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Interview
Battles

Battles

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
date
Friday 3rd June, 2011 9:58AM

Math rockers Battles are back after a lengthy hiatus following the release of debut album Mirrored, way back in 2007. But they are back sans one member, and, having fought major personal and professional issues are due to release their follow up, Gloss Drop, this month. We caught up with John Stanier to talk about the new album, the tribulations during its making, and why there's a giant pink blob on the cover.

Hey John, how are you?

How am I? I’m pretty good I guess. It’s very early, and we played last night, and I’m hungover, but I’m good.

So you guys are on tour at the moment?

Um, it’s a tour but it’s this weird tour. It’s this short but promo-ish kind of tour because the record’s not out yet and we’re bouncing round all over the place doing media and videos. I’m going back to New York today, and then in five days we start a tour in the US - the exact same thing as here (the UK) - bouncing all over the place.

So tell me a bit about writing and recording Gloss Drop:

Well, it would probably take me three paragraphs to describe exactly what happened but it was not fun. It was a really fucked up situation. Basically, in a nutshell, it took us two years and a lot of that was completely wasted time, due to certain people’s other strange commitments. It took a really long time and we kind of had something and we weren’t that happy with it, and then something happened in the band where the line-up changed and we kind of went back, thought about it, scratched our heads, and then went back into the studio and basically deleted everything and wrote and recorded the new record in about four months, including the mixing, so that was pretty awesome. Sorry to be so vague.

So a hugely frustrating process? You must have learnt a lot from the experience?

Yes, absolutely. I look at it a bit like a year and a half of completely wasted time, and then four months of magic. It took us a really long time; we weren’t inspired, we took way too much time off. I know we toured for quite a bit before it, but it was a super weird situation. The result of this record is taking a negative situation and turn it into an extremely positive one. I could not be more happy with our new record, it’s amazing to me. I realize that this is a clichéd rock statement to make, the whole ‘oh this record was really difficult to make and blah blah blah and so-and-so broke up with his girlfriend and ya-ya-ya' but in this case it’s totally true and I would be lying if I didn’t talk about that.

When you got down to writing in those four months, what were you guys inspired by? What were you trying to put into the sonic work?

To be totally honest the weird thing about this entire record and this entire situation is that time played such a key element in the creation of everything and even where we are right now. It was non-stop deadlines. It was kind of like if we don’t do something now the record’s not gonna come out until 2016 or something like that. It was these ridiculous deadlines that we had to meet and with just the three of us it was 16 hour days on and on and on, it was ridiculous. But we made it happen and to answer your question, I don’t even know if there was anything going on like that, we didn’t have time to sit around and smoke a joint and listen to some record that’s going to influence us. It was ridiculous. We just made it happen, so I have no idea what Dave (Konopka) or Ian (Williams) were listening to when they were sleeping, or if they even did sleep. There wasn’t a group vibe session where we sat around and listened to cool records and got influences from that. I think it was such a draining situation that we were forced to dig super deep down inside and pull out influences we’ve probably had in us for a super long time that we don’t necessarily advertise on our sleeve. It was probably something like that.

The album is vastly different to Mirrored – was that on purpose?

No, I know it’s a lame answer, but again we were thrown into this situation where we just had to act, and there was never a moment where we were like ‘this has got to be different from Mirrored’ it just turned out that way. Obviously there’s three people instead of four, it’s way more focused than mirrored, it’s less schizophrenic but again it’s one of those things where there was no time to discuss or think about or any of that shit. We just did it. I know that’s a lame answer, but it’s the truth.

The artwork is quite interesting, tell me about that. What is with the cover?

That would be Dave. Obviously he’s the designer of the group and he pretty much took the reigns on that. From what I gather it’s kind of reactionary to the artwork on Mirrored, where Mirrored was very obvious and masculine - the reflection sort of thing. Whereas this record I feel the artwork is non representational. It’s an image of something where you think you know what it is but if you sit there and stare at it long enough you have second doubts about what it is. It’s a non representational object and you can’t tell if it’s liquid or solid. Is it glossy or matte? You can't tell, it’s this weird, pink blob. You can’t immediately put your finger on it, but it looks like ice cream or bubblegum or something but obviously it’s not, but it looks like that but you can’t put your fingers on what it is. It’s a reaction towards our last album cover.

The visual side of things seems as important to you guys as the music?

Totally as important as the music. I feel very lucky that one of us is a designer to begin with, it’s not just three guys and we all have strong design ideas, one of us is an actual designer, so that makes life so much easier. And he was a book cover designer - even the font for the new record is a brand new font that we licensed from this company in Holland and they had heard of us and the liked us and so they gave us a deal on the licensing which was awesome. It's super nerd kind of stuff but it’s that attention to deal it’s very very very important to us.

