Right before the Battles’s show at Boston’s Royale, I got together with guitarist Dave Konopka to talk about their new album Gloss Drop, music influences, and Battles’s new era post Tyondai Braxton.
What was your earliest musical experience?
My fist show ever was Neil Diamond, when was 5 years old. My parents used to listen to them and I thought it was pretty cool. When I matured a little bit, I remember my first proper show was Fugazi and Shudder to Think. It was really awkward because when Shutter to Think played, Wedren was so flamboyant. It was in a hockey rink and there were all these kids and everyone was like “this sucks!” and I was thinking, “I actually like this, this is almost better than Fugazi”. I didn’t start playing until I went to Mass Art. My roommate played guitar but he was a lefty, so I learned to play with a left-handed guitar. He taught me how to play and we stared a band together called Lynx.
How did you like the Boston scene when you lived here and played with Lynx?
There was a lot of stuff going on, there was an interesting community, but my friends and me were kind of wise asses. When we started playing we were doing math rock; we liked Don Caballero and Helmet. Were we super psyched that we were this weird band coming out of nowhere. It was awesome while it lasted. Unfortunately, then we moved to Chicago to try to get signed. I think we reached the level where we needed to leave Boston to get signed. Back then it was a different story, getting signed was the thing. You would give people your cassettes. Now [with the internet] everything is almost out of control.
How is the writing process for Battles? How has it changed from Mirrored to Gloss Drop?
We’ve kind of switched the process. When we started we used to write everything on piece of paper. We would jam, but it’d be more of a planned synch. The whole band would sit and stare at this paper and see the whole parts. We did this for Mirrored but when we started Gloss Drop it didn’t’ work. Between Gloss Drop and Mirrored we were doing this waiting period when the forth guy [Tyondai Braxton] was recording his solo album. I was writing things at home and Ian was doing the same thing. Then we would try out different things, like change the key to match up our parts. But we really went into the studio unprepared. We started recording our own stuff in separate rooms and then we would exchange parts. If we tried to jam it’d become chaos.
What pedals and instruments have the biggest effect on your sound?
Sound wise not so much but for the process, my Gibson Echoplex is really important for lopping and so Ian and I can synch up loops. He uses Ableton Live, so when he triggers vocals it will be at the same bpm. If we were driving and my Echoplex broke we would be fucked!
To get sounds I like the POG, I’ve been using a lot of octaves. We are so function-abased in the way we write music, that I don’t want to use pedals just to use an effect for the sake of an effect.
What do you think of digital vs. analog instruments and recording? Has Battles experimented with both of these mediums?
Back in the day there was a huge thing to maintain analog. Generally speaking I prefer analog forms, like I prefer a book over a website. But for recording, if you can get away with the Steve Albini movement, and not use computers… if you’re Nirvana, then cool. But for us it’s really inaccessible. On Mirrored we recorded the drums full on analog instruments and then bounced it to digital. But we bypassed it this time because it was a lot of extra work, it would go out of synch, it was much more complicated. This time we built the album, more than wrote it. After we wrote it, we had to go back and literally listen to it and learn how to play it again. We were all kind of lost.
How do you think Battles’s recordings transfer to the live setting?
When I was working with the pink stuff for the album cover, I was thinking about the dichotomy of a live performance, of how raw it is, versus a recording. When you record, it’s important to commit to a document. It’s hard to get three guys to agree on a song, so once you commit to the final, it is set and stone. You try to represent it in a live setting but you also take the liberty to stretch it out. When we play, we don’t use backing tracks, we built everything live. If I set a loop on stage I do it in real time. It’s important because it is a visceral experience for the audience. Why would you go see a band if its just like listening to their CD really loud?
How did you make the pink stuff for the album art?
My brother is a carpenter and he has a shop. I had this idea for the album cover and I had the concept really tight but any time I talked to someone about it they were like “what are you talking about?” So I took over the back room of his shop and bought cases of the foam stuff to fill cracks. I would do a few cans all over the place, let it do its thing, and come back a couple of days later. Then I spray-painted it pink. I used like $500 worth of it! My brother and me also built the room for the “Atlas” video. We made it in his shop, modularly cut everything and built it back up on set.
How did you come about your featured vocalists?
For the most part they were friends or acquaintances. Its funny because in interviews John says it was the easiest part, but I remember being stressed out so much. It was just in the beginning of the album that Ty left the band. We never had a backup plan, if someone that sings leaves the band what do we do? Do we do an instrumental album or can one of us sing? Both answers to those questions were no.
We wanted a female vocalist and Kazu Makino from Blond Redhead has such a great voice. She lives in NY and we’ve crossed paths enough that we’ve become friends.
Gary Numan was totally a shot in the dark. He is a legend. We actually met him here, at The Paradise. He was playing a show and we came up and gave him a copy. He was like “You guys are really fucking weird, I’ll be honest I’ve never heard you music, but you are really bizarre.”