By Rebecca Marx
Photo Credit: Jason Larkin
batteryboy has been keeping us wanting and waiting, and in this day of instant musical gratification and sensory overload, maybe that is just the right thing to do.
I jumped at the chance to preview batteryboy’s upcoming album before the silence breaks, and chatted with frontman Cobey Rouse to get the inside scoop on the upcoming album prior to a show at The Warming House on 6/10 and the album release show on 8/5 at Icehouse.
before the silence breaks is a heavy album, how long did it take to write and record?
CR: I’ve been writing these songs over the past three years. Some months–two or three come to you, and then months may go without inspiration. Songwriting is not something I take lightly. Each one carries a lot of meaning and personal attachment. So, I really only felt that I had an album’s worth of meaningful material a week or so before we were set to record. That’s when I captured the ideas for “alive inside”, “soil underneath” and “for once in your life”. We began the recording process with Eric Martin last October, probably much less prepared than we were supposed to be for this sort of undertaking. But we’ve also been very thoughtful and deliberate in our approach, and as Hilary (James)pointed out, it has taken as long as a full-term human. I guess you could say this album is our baby.
The record seems to carry a theme of resiliency–to not give up, of hope. Did batteryboy set out to make an album with a message?
CR: It’s funny, because people who know about batteryboy, but have never really listened to the songs, joke about how sad or depressing my music is. But my lyrics are really quite the opposite when you truly listen. So I love to hear that you find resiliency in them, and you’re absolutely right. Life can suck. It can literally drive people to do things that hurt themselves, destroy relationships, damage the people they love, etc. But I believe that even at our lowest, our worst possible selves, there is always the potential for hope. Sometimes we find it ourselves, sometimes we need someone else to give it to us. Hope is sort of always at the center of every song, whether simple comfort from fear in “for once in your life”, or a more desperate plea to someone on the edge in “you don’t need to disappear”.
Is the album an objective work, or were you in a certain headspace when you wrote it?
CR: A bit of both, actually. Many of the songs are based on what I see other people going through/dealing with, or when people pour their lives out on social media. I often write in the perspective of that person and what they’re going through, or how I perceive the thoughts of someone who is close to that person. The more objective, personal songs on the album are based on being a Dad, my own personal struggles, and a couple about my own fears, like my rampant fear of growing old.
You make no qualms re: the fact that the local band Cloud Cult is an inspiration/influence to you, do you think that this work will invite comparisons between the two bands?
CR: I don’t think so, because we don’t sound alike except for some similar instrumentation. The inspiration I derived from Cloud Cult is not their sound, but Craig’s (Minowa) ability to find personal catharsis in his music, and to provide catharsis for the listeners as well. That’s what inspired me to start writing songs as batteryboy five years ago–to explore the tough stuff and discover hope and meaning through music, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. As the batteryboy saying goes: “We make music to deal with everything else”.
Your vocals seem stronger to me than in past batteryboy work, they support the lyrical poetry of before the silence breaks beautifully. Has something changed for you, confidence–wise?
CR: I’m definitely my own biggest critic and can be pretty hard on myself when it comes to singing. (Eric) Carranza had some feedback that was super helpful, and Eric Martin was a help throughout the process, and it didn’t hurt to have his talented wife Jillian Rae, pop downstairs a couple of times with pointers. But, yeah, I’m also a little more comfortable in my batteryboy space now, and write better to suit what I know voice can and can’t do, and we also arranged some songs to make the most of that as well. And I’m not perfect, so sometimes we accept my little imperfections when it means a more passionate take of a song is the result.
I mentioned “lyrical poetry”, are you comfortable with that terminology being used to describe your songwriting?
CR: I’m a firm believer that lyrics are the absolute most important part of any song, so I take that as a high compliment.
Has your songwriting process changed, or evolved?
CR: On before the silence breaks, I feel like I have a better grasp on how batteryboy wants to say what needs to be said, if that makes sense. On up for air, all of the songs started with me as a solo artist, so it was more about my feelings and what I wanted to say personally. This album is more about making a statement as a band. I also received some advice and encouragement from Alan Sparhawk (Low) early in the writing of the album that made me not only approach a few things differently, more subtly, but also helped me learn to embrace the strengths that I had as a songwriter, and to stop doubting myself so much.
I always have a high bar for the lush swell of sound that batterboy creates, but the track “for once in your life” exceeded my expectations! Explain the process of how you get such a sound with a foursome.
