Battles - Conflict comes with the territory for this band
Battles by name, battles by nature. At least, that's what Gillian Orr found when she met the New York avant-gardists whose attitude belies their fun side
Battles don't make for easy interviewees. The experimental, avant-garde rock band from New York seem to be bored, tired or hung over. Perhaps all three. They do everything they can to side-step anything that resembles a question. For every question there is a smart-arse response. Ask them about this December's All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, which they've been asked to curate along with Caribou and Les Savy Fav, and they say: "We're decorating the chalets that people stay in. We've been working with an interior designer."
Frustrating is not the word. Suddenly it's not so surprising that I've been issued with my first-ever plea to not bring up a subject in an interview: the departure of former guitarist and vocalist Tyondai Braxton. (Apparently they're tired of talking about it). "Are you mad at us?" asks bassist Dave Konopka about 20 minutes into the interview. "Let's refocus!" cries guitarist Ian Williams.
Battles, whose ages range from 35 to 43, formed in 2002 after each member had enjoyed success in other bands. Having released a few EPs, the band put out their debut album, Mirrored, in 2007. Hailed as one of the most exciting records of the year, it was a complex, intricately constructed piece which bemused as many as it delighted. Then, while working on their follow-up, Braxton unexpectedly quit, leaving them having to rewrite the entire record. The result was Gloss Drop, released earlier this year. "I thought we would never finish that record," recalls Stanier. "Because there were so many obstacles and it was such a difficult record to make in the first place." While they went into the studio with songs to record Mirrored, Gloss Drop was a far more organic affair.
"We broke off into separate rooms in the studio and recorded our own parts and kept turning them into the main control room and piecing together the album like a puzzle," says Konopka. The band invited guest vocalists to four tracks on the album, including Gary Numan, whose appearance on the All Tomorrow's Parties line-up suggests that he will finally join the band live for the track "My Machines". It is live where Battles are at their best and their unusual set up (they are, in a sense, all frontmen) and tight musicianship really make them worth seeing.
After the first album they quickly drew a reputation as a muso's band. But, although no less ambitious, Gloss Drop is widely considered to be a brighter record than its predecessor and may go some way to explaining why they're suddenly seeing a new set of fans turn up to their shows: women. "Bradford from Deerhunter was telling me that," says Konopka. "He was like, 'women like you guys now'. It's weird, I don't know why."
"Girls, get with it because your sisters are grooving." Williams grins. The band reject the idea that they are in any way pretentious and insist that their music is not just about picking apart the sum of its parts but to also have fun with and dance to.
"We're not precious about who likes us. My dream is that we're like this tabloid magazine that you can buy from the shelf of a supermarket, next to the cash register. Cheap and accessible," deadpans Konopka.
"I think our influences seep up from a deep well of the years under our belt and it comes from a lot of places," continues Williams. "Genuinely it's not a formulated trick. It happens to be where we are musically at this point in our lives." They've even allowed their music to be used in various advertisements, televisions shows and films, a move which might surprise some.
"I think a super-long time ago all that was considered bad but now that no-one buys records I think it's a very good thing because you have to make a living somehow," says Stanier. "As long as it's not for, you know, diapers."
"Actually we have some interesting things coming up. We've just done the new Hummer campaign and Shell Oil," jokes Williams. "We're also playing George Bush's daughter's birthday party. It should be cool. "
And they're back to fooling around again. Battles: a superb band; a blast to hang out with. And a bit of a nightmare to interview.
Battles tour from 16-21 November. They curate a day of All Tomorrow's Parties, Minehead, 9-11 December (www.bttls.com)
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