 

The video clips you made for Mirrored were exceptional. What can we expect from Gloss Drop?

Well, it’s funny you ask that because we shot a video in Barcelona about four days ago and it’s already done. It was with this company CANADA – they’re called CANADA but thye’re from Spain, can’t really explain that one – they’re amazing. We just showed up in Barcelona and literally walked off a plain onto the set. Four days later we got the first edit, and we were like 'that’s totally fine can’t think of a single thing we’d change on that'. It’s going to be shown in Japan on four different screens four times every hour for one month. I’m a big fan of working with people who you don’t even know that much about but you put a lot of trust in them and they deliver. It’s rare in the music industry to be able to completely trust someone 100% to deliver so it’s amazing to work with people that come through in this way. I can even say that for vocals on our new record. It’s kind of amazing to be able to secretly fantasize about Gary Numan being on your album and then having the label tell you like 'Oh yeah, we talked to him, he’s totally into it’ and then he comes through in a major way. It's amazing and ridiculous.

Tell me about the Gary Numan collaboratation?

It was ridiculous. It was like there was never a moment where I wasn’t like 'I’m talking to Gary Numan right now'. I was such a little fan boy.

 

So, with your collaborative work, do you cede creative control to these parties?

It’s like anything else, it’s hard and there’s a huge amount of trust that goes along with that and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily work out. Obviously with our line up change it’s like when you think everything is alright it’s not alright and the result is not really that good. But luckily for us we have been able to work with really cool people, so we haven’t really hit a wall anywhere. Technically this is our third video. With 'Atlas' Dave came up with the idea for that, and his brothers built the frame and we ordered the mirrored plexi-glass and the most expensive part of that was getting the circular track around the cube and then renting a place in Chelsea that was quite expensive. That’s where the budget went – the room. But the idea and the physical structure was all us. And then the next video was literally just giving control to UVA. That was definitely the deal with 'Ice Cream' and again, the whole issue of time ties into that because there was simply no time whatsoever. It was like ‘OK you want 'Ice Cream' to be the single’, ‘OK we need a video’, ‘OK, CANADA can do it'. There was no time to sit around and look at director reels. We didn’t have time to think of what we wanted for the video, so we were like 'CANADA are awesome, let’s run with it'. We did that and a month later you’re told there’s a 5am lobby call to fly to Barcelona and you show up and there’s 100 Spanish people telling you to change your shirt or whatever. It was totally amazing and I feel very fortunate to keep meeting those people and being in those situations where you can be surrounded by creatively amazing people its all about trust.

Ultimately has Battles come out of the Gloss Drop experience as a stronger band?

Totally, I'm not going to bore you with the stuff that really went down - there were two very significant things that happened to us in our personal lives (something happened in the beginning and something happened towards the end). But I was just hell bent the last drop of my blood was going to go into this record. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if we couldn’t pull this off, it would’ve haunted me for the rest of my life, I honestly think that. I can’t describe to you how difficult it was and we just had to fucken do it and take care of the business kind of thing. We were so late with the record and it was looking like this is probably not gonna happen. It was constantly looking like that, for whatever reason we’re just doomed or something’s going on but obviously we found out what that thing was and I think we re-invented ourselves and grew up in a four month period and became so much stronger and every day. It still hasn’t hit me, and once again it's a time thing, where I haven’t had five minutes to myself in a year-and-a-half and I’m not exaggerating and it’s been like every second. We were so late and Warp was like if you want it to come out in June 2011 that means you have to finish it right now. It’s an amazing feat that we came through with that I think.

The process was so fraught, what makes you want to do it when it’s so challenging and you don't get time off in a year-in-a-half?

I don't know, and this is another statement that will come of sounding really vein, but I honestly think it’s not that this is the only thing that I can do, but I would not be happy if I wasn’t doing this. I’d be miserable if I wasn’t do this but in a weird way I also am kind of miserable when I’m doing this because my normal personal life is in disarray and it never ends. I’m flying back to New York in a matter of hours and I don’t know my flight or anything and we start our US tour in three days. Being in a band to a certain extent is like you’re only half in charge of your own destiny. Fifty percent is like 'yes I’m a musician, I make a record, the record comes out, I do promo, blah blah blah'. But then there’s a whole fifty percent that’s a question mark and someone points you in the direction and you just go there. You’re constantly being told what to do and I think that’s awesome. But I’m also 42 years old and I’ve been doing this for ages and it’s like never ending. It’s like I get bored. I’m 42 years old and I get bored if I’m in Brooklyn for more than two weeks, I'm like ‘God man when is this gonna end’, when am I going to relax and want to have kids and have a cabin in the woods or something. It’s probably like well if that hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably not going to happen, and that's cool.

Courtney Sanders

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