Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Jul 12th 2011 12:29PM by Julian Marszalek
Jason Frank Rosenberg
And yet there is also the kind of outfit that manages to dust itself down and rise like a phoenix and hit new artistic peaks. Pink Floyd went on to take up an almost permanent residency in the album charts five years after Syd Barrett's left the group while AC/DC went on to score with the second biggest selling album of all time with new singer Brian Johnson in the shape of 'Back in Black.'
So it is with math-rock supergroup Battles. Faced with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton the remaining members of drummer John Stanier, guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams and bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka could so easily have called it day but, having produced a debut album as idiosyncratic as 'Mirrored,' elected to carry on as a trio.
The resulting album, 'Gloss Drop,' is identifiably Battles but with a perceptible shift in sound. Fuelled with a sense of vigour and fun, its personality belies its troubled gestation. Spinner met with Dave Konopka in London and while there's no denying the band's pride in its new baby, their sense of hurt over Braxton's departure is palpable.
The internal chemistry of a band is fundamental to the music that it makes. How does that chemistry alter when one member of the band leaves?
It's just displacement and you need to make up the numbers. You go from being 25% of a band to 33%. For the most part, there's not been too much change that three of us have gone through. We've experienced a lot of things in the last few years since we released our last album and it's corny to say, but we've experienced them together and it's only made us stronger. There was a lot of stress in the chemistry of the band before but now it's a lot more concise and we now tend to operate more as a well-oiled machine without any drama involved.
There were definitely some moments during the recording process where we were in a survival-type mode. We knew that we were now a three-piece and that we'd put together a really good album.
Was 'Gloss Drop' written before or after Tyondai's departure?
He was around but we barely saw him. To say that he was part of the process is definitely an overstatement. He was trying to do some lead singing type s*** but it didn't really seem right but regardless of that, I think that he kind of withdrew himself. It then became easier to re-write the album. When he quit we deleted all his parts and started from there. We bit the bullet and went back into the studio as a three-piece. That was kind of weird because there had been a lack of inspiration as a four-piece and the chemistry was awkward and that's a terrible way to go into writing an album. Becoming a three-piece gave is the impetus to finish the album off.
Were the differences of opinion artistic or personal?
The main roadblock was that it takes a lot of work when you record an album. It takes a lot of work to give that album life – because you can't just throw it out there and hope for record sales because that doesn't exist anymore -- and it takes a lot of work to tour. I don't think that the work ethic that John, Ian and I have was reciprocated by Ty.
How does 'Gloss Drop' differ from the original vision?
There was no original vision! This is our full-time job so every day we'd turn up at the studio and we'd try to write. You can't motivate someone just by giving them a pep talk and on an individual level, I felt that I was contributing a lot of ideas and that Ian was contributing a lot of stuff and we were trying to make it happen. What happened, happened and no disrespect to Ty but it all happened for the better. This is our job and not at any point do we take this for granted. We are in a band of this calibre and we appreciate it.
The album is notable, among other things, for contributions from Gary Numan, Matias Aguayo, The Boredoms' Yamantaka Eye and Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino. Who did those collaborations come together in practical terms?
As much as we had tight deadlines, we thought it'd be fun to work with people but a lot of stuff was done via e-mail. We went back and forth with each artist but Kazu was the only one who actually came into the studio. Eye's part was edited down and Matias, the song was already done and he went and did his stuff over it. He really matched the level of energy of that song ['Ice Cream']. He was key in getting that song to achieve what it needed to.
Gary Numan turned up at the last minute with his part -- literally the day the album was going off to be mastered but it was exciting.
Did you choose the collaborators or did they choose you?
We chose them, for sure. Gary Numan didn't know who we were but someone in his camp said to him, "These guys are kind of cool and similar to what you were doing years ago" and I think we compliment each other. But it's a good balance between experimental vocals and pop vocals. Kazu we know from Newark and she's a friend of ours and Matias we knew of through the Kompakt label. He was a sound choice because he approaches vocals in the way that we've always envisioned vocals – you know, a voice as an instrument. It was cool and I love the playfulness that he brought to the track.
Like 'Ice Cream', a real sense of joy runs through the album...
We'd been through a lot of bad stuff that was beyond our control and we weren't in the happiest of places because of Ty quitting and dragging our feet through the mud to get to the point where Ty was quitting. That wasn't joyful. Actually, it really sucked. It was really scary for me because I was like, "What's the future of our band going to be?" We have to tour because that's how bands make a living but I think he just wanted to sit back and just play the shows that paid the most money and expect everyone to love us. I think that's a slap in the face to the people who enjoy seeing our live show. It's extremely presumptuous to think that we're going to record an album and everyone's going to accept it for what it is.
But, when you're faced with that kind of challenge, you're forced to come up with solutions to the problems. The unknown is the hardest thing to deal with but if we embraced the situation. We all had our own shit to deal with but the reason that the album came out being more positive sounding was because we were projecting how we wanted it sound. It was more like, "If we can envision the album coming out sometime next summer then we want to be in a happier place then" and we also approached our parts in a more playful way and avoided that negative energy that had been constantly surrounding us.