CR: That track is actually one of three on the album that features the trombone of Andrew Thoreen (Har-di-Har) which was a very intentional choice for that “lush” sound. Eric Martin also has a pretty great sense for the sonic landscape and textures needed to bring that sound to the album. We also didn’t want to go crazy in the studio creating layers that can’t be reproduced live, but we made exceptions when it meant putting out a better quality listening experience for you at home.
Former band member Leah Ottman (solo artist LOTT & We Are The Willows) has moved on, tell me about the current line up?
CR: Besides me on acoustic and lead vocal, you have Eric Carranza on Rhodes and electric guitar, Hilary James on cello and vocals, our new drummer Kahlil Brewington and coming soon we’ll be introducing a new bass player, Ray Ringer. We didn’t plan on having a bass player until a third of the way through recording the album we were like, “Whoa, these songs need bass”. So Carranza tracked all the bass, but we need him doing his surrealistic stuff live, so happy to bring Ray on board in time for the release show on August 5th at Icehouse. Shannon Frid-Rubin (Cloud Cult violinist and former batteryboy member) also makes a few appearances on the album and will join us for the release show as well.
Has the addition of Kahlil Brewington changed the sound of batteryboy?
CR: Absolutely. First of all, I don’t play my own drums while performing, so that’s a plus. Kahlil finds some rhythms that I didn’t know songs had, most notably on “me again”, but he also has a laid back approach that compliments us well when the drums don’t need to be the forefront. Having Kahlil is what actually triggered the whole need for bass on the album.
I really enjoyed the batteryboy profiles on Facebook. They provide a real connection to the people behind the sound, who came up with that concept?
CR: Well, I’m a Copywriter by trade, and we were admittedly taking so long to record that I felt like I needed to communicate a bit on Facebook so people would know that batteryboy still existed. I invited photographer Jason Larkin to join us for a recording session one day, and he took some fantastic shots, so when I saw them the idea for the bios came pretty easily. I’m going to have to get one up there for Ray pretty soon, too.
before the silence breaks feels like a seminal work for batteryboy, how do you feel about it?
CR: Honestly, I’ve never been more proud of a collection of songs that I’ve written, and I feel like we’ve done the best we can to make a meaningful record for anyone who gives it a listen. I feel like everyone can find a personal connection or two throughout the album, a reason to revisit it when they need music that makes them feel much more upbeat.
Has batteryboy worked with Producer Eric Martin before, and what influence did he have on before the silence breaks?
CR: A lot. Working with Eric and getting to know him as a person and a friend over the course of this project was the biggest treat. His honesty and his knowledge really helped push and refine things along the way. The creative process was also a gift, because we were ale to work through arrangements and instrumentation on the fly in real time, with some of those ideations and Eric’s own takes making it on the record. I would not have wanted to, or possibly been able to, make this record this way with anyone else. I’m a big believer in fate bringing people together.
batteryboy has made a thing of real beauty with before the silence breaks, at the end of the day is that enough, or is there something specific that you hope to accomplish?
CR: I feel like these songs exist for a reason, and that’s not to sit on a bunch of records in boxes in a storage space. They need to be heard, and I intend to make sure that happens. We’re going to be playing more lives shows, hitting the road a bit from Nebraska through Wisconsin, and doing whatever it takes to make batteryboy a radio presence too. The biggest help we can get is from fans who have made a connection with us, who can help us spread the word.
The June 10th batteryboy show at The Warming House is quite unique, what makes it so special?
CR: The venue is only about a month old, and it’s a listening room created by musicians for people who appreciate hearing music, not shouting bar patrons. So for an intimate audience of 50, we’ll be playing the album basically acoustic from start to finish, our first live performance since before we started recording. This will also be the first opportunity to pre-order before the silence breaks. The first 200 pre-orders will also receive a download of a companion album: before you start to scream that features all of my uncensored, very first songwriting demos of each song.
Check out the before the silence breaks trailer:
The Warming House show 6/10/16 info: https://www.facebook.com/events/100276580381084/?ref=1&action_history=%5B%7B%22surface%22%3A%22permalink%22%2C%22mechanism%22%3A%22surface%22%2C%22extra_data%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D
batteryboy album release show at Icehouse 8/5/16 info:http://www.icehousempls.com/events/2016/8/5/batteryboy-album-release-the-ericksons