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Ian Williams - Battles PDF Print E-mail
Written by George Shaw   
14 09 2011
ImageBattles are a fascinating outfit. Three years after their math rock epic debut, Mirrored, was released to widespread critical acclaim, the once four piece became three as founding member Tyondai Braxton left the band to pursue a solo career. However, losing a member didn't hold them back, as this year saw the band release their defiant, genre spanning second record, Gloss Drop. I caught up with Battles guitarist Ian Williams to chat the making of the new album, working with Gary Numan and which Battles albums would win in a fight.

Hiya, how's it going?

Alright thanks. How are you? Where you calling from?

Yeah good thanks. I'm calling from Sunderland, England. What are you up to today?
We're actually in London, and hanging out at the Warp office.

Cool. How is it down there?
It's nice. Nice sunny day.

Aye, bit windy like.
Yeah, same here.

ImageThat's English weather for you. So your new album came out earlier this year - can you tell us a bit about it? How did it come together?
It's out. We like it. We recorded it in Providence, Rhode Island, last year and it's made by me and my two band mates John and Dave. We also have guest singers, featuring Matias Aguayo, who is a techno DJ, who is German but of Chilean descent. He sings in Spanish on a song called Ice Cream and his chorus means something about Ice Cream melting in the sun and we made a music video for it, you can find it on YouTube (here). We also recorded a song with Gary Numan. He is a pop music icon from the United Kingdom and we just made a music video with him that came out this week, it's for a song called My Machines. I can talk for a long time like this but it's probably boring.

The album seemed to come out of a bit period of adversity for the band, how big an effect do you think everything that happened during the recording had on the finished record?
Yeah, it was a very complicated process and there's so many different ways for me to look at the whole period of our time, some good, some bad. I think if you asked each person who was there at the time they would each have their own take on it as well. I would sum it up as we continued and managed to make another record and we're happy with the way it sounds.

Did losing a member change the dynamic of the band? Was there a big shift, or did things carry on as normal?
It does change some things. Not necessarily for the worst, it's like a new day.


We did an interview with Johnny from The Drums and he said that a line up change helped them find themselves, sort of speak, and rediscover what they wanted to be as a band; is that a sentiment that echoes for you?
Yeah, I think the three of us had a much easier time making this album once Ty(ondai Braxton) left, to be honest. I think there was a lot of clashing ideas about how the record should be and on a lot of songs it was very hard to find a consensus on what the song was, it was hard to stick everybody's parts together in a coherent way. It simplified things greatly when Ty exited and then that meant we could take his parts off and then suddenly we had songs that made a lot more sense to us. I don't mean that as a criticism of him, I mean that, well maybe three cooks in the kitchen are easier to deal with than four. We're a complicated band because it's not a band with a leader, who says okay everybody do this, it's a messier process where whatever we believe has consensus and stuff like that.

How do the songs about come about? Especially with the instrumental tracks, do they just come out of long sort of "jam" sessions, or are they intricately planned out?
They come from the same place that the songs with vocals come from; it's not like an idea, they're not songs about my girlfriend broke up with me and I feel sad today, or something. It usually doesn't come from a feeling or a concept, it comes from just textures and tones, like dealing with the real materials that we have. It's like if you're a painter, the paint on the canvass is the painting, for us the sound coming out of the speakers is the song. We were just working with sounds and moving them around until we liked the way they sounded. So it comes from that raw space before you really think about it and then you might recognise something that sounds like a cool moment and think let's keep that. Yeah, a couple of the songs we were trying to think of as songs with singing, because if you add vocals it is saying this is a different kind of a song. I mean, there were a couple of songs we were tried to make the pop songs that could fit into a more accessible format, but only a couple. I can't really tell what kind of band we are, I think we have a lot of different tastes and influences and ambitions and I think it makes us kind of interesting.

