Battles: The Art of Repetition


If you see our stage setup, we have what we
call the loop amp. John, the drummer is in the middle in front of that. Dave and I are
pumping a loop into the amp on the back center of the stage and so it’s just an audio signal
that we hear. Sometimes people ask if we use a click but we don’t. It’s just music. Looping is the backbone of this band for sure.
Especially as the drummer, I can’t even imagine not playing to a loop anymore. It
allows me to be more melodic, maybe it allows me to just relax, and it’s freeing for me
as a musician. Throughout the years and throughout each album
it was about like what we can do to make looping more interesting. There is no deep philosophical
meaning, it’s just like repetition is something that’s really interesting to us. We always sort of had this idea of keeping
the Yin and Yang of the sonic spectrum in our mix, so we do have computerness and also pedalland. Dave sort of has a process of capturing something on a pedal and then rephotographing
it with another pedal. And you know, having some pedals in the middle to sort of affect
the chain as he’s recapturing it. I mean essentially I’m doing that kind of
stuff too, in a digital spectrum. I really like the idea of marrying tradition with the
infinitely expansive forwardness that you can get from computerland. The thing about this band is sort of the ridiculous
pairing of different kinds of people. I’m interested in complicated things. Like, truth
is revealed through like a sort of mystical machine of chaos. John, like I think grew
up in a hardcore music background. His drumming is very stripped down. And sometimes John
and I seem to align in that we both like something that hits you over the head. Dave often has this kind of perspective that
that can be obnoxious. He’s like a designer by training with a minimal aesthetics. So
there’s this conflict of like too much coming from me and then stripping everything down
coming from them I think. They’re actually pretty opposite directions and it’s funny
like finding this middle ground. Starting a band is like “Yeah you got a
good guitar sound – Oh wait a minute I live with you now.” You end up like eating more
meals with that person over the course of a year than sometimes like your own girlfriend
or wife, I don’t know, and you’re like, “How did that happen?” And you really
are married to these people. The basic process of recording a record for
us is people individually coming up with stuff. Everyone will work by themselves and come
up with these tiny seed ideas, send them to each other and then we kind of just take it
from there. The three of us really only get into the same room together, when we’re
all really reacting to a specific idea that seems to be working. If we compare loops or something and send
each other ideas and there’s no beat, its totally subjective. Its like looking through
a glass house and not knowing which way the doorway is. Ian would write stuff and he’ll give it
to us, and I’ll spend all this time living with it and doing all this stuff, and then,
and play it for him, and he’ll just be like “What? That’s nothing, that’s not even
close, to what I had in mind.” Sometimes John can be like, the ‘1’ is
like here, but Ian and I could be like no that’s the ‘3’ you know. Sometimes people get bummed out by that, and
sometimes it’s a beautiful accident that turns into this amazing monster that everybody
loves. So that process is very, very, very important to us, and I think that you wouldn’t
be able to achieve that if you were constantly together. This band started in New York, we all live
in New York, we practice in New York. The problem with recording an album in New York
is that everything in New York is expensive, including recording studios. Would I rather
pay for like a pimped out prime studio where Whitney Houston recorded on 57th Street, or
come four hours away and be able to sit in a room for three weeks, and make sure everything
is exactly the way I want it? I would rather do that. This is our third trip in this studio – the
Machines with Magnets. If we were in New York and we were working on an album we would never
get shit done. But really the the main reason why we work and record our albums at Machines
with Magnets it is because of the people and the studio itself. Technically we have two full length records
and two EPs. This will be our third full length record. When we recorded ‘Gloss Drop’
we spent seven months sleeping and living in this studio. It became this ridiculous
out of control project. This time we’ve tried to do a lot of stuff beforehand, and
come in here a little bit more prepared and have like ideas to work together. We had all been working on our own really.
