With three well-received EPs under their belt, the members of Battles — Dave Konopka from Lynx, John Stanier from Helmet, Ian Williams from Don Cabellero, and solo artist Tyondai (pronounced Tie-yun-day) Braxton — unleashed their full-length debut, Mirrored, and it rapidly became one of the best-reviewed albums of the year so far. For any number of reasons — the followings from members’ other projects, the deeming of the music as “unclassifiable,” the strength of the EPs and the album’s forward-thinking, thrilling rhythms — Battles is a force in the world of independent, experimental music. Braxton, whose father is jazz composer Anthony Braxton, speaks about genre tags, the difference between America and the Europe, his father’s avant-garde influence on his own songwriting, and what’s next for the band after finishing up a long tour.
Mirrored is a constant blend of what seem to be organic and electronic melodies — and it’s one of the very few recent times I’ve thought about electronic music as purely organic sounding. Was that the result of a conscious effort or is it just the natural progression of the band?
I think it’s just the national progression of the band. We happen to use a lot of electronic instruments, but the certain elements that we bring to the table make it a little more human, thus giving it that more organic texture.
Everyone’s instrumentation seems to be coming from completely different directions, yet it melds together so well. Do you each have different tastes in music?
Yes, Absolutely. It’s all very different from each other, and I think that is the strength and the curse of the band.
Your father is a big figure in the avant-garde jazz world and has made a lot of extremely complex, influential music over the years. How has that influenced the way you make music?
I would always call him one of my primary influences, of course. I was raised in an environment where he developed these philosophies, and this strong sense of process as far as art and music is concerned, and that definitely had an effect on me when I was growing up.
What’s it like as a band coming back to the States after playing Europe?
It’s cool. It’s a different reception, a different audience. I like playing both. We just got back from Vancouver, and that was the first time we played there.
Based on your experience as a band, what would you say are some of the cultural differences between Europe and the States?
In Europe they treat bands with a little more professionalism, I’d say. You make more money and it’s looked at as more as an art, where as in the States, the bigger your band is the more respect you get. Traditionally in the U.S., it’s definitely harder for bands to have as fruitful of a reception. The shows have been great — they’ve been sold out in a lot of cases and it’s been a positive experience — but Europe is a whole different animal.
There’s a genre tag that I feel is way overused, one that you guys have been grouped in often. What are your thoughts on the term “math rock”?
I think it’s as good as any other label. You know, what are you going to do? Everyone has to classify you one way or another – so why not, sure. Who cares?
this is the first record I’ve heard this year that is truly
unclassifiable. Do you think that’s part of the reason on why it’s
being received so well by the critics and the public?
think I guess there was due time for a record like this to come out.
It’s not as much as it’s unclassifiable as it is a culmination of a lot
of preexisting ideas and philosophies put together with the subtlety
and tastefulness that makes it unique. I think it was just kind of due
for a record like this — maybe that’s why people were so responsive.
Do you feel as if your solo work has had as large an impact on your work with Battles?
Absolutely. I think I kind of establish my voice and my language in my solo material. What I zoned in on there is sort of the element that I brought into the band.
It seems like you guys would put a giant emphasis on rehearsal before going out on tour. Do you adjust the songs a lot for a live performance?
We adjust the songs a lot. Some are written in the studio, so we sort of have to retranslate them. All the songs are constantly evolving, so I guess there’s no end result ever.
On the previous EPs, you chose to avoid vocals. Why did you work them into Mirrored?
For the EPs, we were all still figuring out what this band was going to be. Before Mirrored, I guess we were comfortable as a band, so I was more comfortable introducing things that I had been working on for years before that. It was sort of just a natural progression from the EPs to Mirrored.
“Leyendecker” was the one Mirrored track in particular that piqued my interest. How did that one come together?
Dave and John kind of came up with that bass-line rhythm. It was kind of more of a segue at first, and then it ended evolving into a song after we recorded it. I just threw the vocal line down and, I don’t know — it just worked.
What’s up next for Battles after the long touring schedule?
We’re going to break for a long time. This is going to be it for a long, long time. I’m going to work on my new solo record, and I imagine other people will be working on things, too.
Are you working on the solo record now?
Half of it has been written, and now that we’re on the tour, I’m unable to write on the road. So I’ll finish it when we get back in December, and then it will come out next year.