Battles - Biography
Battles, for all intents and purposes, is an indie version of a rock and roll supergroup. Created by former members of Helmet, Tomahawk, Lynx, Storm & Stress, and Don Caballero, the math rock pedigree was set for Battles from the beginning. The quartet is comprised of John Stanier (Helmet and Tomahawk), David Konopka (Lynx), Ian Williams (Don Caballero and Storm & Stress), and Tyondai Braxton (the son of jazz musician and composer Anthony Braxton). Braxton has also worked with Prefuse 73, Saxon Shore, and Parts & Labor, though he had never served in an official band lineup.
John Stanier, a Baltimore native who spent much of his life in Florida, found notoriety in the indie music scene of the late 1980s as the drummer for Helmet. Stanier spent his youth as a drum corps member and cultivated a drumming style known for its speed and precision. Aside from drumming with the Florida Wave (a drum and bugle corps), Stanier studied percussion formally as the University of South Florida. Stanier has cited his influences as John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Terry Bozzio’s work with Frank Zappa, as well as a somewhat non-sequitur appreciation of Hip-Hop. When playing with Battles, Stanier uses a unique performance and playing style in which he sets his Zildjian K ride cymbal as high as it will go, leading to his signature reach. Drum-wise, Stanier plays and endorses Tama.
Dave Konopka’s career has been divided between art and music. Despite his tenure with both Lynx and Battles, Konopka has enjoyed an illustrious career as a graphic designer, a talent which has often been applied to Battles’ album art. Konopka provided both art direction and design for the band’s album, Mirrored (2007 Warp). Little has been published about Konopka’s musical influences; much of his professional presence as a designer and artist usurps his other ventures.
Ian Williams’ unusual guitar playing style has become his signature in each of his bands. His one-handed finger tapping style also allows him to operate as a simultaneous multi-instrumentalist and he often plays keyboard as well as guitar while performing live. Born in Pennsylvania in 1970, Williams’ parents moved the family to the African nation of Malawi, only to return to Pennsylvania by the time Williams turned 12. Spending much of his life on the East Coast, Williams joined Don Caballero, a Pittsburgh math rock outfit, in 1992 as a second guitarist and stayed with the band for eight years. During his stay with Don Caballero, Williams also joined up with Chicago band Storm & Stress from 1997 until 2000. It was after leaving both of these bands that Williams moved to New York City to help form Battles in 2002.
Tyondai Braxton comes from a musical family, but has manifested his talent in a far less conventional strain than his father Anthony. Tyondai studied music at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut under the guidance of Robert Carl, who is the chair of the composition department.
Battles is often noted as one of the more accessible bands of math rock — a genre defined by dissonant chords and complex rhythms. Almost always guitar-based, math rock rose from the ashes of Midwestern American post-rock, finding an especially large audience in Chicago, Illinois toward the end of the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. Where post-rock acquired a definite jazziness in the percussion, math rock eschewed conventional timing in favor of a start-stop style.
Although the band formed in 2002, they did not put out an official recording for two years. In 2004, Battles released the single Tras (Cold Sweat) on Cold Sweat Records, which kicked-off a rapid succession of releases. The EPs EP C (Monitor) and B EP (Dim Mak) followed that same year. With two EPs and a single to their credit in just 12 months’ time, the band took a break for another two years. In 2006, a compilation of the now-difficult to find Tras, EP C, and B EP was released under the name EP C/B EP (Warp). The compilation was released by Warp Records, with whom Braxton was also individually signed as a solo artist.
In 2007, Battles released their first full-length album of new material, Mirrored (Warp), on Warp Records. Mirrored debuted to critical acclaim and made several top albums lists for 2007. The album was recorded by Keith Souza at Machines with Magnets, a Pawtucket, Rhode Island studio known for its multi-media. Mirrored’s first single, “Atlas,” was named Best Single of the Week by British music magazine NME. Continuing to infect the UK, “Atlas” was also lauded in Clash Magazine, achieved the number one spot in Dandelion Radio Festive Fifty, and was performed on the BBC’s late-night program Later with Jools Holland. The song has also been featured in the Playstation 3 game LittleBigPlanet and was used in the soundtrack for the second season of the British teen drama Skins. The video for “Atlas” was shown at the 2009 Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in France.
Mirrored hit number seven on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart and also yielded the second single “Tonto” for which a video was made in collaboration with United Visual Artists.