The new Battles video is blowing up YouTube, bringing math rock to the masses. We met the band and talked about their video, their rep for twiddly noodling, and their fearless forthcoming album…
That "Atlas" song is the most accessible stuff you've done, but it still weirds people out when they first hear it.
John Stanier: Our stuff needs a few listens and the overall reaction we get from a lot of people is, "I like it but I don't know why." We aren't making instant music. The kind of bands that make that sort of music you gobble the record up like candy, but you aren't gonna be listening to that shit in a year's time; it'll be your favourite record for a week then you'll throw it on the pile and never listen to it again. The records that last demand your effort and they will last over time.
People are going nuts over the video. What's the deal with that?
Tyondai Braxton: It's weird to me how much people are freaking out over it. It's a great video but the single hasn't even been released yet and people are going crazy over it on YouTube.
John: It's weird for me 'cos I'm so fucking old I've seen the whole video thing come full circle - from it being a thing of no importance, to MTV making it more important than the actual record, to it dying down again when MTV became a network. Now YouTube has made videos a big deal again.
Dave Konopka: If it was solely an MTV culture then there would be little point for a band like us to make a video because it would never get fucking shown. But the internet has made it a valid medium again. It almost increases the incentive for people to listen to the actual song; they can sit at their computer and watch this cool little thing that has been created to go along with it.
So, YouTube saves math rock?
Dave: Maybe it has something to do with that weird questing impulse to find the new thing that is interesting. The internet has changed the way it used to work. When I was younger it was into either what my older brother listened to, or if you were lucky, a cool local record shop would recommend something. Now you can just Google it and almost instantaneously find out what we're all about. The kid that is bored of Nickleback in the Midwest now has this whole network of connectivity that he can explore.
Does it piss you off being branded as twiddly musos?
John: I can understand dudes thinking that, but we can't get mad at them for it. That said, there will always be a part of being an artist that is very selfish. To dedicate my whole life to pleasing myself and showing people what my self-indulgence creates is kind of weird. But that isn't the goal of our music.
Tyondai: It's not like we sit there when we record saying, "I can't wait to write this song just to make people feel weird and alienate them." The immediate association with any labels like avant-garde or just being instrumental is alienation. Anything can be catchy or infectious but if it is presented in that way of being beyond you then obviously it can alienate. We hope that our music can have the characteristics of experimental stuff but we like to remain inviting.
There are a lot more vocals on the new record. What's up with that?
Tyondai: This band has been viewed as an instrumental outfit, but we never saw it that way. On the EPs we were still trying to sculpt our sound, but on the new record I thought it would be cool to introduce vocal elements more heavily and play with the stereotypical vocal structure - take it on in Battles mode.
You've all played in pretty big bands before Battles. Did that affect your approach or do you come to this completely fresh?
John: I played for a really long time in Helmet - ten years. Playing in that band for ten years obviously caused me to develop a style, but from day one of Battles the whole purpose was to do something that none of us had done before.
Tyondai: For me there was a real desire to get beyond my past, to create a new sound with new ideas - in a way reacting against what I've done before. In Battles, I'm way more interested in solidified, cohesive song structures. You can never escape yourself completely but you always want to evolve and explore both as individuals and as a collective.
* The new Battles album, Mirrored, comes out in May on Warp Records.