Battles Rages On
Can an experimental rock supergroup whose members reject the "math rock" label they've been slapped with ultimately transcend it?Can an experimental rock supergroup whose members reject the "math rock" label they've been slapped with ultimately transcend it?
The Battles' debut album "Mirrored" grew out of this conundrum.
Ian Williams, John Stanier, Tyondai Braxton and Dave Konopka came together as exiles from rock groups including Don Caballero, Helmet and Tomahawk to form the band in 2002. The clamor for their first two schizophrenic and increasingly sought-after EPs ("EP C," "B EP") led to the creation of "Mirrored," which entered the Billboard Tastemakers, Top Heatseekers and Top Independent Albums charts on June 9. We let the Brooklyn-based noisemakers tell us why they think "math" is a four-letter word.
How did you all manage to initially meet up?
John: Ian and Ty had met in NYC wanting to do something together, and Ian brought Dave into the picture. The three of them played around for a bit until I ran into Ian on the street, where he asked me to come down and check out what he was doing, and here we are.
Tyondai: Ian and I started loosely playing in 2002-ish —just lollygagging around town, doing a couple of shows — and then Dave came into the picture. He was holding a satchel with all of his earthly belongings, and he dropped them down in front of us. Without saying a word he lit a cig by lighting a match off of his bare feet and started playing what would eventually become the "Tras" line. John was walking by when this was all happening and just decided to drop everything he was doing and come play with us forever.
When you first started putting out material, you issued a bunch of EPs. Did you just prefer the length of EPs or was it all in the desire to work up to a full-length?
John: I think we wanted to release something as quickly as possible so we could start touring right away. The split EPs idea came from having 2 separate releases, one from a west coast label and one from an east coast label.
Tyondai: The EP's were a safe format for a band like us, as we knew the "members of..." thing would be the defining factor for this band if it didn't age well. The EPs were a soft release and allowed us refine our sound.
Judging from your affiliations, experience and from, well, the album artwork, you own ton of gear. What pieces are most essential? What are your favorite toys?
John: I am the only acoustic instrument in the band, and I love my bright yellow TAMA Artstar. They don't make it anymore.
Tyondai: My favorite piece of gear is my custom guitar from Healy Guitars, a small company out of California run by Trevor Healy. Best instrument I've ever owned. He really tricked it out.
Would people "get" what you do better hearing this record or seeing you perform live? What do you consider to be the major differences between experiencing your music in those ways?
John: I think that's too hard to answer as both are completely separate entities. I think I would rather have someone see us live to experience the event. However the recording will still be standing 45 years from now, whereas the memory of one show will not.
Tyondai: I think we're a live band over all as that's where most of the time is spent crafting. Having said that the listening experience on record is important too. The record, in so far as this band is concerned, is the "absolute" representation of the music. Live we get to play with those absolutes. Live is the reinterpretation of a perfected document. One I don't think is necessarily better than the other as they're a totally different experience.
What does the term "math rock" mean to you?
John: I call it "the M word." It's a borderline insulting, totally unnecessary explanation. I can't think of anything more boring than that word. It's so cold and sterile... No soul whatsoever. And I think Battles has more soul than Otis Redding!
Tyondai: What does any simple reduction of a larger mixture mean to anyone who is aware of what goes into making this music?
Start to finish, from writing, recording, mixing, etc, how long did it take you to craft "Mirrored"?
Tyondai: About a year. More than half a year to write and four months to record.
What plans do you have for the band within the next year or two? What other side projects are each of you working on?
John: Tour every possible place for us to play, and then tour some more.
Tyondai: I have plans to do a solo record next year.
Why is it called "Mirrored"?
John: Because the front cover is all our gear set up in a 12x12 mirrored cube.
Tyondai: Because "The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken" was already taken by REO Speedwagon.