Battles are an organic-sounding instrumental band featuring Don Caballero and Storm and Stress guitarist Ian Williams, electronic experimentalist Tyondai Braxton, Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka and Helmet and Tomohawk drummer John Stainer. After having signed to Warp Records, the band furthered their UK infiltration by making their way to Camber Sands upon the invitation of The Mars Volta for ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in December. Having had the pleasure of viewing the bands’ polyphonic intricacies at both the start and end of the first day we at Zap arranged to catch up with the band the next day for a pleasant chat in their holiday camp chalet.
Phil: So are you guys having fun at ATP then?
Phil: Did you manage to get out and see other people?
Ian: Blonde Redhead.
John: Blonde Redhead, Dalek.
Phil: All Good?
Battles: Yeah all good.
Dave: I thought Blonde Redhead were great.
Phil: So you guys ended up playing twice, how did it come about that you ended up playing again at the end of the day?
Dave: Originally we were first on the bill, we just naturally assumed that we were gonna be playing when people were walking in, and they said it wouldn’t be a problem to play again later so that was kinda the original plan and then we got here and played the first set to a full house so, after the first set we didn’t need to play but by that time we were going to so we just did it anyway.
Phil: It seemed that though it was good earlier, people were more up for it by the end of the day, and moving around a bit more. And it seemed that you were up for doing some more interesting things as well, like experimenting with the drums.
John: It didnt really seem like it would be a problem to play so we just went ahead with our original plan.
Phil: People who had turned up late were chuffed and those who got to see you before, got to see you twice!
Dave: It was also like an introduction. This is our first time playing for a couple of months, and so coming to ATP and introducing ourselves, we’ve played London a bunch of times before but this is more of like a first introduction as Warp’s new signing.
John: It’s like “How’s is going? We’re Battles, you missed us first time, here’s another little dose laughter around room and, you can see more of us later!”
Phil: And we can find out a little bit more about you each time.
Dave: Yeah, lets get this out in the open, I shit my pants on 4th July in 2003! laughter I was at a party, I had to go to the bathroom… and I shit my pants running. It was a mess! more laughter
John: Thats not the first time he’s done it.
Dave: Its kinda like a thing.
Phil: Keep that off stage, you’re not GG Allin. laughter So you’ve just signed to Warp then, have you got new stuff planned to come out?.
Ian: Yeah, EPs that have been around in the States are gonna be combined and put out by Warp in February, and then we’ll have a new album in September, probably.
John: We’re trying to write the songs now.
Phil: You played mostly your third EP.
Ian: Yeah, well C and B, which is the stuff that’ll be coming out in February.
Phil: You do seem to have got quite a popularity though not having any big UK release, more through word of mouth and association, because obviously you all have other bands and projects.
John: It sort of started off that ay in the US anyway, this band has always been grass-roots.
Phil: So how did the band come about then?
Dave: I want to add that in February EP C plus B EP comes out, I think its mid-February, and then in April we’ll be playing a bunch of dates — care of www.littlebig.org.uk. laughter
Phil: That’s your plug in there! So how did you guys come together?
John: We’re childhood friends! laughter
Phil: So you’ve been holding his hands while he’s been shitting himself? more laughter
John and Ian: There’s a long version and a short version. Of how the band got together
Dave: I’ll tell the long version and Ian will tell the short version at the same time! _then proceeds to instead start to tell the story at incredibly fast speed_Give him the wrap up Ian.
Ian: Ty and me started playing together a little bit, making some music and then I got Dave to just play some guitar notes with us, and then… I did know John before that… If I tell the really short version then its not interesting!
John: Assuming that the details are interesting.
Dave: John stood there in a green jumper and brown pants. He touches his tea-bag… laughter We played a show just Ian, Ty and I and then Ian ran in to John and asked him to play in Battles and officially the first incarnation of Battles was on December 10th 2002 when we first practised for a show on December 19th and in nine days we put together the songs and the actual band Battles started with John. Ian: We’d been doing stuff for about six months.
John: Definitely the roots of Battles were sown way before I got involved.
Dave: And there was the girl choir too.
Ian: Which is the long story!
Phil: Your style is like a cross between math and electronica with the definite feeling of Steve Reich and other modern composers, with the repetitions and layerings. How conscious are you of that last link? Do you like people like Steve Reich?
Dave: Yeah of course.
Phil: And do you feel your work to be more compositional in that sense than ‘songs’?
Ian: I think that those are interesting composers but it’s not just like “I’m going to take some Philip Glass lines and put a disco beat on top of it”, it’s more than that. We dont want to just appropriate something.
Phil: Do you write in the studio, layering things up and seeing what works?
Ian: How do we write? The songs on the EPs we had these big pieces of paper, gigantic pieces of paper all over the walls and we sort of wrote non-traditional, non-musical notation on them.
Dave: The way we’re doing it now is that each of us are recording something, and seeing what parts work together.
John leaves the room
Ian: On those EP recordings was basicaly we’d play a little bit and then we just made the recordings but now through the vast majority of shows we’ve played and touring with the EPS, we’ve evolved a lot more as a band so it’ll be interesting now when we record. Those EPs were recorded right when we were starting out.
Dave: Yeah they were premature. They were for the sake of that we had this body of work, and we’d had it for a year and we needed to get it recorded and get it out there so we could get touring and get our name out there.
Phil: So now these songs have evolved.
Dave: The more touring we’ve done, as a live band, we’ve moved more to a compact organism and we have these instincts that weren’t there when we began. As we’ve played these songs live they’ve developed and become that much better.
Phil: Effects and computers play a big role in your band, what backgrounds have you had in music?
Ian: Dave, John and I have all been in rock bands. I’ve been in ‘Touch and Go’ records, heavily guitar-based bands. Ty has been into electronics more. At the same time though, John listens to Compact records.
Dave: His record collection is a mess!
Ian: It’s all over the place. But you get bored with music so you have to make new music, thats the way it always works. But to me there’s no great rupture between playing guitar-based rock and what this is. The other bands I’ve been in the reviews would say they’re using electronics, but we weren’t.
Dave: It’s the same way with Battles, a lot of people go on about the computers, but they’re just there for a variety of keyboard sounds, everything you hear is live.
Ian: They’re just controllers.
Dave: But the EPs are a little affected and computerised though.
Phil: Well thanks a lot for the chat, I’ll let you get on with your day, enjoy the rest of the festival!