Uranium Club: “I Miss Napster and Limewire”

The Minneapolis beyond-punk entity Uranium Club returned with their new album, Infants Under the Bulb, earlier this year. We talked to Brendan Wells and Ian Stemper to find out more.

Brendan Wells: What city are you in?


Brendan: I feel like one time we had an offer to play in Istanbul. It would have been the last time that we did a European tour, which was probably in 2016.

Ian Stemper: Yeah. Maybe later, in 2018 or something.

Brendan: The guy who books our tour, when he books bands, he’ll make a Facebook post and just say, “Hey, I’m booking this band! Who wants them to come to their city?” Then a bunch of people send him emails and stuff. A couple of places were pretty far out and not on the route. There was Istanbul and maybe Tel Aviv or something. We didn’t make it over in that area.

So you didn’t play here before. What about the music press? Is this your first Turkish interview?

Brendan: This is the first one. We’ve had Turkish food before.

Ian: My sister once visited Turkey. She traveled there alone while not knowing too much about Turkey. She had a amazing time. She went on the hot air balloons in that crazy canyon. I saw some pretty beautiful pictures.

How is the current scene in Minneapolis?

Brendan: There’s always a lot of punk and DIY bands in Minneapolis. And things come and go.

The last four days in Minneapolis, we have been celebrating May Day. And Minneapolis celebrates May Day really hard. Today, there’s a big parade and a giant gathering in the park. While this is a holiday for workers’ rights, it’s also a holiday for…

Ian: …everybody to take mushrooms and be together in the park. (laughs)

Brendan: That. Also, it is kind of the kickoff of spring. Winter is like six months long, basically. And May Day is usually when it’s finally warm enough to be out. It’s a big celebration for all those things. Yesterday, eight punk bands played. Today there will be ten more, you know, more so hardcore and pop punk kind of stuff.

We are friends with a lot of those people. And sometimes Uranium Club plays with those kinds of bands. But we have a lot of friends who are in more experimental and electronic projects too. Ian and I also both play solo electronic music.

Ian: Those circles celebrate too, and have been doing shows this weekend. Backyard celebrations of spring and outdoor shows kind of stuff.

Brendan: Those May Day shows are the most fun you can have in Minneapolis all year, basically.

Off the top of your head, can you recommend one really good act in Minneapolis right now?

Ian: Molly Raben, she plays on more than one of our records. Her project is called Mary Grace. It’s solo organ music. That is almost exactly what you’re hearing on parts of our record.

Brendan: Dreamy, pastoral organ stuff that she wrote and played for the album. She is also singing over her own music.

Could you name three specific recording memories where you had really fun making Infants Under the Bulb?

Ian: Fun for me and maybe us, but not for our friend who lived through it. On the first day that we started to track stuff, he got hit with a legal notice saying he was going to be sued for downloading movies and TV shows, which he didn’t actually do. He doesn’t really watch those, but all of his roommates over the last five years had done it a bunch, with people moving in and moving out doing that. But his name was on the bill for the Internet, and it was kind of a funny thing to joke about for, like, the first day. But then it got really serious for him by the next day, and he was looking at a $50,000 fine.

Brendan: His life savings were going to be gone. He’s just like, “Well, I guess all my dreams will stop here. I thought I was going to be able to buy a house, build my own studio, this kind of stuff, but it’s gone.”

Ian: It was a funny thing for a day, but then it quickly became not funny.

Brendan: The seriousness of it set in.

Ian: Because we’ve all got notices in the past that didn’t result in serious things.

Did the issue resolve?

Ian: Yeah. He was able to pay a lot less money, but it was still not nothing. He had to pay for a few thousand dollars to get it settled.

Brendan: It got figured out before we finished recording. The time that it was going on, he would be sitting there at the computer, and we would be talking to him and telling him something, and then he would look up at us and say, “Oh, sorry, I’m just really f.cked right now.”

Ian: Yeah, he was really out of it for a few days after the one funny day.

What else comes to mind?

Brendan: We were recording at his house, and his roommate Nate has a cat named Magellan. The cat would just walk into the room where the drums are all the time. Just wanted attention and to hear that everything was blasting.

Can you name two tracks from this collection of songs, one easiest, and one hardest to make it happen?

Brendan: I will check the track listing to see if I can remember.

Ian: For me, just doing the horns. I don’t know if I would say it was especially difficult, but it was something that was new-ish. We’ve done other instrumentation with people in the past, but that was sort of a thing where we didn’t have demo parts that we were trying to figure out a finished version of. We kind of just could give people a little bit more vague direction and then chop it up after. We just got much more than we would need and we edited stuff together later.

This time around, we were doing an actual horn section and trying to incorporate it into the songs. That was a new learning process.

Brendan: We’re not horn players.

Ian: We’re not even really musicians, to be honest. We play music, but we don’t read music. We don’t write music out on paper. For the demos, I had just played chords on a synth that has shitty horn emulation sounds on it. I didn’t write down the notes in the chords, so it was having to go back into those and pick apart what the notes were for each horn player to play together to do an actual set horn section. We were kind of doing that in the recording process instead of trying to practice with them before that and figure this stuff out then. It took doing it to realize that, “Oh yeah, we could have figured this out better beforehand or something to make this smoother or easier with the time that we’re taking actually recording it.”

Brendan: The goal going into it was to be a little bit more experimental. We thought we could just come in and try different things and see what works. We assumed it would be an easygoing thing. But then we get two saxophonists and a trumpet player to come in and we say, “You know, fill it out.” And they’re like, “One of us probably needs to sit down and write down horn arrangements, so we know what we’re doing.” So we were a little bit short-sighted with that.

On the other hand, as far as easy goes, our friend Cole Pulice, who played baritone sax on the album and on previous stuff, is the type of person who’s more familiar with a DIY band approach to stuff. So when we work with them, we’ll be like, “In this section, we kind of just want a (imitates sax sound). And they’ll be like, “Okay, like this. I can do another one, too.” And it’s like, “Yeah, we got it.” (laughs) So that stuff went as we hoped it would.

Regarding you not being actual musicians: I recently had a chance to talk to Steve Albini, and he said that the more interesting music comes from people who are not professional musicians. (Editorial note: Albini was still alive by the time we did this interview.)

Brendan: Yeah. I know his thing is that when people ask him, “What’s the right sound for a situation?”, his answer is “The one that sounds good.” I think that’s part of our approach with stuff. The problem is that where it becomes difficult, how do you communicate that to make it sound good? “It doesn’t have to be what it’s supposed to be. It should just sound good.” That’s very vague instructions. A very vague sentiment to communicate when you’re working with other people. I mean, there’s musicianship that I’m impressed by with the way Ian and Harry are playing guitar, and they know enough to be able to say “What are you playing? Are you playing the D?” “Oh, I’m playing the 7th on it.”

Ian: That sounds more like Harry. (laughs) I guess I’ll know that a third or a fifth are gonna sound nice. That’s probably the extent, but I wouldn’t know if I’m playing them without Brendan telling me. I would assume that maybe I’m hearing one of them.

Brendan: I took viola lessons when I was a kid, that taught me some things.

Ian: That’s it.

Brendan: I wasn’t very good, and I didn’t know anything about it, but it made it not as intimidating to pick up a bass.

Did going through the pandemic effect your band dynamic and how you communicate when you hit the studio after some time?

Brendan: The band spent the most serious first section of the pandemic in lockdown. We didn’t play music at all during that whole time. Ian and I were both living in Minneapolis, but Harry decided to move back to Arizona during that time where he was from, to be with his brother. And so when we did finally get back together to have a band practice for the first time, it felt very unfamiliar to me, like, in a surprising way. I’ve been playing music for years. I assumed I’m just going to jump back into it. But it’s kind of the same as going to your first party or concert or something after being isolated from everybody for so long. It was a very strange feeling for me. We basically spent a year from there, playing together and doing some some shows both in and out of town, working on new songs and stuff. Took about a year, I would say, before it felt like we were back where we used to be.

Ian: Yeah. As far as making the record, for me, it didn’t feel much different than the previous, but it had been maybe a couple years at that point. We had to do some work getting back together and playing the handful of shows to have the songs ready and catch that natural feeling again.

We had a chunk of the songs started in various levels of finite being done before the pandemic. Then we took our time to write the rest of it, and luckily, we recorded it in the same place that we’ve recorded everything else, which is at our friend’s house.

Brendan: Grant Richardson.

Ian: Grant Richardson. That friend. (laughs) Or Garp, the Corinthian, if you want to put that down. So that art felt really familiar to me. We were pretty familiar with how we work with him and stuff like that. That gave it a level of comfortability or familiarity, even after taking such a long time to do it.

That’s always been such a difficult thing in the history of music, the division between the music and the music industry. To degrees, they need each other, but it doesn’t feel like a good or balanced relationship.

Brendan Wells

Your music does not appear on Spotify. How do you feel about keeping your distance from the evil nature of that music-streaming platform?

Ian: It’s easy for me, personally, to stay away from it, because I never tried using it to begin with, so I haven’t made it a thing that I would depend on anyway. Obviously, you can list off all the reasons that it is bad, like for what they use money to fund or what they use their profits for, the  lack of money that will go to artists. Following a recent change, from what I understood, more popular artists get money from artists that barely get any listens. You have to have a minimum amount of plays or listens to even receive money that would go to you. Otherwise, it’s distributed to more popular artists, which is pretty wild and kind of f.cked up.

Being in a band that hasn’t used it to try to make a living, making money off of music is something I’m not often thinking about. There are others who are doing that, and I’m not relating to that in the same way. I can see its pros for sharing music with others and learning about new music, but I just think that there’s always been ways to do that, and it’s not necessary to have access to a platform to do those kind of things. So it’s been easy to avoid personally.

Honestly, the things that I do don’t really benefit musicians either. I steal music online constantly. But I buy records! (laughs) I buy used metal records.

Brendan: I feel like with every generation, people think that the way it used to be or the way they started out is the proper way, very often. And so in that way, I’m not against the idea of people finding out about music on Spotify. I know some people will complain and say, “People just have everything right at their fingertips now, it’s not as important as it used to be when you had to go out and find out about things!” I don’t agree with that sentiment that it’s better. I think it’s just different.

I think you do have to pay some money to even be able to get music on it. But another thing about it is that you can have Bob Dylan and everything that he has ever done, but it can also be a teenager who just recorded one song for the first time and they can put it on Spotify, and so in that way, you have more access to all kinds of music, and that’s a positive aspect of it. But that’s always been such a difficult thing in the history of music, the division between the music and the music industry. To degrees, they need each other, but it doesn’t feel like a good or balanced relationship.

Ian: History has sort of always been that way and this is just the continuation of that history. And following technology.

Brendan: I wouldn’t necessarily say I accept it and don’t have a problem with it, but I’d say I expect it.

Ian: I miss Napster and Limewire. (all laugh)

Can you name the last three things streamed on your streaming platform service?

Brendan: The Zeros, a seventies band from Los Angeles. The Mummies, the garage rock band from San Francisco. And the Chambers Brothers, a soul band from the sixties.

Ian: I don’t have a streaming service. I’ll tell you the last three things I downloaded. Disastrous Murmur. Los Hermanos, which is some techno. Moodymann. The last two are both Detroit stuff.

Let’s imagine we’re 100 years into the future at a musicians memorial park, where lots of artists have their own memorial stone with a lyric by them written on top of it. If you have a specific lyric you would have loved to see on that stone, which one would it be, do you think?

Brendan: “I shit the whole room.”

Ian: I was gonna say the same thing. (laughs)

You can check out Uranium Club’s Bandcamp page here.