Battles: The interview

Ten things you didn't know about the reverse-karaoke rockers

Battles: The interview

Battles: (from left) Dave Konopka, John Stanier, Ian Williams

Truth be told, they're still getting used to being a trio. When Battles played at last weekend's SonarSound Tokyo festival, it was only their second show since losing a founder member. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton left the band last summer, during the recording of their follow-up to 2007 debut Mirrored. Rather than abandon the studio sessions, remaining members Dave Konopka, John Stanier and Ian Williams decided to push on, recruiting guest vocalists including Boredoms leader Tetsuro 'Eye' Yamatsuka and synth-pop pioneer Gary Numan to help out. The resulting album, Gloss Drop, will finally be released on April 27, and it's a hell of a record – even if the group are still figuring out how to play it all live. In one of his first interviews since its completion, Konopka talked about the changes in the band's songwriting process, and why they were glad they'd got over their reservations about coming to Tokyo so soon after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

1. Japan means a lot to these guys
'Our first tour was in Japan, and it was just like this full circle… We're just getting going, [and] there's no better place to start than in Japan, because the Japanese people have always been so supportive of us. It's just like this comfort zone that helps us to get back on track and be a live band again.'

2. Gloss Drop was fueled by beer
'We were fucking sleeping there, in the studio, for six months – literally, sleeping next to my guitar. We went in there with shorts and t-shirts, and fucking left in a snowstorm. Ty was with us for part of it, and he quit in the middle. And then we deleted all of his parts, and rewrote songs, and then wrote new songs... it was crazy. We started drinking a lot. It wouldn't affect our work, but the recycling bin of beer bottles was just like [gestures putting a bottle on top of an enormous pile] "I hope this one stays on top…"'

3. They've got some unusual musical heroes
'[We thought], "We can try to work with anybody we want right now – we could ask Aretha Franklin. And she'd probably say no, but let's ask anyways." It was just like, wow, there's a lot of opportunity here to work with people we admire. And Gary Numan was one of the first on the list, and he totally came through at the last minute.'

4. Gary thinks they're odd, by the way...
'We watched his show, and then went up to the back room. Gary Numan walks up to us, and he's kind of like [adopts cod British accent], "Okay, yeah, hey, how's it going, yeah, nice to meet you. You guys are fucking weird. Your fucking music is weird…" It was really like: Gary Numan's telling us that we're weird. This fucking rules…'

5. They're still figuring out what to do with the guest vocals live
'It is kind of like reverse karaoke right now… I had this idea of incorporating two life-size, seven foot tall video screens, so that when we cue the vocals there's going to be a video of the actual singers popping up there, singing. I know it's kind of Max Headroom-y, but eventually I think that could lead to doing cooler things with the vocals.'

6. You aren't expected to understand it all anyway
'It takes fucking up on stage for people to be like, "Oh, that's what that guy's doing right now?" I think, from an outside perspective, I'm assuming that people have no idea what's going on.'

7. Battles inspire some strange analogies
'I think each of us are like a CMYK printing dot pattern. From an outside perspective, you can stare at it and see that all those little dots make a full colour image. But each of us represents a different colour to get that, and we work in our own individual world on stage.'

8. The band have embraced Logic
'Before, we'd just write shit on paper, and talk about what parts and how many bars it goes, and what parts come in next and all that shit. This was more like, just being more analytical with the parts, and recording our shit direct and kind of trying things: to put together a composition more in Logic, or Pro Tools. And then from there we would have at least rough sketches, and [we'd] then try to play those rough sketches.'

9. They haven't ditched their old hits
'We'd like to work in some older stuff [into the live show] eventually. We were so concerned with playing the new songs right, and it's been a while since we played the old songs, and then there's the whole new element of the three of us playing those songs. Eventually, stuff like 'Atlas' will come into play, but this tour is more about familiarizing people with the new songs before the album comes out.'

10. Nisennenmondai are totally awesome
'Our friend Katoman manages them, and whenever we're in Japan, we always see them, but we haven't had a chance to play with them in a while. In December we're curating ATP, and one of my first choices was like, "Let's ask Nisennenmondai." Seeing them play [at SonarSound Tokyo], with that sound system, it was just like, their minimal, super-long songs fucking rule. I'm psyched that they're playing ATP. And I want them to tour with us.'

Gloss Drop is released April 27 on Warp Records/Beat Records. Battles will be playing at this year's Fuji Rock Festival.

By James Hadfield
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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