Endlessly generating new ideas and a lot of the ideas that I generate tend to have multiple
versions. You know I’ll hand 28 loops or something over to Seth, in the studio and
I’ll be like, he’ll listen to them, and by the second one, he’ll be like “That’s
cool, throw it in.” And I’d be like “ But dude, 15, 17, and 19 were really heavy you’ve
gotta check that out”. He doesn’t, I realised like, the deeper the esoteric path you go
down, really you are the only human being who is going to have the patience to actually
care enough to make sure the best one comes out. Just seeing them for the past three years
get ready to come in and record they were able to really focus once they got here, and
once they were forced to focus. In New York they were never forced to settle on an idea,
and they just had as many options as possible and now they’re kind of being forced to
limit those options and make some decisions. Dave and Ian start to hyper-focus on things
when John’s not around. John kind of similarly to the way he plays drums, is just like, “Alright,
let’s get this done.” So when John’s around they kind of get a little nervous and
feel like they have to do something really, really well, really quickly. Because Battles has a lot of electronic based
components to their music, the challenge for us is to merge the organic world, with the
digital world. So using an actual acoustic space is important. We’re set up so that
we can record live, but also if there are prerecorded parts we can also send them
from the studio through these amps and then recapture any direct sounds that they might
have recorded on their own. So that we can get the sound of the amps as well as the sound
of the ambient room as well. We have a bed set up in our ‘B’ room.
Whoever is in that room is like quite literally living with their music because they’re
just waking up, sitting down with the computer working all day, getting back in bed. On the other side of this wall is like a music
venue, so it’ll be like DIY rock shows. and I’m like walking through in my underwear
and like carrying a toothbrush “Excuse me.” Its really weird. Its the whole log cabin in the middle of woods
studio routine. Pawtucket Rhode Island, there’s nothing to do there and it’s this compound
where you stay there and it’s super, super intense but it’s also, you just get a lot
more done. It’s always worth it. Good morning. Hi! Come on in. Routines, making coffee, you got to wet that filter first. You know if there is one thing that ties us
all together, you know it’s music and coffee really, and the ability to laugh, and have
fun. Don’t you think? Every morning I’m just here, making coffee, laughing, getting
ready to write some music and I, and it’s just special. It’s just special. You know when you think about it, it’s like every country has coffee, every country has music. When you’ve played a guitar fret board or
a piano keyboard for years and years you develop habits and muscle memory, you start to repeat
yourself. Through technology you can find yourself in a new place again, and as long
as you are playing the role of just like listening to the results, and you’re sort of open
minded to what is happening, it just sort of feels like an infinitely creative thing. You can play guitar sounds, in a way that
you could never play on a guitar on a keyboard on or on a Push. It keeps it kind of strange,
and I think that’s the key. For some reason I like making my guitar sound like a keyboard or a synthesiser, as much as I can, and I like to make my keyboard sound like guitar,
sometimes. I’m using like the 16th note repeat on the
Push. There’s a bass sound and a guitar sound. They’re sort of blended together.
You have to like anchor the melody enough that you’re still repeating that melodic
phrase enough that it’s like the song, as opposed to just like a solo. But you know, that’s sort of, a musician’s responsibility to know the difference. To know how far you go. Its a very dangerous world. It’s good to be playing and be in the moment
and let other people listen and be like “That was a good take, you’re good, you’re good.”
Otherwise I would spend like five days on one part. It doesn’t get any better as you
get five days into it. Its not like, I finally nailed it! I have this feeling that like mistakes now
sound like the bigger deal because you’re so used to everyone having a computer to fix
things. I mean I guess there are all kinds of mistakes. There’s just simple ordinary
reality right, and you kind of do something which is is ok, and I think that was ok, but
who like wants to listen to record that’s ok? Maybe we are a bit of perfectionists. Possibly.
I think that we tend to think things out in a major, major way. When’s a song done?
When does it need more? Like what does it need more of? These are questions why it takes
us so long to make a record. We get pretty heated throughout the process
of like making an album, but I mean, I wouldn’t expect any less, I mean It’s intense and
everybody cares and everyone is fighting for what they think it should be and I think that’s
a great thing. There’s a lot of like pushing and pulling
and really opinionated things going on in this band, which I think is really good it
takes twice as long and it’s kind of a bummer sometimes but I feel like if that tension
didn’t exists within this band we would not have been around for over 10 years. I
mean there’s a reason for that, and it’s because we love doing what we do, and we love
this band, and I will go completely out of my way to keep this thing happening, and I
want to continue to do records, and I know both these guys do as well, so its, we really
really care a lot, it’s our life, so I think that’s worth fighting for. This band is
fun for me because I always have something to look forward to, either the writing of
the record, the recording of the record, and then going out and playing it every night
in different places to as many people as we possibly can. I mean we are in the process
right now of planning out the next two years of my life, it’s this never ending journey.
As corny as that sounds, its just really, really fun.

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