Auxiliary files from my Magnet piece on Battles. My conversation with the full band is here.
Guillermo Scott Herren of Prefuse 73 was the band's first big champion, who got them signed to Warp. Their first major break was a worldwide tour with Prefuse and Beans, which is why I wanted to talk to both of them for this piece. That tour was where a lot of the Mirrored material would have debuted live, and I also knew that these two men would have some insight on the interpersonal dynamics in the band.
Herren took time out from promoting his Savath + Savalas album that came out on Anti earlier this year; he's just released his best work as Prefuse 73 in ages, called Preparations, on Warp. Beans dropped the bomb that Antipop Consortium are getting back together and working on new material; his new solo album, Thorns, features collaborations with Toronto's Holy Fuck and just came out on iTunes. He's already working on the follow-up.
July 31, 2007
Locale: cell phone
How long have you known them?
I’ve known Ty[ondai Braxton] from when he used to come to Antipop shows. When things were a little slow for me and I was looking for a day gig, he helped me out with getting a job. When we went to Japan, I met the rest of Battles and we toured with Prefuse. John [Stanier], the drummer, is a big hip-hop head. I got along with the rest of Battles. I even gave one of them a pair of shoes, man, coz I had a couple of pairs on me and his shoes got fucked up and he kept borrowing my shit, so I ended up giving ‘em to him. They fucked him up—it was dope, but it was fucked up.
So was Antipop still around when Battles started?
No, this was before Battles. Years before. I’d seen him around and he told me he was starting a new band called Battles, walking around Williamsburg. That’s where I’d see him. I’d ask him about his dad and he wouldn’t talk too much and then he told me he was starting this new band. After a while we started doing shows together. The first person who had always waved the flag for Battles was Prefuse. He was like, ‘Yo, Battles, Battles.’ Scott is the one who brought them to Warp. I knew them and I knew Ty and it was all good, and then we started touring together. Battles is ill, man! Very refreshing music.
It took them a long time to put out their first proper album, but people love it and are so excited about it.
You know what it is, too? It’s the live show. It’s stimulating. The drummer is the center-piece.
For whatever reason, people want to hear this kind of music now, even though they’re not an easy band to digest right away. It’s dense music.
What’s interesting too is that part of the reason why people like it is the climate of what is considered rock right now. You need a band to fulfill the function that they do, a band that will shake the shit up every once in a while. And they definitely shake it up. I love watching them perform and the structures to their songs: really interesting intros and then a point where it all starts to make sense. As it continues to progress, it forms its own entity and you’re watching it be born.
Everything coalesces at one moment.
It was really interesting to hear. I really like the album. I think it’s one of the better ones this year.
How did they go over on that tour? Because you played first, didn’t you, and then they were on before Prefuse? And nobody knew who they were, did they?
No, but they won a lot of people over.
Why did you go on first?
It was that way because I was by myself. I wasn’t working with a DJ at the time. I think I played everything on an iPod. It was a good tour.
Most people probably didn’t show up expecting a rock band.
That’s another reason why it worked, because it wasn’t typical of anything. But honestly, in my whole touring experience, I’ve never gone out with all hip-hop acts. Maybe overseas, but in the States I’ve toured with rock acts like the Rapture and Tortoise. I’ve always toured with the more expansive and expressive collectives.
What about personal dynamics? Is there one person leading it?
From my observations, I think Battles is very collaborative. Each one adds and accentuates the others’ performances. They bring out the best in each other. Even when they’re alone and chillin’, no one person is more dominant than the other.
Because they’re all different ages and experiences.
Yeah. John—that dude is a busy dude. He’s in like three bands.
And one of them is in Australia.
Yeah, and his girlfriend was in Berlin, so he was all over the place. It’s crazy. I remember seeing him around. When I met him, I knew people that knew him. We had the same people we hung out with. I didn’t know it at the time. John is mad cool, man.
He has the big rock experience, but he seems to be the one who’s most into hip-hop and electronic music.
He’s a big hip-hop fan. And he loves Kompakt, which is one of my favourite labels.
Anything else we should know?
Have you ever heard Ty’s solo music?
Yeah, I’ve seen him perform.
