Warp's experimental sweethearts, Battles, have long been bringing us the best, and most unique kind of mathy noise to be found anywhere. 2007’s “Mirrored” established them as leaders in their own brand of experimental rock, and has become absolutely required listening.
One upon a time a power quartet, Battles has now been reduced to a trio with the announcement of front man Tyondai Braxton's departure, last year, to pursue his solo work. Braxton's decision initially cast some serious doubt about the band's future, however they're back on no uncertain terms with their new album, “Gloss Drop”. This sees the remaining trio partnering up with some impressive guest vocalists, including Gary Numan and Yamantaka Eye from Boredoms.
“Gloss Drop” moves Battles’ sound in a different direction. Whilst all the frenetic, experimental sounds are still there, this feels very much like a more summery album, and the addition of different vocalists adds a new level of interest to Battles’ music.
Whilst the band were in the middle of their tour supporting “Gloss Drop” [they are playing Barcelona’s San Miguel Primavera Sound festival on Friday 27th May), we spoke to Dave Konopka about what it was like to work with new outside influences.
I saw your show at the ICA in London, and you played an entire set of new songs. Are you planning to continue this for the rest of the tour, or will you be adding in some older material?
No, I think that eventually we’ll add in some older songs, but right now this is more of a promotional tour, and we thought it would be a good chance to give people a sneak peek at what some of the songs on the new album sound like. It’s killing two birds with one stone, exposing people to some newer songs and creating some level of familiarity for when we do start playing older material. That way we can create a more seamless set where people are familiar with all of the material, rather than the old songs going straight through to new songs. We just want to focus on playing our new guys as good as possible, and then I think throughout the course of our touring we’re going to start integrating some of the older stuff, and figuring how to work them into our set, and maybe re-interpret them.
Speaking of new songs, there’s a few guest singers on your new album, what was it like working with them?
We had these songs that were nearly completed and it was a conscious decision to try and incorporate vocals with somebody whose work we loved. For our own personal reasons, we thought it would be totally crazy if we could get Gary Numan to sing on the album. We never thought it would ever happen, but he showed interest and we thought it was amazing. That was almost a dare to ourselves to see if we could get somebody like Gary Numan. With Kazu from Blonde Redhead, we thought would be really interesting to have the juxtaposition of female vocals, and that created more of a poppy song. Then we wanted to balance that out with more super experimental vocals, like Yamantaka Eye. He added this totally otherworldly level of interest for the vocal contributions. And somewhere in between there is Matías Aguayo with “Ice Cream” and I think he’s more in-line with the way we perceive the role of vocals in the song - he saddles the line of having regular front-man vocals with more experimental instrumentation.
When you were working with these other people, did you feel that their influences came into the songs? Did anything unexpected happen to the songs once they were involved?
For the most part the songs were written, but I think that with Gary Numan there was just another level of that song that really opened up once his vocals got in there. There was such a free space to work with and I think the synth lines that Ian wrote to try and accompany his vocals were really successful in creating a totally new vibe for that song. And something like “Sweetie” and “Shag” once Kazu contributed and got her vocals down, then I think we readjusted the structure of the song a little bit, and expanded things a little bit more. It was all about fitting the vocals in seamlessly.
And have you found that with three of your in the band your individual influence has come through more clearly?
I think so. I mean it's hard to kind of distinguish any direct derivative, but I think there’s a space that’s opened up within the music. This time round each of us had our own little interests that came to the surface, with the way we worked the sounds and integrated different technical executions.
What about whilst you were working on the album, did you find you were influenced by anything you were listening to at the time?
I personally was super-focused on just working with the sounds that we were creating. I hate to take myself out of that mode, and it was important not to get competitive and start thinking about how good other songs sound. I don’t want to get into a comparison mode when I’m recording. When we were working on the album though, the new Kanye West album came out, and I bought that and I had it in the car for a long time, and I was listening to it like crazy.
In another interview you spoke about the pressure of creating the album, and how stressful it was, do you feel like you can all breathe a bit easier now?
It feels really good to be playing live again. It feels good to have an album complete and out there and you know that people will be getting their hands on it soon, if not already. You just feel good to get the ball rolling. I was super, super stressed and nervous about a lot of things leading up to our first show in Osaka, maybe two weeks ago, but since then it's become fun, and a relief that the three of us have stepped on stage and the songs seem to be getting better by the day. I'm not saying our set is perfect yet, but it’s a work in progress, and to break the ice on that, and break the threshold, and start being in the public consciousness again is a really great feeling. You forget about all this stuff in the years that go by, and when you’re writing. Really the biggest privilege is to have people’s attention and be able to do something like this.
You recently shot the video for “Ice Cream”. Is this going to carry on a similar theme to the artwork of the album?
We flew to Barcelona to shoot that video, and we worked with this collective there called Canada. They shot everything on film and I’m really psyched about it. The video is definitely bright and vivid and we’re getting really close to finishing it. It’s really beautiful, and I think it encompasses the sexiness of “Ice Cream”, and the kind of playfulness and summer vibe of the song.
And you're also curating ATP this year?
We just have one night to curate, the others are Les Savy Fav and Caribou, and I think there's maybe some people that Caribou would have picked that we would have picked. For the most part we have each of us chosen a couple of groups that are musicians we love, and would like to play with. It's a cool way to go about it. I think we were trying - and I'm not sure if it's going to happen - to get everyone from the respective bands of our vocalists to play, like the Boredoms, Blonde Readhead, Gary Numan, Matías Aguayo, just so we can collaborate live and play the entire album, with all of the vocal tracks live. I'm not too positive that's definitely going to happen, but there will be some great bands that'll be playing. San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011 takes place on 25 and 29 May at Poble Español, and from 26 to 28 May at Parc del Forum in Barcelona. Battles will be playing friday 27 May at the Ray-Ban stage at 03:45 h. Tickets are on sale here.
PlayGround is a media partner of San Miguel Primavera Sound After Tyondai Braxton’s departure, the three remaining members of Battles have established a new method and a new sound for the band, with new influences flourishing. We talked to them to find out more about it.