Interview: BATTLES

By Sarah Dahnke in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 7, 2007 3:15PM

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It would not be an understatement to claim that Mirrored, the first full-length album by BATTLES, which was released in May, is one of the best albums of the year. While most take the opportunity to note that the group is comprised of former members of critically acclaimed bands such as Don Caballero and Helmet, the band is truly a unique creation of its own. Its obscure melange of electronic melodies have woven their way into the hearts of many, proving that math rock is not all odd time signatures and self-indulgent obscurity. And on not-so rare occasions, it may even induce dancing.

Drummer John Stanier was kind enough to speak to us from the road to discuss keeping the producing experience fun, not taking yourself so seriously, and how a BATTLES song is not just a song, but a miniature play, too.

Chicagoist: Over the past year, BATTLES has experienced ridiculous success. In fact, when we saw you live at Pitchfork, the crowd was packed full of fist-pumping super fans. Are you finding these people are fans of your previous bands who have carried over, or are they becoming introduced to you through this project?

John Stanier: I tend to think that the majority of our audience are at our shows because they want to experience BATTLES rather than see a former member of a band they used to like. I think we do a pretty good job at ignoring our past and only concentrating on the future.

C: Your sound is, for lack of a better word, weird. But it is also incredibly catchy and accessible. Would you say that you think about the accessibility of your music when you are producing?

JS: When we write we are writing for ourselves first and foremost. That being said I think we know when not to overdo it and at times keep it simple. I don't think any of us have any interest in becoming some sort of boring pretentious prog rock band or anything. We're trying to have fun here.

C: One of the funniest things about watching you guys live is how people try to sing along to the melodies by singing "weeoowww weeooww wee ya ya" and other nonsensical syllables. Do you ever find that the obscurity of your vocals is alienating, even though that basically defines your sound?

JS: I certainly would not say that the vocals "define" our sound at all. They are used as another instrument in the grand musical rainbow that is BATTLES. There are in fact lyrics to all our songs, we just like to not make them that obvious as to keep the vocals more within the context of the music rather than in the forefront.

C: We read about the way you guys write down the structure for songs, and it's so ridiculous that it makes sense. Can you describe the process of labeling each song's section for our readers?

JS: I think writing stuff down when you're in a rock band is ridiculous, but if you had any idea just how complex and confusing our songs can become, you would feel otherwise. Each song of our is treated almost like a mini play or operetta, with casts characters and dialogue.

C: One would think that a band comprised of musicians who have been in the business for so long wouldn't have any choice but to take itself very seriously. But everything about your sound and stage presence says otherwise. How have you managed to stay lighthearted and avoid becoming rigid?

JS: When we first started there was no grand master plan at all, it was a complete blank page with zero guidelines or blueprints, all we wanted was to try something different. At the same point none of us wanted to fall into the "super serious lame boring" arena. I think we all realize that what we're doing is pretty damn crazy, but it's also fun as hell to play and write. Our main goal as a band is to have that point come across in all areas.

BATTLES plays with Caribou, Born Ruffians and White Williams at Metro on Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16. 18+