It’s very much in continuity with what his father was doing in jazz. I observe that when I hear him. Seeing how his dad [Anthony Braxton] is the root of where he’s from, it definitely makes sense. It’s definitely his own thing, but he’s definitely his father’s son.
Do you think other people make those connections?
I don’t know if people are that familiar with his dad’s work. His dad is an acquired taste. His father is a genius. I met him when they played at Bowery Ballroom, and I totally geeked out. I had no idea what to say, and I just made an asshole of myself. That was the very first time that he had seen Battles perform and he was just like, ‘Yo.’ He was giving it up. He was a proud dad. I love that shit. I love Battles. They’re dope. I’d rock their shirts in photos all the time. I love that shit.
What’s new with you?
I’m trying to put out this record I just finished called Thorns. And Anti-Pop is getting back together.
How did that come about?
From years of getting older and realizing that we miss working together. It took a long time, to be honest with you. We all have to go through our things and do what we have to do.
Nothing’s started yet, though?
Naw, it’s just starting to come together now.
What about my friends in Holy Fuck?
I did some tracks with them for Thorns, and I’ve already started working on the next one, which is called End It All. That’s a bunch of collaborations. I also have a side project with the drummer from Interpol called Gotham Wolf Knights.
Guillermo Scott Herren, of Prefuse 73 and Savath + Savalas
August 1, 2007
How and when did you become aware of them?
I wasn’t even up on Battles. Battles wasn’t in the picture. It was a normal friendship I made with Tyondai. Out of that relationship came Battles. I knew his stuff before I knew Battles. We had met and said we should do some shit together, which ended up on a Prefuse record. From my perspective, it was hard, but taking them with me all around the world so that people could see them was the most gratifying thing ever. Just to know that people are going to respond to that kind of music within the format that I play in.
Where did that tour take you?
We went to Japan, the U.S. and Europe. I have my stubborn side, and I decided that I was going to take these guys on tour with me until they don’t go away and Warp will have to sign them. I had a plan, like, how the fuck is this going to work? How can I put this in Warp’s face that this band is 1) dope and 2) has the potential to do much bigger things if it was just coming through the right outlet. I’ve learned that in the past year, that the outlet and the exposure you’re put through creates a whole different perspective on what you do. What Battles does isn’t stereotypically Warp, but if they came out on some indie rock label it might not do them as much for their mystique, maybe. That’s a complete hypothesis, but I think it’s done them more good than bad.
It’s interesting where they sit there, because part of the appeal is the way they compose music, which seems more in line with what you’re doing, or other artists on Warp. And yet they’re doing it entirely with rock instrumentation.
Yeah, that was the line that first connected when I first saw Battles as a band. What Tyondai does on his own is completely different thing, and that’s what I saw first. But when I saw Battles as a band, I thought it was a lot like Prefuse: these sharp, individual melodies coming from odd places. You don’t know what sound is coming from which player when they’re playing live, other than the drummer. It’s all broken up and so tight around the rhythm that it does reflect a lot of stuff that I’m coming from with Prefuse.
Were you a fan of any of their other previous projects?
I knew some things about Don Caballero, but I wasn’t from that scene of music. I knew about them, totally, but I wasn’t so well-versed on that—I don’t know how to explain it—dissonant, indie rock, intelligent… (laughs) I was more from the school of seeing Helmet on MTV when I was younger, in between rap videos. I thought they were dope. It was the first metal I’d ever heard where all the cats were short-haired nerds who were just killing it. Then there was John, who turns out to be in Battles years later, and he’s a homie.
The cool component to him is that he on his own—not as a career or a personality—he makes beats too. He’s a total beat head. And I don’t mean on drums, I mean the same way I make beats. Being on tour with them for so long, I was able to bond with them in my own way, with the exception of Ty, who I knew before. Dave [Konopka] and I both have the same kind of stupid humour. With John we could talk beats. Ian [Williams] is just a complex individual who I could just hear him talk and get something out of that.
How do you see the personal dynamics in the band? Because if I’m not mistaken, it’s quite an age range. I imagine John is probably in his late 30s, and Ty seems much younger, and they all have quite different experiences.
