even at my apartment, it’s at my parents or at my friends house.
JB: Geoff’s label also does a lot of cool vinyl stuff too.
CV: Yeah, you just recently launched your label correct? Can you tell me a little more about it? How’s that going and what’s it like running your own label? Do you get a lot of say in the vinyl creation process?
GR: Yeah, right. One of the first people that I hired was a creative director. Shaun Durkan. He was actually going to go work at 4AD, which is one of my favorite labels. So we got him from going away to 4AD. He’s amazing. His band, Weekend, does really great vinyl. He’s on Slumberland. Right away I knew that I wanted everything to have a very specific look. Before we launched, I designed a template for the way all of the releases would be catalogued, with a logo and a mark, the way I wanted dust sleeves to be, etc. That was really important for me…to have a “look.” If you look through our catalogue right now, it’s very uniform and together. I also try not to be too overbearing on what bands are allowed to do. But I do want it to be of a certain quality.
CV: So you want to set those expectations with your artists and your packaging so your customers know what to expect from your label?
GR: Right. There are some bands that have really wanted to downplay and make something trashier. I’ve been like “We can do that, but I still want it to be a certain level of taste”. So that’s the challenging thing. I have so much respect for everybody that’s ever put out our records now. Especially when you think you know everything as a band. I see what that’s like being a label, where you’re constantly talked down to all day long. When I was being that picky I realized that I was making the people that I was talking to feel like I thought I was better than them. Like holy shit, I was a pain in the ass. Now I get it [chuckles]. So, when band’s talk down to me, I get it. I know how concerned they are with their record. I’m not going to flip out and tell you to fuck off. Sometimes my girl’s like “Woah, you’re going to let him talk to you like that?” And I’m like, “Yeah. He’s the band, he’s the artist, it’s not my job.” I gotta take it.
CV: I think that’s very distinctive, that you can have a label owner that’s been on that side of it and understands what it’s like from the artists perspective.
GR: Yeah, it’s a nightmare when somebody tells you what to do with your record. I get it.
CV: So what have you guys been spinning lately?
LP: Run the Jewels has like not left my turntable.
CV: Yeah, that album has been on everybody’s “best of” lists.
GR: It’s so good. It’s undeniable. Most people don’t unite on anything, but you hear that record and you’re like “Ohhhhh”. There are other records that have done that, but not as well I think. This is just sick.
CV: How about you, Jonah?
JB: David, our drummer, is in another band called Pianos Become the Teeth. I’ve been listening to their record a lot. I’ve been listening to that 10th anniversary of the Cursive Ugly Organ. I just saw them do a bunch of shows and that was awesome. So I kind of have re-discovered that record. The deluxe vinyl is really cool.
CV: If there was a fire in your house, and you only had time to grab your 3 most precious LP’s…what would they be?
JB: Okay, I know mine. I have a test press of the At The Drive-In Vaya 10-inch. I would grab that for sure. I have fifty Integrity 7-inches. I would take the “In Contrast of Sin” that Victory Records put out on blue [vinyl]. I spent $40 on this 7-inch, which is the most I’ve ever spent on a 7-inch. Oh man…what else…
CV: So far we’ve got two off the list, right?
JB: Yeah, maybe come back to me. This is a big one for me. [Everyone laughs]
LP: I would grab, because it’s a record that I’ve listened to my whole life, one record I have called “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin that I listen to once a week, easily. So I’ll definitely grab that. I think since my house is burning down I’ll probably need some money so I’ll grab something rare, so I’m trying to figure out what that would be. Wow, I don’t know man.
CV: It’s a tough question, right?
LP: It’s so hard!
JB: Okay, I know what my third one would be. Down by Law All Scratched Up. It’s on Epitaph. It’s got Dave Smalley from Dag Nasty. It was my first punk show ever and I bought Good Riddance, Millencolin, and Down by Law. I bought this record at the show and still have the set list from it inside the record. It was when I was 15, like 20 years ago. I stage dove for the first time and had a ponytail. So I think I would just take that because it’s sentimental. My first punk show ever.
LP: I’m looking through my phone right now. Maybe the Converge 5-inch?
JB: Yeah the Converge 5-inch is pretty cool.
LP: Yeah that’s one of the rare things I have from hardcore.
GR: It’s hard for me. Like sentimentally, I know this sounds ridiculous, but the three disc My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is so ridiculous. It sounds so amazing. That’s like my morning when I can’t get out of bed. I’ll put that on. My girl’s like “Kanye’s your spirit animal”. I’ll put that on and I’m like, “Yep, let’s go!” Then it would be…I have a real sentimental attachment to a box of 45’s of the XX’s last record. That’s really beautiful. Lastly…somebody gave me a record that means a lot to me. It’s Three Love Songs from Ricky Eat Acid. Sam gave me that record. And I just love it. It’s really special.
CV: So you guys travel a lot and tour a lot. Outside of your local favorites…what are some of your favorite record stores?
LP: Amoeba. Easy.
JB: Yeah, Amoeba’s great. Generation is cool. It’s in New York. It’s the first record store I ever went to in New York.
GR: Generation is amazing. Vintage Vinyl in New Jersey. Definitely. When I go up to Massachusetts I still always love Newbury Comics. Looney Tunes is dope. Amoeba. I mean there are so many good ones. Like last time I was in Chicago, I always love finding record stores.
JB: Yeah Reckless Records is awesome.
GR: A few of them have record labels associated with them. So I always buy something that they’ve put out themselves when I go to those. It’s local, you know? You gotta support local business.
CV: What is your most prized vinyl?
LP: George Gerswhin for me.
JB: At The Drive-In test press.
GR: I think for me, I would say The Next Four Years box set just because I had a hand in making that. That’s probably mine.
Stream the track “Serious Business” below: