Nation of Ulysses

Nation of Ulysses

Infobox musical artist
Name = Nation of Ulysses

Img_capt =
Background = group_or_band
Origin = Washington, D.C.
Instruments =
Genre = Punk rock
Years_active = 1988–1992
Label = Dischord Records
K Records
Southern Records
URL = [ Official site]
Associated_acts = Cupid Car Club, The Make-Up, Weird War, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, French Toast, The Fucking Champs
Current_members =
Past_members = Ian Svenonius
Steve Kroner
Tim Green
Steve Gamboa
James Canty

Nation of Ulysses was a post-hardcore band from Washington, D.C. The band formed in Spring 1988, with four members and known as simply "Ulysses." The original group consisted of Ian Svenonius on vocals and trumpet, Steve Kroner on guitar, Steve Gamboa on bass guitar, and James Canty on drums. Tim Green joined the band late in 1989 as a guitarist and the band became "Nation of Ulysses." Nation of Ulysses disbanded in the Fall of 1992 having failed to complete their third album. After the break up, Svenonius, Canty, and Gamboa went on to form the short-lived Cupid Car Club and The Make-Up.

Nation of Ulysses became known for their tongue-in-cheek political concepts, their extremely physical live performances, and their unique take on punk culture and fashion. In total, Nation of Ulysses released three-full length albums, and two vinyl EPs released on Dischord Records, and were featured on a number of compilation albums on a variety of record labels.


The band formed in spring 1988, initially composed of four members – Ian Svenonius on vocals and trumpet, Steve Kroner on guitar, Steve Gamboa on bass guitar, and James Canty on drums – and known simply as "Ulysses." In late 1989, Tim Green joined the band as a second guitarist and the band was renamed to "Nation of Ulysses."cite web
title = Who are the Nation of Ulysses?
publisher = Southern Records
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-08

In 1991, before the band had released any official recordings, Ian Svenonius was featured as teen-oriented "Sassy Magazine"'s first "Sassiest Boy in America." He was interviewed at length in the magazine's October issue, going into some depth about the band's sound and political motivations.cite web
title = New York Night Train One-Year Anniversary
publisher = New York Night Train
date = 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-30

In 1991 they released their first full-length album, "13-Point Program to Destroy America" on Dischord Records. This was followed a year later by "Plays Pretty for Baby", also on Dischord. During the recording of the band's follow-up to "Plays Pretty for Baby", Steve Kroner left the band. The remaining quartet continued to record, but eventually dissolved in 1992. In a later interview, Svenonius explained the reason for the split: "Nation of Ulysses broke up because the epoch changed with the advent of digital music and the Nirvana explosion. We were faced with what's now known as indie rock, a sort of vacuous form. We had to determine our next move and this [the forming of the Make-Up] is it."cite web
title = Steady Diet fanzine - April 98
publisher = Steady Diet, April 1998
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-30

After the band's dissolution, Svenonius went on to form the short-lived Cupid Car Club with James Canty and Steve Gamboa, the Make-Up (again with Canty and Gamboa), and Weird War.cite web
title = What Has Become of the Nation of Ulysses?
publisher = Southern Records
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-08
] Green went on to become an engineer and record producer and joined the prog-heavy metal band The Fucking Champs.cite web
last = Huey
first = Steve
title = The Nation of Ulysses Biography
publisher = Allmusic
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-30

Though relatively short-lived, Nation of Ulysses' influence has been substantial: they have been cited as influences for bands such as The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Hives, Refused, Boy Sets Fire, Bikini Kill, Rocket From The Crypt, Antioch Arrow, The Locust, At The Drive-in, LCD Soundsystem, and Huggy Bear, among many others.cite episode
title = 10-3-06 Ian Svenonius / The Make-Up
url =
credits = Danger Mike, Jesse Rockoff (DJ Mark Foley), Ian Svenonius
network = Radio CPR
station = 97.5 FM
city = Washington, D.C.
airdate = 2006-10-30
] [cite web
author = Zac
title = A Kid Who Tells On Another Kid Is a Dead Kid: Nation of Ulysses
publisher = Urban Honking
date = 2005-07-18
url =
accessdate = 2007-09-28
] [cite web
last = Butler
first = Blake
title = Shape of Punk to Come - Refused
publisher = Allmusic
url =
accessdate = 2007-09-28


During Nation of Ulysses' four years of activity, they released only two full-length albums: "13-Point Program to Destroy America" in 1991 and "Plays Pretty for Baby" in 1992, both released on Dischord Records. After releasing "Plays Pretty for Baby", the band began recording a third full-length album, but Steve Kroner separated from the band before recording was completed. The remaining quartet continued to record, but the group eventually dissolved before the record's completion. In 2000, six songs from those sessions, in addition to four new tracks recorded live, were compiled and released posthumously as "The Embassy Tapes".cite web
last = Allen
first = Ryan
title = The Make-Up
publisher =
url =
format = PDF also available
accessdate = 2007-02-04

In addition to their three-full length albums, Nation of Ulysses released two vinyl EPs. The first, a self-titled EP, was the band's first official release, but went out of print when the three tracks from it were included in "13-Point Program to Destroy America". The second EP, released in 1992 under the title "The Birth of the Ulysses Aesthetic (the synthesis of speed and transformation)", also went out of print when its tracks were later released on "Plays Pretty for Baby". [cite web
url =
publisher = Southern Records
accessdate = 2008-01-23
title = Nation of Ulysses – Discography
] The band were also featured in a number of compilation albums on a variety of record labels.

