It’s nice to be surprised. Often enough in this line of work it’s simple enough to gauge the response one will receive to a given question, or at least have an idea of how it will be fielded. It probably should have been fairly obvious that if any band would buck this trend, it would be New York-natives BATTLES, who have built a career on being that little bit different.
From their first release EP C/ B EP on Warp, which saw them heralded as the leading lights of the New-Prog generation, the band have been in a constant state of evolution, altering and tweaking their sound across each release, while maintaining their own distinctive motifs. Their breakthrough came in 2007 in the form of Mirrored, a planet-sized, shiny disco-ball of a record, orbiting jazz, metal, prog, noise and electro. The record yielded singles Atlas and Tonto, and saw the band reach a new audience, making friends and influencing people across the globe. Tracks Atlas and Race:In were used in campaigns for car manufacturers, and Battles found themselves in the spotlight. Ian Williams (guitar/keys) says of their new found fame, “We never really feel famous; we don’t feel like we’ve become a massive band. We just appreciate the chance to play to people across the world who like what we do.”
Then came something of a disappearance. All went quiet on the Battles front, rumours circulated of the writing process throwing up some difficulties. Then came the news that founder member Tyondai Braxton had left, but that the three remaining members were in the process of completing a record. Despite the difficulties, 2011 has finally seen the release of Gloss Drop, returning Battles to the public eye. It’s in the discussion of the new record that some of the surprises referred to earlier arise. Surely it must be difficult to complete an album when losing a member half-way through? Ian elaborates: “Well, a lot was made about us losing our ‘frontman’, which was more of a mainstream press construct anyway because we were always more of collaborative, we never felt that anyone was more in the spotlight. We just went back to being a three-piece. To be honest, it was becoming pretty difficult in the writing sessions. It probably tells you all you need to know if I say that we hadn’t finished a track in two years with Tyondai and when he left we finished a record in four months.” So, none of the platitudes expected when this sort of question is tendered. A refreshingly honest answer to an admittedly pointed line of questioning. “It’s not that it’s not a shame that he left, but in the end it may have been the only way Battles could have continued.”
Continued they have, and despite a return to their previous instrumental tendencies, Gloss Drop has brought with it some guest vocalists, including Mathias Aguayo and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead. Latest single My Machine features electro legend Gary Numan. “We met Gary briefly; he said he liked our stuff, said it was weird. It’s a funny thing to be told you’re weird by Gary Numan! His track was the last thing to arrive on the day we sent the record off. After, the high didn’t come from us finishing the record, it was like ‘wow, Gary Numan finally sent us his track’! There was some relief when it was done; I like to quote the Grateful Dead ‘What a long, strange journey it’s been’.”
For Battles, the long, strange journey continues, and the Gloss Drop tour brings them to Liverpool on 18th November. After a summer on the festival trail, Ian is glad to be getting back to their own shows, “we’ve mostly been playing festivals this summer in Europe and the UK. We’ve had some pretty bad performances. Wireless was totally whack. All the electrics went off and we had to stop.” Hopefully the welcoming arms of the Kazimier will prove a more pleasurable experience for the band, with Battles’ previous Liverpool show still talked about in hushed tones. “I liked Liverpool last time we were there; I just walked around a lot. It’s a good walking city.” Support comes in the form of noise-laden dubstep soundscapery from Warp label-mates BABE RAINBOW, and Ezra Bang and the Hot Machine solo-project THUNDERBIRD GERARD, making for an eclectic evening of sound exploration, melodic invention and dancefloor confusion.
Battles play The Kazimier on 18th November