Battles interviewed

November 15, 2011

Though one member down from recording and touring their first album, 2007′s Mirrored, Battles’ currently healthy state exhibits no signs of deficiency.

The way some people were talking at the time of Tyondai Braxton’s detachment from the band over a year ago, the effect of the loss seemed like it’d be comparable to that of a limb. True, Ian Williams in part makes up for the decline in limb-power by now employing his on two keyboards and guitar simultaneously. But there’s nothing lopsided about Battles as a three-piece. As they’ve frequently reiterated over the past year, they simply now contribute 33% to Battles each, rather than 25%.

Any claims that Braxton was the main creative force, or that there’d be a perceptible lack without a ‘frontman’, or that Battles would take the easy route of reverting to being entirely instrumental, have been boldly rebutted. Their second album, Gloss Drop, released this summer, and their subsequent live performances show a band thoroughly embracing new dynamics and creating music that sounds organic and more effortlessly fun than ever.

Focus on any one of the three on stage – Ian Williams, hands on keyboards at both sides of him like he’s coolly pacing through a treadmill workout, John Stanier driving a sweaty pace and pounding his drum kit almost to tears, Dave Konopka with an unflinching absorption in his effects pedals and guitar strings – and you’ll find no void bemoaning a frontman.

In time for Battles’ series of gigs across the north starting tomorrow, we spoke with Dave Konopka about the band battling through obstacles to bring together their new album and live show.

Tyondai splitting from the group clearly slowed down progression of a second album, but when did you become aware of cracks appearing in Battles?

You can have a leak in your roof without seeing any water for a long time. After finishing Mirrored, coming out of two years of putting as much as we could into touring and working that album, we needed some down time. When we came back and reconvened it felt like we had a harder time gelling with one another, maybe because we’d spent so much time focussing on touring and not writing. This slowly progressed into something much bigger, that in retrospect I should have seen coming for a year.

What process did the three of you then go through in rethinking the band’s direction?

We felt deflated, like we’d spent three months of our lives sleeping in a studio, working on an album, for it to go to nothing. Really the feeling had nothing to do with Ty leaving, it was more what happens to these songs? We immediately set ourselves up with trying to figure out how to move on, the process of learning how to be a three-piece, how to rewrite and restructure what we’d been working on so it was coming from where we were at. We had no grand idea of where it was going; we just had to learn to do this stuff on the fly and had no time to waste. We might have lost something, but we gained so much more. We’re a tighter, better band from it. Our vision, our work ethic and our standards of quality; the three of us are willing to give 110% to Battles.


On Gloss Drop you collaborated with different vocalists – Gary Numan, Yamantaka Eye, Kazu Makino and Matias Aguayo – on individual songs; in each case they do more than just vocalise, they bring a unique sound and style to the song. How does this transfer from record to stage in Battles’ current tour?

When we started learning how to play these songs we had hoped to find a person to sing and tour with us, but as we looked for this person we realised it was hard to find someone to encompass the different stylings that each vocalist contributed to the album. We’ve always embraced technology, so we solved that problem by asking each vocalist to make a video of them singing the song. It still performs live; we find the BPM and use it to trigger their vocals and sync the video. Though they’re not there in real time they’re virtually there with us.

Have you re-appropriated tracks from Mirrored to fit the three-piece live set-up?

We have been playing some tracks from Mirrored. Some of them are a direct representation, such as ‘Atlas’, and we play around with ‘Tonto’ a little bit. But it takes a little time, because the three of us have to go back and relearn the songs and new responsibilities we have. At the moment we’re more interested in playing the songs from Gloss Drop; we’re making up for lost time and trying to be in the moment with the album we have now.

When things were looking up and you had Gloss Drop out there, being well received, the second single, ‘My Machines’, melted along with Warp’s back catalogue in the PIAS warehouse fire. What was your reaction?

A lot of things go wrong, so I think that we are at a point where we accept when things do, and I wasn’t really angry. The day that it happened we were playing a show and I just made a joke like, ‘we have good news and bad news. The bad news is that all of our records caught on fire at this warehouse in England and are all destroyed, but the good news is some of our records melted with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new 7inch’. I totally encourage standing up and rising against police stateship, but those riots went on too long. It gets pretty lame when opportunists in society take advantage when some others are fighting for a cause.

After going through setbacks, what will the band take with it from the past two years?

It’s been a tremendous learning experience. When you retrospectively look at things you wonder why you didn’t rectify a problem. But our main issue was that we were so complacent with what we’d accomplished on Mirrored that parts of our band separated in different directions and the truth came out regarding what people wanted to pursue. The learning experience lies within really realising what your intentions are and where your heart lies in it all. I feel like I was in that spot at the beginning of Gloss Drop, but not all of us were. You can’t control that nature, and you need to figure out how to embrace change when it happens. Its probably going to take us a long time before we come out with our next album, but I think the odds of Ian and John and myself being ready to embrace that next album are more likely than where we were at when we started Gloss Drop. As a band we’re in a good spot and couldn’t be any happier with the album we released.

To see the band and their LCD-screened vocalists, head to one of these venues on one of these dates this month:

Wed 16th SHEFFIELD Plug
Thu 17th NEWCASTLE Gateshead Town Hall
Fri 18th LIVERPOOL Kazimier
Sat 19th DUBLIN Button Factory
Mon 21st LONDON Forum


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