Clambering around awkwardly, casually shifting tones, Mirrored is something of a chameleon, unclassifiable but utterly distinct. The domestic release of EP C/B EP in 2006 showcased the grounds on which Battles were working, but few expected the frenetic brilliance that Mirrored provided as a record of genuine leftfield ingenuity: scattered shards of techno, jazz, math-rock and anything that goes embedded in passing feet. After a year rasping away nonsensically on tour with the stellar cast of Ian Williams, John Stanier and Dave Konopka, we spoke to Tyondai Braxton to see how Battles have been dealing with the acclaim that they have garnered and the act is heading to next...
Since we last spoke to you – about a month before Mirrored was released – the record was starting to pick up some decent press, but are you surprised with quite how well the record was received?
You know, on one hand you make something and you cannot believe another person likes it, period, let alone two other people, but at the same time when you have made something… I kind of consider myself a member of the audience, too, and though I may have a different perspective if I like it, I am crazy enough to think others may like it. So it’s a mixture of the two and I am very happy that people have responded to it. It also reminds me that maybe there is more room for this music out there than presumed.
Does Mirrored still represent what you aspired to release as a record?
Yes. In a way the goal was simple – just to release a good record – but we had little idea what the record would sound like until we finished. As much as I can take credit for I will; in the parts that I can’t it’s not for me to say. We made the record but we didn’t really know what we had until we had recorded, and as time goes by I start to understand our record more.
In that sense is there anything that you would have done differently with the record, or are you fairly content with the way it ended up?
The perfectionist side of me would say that was that time with Battles, and the next record will be a document in the same way.
A refreshing element for many has been that material from the EPs has featured quite heavily in your recent sets alongside newer material. What relation does the material share and was there ever a temptation to put tracks from the EPs on Mirrored?
You know, I think that there is a way to progress as a band, which doesn’t mean abandoning where you’re from but it means growing from there. So it’s not like the new material is rejecting the old material, but I think when you see the live sets, as you were saying, we kind of mix and match just to show that there is a correlation between the two. For this tour we have come up with a set that comes up very minimally. We may add on a song or two at the end, but for the most part for the past month we’ve been doing the same set because it’s not enough just to have it as a dynamic set as far as the way that it flows – the technical aspects of what we set up from song to song had to be kept in mind too. So it’s really hard to just say, "We’ll just throw a new song in here", without having practised the transition between the two. Transition in this band is very important and in a lot of ways takes the most practise – as far as being able to go from one song to another – so in a way with this set order we’ve really mastered the transitions. Having said that it would be nice to switch up our set soon, just to alter it all and have a change.
How is new material as an act coming along, if at all?
It’s been going well. It’s just like with the EPs where we toured those songs to death and changed a lot of it just to keep it progressing. ‘Tras’ is like any other song: once the skeletal parts are played over and over again, after a while you want to exaggerate things and freak it a little. As far as new material, we are not a band that can write on tour. Our songs, by nature, are not elaborate because there are a lot of parts going on but because we really sit with the music and find ways for it to expand itself. You cannot really do that in a forced way, especially on tour.
Has your writing process changed over the years you have been together?
I think it has become more comfortable and more confident. As a band we’ve become closer and we understand the way we individually work and understand each other’s strengths and interests. It’s still a total battle in ways because we’re very different people and in a way that’s one of the strengths of this band. But overall I would say we were a lot more comfortable as a band now, and that is reflected in the way that we write and the way our music comes across.
Do you feel there is some sort of trajectory you are working on as an act? Is there a focus to change tangent, or to retain a similar focus?
I have some ideas with what I would like to do, and those things are starting to brew - and I imagine the other guys think the same way too - but it will be natural and also experimental, just like this record.
With all your various individual pursuits – this week alone we’ve listened to John featuring on the new Prefuse 73 record and Ian on the Giraffe Running record – how does that dynamic function within the band?
At the moment we’re in such a Battles mode it is literally a 25-hour-a-day job. After this I am going to finish off my solo record, which is about half done; I had to stop working on that as Battles left for tour. So, probably by the end of the year I will have finished that up and have that out. John, with Tomahawk, has just released a new record and hasn’t been able to get away as much from Battles, but I imagine that after this year we will all settle into other projects a little bit, and then come back to Battles.
With the success that Battles have had, is the act now seen as the most important aspect to most of your careers?
I guess you could say that. Literally, Battles is more important than my solo record or Tomahawk at this point, so that translates into working more and I am sure this will continue. But we want to be able to survive making our own music so will not just be doing Battles.
With the current members that make up Battles having these other musical pursuits, can you ever foresee altering the line-up?
I don’t think so. The music of the band is something of an extension of our personalities and this band wouldn’t be this band without these members. Having said that I think this band is very willing to collaborate with people in the future, so we’ll see what happens with that. But as far as the core of the group changing at all goes, I cannot see that happening.
Are you comfortable performing to the extensive audience you now have?
You know, I give the audience more credit. I am not just saying this just because of this band, because there are plenty of bands that are doing something equally as unconventional that is valid, but I think the audience deserves more credit because I am not so shocked that people like music that is not the same formula and, in a way, a lot of people are excited and love us or hate us because we’ve tried to find our own way, and as a result people respond to that. I respond to that when I see a group – if there is some effort, and they’re on a path to somewhere interesting, then I will stand by them. Your opinion is your opinion, but a lot of these acts are really serious and making really interesting contributions, and for every quality of an act that you may not be into you can look at it like that. But the other side is looking at what is being contributed, and a lot of these guys are awesome.
'Hi/Lo' (Dublin 07/2006)
Battles play UK:
10 Bristol Trinity Centre
11 London Koko
17 Manchester Academy 2
18 Edinburgh Liquid Rooms
19 Newcastle Stage 2
'Tonto' EP is out October 22 through Warp.