Against a backdrop of same-old same-old independent rock and barely experimental DJ wankery, the mathlete rockers of Battles put their instruments and laptops to the task of busting out tunes you can shake a fist to. The band will play Metro November 8, hitting Chicago for the third time this year in support of their latest disc, Mirrored. I chatted with Battles guitarist and bassist David Konopka about mirrored boxes, Marilyn Manson, and everything in between.
Chicago Maroon: Did you guys play Vegas last night?
David Konopka: Yeah, we played a festival called Vegoose. It was cool…you know Vegas, it’s such a weird fucking place. Like right now, I’m at the Hard Rock Hotel pool, so we’re just sitting here in some weird cabana drinking Bloody Marys. It’s so far removed from my normal reality.
CM: You guys have been touring a lot this year. Have there been any major high points or low points?
DK: The high points definitely outweigh the low points. The low points are just kind of like, “Oh man, I haven’t been home in fucking months.” … We’ve played a lot of great stuff over this year. By the time this tour is done, we’ll have done five continents and swum in three out of four oceans. So I think that counts as a world tour.
CM: I really like the “Atlas” and “Tonto” videos. Did you guys contribute to the concepts at all?
DK: Actually, the “Atlas” video was entirely our idea. I do all the artwork for Battles, on top of playing guitar and bass. [Laughs] The “Atlas” video spawned from an idea I had for the album cover, so my brothers and I designed and built that box. Then we were like, “if we’re going to have this installed for a little while, we should definitely make a video inside it.”
CM: Do your songs have lyrics, under the vocal manipulation?
DK: Yeah, definitely. Originally on the EPs we started [using] vocals as an instrument. But Tyondai has lyrics for everything that sounds like he’s singing. We’re not an instrumental band.... The manipulation stemmed more from incorporating a new instrument without being immediately recognizable as a human voice. It’s like flypaper. [Laughs] You can instantly connect to a voice in music and forget that there’s music going on behind it. So I think it was a really tasteful inspiration of vocals to disguise the vocals and use them within the instrumentation.
CM: Did you guys set out to write a full-length album, or did it just happen that way?
DK: Oh no, we didn’t plan it. We had two EPs before this that we released on separate labels, and that was just to…have music to be essentially business cards for ourselves. But throughout the entire summer of 2006, we wrote every day, just working out ideas and shit. Why do you ask, does it seem like we…?
CM: No, I don’t have an anti-EP bias or anything. I was just wondering whether someone said, “guys, it’s time to write a full-length,” or if it came about more organically.
DK: Yeah. The EPs were deliberate decisions to softly release ourselves into the world without declaring exactly what we were doing.... Sometimes I think an EP is exactly the right thing to do. Yeah, it’s shorter, but sometimes…. Like, say, we put out an 80-minute album. I mean, nobody fucking wants to hear that shit! [Laughs] Sometimes a short album can be just as good as a long one. So yeah, you and I are in the EP fan club.
CM: I noticed some moments on Mirrored that sound sort of eastern-inspired. Is that just me?
DK: No, I don’t think it’s just you. [Laughs] The four of us listen to tons of different music. One of the really rewarding things about Battles is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So you have four…gentlemen. [Laughs] Four absolutely handsome gentlemen—you can quote that one—and you start putting together all these ideas.... Ian could come in with an idea that sounds somewhat Afrobeat, and then Tyondai can contribute an Ennio Marconi soundtracky-sounding thing and totally offset that Afrobeat. And the end product is something completely removed from its original context, which can allow for a more interesting byproduct.
DK: So you can pull eastern out of there, but really, to us, it’s kind of hard to know where those influences come from. But it’s nice when someone from another perspective can hear them and draw that lineage. My, I am a chatty Cathy today!
CM: No, that’s great!
DK: I drank a four-shot Americano from Starbucks.
CM: I’m glad you did.
CM: Does it ever bother you when people add a definite article to the beginning of your name?
DK: To the beginning of my name?
CM: No, to the beginning of Battles...
DK: Oh! You mean when people call me—“the David Konopka”?
CM: [Laughs] Yeah, does that bother you?
DK: Yeah, that really sucks. And it’s really shitty, because there’s another band called The Battles, and…they changed their name actually, so one down for us, but there’s another band in England called Battle and we’re always [mistakenly] touted to be the next Bloc Party and stuff. But we did so much great work in Europe this year, Battles is now more of a prominently known name. Basically, at the end of the day we’ve done so much fucking touring and work and getting our shit out there that I think we totally own that name now. And we definitely legally own that name (laughs) …But it does suck when people are like “Oy, and we’re here with The Battles!” and it’s just like, “No, dude.”
CM: What’s in your CD player right now?
DK: Huh…I haven’t seen my CD player in a while. [Laughs] But in my iPod I’ve been totally loving the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. I think it’s so admirable that they would do something that makes people question their value of music. Beyond that, even if they were releasing another album on Capitol, it’s still a great album. It feels like a culmination of four or five…gentlemen—extremely handsome gentlemen—that have absolute creative freedom. [Laughs]
CM: How much did you pay for it?
DK: 10 pounds—which is about $20. I think it’s totally worth it.
CM: What’s that playing in the background?
DK: It’s fucking...really bad.... “Some of them want to be abused....”
CM: Oh yeah, that song.
DK: Yeah, but Marilyn Manson’s covering it. [Does a horrific impression of the chorus] It’s at the Hard Rock, I didn’t choose it. When I came in it was “Velouria” by the Pixies. That’s a good song. But now it’s Marilyn Manson.
CM: Well, I won’t take up too much more of your time. Thanks, the Dave.
DK: (laughs) Thanks the Supriya.