John and Ian are more the vets, as far as age. John is the pro. He’s the one. I got mad respect for John, because I know how big Helmet was. Anybody would have to be dumb who wasn’t there and saw how big they got. And this cat went back to sleeping on people’s floors just to make this band work. That in itself says a lot for his character. That dude is pretty hardcore.
I mean, I won’t do that shit! I’ve never been a rock star, but you won’t find me on people’s floors and shit! But John’s doing that to this day. He probably got up this morning and was on somebody’s floor last night. I’m like, shit, put me up someplace nice. When I put on a show, I’m tired. One, I don’t want to intrude on someone’s home, and two… I don’t know. My point is that I got a lot of respect for him and Ian going that duration, and then Ty and Dave being younger, I don’t know how they feel about it. They’re my age, I guess.
I definitely acknowledge the difference in age and the amount of time they spent on tour. They started a decade before I ever went on tour. And Ty is just starting to tour for real. It’s impressive how he’s just gone into that hardcore. Because touring sucks. Touring is fulfilling when it comes to your fans and pleasing them, but it takes its toll on your patience and your everyday routine being the same. You’re in a dirty backstage every night with beer and shit, and you get no sleep, you play a show, and those cats are roughing it to save money or whatever they’re doing. I don’t know what their ultimate plan is. I think they’re fucking crazy, actually.
About that one tour, is that when most of the material on Mirrored came together? Listening to the EPs again, they do sound like were recorded on borrowed time in studios at 5am. Whereas this material is much more full-on rock stuff that probably comes from performing live so much. Did you see that material develop on tour?
When you’re on a tour, you are in that routine. You just rearrange the same songs you’re going to play. Both bands, when we played live, would venture out into different territories. Mirrored is pretty meticulously and oddly composed music. It definitely has its share of improvised stuff, but a lot of what Ty put in from his perspective of a composer mentality, there’s a lot that would be hard to come out of just straight improvisation rather than a composition. Which you can hear. If you ask them how they write, I know that Ty comes with a composition, for sure.
I’m surprised by the reaction to this album, where people who don’t normally like this kind of music are really excited about this, for whatever reason in this cultural moment, like it’s something they’ve been waiting to hear.
That puts it back in perspective for me, because I have gotten—and still get to this day—the same shit from rock people. Usually when I have my crowd in front of me, I have kids who want to hear beats and kids who want to hear some odd shit, the kind of stuff me and Battles have in common. That’s why that tour worked so well. A lot of people were being introduced to them, and saying, ‘Woah, this is really heavy music and complex rock shit,’ but everyone was headnodding and getting into it because it had this hip-hop execution. When you see them live, you get that. The way I stand on music, I hear hip-hop in a lot of things that aren’t hip-hop. It could be some folk shit on a guitar but I’ll be nodding my head to it while everyone else in the room is just staring. With Battles, they come with that. They have that presence, the same way you would go see a straight hip-hop show.
Were you a fan of Ty’s father before you met him?
Yeah. I’m not like a die-hard free jazz connoisseur kind of guy. I’m definitely into it. But meeting him and hearing him--philosophically a lot of his stances on music are just amazing and mind-blowing. I know this [interview] isn’t about his father and I know I shouldn’t be speaking about Ty’s family in an interview that isn’t even mine. But his philosophy is also totally different than Ty’s take on music. They’re absolutely different people. It’s really inspiring for me to hear someone say profound stuff like his father said. And I’ve had conversations with Ty just breaking down what it is to be a musician, an entertainer, all this nerdy philosophical stuff. I’m just happy that the world and the whole universe brought that whole unit of people together. It’s a really special thing to happen, because it was real random!
When are you going to work together again?
When Ty finishes what he longs to finish, which is a compositional, grandiose album of his own. And there’s a new Prefuse album [Preparations, released this week] and John is on it. As long as we’re around, we’ll work together. We’re going to grow old and be friends and make records together. I can see us working together in many forms for a long time. I don’t mean to focus on Ty, but I can’t help it. Out of all of them, I spent the most time with him outside of playing music. But all of them are amazing and cool people and great musicians and they’ll be doing shit forever.