Battles Can’t be Killed by Conventional Methods

This interview was originally published in Spanish by Indie Rocks! Magazine on 10/07/2019.

“All right, let’s just do it backwards. Let’s just write it, we’ll worry about how we’re gonna play it live later”.

John Stanier (drums) says that that’s what he and Ian Williams (guitar/synths/machine in general) from Battles told themselves after the departure of Dave Konopka (guitar, bass, effects) about a year ago. 

Realizing that they were suddenly a duo, the band did what it has always done best, adapt to their circumstances and make another record by whatever means necessary. The result is called Juice B Crypts and it will finally see the light of day on October 18th. 

Warp (record label) was like ‘it’s time for a record, what’s going on?’, so we barely had any time to wonder if we could do it or not. Ian and I just started bouncing off ideas in our rehearsal room and then one thing led to another, opportunities kept falling in our laps, so we just kinda went for it.” says John Stanier speaking from his New York City apartment. 

The case of Battles as a band is pretty curious, but they have always been a sort of antithesis of the traditional rock band. Formed as a math rock supergroup in 2002, they jumped to international fame with the release of  Mirrored (2007). After years of touring, sometime in 2010, when it came time to record a sophomore album, Tyondai Braxton (vocals, guitar, keyboards) left the band. 

Instead of disbanding or finding another member, they decided to carry on with the help of guest vocalists in Gloss Drop (2011), to then turn completely instrumental in La Di Da Di (2015). With the new record, they’ve decided to blend the two approaches, having some instrumental tracks and some stunning collaborations with varied vocalists. 

John explains: “We decided that we definitely wanted voices in this album because we were just coming from doing an instrumental record and we didn’t want to do that again. So we wrote all the songs first and then we sat down and decided which ones would have vocals. Believe it or not, the vocals were the easiest part of this record for us. The vocalists were all our first choice. Some of them came into the studio, like Shabazz Palaces and Sal Principato, while to others like Jon Anderson we just sent them the track. In both cases, we almost always stuck with the first take they did, there was very little editing. It was totally manic.”

This last bit John says it quite surprised. Battles has always been a very perfectionist band, but during the process of Juice B Crypts they were able to move abnormally fast. 

“We recorded at Red Bull Studios in New York and we had a producer this time (Chris Tabron), and he was really cracking the whip; forcing us to make decisions instead of taking our time. At the other place where we recorded our other three records (Machines With Magnets) we could take three months recording a single song. It was ridiculous. This time we tracked the whole thing in under two weeks.”

Stepping out of the usual process was a constant for Battles during the making of Juice B Crypts. From selling a good part of their old equipment, to how they planned out each song and its order within the record. The drummer related that…  

“We wanted to do a bunch of songs that sounded great one after the other, but that also sounded really good separately. Because nowadays you’ve got people that will play the vinyl from beginning to end, but then you also got people (and I even do this!) that will open the record on Spotify and skip from track to track to see which one they like. With streaming, it’s like suddenly all of your songs are singles, you know? So we decided that if people are going to tear apart the record, then each song should be able to stand on its own. So you don’t have to listen to song number two in order to get song number three.”

To achieve that, John explained that they used different equipment and recording methods in each one of the 11 tracks. For the live part, however, he was more hesitant to share details.

“The way we do the live show is a bit different now. I don’t want to tell you too much… but, there are no amps anymore. There’s no looping amp because I didn’t want to play in front of a blasting amp any longer… it was starting to get to me. Now we go straight to the PA and we’ve got in-ear monitors, which changes everything.” 

On the verge of embarking on a series of tour dates in South America, Europe, and Asia, John Stanier shares that this is the most exciting moment of the whole process for him. To be standing on the edge of another tour, with a new record about to come out. 

“You do all this work and now this is the super fun part. You get to play all the new songs to people who are super into it”.

 Juice B Crypts was released on October 18th via Warp Records. Two singles had been released at the time of this writing, “Titanium 2 Step” and “A Loop So Nice…/ They Played It Twice”.