Jul 02, 2007 Web Exclusive
Scheduling mishaps. They happen. For example, one might prepare a set of questions for a phone interview with Battles bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka only to have them answered via email by Battles drummer John Stanier. The result is just as informative—until you get to the questions about John Stanier, of course. Then things get silly. Battles are currently touring in support of the groundbreaking Mirrored, a truly exciting and singular album destined for many a critic’s best-of list for 2007. The band formed in 2002 as the side project of guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams (Don Caballero, Storm & Stress) and guitarist/keyboardist/noisemaker Tyondai Braxton (son of jazz legend Anthony Braxton). Konopka added to the math-rock pedigree as a former guitarist of Lynx. Stanier previously tasted fame as the drummer of Helmet, and currently plays with Tomahawk as well. Mirrored is the band’s first proper full-length after a string of EPs, and has propelled the band to a new notoriety that brings into question the “side project” descriptor.
Under the Radar: You’re on tour as usual. Any highlights or lowlights so far?
John Stanier: The highlights would be Tampa, L.A., S.F., Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Toronto, Denver, Baltimore, Austin, San Diego, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Houston, Boise, Chicago, Iowa City, Boston, N.Y.C., Baton Rouge, Omaha, Montreal, Miami, and Orlando. The lowlight would be Vancouver, but I’m not going to tell you what happened there.
UTR: Has the press surrounding Mirrored led to a lot more people at the shows?
Stanier: I’m sure it has—it seems like it, but then again I can’t really tell, but yes I suppose so.
UTR: What are you listening to/reading/otherwise ingesting on the road?
Stanier: I just read Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson and I always have with me Ultimate German (Beginner-Intermediate). New Interpol is great as well as all the Deerhunter stuff.
UTR: Can you tell me a little about what went into thinking up and then creating the two-way mirrored structure on the cover of Mirrored and in the Atlas video?
Stanier: The entire concept was thought up and created by our very own Mr. David J.T.R. Konopka IIV.
UTR: What’s it like standing in there?
Stanier: Hot as fuck! So hot!
UTR: How do you feel about being called futuristic music? Do favor Italian race cars?
Stanier: Nah, too corny. Being called “futuristic” is quite a compliment! That’s really great, we work very hard at what we do, and that is quite a flattering comment. (Who said that?)
UTR: How tied to machines really is your music? What separates it from sample-based electronic music?
Stanier: Everything we do is done live on stage, there are no samples or preprogrammed anything. This is one of the most important things about Battles. This is why, in reality, we are a rock band, just very different.
UTR: Was there an official MO to the band from the start? Has it changed as you’ve gone on?
Stanier: There was never a plan from day one or anything of the sort, which was my initial attraction to this whole thing. It was a complete blank slate, anything goes kind of operation from day one and I think it’s still like that.
UTR: When the members of Battles see heavily rhythmic, danceable bands, do you dance?
Stanier: Like fools. Actually Dave really can dance, he’s got the ill moves.
UTR: Did you expect the critical success that Mirrored has enjoyed?
Stanier: Not at all and I’m still pinching myself and giddying myself to sleep every night. I knew it would be well received, but we had no idea it would be like this! Very exciting for us all!
UTR: Mirrored is a musical leap for the band, it seems like your sound has coalesced a little more. Did you consciously make changes or did it happen more naturally as you played together longer?
Stanier: When we did those first couple of EP’s, we were just starting out and it felt rushed. Mirrored is the product of four people playing together nonstop for three years—we know each other better, musically and personally. Also, we wanted to introduce two very big changes in our sound—bass and vocals—which I think we achieved in a tasteful manner.
UTR: How did [Tyondai] Braxton come upon the deranged midget vocal thing?
Stanier: It’s a Connecticut thing...
UTR: What’s it like playing rhythm with John Stanier? Does that guy have a tempo selector?
Stanier: I think John is the greatest musician we’ve ever played with and we are privileged to be in his presence.
UTR: Do the three non-drummers in the band ever feel jealous that so many people ask why Stanier’s cymbal is so high but ignore the fact that your guitars are nearly to your chins?
Stanier: Not at all...
UTR: Let’s play word association. Math.
Stanier: Don’t you dare say “rock” with that!
Stanier: Best buddies.
Stanier: They like us/we like them.
Stanier: Grew up with it, don’t want to be associated with it—sorry.
Stanier: Mmmmm...what about it? Still cool I guess...I dunno...too jaded.
Stanier: A very dangerous word with horrible implications, but somewhat relevant.
Stanier: Werd up! “Beer me!”
Stanier: If at a young age, very bad—it takes awhile to figure everything out.
Stanier: That’s the stupid little box that all me boys have.
Stanier: Cinemas? Yeah, I like going to those huge mall places where you can see like four movies in one day. Actually, my man Sam from L.A., his Dad is like some bigwig at Columbia or something, and he has this credit card that’s good for any mega-cineplex place in the U.S.—free movies whenever—it’s pretty cool.
Stanier: Rump Shaker 12”—worn out!
UTR: The future.
Stanier: More groundbreaking music and even more groundbreaking stage props.
UTR: What’s next for Battles? Have you guys already started to write new material or has the touring prevented that?
Stanier: For this band, it’s way hard to write on the road, but we have some tricks up our sleeves, so we’ll see.
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