• Thu, Sep 21, 2017
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From Scaring Kids to Worst Shows: In Conversation with Battles

interviews Dec 12, 09:03am

The American experimental rock band, comprising former Helmet and Don Caballero members, talk about their first ever India show at the Humming Tree, Bengaluru
 Photo Courtesy: Grant Cornett

Drummer John Stanier, guitarist Ian Williams and guitarist-bassist Dave Konopka are weighing in about going to an Ayurvedic spa, buying Mysore Silk sarees and checking out local cuisine while I wait for my interview. Their India debut at The Humming Tree in Bengaluru is the last stop on their three-week South Asia tour, but Williams said during the band’s set, “I think secretly, we were looking to this show the most.” Their performance was pretty much something you’d never get to see in India – from Stanier slamming his crash cymbal placed at a height to the endless loops of disintegrated synth and guitar noise that morphed into songs such as ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Atlas’ and coming back for an encore with their latest single ‘The Yabba’, off their new album La Di Da Di.

Ahead of their show, we spoke to the band about the tour so far, certain by the end of it that Konopka was trolling about more than just how they once bought an audience to tears.

Anurag Tagat: How did the India gig come about?

Ian Williams: We had spoken to our booking agent in the past about wanting to play India and she always said it was possible. So it was really a matter of when we got to release a new record, we were happy to see India pop up on the itinerary, you know? It’s only just a matter if you can make enough money just to get you there and stuff like that. I’m glad that this place exists and it seems like a cool place.

Dave Konopka: Our Asian booking agent is Indian as well.

AT: This is your only India show – must be nice to get away from the Winter cold to this part of the world – are you sticking around?

Ian: Yeah! Bangalore’s weather is very comfortable. It’s not bad at all.

AT: This whole Asia tour looks pretty wicked. Are there a lot of new territories?

John Stanier: There’s some new territories. We came six years ago and we’ve been to Japan many times. Everywhere else, the new places would be Hong Kong, here, South Korea and Manila. It was way more extensive in South East Asia. But we were here (in Asia) this time around, six years ago. I like how we came in the beginning. Usually Asia is like that place you go to last, after you’ve finished touring everywhere else. Like a vacation tour. But this was two months after the record came out, so it kinda says something.

AT: You’ve all toured as part of other bands in the past, do you use that as experience to advise each other?

John: Touring is so different now than it was back then. This is a totally different band, these are totally different people. Touring is a completely different entity than it was in the 90s.

AT: Has it become more comfortable?

Ian: I think it’s always about trying to do as much as you can with as little resources as necessary. Like stripping to the minimal team you need to go from city to city to help you.

AT: You were talking about how writing for this album, you had to learn to edit things down from jams. I read how “White Electric” was originally 16 minute long. How did you do it?

Ian: (laughs) You go ‘That part sucks, and that part’s great.’

AT: Is that a band decision?

Ian: It’s a bit of both. We work as a democracy, which is a bit confusing. It would be easier if there was a primary songwriter, but there isn’t, so we work as a collective.

AT: I feel like you guys outdid yourselves after Mirrored pretty quickly, but do you still get asked why there isn’t a vocalist any longer? Is that difficult to live through?

Dave: It’s fine. I suppose it’s a natural thing to ask when there’s a line-up change or something. At the end of the day, we’ve always just started with the music first and vocals were always last, as an extra instrument. It’s like taking out one element and filling that space with other elements. That question gets old for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s a happy ending.

AT: You guys always have the most interesting videos and collaborators for those videos as well. Was there ever one that you wanted to make but then it got scrapped?

Dave: There was never anything like an idea that, down the road, never got made. It just sometimes about testing waters, trying to see if any directors were interested. Often times, we don’t have the budget to do certain things. We’ve worked with some great directors and production houses that have really helped us make some great music videos.

AT: Do you guys go looking out?

Dave: It’s usually us shopping for directors and production houses. Sometimes people approach us, but it’s not always the thing we’re looking for. I think a lot of the times, when we start talking about a video, it’s about what we want to do aesthetically and maybe pitching that to certain people and finding out what works and what doesn’t. Canada was twice as nice for us, so…

AT: You guys do tend avoid labelling your music. Who would you call your contemporaries? Who do you want to tour with?

Ian: There’s probably only a few bands like you touring at any given time. So, I don’t know… I heard Mogwai just played here, Ratatat’s about to come. Those are great bands on international festivals that we can play with, but that’s always different. The ideal touring companion is always different. Rather than have two of the same, it’s better to have something to complement your music.

AT: With your kind of music, I’m pretty sure people are genuinely caught surprised by the twists and turns – have you ever seen that live? Like you looked into the crowd and some guy just looked like his mind was blown?

Ian: I think we’re kinda slightly ridiculous. Sometimes I can see people’s faces and they’re like (mimics jaw drop).

Dave: We played Phoenix, Arizona one time and brought the entire crowd to tears. It was amazing.

AT: Which song was that?

Dave: ‘Atlas’ (laughs)

Ian: This year, we played Austin, Texas and there was a guy standing in the fourth row and he had a little kid on his shoulder, with big earphones to muffle the sound. But the kid had this look of terror the whole time (laughs).

AT: That sounds like the weirdest thing you’d ever see live.

Dave: Well that kid of standing in front of me, on his dad’s shoulder – he was this (motions across the desk) far away from me. Part of it was cool and part of it was a bummer, because I was scaring the shit out of this little kid.

John: It’s hard to rock with a child staring at you.

Dave: But when you bring an entire audience to tears, you know you’re dominating them. And it’s easy. I’m kidding, there was no crying.

AT: Really?!

Dave: But you do see people go (lets out loud “OH”) when something happens.

AT: John, do you ever have problems at your club gigs where his crash can’t be elevated too high?

John: No.

Ian: We played somewhere where the ceiling was so low…

John: Yeah, once a really long time ago. The ceiling was so low. But generally, no. I just go with it anyway – I don’t have a choice.

Ian: We tried to raise the ceiling.

Dave: Just cut a hole in the ceiling.

AT: What else are you guys doing in India? How long are you here?

Ian: Well, we fly back tomorrow evening.

John: Might do a little bit of sightseeing tomorrow.

Dave: Soak in as much as we can.

AT: How long is your set today?

Dave: 20 minutes.

Ian: It’s either 20 minutes or it could be three hours. It depends on how we feel.

AT: Have you actually done that? Have some gigs gone so bad that you wanted to get off stage?

Dave: Yeah! Where have we done that? I feel like it was recently. Might have been Spain. But there was this one time we played the Wireless Festival in England. There was a power surge. Our set time was 45 minutes and we spent about – we blew all of our amps and our pedals – 30 minutes trying to fix it. This huge audience was just staring at us, like, ‘Come on! What are you doing?’ Then we finally said, ‘Let’s just play something for 15 minutes’. We played like two songs. That was probably one of the worst shows ever. 

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