Q+A: Battles

July 06, 2007

A word to the wise: Battles concerts start on time. Nothing was sadder than the look on the face of the kid who rolled up to the Troubadour in LA last Saturday night around midnight, just as everyone was leaving. The bouncer didn’t have to rub it in by telling him it was one of the best shows he’d seen all year, but, well, it was the brutal truth. Tyondai Braxton and crew raced into the new material with fervor and aplomb, seamlessly mixing new classics jams with re-worked classics jams. A few days later we caught up with Tyondai, in a rest stop somewhere near the California/Oregon border, but not before he zipped up.

[phone rings, Tyondai picks up]

Wow, I literally was peeing when you called. I just finished.

I’m definitely putting that in the article. Anyway, how’s the new material being developed on the road. I saw you guys stretch out a little bit – how’s it been working with the new stuff?

It’s great. It’s definitely the next generation of our stuff and that’s true, it’s still in the early incubation stages as far as really tricking it out over a period of time, making it new again. I think that’s because where they are right now is still exciting to us, but the second they get kind of boring, we’ll probably improve some things here or there to keep it interesting for us. If you listen to some of the older material we played that night, some of that stuff we freak a little bit and kind of destroy it a little bit more.

Has playing the material live given you any sense of the further direction of the band?

In a way, yes, for sure. You kind of reach a plateau and want to climb up to the next thing. You get a sense of direction by the way that you move. I see, judging by where we’ve been, the way this band is pulling. The way the new material is being played live does give insight to us as far as new ideas to be generated for future records.

I’ve read a couple interviews where you’ve said you’ve been into symphonic music recently. Did that play at all into the writing of Mirrored?

Oh, absolutely. The way I always worded it is the thing that I was most interested in, as far as some of the really major modern symphonic works, is the ability of some of these amazing composers that I’m such a huge fan of, have moved a large amount of sound and color really fluidly—very smooth transitions between very complex and intricate sounds and that’s really what I really wanted to bring to the table with this band, to really immerse myself in a lot of that kind of music that I really love.

I also read something about you taking a Stockhausen piece on the road…

Oh…oh! I don’t play any Stockhausen pieces, but we definitely listen to a lot, I’m a huge fan of his stuff. My favorite is one of his larger pieces, called "Montag Aus Licht," the movement itself is called the "Invisible Choir," and it’s probably one of the most virtuosic choir pieces I’ve ever heard. He’s just very inventive, very flamboyant and he has a fearlessness in his new ideas that are amazing. I was definitely checking him out a lot.

Makes sense…

Yeah, some of his pieces may be hard to swallow because they’re so abstract, but some of them are really visceral. It’s kind of mind-boggling—a lot of the players he gets are master-class so it’s really cool to hear something with a really strong composition have strong players playing it.

Not so unlike Battles…

(Laughs) Well thank you.

Have you guys felt validated by the critical response you’ve got? You’re playing pretty experimental music but the critics seem to love it.

It’s put us in a new arena that we’ve not been in before. Being in the band, I can say I’m very happy that we’re getting that kind of press, but even more than that, as a music fan, I’m glad that a band like this can get some attention. I’m glad that some of the mainstream media, to be blunt, can grow some fucking balls and promote music outside of the norm. I’m also glad that it’s ok to promote interesting music. I feel like there’s a stigma around music that doesn’t conform that is instantly ostracized, but people can listen to the CD and enjoy it on its own accord without thinking that it’s complex or whatever. If they like the record, cool.

I also noticed more girls at your show than ever before?

Fuck yeah. I’m glad the audience has opened up, and that’s it’s not, dare I say, one demographic, that our music can be enjoyed by different kinds of people. I’m really happy about that.

What do you guys like to do on tour to wind down?

The guys are gonna kill me, but in parking lots during down time driving, we fucking hackey-sack—like total hippies.

That’s funny, because I was just watching a dvd that was this ex-narcotics officer explaining how not to get busted with weed on the road. He talked about profiling and he said if he ever saw kids with a hackey-sack he’d bust them. So I guess be careful.

Ha, we might be in trouble then, in that case. But, I don’t smoke pot and I don’t wear Birkenstocks, so it might throw people off to see me hack.

It’s true, you guys look more like the academic types than the hippie-bro types.

I think we do it just to throw people off.

You give a lot of love to the Gibson Echoplex – how different would Battles be if the Echoplex didn’t exist?

We are definitely one of those bands that relies, to a certain degree, on technology, as well as being able to play. So, it’s great to take control to see how far you can go with it. Some songs we wouldn’t be able to play without the Echoplex. It’s a great instrument in a lot of ways; we use it quite a lot. By the way, put in there for Gibson to call us and give us a couple for free.

You grew up in Middletown, CT, right? What were some of your favorite restaurants there?

I don’t know if it was still there, but there was a place called Ruby’s on Main St that was really awesome. That place was pretty sick.

Is that the Caribbean place?

No, but that place was awesome too. I forget the name of it, but its on Main Street too. You have to realize that when I was growing up there, even though it was dubbed a college town because of Wesleyan, there wasn’t shit to do. So the only place I would eat was the Athenian diner on Washington Street. It’s one hell of a town if you like to be bored off your ass.

Your father teaches there, right?

Yeah, he teaches composition and ensemble classes.

Did you take lessons with him as a kid?

Absolutely, when I was really young I took lessons from him. I would also take private lessons too. My first instrument was actually the clarinet, and I was doing that for ten years until I was 13, then I switched over to guitar.

I get the sense that most of your fan base isn’t really familiar with your father’s work.

Yeah, I don’t think so. I think that at this point they might have heard the name, but he’s a very elaborate composer. It doesn’t just stop with the music; he was a whole philosophical counterpoint to all of his concepts and pieces of music. He is amazing, and it goes without saying he’s a heavyweight. People should definitely check him out.

He played with Wolf Eyes, any chance he’ll play with Battles?

Maybe in the future, we’ll see. That could be really cool, I’d love to play with my Dad.

What are your plans for the immediate and distant future?

We are finishing up this US tour until December, we’re doing Fuji Rock in Japan, we’re going to go back to Europe for a couple weeks, maybe Australia and New Zealand – it’s going to be a nonstop affair.

Posted: July 06, 2007
Q+A: Battles