In June, New York math-electronic-indie geniuses Battles release their second full-length, Gloss Drop, after a four-year wait.
With mounting expectations and a record almost in the can, vocalist/instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton left the band during a studio session last October. Instead of scrapping the record and dissolving, the remaining trio -- John Stainer, Dave Konopka and Ian Williams -- decided to press on.
The result is an amazing testament to dexterity, creativity and endurance.
Williams talked with Nonstop Sound about the band’s transition and the new record, among a host of other things.
On learning one’s own material:
"We made this one in the studio more than other stuff, which kind of meant to play it live, as a real human being in a room, is sort of like covering a piece of music that was already recorded, learning how to play it as an outsider."
On having to rework a nearly finished album:
"It’s an exaggeration to say we had to write it twice. But we had to redirect it and refocus it. I think we were kind of dragging our feet a bit on the inspiration level. The sophomore record was staring right at us, which is a classic problem. But I feel like we got to skip over it. Because that record with Tyondai, it was a way out. It’s like, well this isn’t really going to work now. For us to continue as a trio now, we needed the new record to reflect the three of us and not present us as a quartet. So we had to retool the whole thing. It was done under the gun because at that point, we were already past the record deadline for our label. But what that actually did was sort of take away a certain comfort level that we had, because we had come off a record that was considered successful, and we had big support from our record label and the things that make a band’s life cushy were cushy for us at the moment."
On changing roles in a band:
"When you consider yourself 25 percent of a band and suddenly become 33 percent, you think a little differently about how you contribute and what your sonic role is. Things did get a little clearer, as a matter of fewer cooks in the kitchen. ... The songs became simpler in a way. Part of the code of our music was almost car crashes of music, two things coming together at once and not necessarily having room for each other. And if it worked, it was charming, because it was strange. And sometimes it didn’t work I think. And that went away to some degree because there was one less voice involved."
On creative drive behind the instrumental:
"The thing with instrumental music when you say what’s the meaning of the song, it’s a little more mysterious than a story about lyrics and this happens then this happens. So sometimes it feels superfluous to name a song about something. But a song like 'Wallstreeet,' I always joked about it was the sound of rich people in the early ‘80s, partying on a yacht. And we started referring to that as the sound of success. And when we were mixing it, we would say, 'that doesn’t sound successful enough.' And as silly as that is, it was maybe an idea that led that. And eventually 'Wallstreeet' just seemed to be a more succinct way of describing that."
On musical depth:
"Maybe the happiest way you could think of this record is if somebody actually understood that the music was deeper. Because I do think the process we used from just a technical method through which we generated the sounds, purely from a musician’s standpoint, it was further down the line of the same method we used on the EPs and Mirrored. It was maybe a more honed craft that we used. And we were just better at it. To some degree we took those sounds further than we had before. And on that level I do feel it’s deeper. And at the same time it did a 180 where it came back around and some of the songs actually became more acceptable at the same time and it actually sort of spread out to the left and to the right. When I think of it that way – I like thinking of it that way. And there was a little less of a need to prove ourselves on this one, to prove that we’re profound or whatever those insecurities are. Some bands throw out that they want to be hard or heavy or some bands throw out that they want to be smart, or some bands throw out that they want to be complex. And I think maybe those are more sophomoric concerns, which were not really important to us."
On playing new material live:
"We’ve played probably eight or nine shows overseas and tomorrow in Boston will be our first U.S. show. It’s growing on pace. Right now, we’re wrapped up in these new songs and concentrating on pulling off Gloss Drop live. I think we’re getting better as we do it and learning as we go and from the audience’s beneficial perspective it would be that what you see now will be different than probably what you see next fall or something. And in a lot of ways the amount of ingredients we have in the new material – there’s more stuff for us to work with which actually means when you combine the vocals and singers and some of the sonic layers that we’re making, there’s a lot to work with. In a lot of ways it’s about figuring out there’s more stuff to play with. But I think the configurations will keep changing.
On Eye from Boredoms’ singing methods:
"We thought it was in Japanese at first and then a Japanese person heard the song and told us it’s not Japanese. He has his own private language."