Published May 25, 2011Towards the end of last year, unable to yet again face a gruelling touring schedule, Battles' vocalist Tyondai Braxton quit the band halfway through recording their second album. This left the remaining members with something of a conundrum -- they were one member down, had a half-finished album on their hands and no singer. John Stanier, Ian Williams and Dave Konopka eventually made the decision to continue as a three-piece and push forward, re-factoring the album that would later become the forthcoming Gloss Drop.
"It was important that when we released this record that it reflected who we are right now, which is three of us," guitarist/keyboardist Williams explains to Exclaim! "So we had to take all of Ty's parts out and any things that he had, any songwriting, we didn't use that stuff."
The solution of removing Braxton's vocal parts opened up a new question: What to do for vocals on the record. "Vocals have always been secondary to us," Konopka says in an interview. "The core of it is instrumentally driven, but we didn't want to go back to being exclusively instrumental."
Once the trio decided on this path, they then approached a handful of singers to contribute to the record, some they had met on their travels and some that they had just admired from afar.
"There were vague connections, except for Gary Numan," Williams says of Gloss Drop's vocalists. "[Boredoms' Yamantaka] Eye actually stayed at my house about 20 years ago in Pittsburgh, in a different band UFO or Die. I wouldn't say [the album's vocalists] were close friends [of ours] or anything. Just us thinking, 'Who would be interesting to have on the record?' and 'Let's work with a woman,' because we're sort of this guy band sometimes, so it'd be interesting to take that up as a challenge. We thought of [Blonde Rehead's] Kazu [Makino], so we asked her. Somebody like Gary Numan was a bit of a 'Wouldn't it be crazy if we could get this guy!'"
Losing a band member obviously changes the dynamic within a group, opening up new possibilities as much as it closes others. The guest vocalists trusted Battles to play around with the vocal samples, incorporating them into their inimitable maximalist, loop-driven sound.
"We've always generated loops," Williams explains, "and loops become the raw material that we play around with to construct the songs. But I think that on this, we took our process of making the loops a little further. For the EPs, it was very simple: we really just hit you over the head with a phrase, and on Mirrored, it maybe took a slight step to get there. On this record, our process took another step forward in terms of the way we have been playing with our sound."
From the outset, the Battles sound has always been a genre-defying mash-up of different musical elements drawing from a variety of diverse sources, such as prog rock and electronic music, that may be best be described as dance music for math rockers. Always retaining a sense of fun to offset the serious musicianship, it seems that Battles are a perfect band for the post-internet age of "anything goes," and on Gloss Drop, they take this even further, bringing in poppier elements and even some warped dub on closing track, the Eye-led "Sundome."
"I used to be into indie rock, I used to really like Touch and Go stuff a lot -- and I still do -- but in retrospect it was like that was all I listened to," Konopka confesses. "I would listen to Yes and stuff too but it was mostly stuff like Slint and Gastr Del Sol, Tortoise, Polvo and Don Caballero. It's such an exclusive, elitist little subgenre, but times change and you develop more tastes and now I like dance music, a lot of the Kompakt shit and old funk and R&B. I don't even know what to call some of that shit. Disco sounds great now. Before it was like 'nobody knows Slint but I do,' but the internet totally wiped all of that away. And don't get me wrong, Battles is the type of band that has completely benefitted from that type of clean slate-wiping. I don't think we could've been as successful as we are now if the internet never existed."
Gloss Drop will be released on June 7 via Warp Records. The band are currently embarking on the second leg of their tour in Europe and will return to North America for a stretch of shows later this summer, including Canadian stops in Vancouver on July 23 and in Victoria on July 22. You can see the complete live schedule here.