The late night talk circuit may be a fading institution, but for the families of your average workaday musicians, that introduction by Conan, Letterman or Fallon might still be just the thing that convinces them that silly band of yours is a real thing.
“I had like various stages of that. My dad treated me differently when he saw my picture in Rolling Stone. He was like ‘Wow, you’re not just kidding around,’ ” says Ian Williams. He plays with a little band of massive acclaim called Battles, and they just released a tremendous new record called Gloss Drop. Still, in this world gone mad, it takes television to justify music. “It’s exactly the thing that translates to your aunt.”
Battles catapulted into the minds of music fans everywhere with their debut LP, Mirrored, in 2007. Less carrying the torch of the post-rock that came before it than snuffing it out and lighting a new one, it was a towering work, but nonetheless one that took a scenic route into the ear holes of the non-music nerd public. Appearing in everything from commercials to British teen soaps to video game soundtracks, standouts “Race : In” and “Atlas” were some of the best songs people had no idea were not written specifically for a product.
“You need strange new platforms to get your music out. People release their CDs now inside of magazines,” says Williams. He owes it to the loss of the small town (and even big city) record store, a much belaboured point, but sees the circumstances of their loss as a pyrrhic victory for musicians. “In some ways I’m not disturbed by what’s happened in the music world. In one way I think a band like Battles in a strange way, actually can get on Jimmy Fallon and other TV shows now. If you imagined 10, 15, 20 years ago, I think that there would have been more gates closed to us,” he says. “Our music would have been considered a bit more outsider. Now it’s not like Metallica has it all locked up because their publicist and manager have deep pockets. I think it’s healthy.”
From hearing Battles on the LittleBigPlanet soundtrack to hearing the album in full, a common reaction swells from new mainstream audiences: Where are the lyrics? Williams, who has played in bands similar to Battles dating back to the Tortoise-led instrumental rock movement currently monopolized by Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, sees this challenge to ubiquity archaic. “I’ve been playing instrumental music since like 1992 in various bands. I remember instances in the underground indie world where it was a novelty not to have vocals and everyone was talking about that. Now that gimmick – well, it’s not a gimmick – that’s not really seen as a novelty anymore. It goes without even mention,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s shocking just within the bubble of underground indie trendy. I don’t even know if it’s shocking to your average guy in the suburbs who goes to an Aerosmith concert.”