|war of the worlds
Joe Coscarelli - October 1, 2007
"And now, fought with the terrible weapons of super-science,
menacing all mankind and every creature on the Earth comes the War of the Worlds."
Yet, imagine this force of futuristic sci-fi sonic manipulation
as used for good instead of evil. Picture a stage in which it is futile to discern
whether the men control the machines or the machines control the men. As if,
tangled in the sinews of winding wire, the humans are helpless amidst the sound
wave battlefield. The blasts and squeaks weave with elasticity leaving just
enough breathing room for each sound to register and the result is an eruption
of rumbling engine noises driven by shattering percussion and accented with
pointed shredding of strings and keys. Each section builds like a movement of
intergalactic warfare culminating in warped screeches and chants -- fragments
of what earthlings might call "vocals" -- so doctored, distorted and altered
that they meld effortlessly with the electronic explosions. And yet, snap out
of the peculiar, mechanistic trance to find there is a distinctively human quality
to it all. The experimental manipulations at the hands of four New York City
musicians is oddly assuring. In a 21st century world of Orwellian proportions,
amid gadgets and artificial intelligence, Man prevails if only in their complete
mastery of machine. What sounds like the apparatus takeover is actually the
human touch -- ambitious instrumentalists, free of samples, creating each and
every sound live, in an effort to conquer your ears and mind.Battles has truly
triumphed, and I'll be damned if they don't win the war to boot. The weapons
are stockpiled; ex-Helment drummer John Stanier punishes the set while ex-Don
Cabellero guitarist Ian Williams and ex-Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka melt faces
above Stanier's wild tribal pounding. And then, there's Tyondai Braxton in a
mess of keyboards, looking like he hijacked an electrical truck, creating live
vocal loops and Daft Punk-ing them into a buzzing heap of pitch-shifts and vocoder.
After two astonishingly good EPs, the band has unleashed their long-awaited
full length, Mirrored, upon the globe and brought along their manic live
show for good measure. Impossible to ignore, the band was even profiled by The
New York Times, proof that Battles' progressive soundtrack to electronic friction
is a war of worlds worth fighting for. Tyondai Braxton waged his own battle,
against a bad cell phone connection in the flatlands of Texas, to share his
band's story with The Deli.
What happened between the EPs and Mirrored?
The reason things took longer than usual was when we were ready to put out a
full length, we started talking to Warp about being our label. They decided
they wanted to package the two EPs (2004's EP C and B EP) and
put them out as one in Europe. So after a year and a half of touring behind
that we finally buckled down to write and record.
Was there a game plan for the full-length?
The strength of this band is the difference in personalities between all
of the members and we each had a different way we wanted to go. There was no
shortage of material, if anything it was whittling down ideas and then arranging
them. There were a bunch of directions we could've gone and Mirrored
is the most even playing field of a full length in terms of balancing our ideas
at the time.
Reactions to the album have been almost universal praise. How much stock does
the band put into things like that?
We're certainly not above checking out what people think our record. I think
it's great -- we're very happy that we've been getting the response we have
been. In the back of your mind, though, you have to know that people might love
you know but won't love you five minutes from now. As long as you love the work
that you've done, that's really all that matter. I'm very proud of the record
but I will say, as far as a cherry on top, it's very nice to have people like
what you've created.
You've had mainstream media coverage through MTV2 and The New York Times, but
at the same time your "mainstream" or cross-over appeal seems quite limited.
What do you think it is that brings interest from some of these larger sources?
I think people were looking for something like this. It's not so miraculous
that people enjoy something that's considered interesting. It should be food
for thought for those people in control of distributing and promoting music
that maybe they don't have to pedal some bullshit out of the philosophy that
only things that appear marketable will sell. Maybe there is other music out
there that can fulfill the same roles that has some substance to it. Don't get
me wrong, I'm not on a high horse and I don't think we're the answer to music's
problems. But just speaking generally, it's shouldn't be surprising that a band
like this is getting coverage as opposed to a pop-punk band.
There's certainly miles between you and your average radio rock band...
That's not to say I'm not surprised and I am happy, but it's not that shocking
that people are interested in a little bit of a quality aesthetic. I'm not picking
people out or trying to insult anyone but generally speaking, why is everyone
so surprised that people are enjoying something above the lowest common denominator?
How much of Battles' success this year do you think you can attribute to the
Our primary outlet has been the internet first and then other people riding
those coattails. As far as Pitchfork and the blog world, our fan base has extended
from that. For a band like this, and for music in general, internet has become
an essential outlet.
Where does Battles stand on file-sharing?
It's complicated because as an artists, you want to have your work out for
people to enjoy it and know about. But at the same time, dare I say, I'd like
the ability to live off of this dream. I think there's a balance between the
two and I think it's great. It's bound to happen. There's nothing you
can do to stop it and you have to accept it. The main thing is that it gets
to word out to people who might be interested in purchasing our music. I just
hope those people that are that excited about the music to show other people
on the internet are also the same people who will support it. We can't make
a second record with no money.
Does being called "math rock" feel confining?
I think it has to do with the makeup of this band. Ian (Williams, guitar)
was in Don Cabellero and that math rock label has followed him. Have you heard
Mirrored? Do you think it's math-rock? I feel like people are celebrating
the record for the fact that they can't pinpoint it with some easy moniker.
But labels are used as a reductive measure in a way that's dangerous when we
use it to reduce something in all of its qualities to a simple technique. Math
rock? Why, because we play in odd time signatures sometimes? To latch on to
a tiny quality like that and make it a defining feature is undercutting what's
going on. They could've just as easily called us loop-core.
How big of a part does improvisation play in the live show?
We don't rely on improvisation as heavily as one might think especially as far
as the term is normally thought off. I like to think of it more as elastic.
There are parts that can be molded but not necessarily completely discarded.
Improvisation in music like this is such a loaded definition and implies leaving
the structure totally -- we never leave the structure completely. We're not
necessarily noodling with a guitar solo for an extra 15 minutes but there are
passages where we can be more exploratory. They just remain very defined in
how we might stretch that part out. We never say, "Here's your bit, just fucking
go for it."
What does a band do after touring the entire world?
We're going to take a break and focus on other projects. All of us will
keep working, just not with Battles. At some point next year we'll reconvene
and work on the next record. The band would break up if we didn't have a break.
It's essential to a collective like this.
Does the fact that you've all had success with other projects create a kinship
or understanding between members?
Absolutely. The strength of this band is that we're not starting from scratch.
We all have refined musical tastes. We've refined our artistry and know how
to play our instruments. We're not learning our major scales and trying to write
songs at the same time. As a result, we have an understanding that allows us
to bounce off one another with a fluent language that we all share.