Battles - Interview
Well friends.it's that time again where I take time out of my busy schedule to meet, greet and interrogate musicains in order to bring you some fun yet informative reading. The musicians in question are Ian Williams, John Stanier, Dave Konopka and Tyondai Braxton, better known to you and me as Battles. These guys came out of know where and have quickly become one of Warp Records most exciting acts, which, if you know Warp, is no mean fete. Currently touring the UK and promoting their incredible debut album 'Mirrored', Battles gathered all the momentum of a rolling stone when they released the video to first single, the bizarre anthem 'Atlas', on the ever-growing tinterweb. After a series of set-backs, and the band arriving late for their gig, I caught up with drummer John Stainer, and was eventually joined by guitar/bassist Dave Konopka after they played an incredible set at Leeds University.
How's the tour been treating you?
John Stainer: Very, very good.
Starts off slow, but as always they take a li'l while to warm to me...
Do you enjoy playing the UK?
John: Yeah, of course. It's our home away from home.
How does it differ from the US?
J: Erm, I think England is different from the US, but I also think its different from, like, mainstream Europe. England has always been, since like the sixties, very separate, and kinda unique when it comes to the way that music comes out of this country. I think because its only a small island its like the music industry and music press has so much to do with the way that bands are perceived, or the way that they're marketed, y'know. As soon as you come over here, all you really have to do is put a record out and just let the 'hype machine'.roll, and it just goes crazy. Where as, in the US you definitely cannot do that, you have to work your ass off for that, and really tour hard. It's just so big and there's so many people. It sorta seems like that in a lot of other countries, so England has it's own li'l thing goin' on.
How does it feel for you guys to already be one of Warp's main attractions?
J: I don't think it would be fair for me to say we have any kinda priority from Warp on us, cause then the other bands will get bummed out. Honestly, I really think that Warp is awesome, but it's like our record just came out and so its, like I said, the English 'press machine' is starting to roll and I think that Warp does that with all their bands.I hope they do.
Do you have any rituals, when it comes to either playing live or recording?
J: I smoke three cigarettes after I've set my drums up. We all drink three beers, sometimes four beers before goin' on stage. That's definitely a band ritual. Lager, sometimes ale.That's live, recording.recording is completely different. I have a really hard time comparing live with recording. That's like saying what's the difference between skydiving and swimming! They both are awesome in their own way, but you can't.
At this point guitarist Dave Konopka joins us.
J: (to Dave) I got it, I got it. Back off. D: Did I heard you mention skydiving? Again!? In another interview.What's up with the skydiving. J: I like to skydive.I like to do the chicken-shit skydive where you're harnessed with another guy. So there's like this big guy hugging you and whispering in your ear 'It's okay, It's okay.' And you're just like 'Aaarrgghh!' D: 'Do you want to pull the cord, or do you want me to pull the cord?'
What did you guys listen to growing up? Before you got into music, what did your parents impose on you?
J: Well, now that li'l tater tot, young buck joined us. D: (laughs) Tater Tot? J: He grew up listening to Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and erm, Spandau Ballet. D: Yeah. J: I grew up listening to Ted Nugent and Rush....Tater Tot!!(laughs)
The art side of Battles has always seems to be as important as the music.Was this always the plan?
J: Ask him that (Pointing to Dave) D: Erm.for it to be important? Yeah. D: It wasn't like a conscious 'Okay we're gonna be a band with good songs and this really good look' but its important the way you present yourself. Even the way we set up on stage is indicative. J: It was almost like 'Okay, now we're recording a record, now we're gonna have to make tshirts. Who's gonna do this.' and he's (Dave) a graphic designer so.
Okay, Dave, I asked John this earlier, do you have any rituals?
J: Dave likes to rub one out before going on stage. D: If you watch me as I'm coming on stage I wipe my hands allover the back curtain. J: He's using that as one gigantic catch cloth.an enormous velvet catch cloth. D: If you really want the truth, I shit like three of four times. J: Yeah, that is true.I think he's just a chronic masturbator. He's always like 'Oh, we're on in five minutes!? I gotta go take a shit.' And that'll be like the fourth one. What kinda person shits that much? If he was like 400lbs then, maybe I could understand it. Its always like three or four times, always in the course of one hour. I know its nervousness, but I think it's nervousness, and the only way he can get rid of his nervousness is through chronic masturbation. D: Yeah, why not!? Right outta your penis...not nervous anymore.