I think that's a healthy way to be in a band, you'll never get bored and it'll never get stale if you're sort of always challenging what you do.
Yeah. The thing I like about this record is in the end it was really hard for me to even pigeon hole our set in my own mind as to what the record is. It was like the idea of a rock band with guest singers is strange, electronic artists do that but we're a whole new level of that thing, it kind of feels comfortably like us at the same time. It's such a weird strange journey to get to where we've gotten. I can't quite say it's a deliberate plan; it's just the way history has unfolded and where we've ended up. I sort of like that, that I'm like "what the hell is going on?"


It's always exciting when you don't know what's around the corner. You mentioned earlier that there's lots of collaborations on the album, from a variety of cultures and genres. Is that variation something you wanted to reflect in the album?
We didn't want to get a couple of guys who were going to do that singer touched by the hand of god type of thing. I guess there was a certain level of consciousness about being aware of spreading it, like the idea of Kazu (Makino), she's a woman and I think we thought it was interesting to try and work with a woman, because we'd sort of been a guy band before that, just to see if we could do it. Then of course there's the idea of being able to reach over and work with someone like Gary Numan, who's come from such an iconic pop background and the question can we be a band that works with someone like him. There was a sense of spaciousness on the map of where we were and not limiting ourselves with what we could do.

Cool. How did the collaboration with Gary Numan come about?
Well, we didn't know him at all personally. So it was really just a matter of out of thin air saying it'd be really cool if Gary Numan would sing on this and then trying to see if we could track down somebody who knew Gary Numan. Eventually we succeeded.

What was it like working with him?
It was really good. He was very easy to work with to be honest, very egoless and professional. He was very accommodating. He tried something at first and we were like, well we were totally thrilled that he did but then we were like that's not actually the approach we were thinking of for the song, so now you've got to do something else, he was like "oh okay fine." (Laughs)

What's it like having to say no to Gary Numan then?
We were like oh man, is he going to tell us to go to hell? But he was actually like, oh no problem. What a gentleman. Even the first approach was really good actually, it's just the master plan we had for that song was a different approach, so we were like it's very good, but can you try it differently.

Class. Are you looking forward to the UK tour?
Yeah, that's going to be really fun. We're about to do a really long tour in the United States for all of October and then come back to the UK in Novemeber, and we look forward to it.

Will losing a member affect the live show? Or have you already worked out how to replace those bits?
I think the new set is coming together nicely. We're playing a lot of the new album, Gloss Drop and we're playing some old songs too. We have worked out ways of being able to do all the songs.


Which of your songs are you most proud of?
Erm... that's a good question. It might be some bad luck in picking your favourite song, you know. Every song has the potential to be a really good song and if you favour one more than the other, it sort of, I dunno, rules out potential for the other songs. I don't know, I'm just being superstitions.

No, it's fair enough. What song do you wish you'd written?
Sweet Leaf by Black Sabbath.

If the world was about to end, what would be the last song you'd listen to?
What's that Spiritualized song that goes... (begins to hum a song that I think is Medication by Spiritualized)... that one.

That's going to be hard to write up. Who would you put in your dream band?
Who would I put in my dream band if I could pick... erm... David Lee Roth. David Lee and Keiji Haino. One other guy, erm, maybe Bill Evans.

ImageAn eclectic choice. The last person I asked that had Wesley Snipes on vocals. Who would win a fight - Mirrored or Gloss Drop?
Mirrored would come on strong, like it was all bad ass and shit, but then it would get tired out really fast and Gloss Drop would actually just outlast it.

Cool. Finally then, can you describe the album in five words?
(thinks for a bit) Girls. Dance. To. Battles. Music.

Nice. Well that's it thanks, unless there's anything you'd like to add?
Erm, I'm good, thanks.

Cool then. Well thanks for the time and I'll see you in Gateshead.

Battles play Gateshead Town Hall on November 17th. For ticket details and more information about the band, check the Battles website here. Gloss Drop is out now on Warp Records

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