Musical ideology and style

Nation of Ulysses' music was noisy and manic, but they also had a strong free-jazz influence. The group embodied a rejection of the 60's and 70's music and styling by rejecting drug use and advocating that punk youth dress nicely and sensibly. To this end, the liner notes of "13-Point Program to Destroy America" states the band's aim "To dress well, as clothing and fashion, are the only things which we -- the kids -- being utterly disenfranchised, have any control over."cite web
last = Morris
first = Daniel
publisher = City Belt
date = 2006-10-11
url =
accessdate = 2001-01-15
] Much of the band admitted to not knowing how to play their instruments well, stating "All you need is a concept. There's no reason you have to sound like Led Zeppelin."

Political concepts

Nation of Ulysses described themselves not as a rock 'n' roll group in the traditional sense, but "as a political party"cite web
last = Gale
first = Thomas
title = The Make-Up Biography
publisher = eNotes
date = 2005
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-13
] and as "a shout of secession."cite web
last = Cheslow
first = S.
title = Nation of Ulysses interview - 1989
publisher = Interrobang?! #1 (1989)
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-30
] Explaining their intent, Svenonius said "it's basically a new nation underground for the dispossessed youth colony. It's all about smashing the old edifice, the monolith of rock and roll."cite web
last = Dundas
first = Zach
title = The Nation of Ulysses
publisher = Mumblage #1 (January 1993)
date = 1993-01
url =
archiveurl =
archivedate = 2005-11-27
accessdate = 2006-12-10

Allmusic's Steve Huey described Nation of Ulysses' philosophy as "a relentlessly provocative (and entertaining) jumble of teenage rock 'n' roll rebellion, leftist radicalism, anarchist punk polemics, and abstract intellectual rambling, [...] [which gives the sense of] an off-kilter, almost tongue-in-cheek approach to a 'perpetual 18-year old's' view of America, and life in general." This tongue-in-cheek political attitude was echoed by a spoken-word introduction to the song "The Sound of Jazz to Come", from their 1992 "Plays Pretty for Baby", in which the band describes themselves as "the seriously unserious, reverently irreverent, amoral moralists."

Asked about their use of the medium they claimed to counteract - rock 'n' roll - Svenonius declared "Well, it's a camouflage, to allow for movement, revolutionary liberation from the constraints of everyday composure, basically allowing anybody to move in anyway that they want and to lift spirit to a plateau to destroy 'parent culture.' "

Nation of Ulysses claimed to make weapons, not records. Discussing their second release, Svenonius asserted: "it's like a blueprint for the destruction of the Parent Culture. It's like a zip gun ... It's an instruction pamphlet for kids on how to destroy their home life, you know, their domestic state."

Although their first album was named "13-Point Program to Destroy America", Nation of Ulysses didn't align themselves with a particular political philosophy: "We don't usually address normal political dictums. We aim toward the everyday fixtures of life, like aesthetics, sound, non-spoken things that are inherently political in nature instead of, like bogus politicians who focus on glossy surface issues which avoid any kind of revolutionary change."

"Ulysses Speaks"

Nation of Ulysses published a zine called "Ulysses Speaks," which was an extension of their ideology expressed in their music and liner notes. The zines espoused what they referred to as "The Ulysses Aesthetic," which was a mix of 60's and 70's radical politics, French Situationist writings, and juvenile delinquency. The zine was distributed at live shows as well as made available by writing the band. A total of 8 issues were published.cite web
title = Ulysses Speaks!
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-02

Live performances

The band was known for their extremely physical performances, during some of which Svenonius recalls breaking his arm, his leg, and breaking his head open on numerous occasions. Audience members were also hurt during performances. Svenonius described Nation of Ulysses performances as "an extraordinary freak-out kind of thing [...] really masochistic, lots of blood [...] cacophonous, and violent, and aggressive."


Studio albums

*"13-Point Program to Destroy America" (Dischord) (1991)
*"Plays Pretty for Baby" (Dischord) (1992)
*"The Embassy Tapes" (Dischord) (2000)

Studio EPs

*"Nation of Ulysses" (Dischord) (1991)
*"The Birth of the Ulysses Aesthetic (the synthesis of speed and transformation)" (Dischord) (1992)


External links

* [ Official site on Southern Records]
* [ Official site Dischord page]
*allmusicguide|id=11:d9fyxqw5ldde|label=Nation of Ulysses
*MusicBrainz artist|id=ae888df0-2a19-4895-a654-e0093875d5b6|name=Nation of Ulysses
* [ Archive of Ulysses zine]

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