Was it a conscious decision to do something different musically, or is it simply a product of how u play together?
J: Well it's weird actually, cause originally we started out covering the Libertines and the ecoplex just started going crazy. Next thing you know. D: Here we are! J: We originally started out as a. D: Jay Giles cover band. (laughs)
J: Ian placed an ad in the 'Village Voice' which is the free newspaper in New York. He placed an ad which definitely caught my eye, which was 'Blues oriented group looking for drummer into blues oriented boogie music'. Of course that's right up my alley so I called him up. D: And it was like 'If you could also do a harmonica solo, that's obviously an extra bonus.' (laughs) J: So we tried doing that with these electronic instruments that we have and they kinda started goin' crazy. So it's really the machines wrote battles.more than us. We're just trying to keep the blues alive, basically, but the machines wont let us. D: At the end of the day I think all of us have the blues inside of us, y'know. J: Rhythm and Blues.Rn'B. D: That's what Rn'B stands for? J: Yeah, what did u think? D: Rub and Bass!
You guys have all played separately in bands before Battles, were any of you stuck in your ways, or did you al adapt to playing with each other easily?
D: We adapted pretty well. It was kinda like a clean slate upon starting. J: At the very, very beginning I wasn't really playing with anyone, and I knew Ian from a really long time ago from our previous bands. He had already been playing with Dave and Tyundai, so I was the last person to join Battles. So I knew Ian from a long time ago, and I knew Ian was a total nutter.I knew he was a li'l weird.so when he asked me if I wanted to check out what he was doing, I already knew it was gonna be something a li'l bit weird.I honestly think its this reaction to me and Ian not wanting to do anything like the previous bands we've been in. Then Ty being a brilliant musician that's never really been in a band before, and Dave.not wanting to be in Lynx. (laughs) In the very beginning, which is one of the absolute best things about Battles, is it officially started out as 'Lets really try to make something completely different and just see if it works.' And actually the cool thing is that when I first went to play with these guys, it wasn't like this typical 'I went into the room, started playing, and immediately I could just feel the magic.' It sucked! I gave it a good couple of weeks. D: It wasn't that bad. The first practice I made him falafel, how bad is that? I MADE YOU FALAFEL!! J: It was weird because I'd just met you and yet you're making me Lebanese food. D: I was like 'Eat, eat. You must eat.' J: You're not even Lebanese. D: Food is the source of life, we all must partake. J: (laughs).but, it took a li'l while.which I think is good. Its good that it took a li'l while and it wasn't this instant 'Oh this is great, this is awesome. We rule.' To be honest it probably took years before we. D: I think all good relationships take work. J: .I remember the first time we kissed. D: .That took a li'l while too. J: You're garlic breathe. D: I was licking your cheek.it took time, but eventually we learned to kiss, like men! J: I was sensitive to the fact that Dave doesn't like it when I don't shave for a day. It hurt's his face.So I don't shave anymore.
What are you guys listening to at the moment?
D: You speaking! (laughs).and some weird noise in the background. What are you listening to at the moment? Besides the voices in your head. J: Yeah, lets ask you some questions.
I hesitantly agree, only to be surprised by their queries.
J: What's this band.The Horror? Or the Horrors?
What are they like?
Interesting...If that wasn't enough they go on to ask me about Razorlight...proud I am of the UK when these are the two bands they think to ask me about. Things get progressively more bizarre as they start to perform an impromptu vocal rendition of Herbie Hancock's 'Rockit'.good stuff. Joking aside though, these guys really have surprised me. Not only live, where they we spectacular, despite technical problems, but also as people, and as a band. Despite their years in music they're all just as humble and down to earth as the day they started. Believe the hype, cause they somehow supercede it and keep your eye on these guys, cause I expect big things.and you should too.