A music blog from Ireland.
Mankind’s obsession with the tiniest specks has led to better understanding of the minute reverberations of our world. Equipped with the wisdom to power the planet to dizzying heights, BATS advocate leaving fear and superstition behind and advancing towards a clean future. In their debut album Red In Tooth And Claw, the Dublin five-piece throw down the theoretical gauntlet: can humanity take control of its own evolution and progress from exploration to mastery? Is there more to life as we know it? Who are the bands with crystal wings? AU meets up with BATS ahead of the launch for an exclusive first group interview.
“We are mega-prepared. We all have new amps,” Rupert Morris fizzes with anticipation. “The live sound has grown to beast proportions.”
“Like idiots, we stupidly wrote better songs that are harder to play. I think the next album will have to be of a stoner rock vibe.” Drummer and new father Noel Anderson sounds slightly exhausted but perks up at the mention of ‘Vermithrax Pejorative’, a live favourite now incarcerated on the album.
“‘Vermithrax’ is probably the most fun song in the world to play,” says bassist Timothy Moran and Noel agrees. “Yeah, it’s weird; no matter how worn out we are, we always get a little lob-on when it comes to that song in the set, even when it’s at the end.”
Also home to Adebisi Shank, Not Squares and Enemies, independent label the Richter Collective released Red In Tooth And Claw on August 31. And an audience awaits the album, 2007’s Cruel Sea Scientist EP having pricked the ears of gig-goers and left them hungry for more. BATS know to feed them little and often: a one-minute promotional video was released in mid-July, followed by a free download of new tune ‘Credulous! Credulous!’ as the release date drew closer.
“You can’t fight digital,” says Rupert, matter-of-factly. “That’s just the way it’s going. You’re less likely to make album sales, but at the same time more people will hear your music and that’s more important. But there’s nothing like holding a CD for the first time, having never heard it. Being able to look at the artwork and just take it in properly.”
“Personally, I’m not worried,” says guitarist Craig Potterton. “The more people who hear our music the better and I’m happy that they will give us the time of day. The amount of variety and experimentation available will influence and contribute to future bands in a much healthier way. Music is a new world and it’s up to bands to find an effective business model if they want to make money back. You cannot control the Internet. The sooner people understand this, the sooner we can develop a supportive system for bands.”
With the backing of the Richter Collective, BATS’ system of support has been a regular succession of gigs every few months, covering new ground and revisiting old haunts. Rupert claims this island is a great place to be a musician. Local artists Jape and Sarsparilla have worked on a remix version of Red In Tooth And Claw, which also features a surprise track from Passage of US hip-hop label Anticon. With all this new music to spread, a long time on the road beckons.
“Yeah, Ireland is great,” Rupert laughs. “You can drive to any part of it in under 6 hours!”
“We’ve started playing quite a bit in Northern Ireland, there’s such a thriving underground scene,” smiles Conor McIntyre. “So many great bands and promoters are coming from Belfast, I can barely keep track! Not Squares, Latex Spider Monkey and LaFaro to name but a few.”
“Super-cool weird-core bands rising on crystal wings,” says the more abstract Rupert. “We’ve become best buds with Not Squares.”
“One of the major differences going on around Belfast is that guys like [independent promoter] Spirit Of Division hold music nights rather than shows.” continues Conor. “In a lot of places it’s time to go home as soon as you’ve finished playing, whereas bands in Belfast catch a DJ set and just relax a bit when the gig’s over.”
“We ended up at some warehouse party in Belfast in July which was a good laugh,” adds Timmy. “There are a lot of cool bands there like And So I Watch You From Afar, Continuous Battle of Order… It’s quite diverse and makes a good match for the Dublin scene.”
2009 has been quiet. Taking the risk of releasing an album in the lull of recession worked for ASIWYFA, who filled the gulf of silence with their stunning self-titled debut in April. However, the flow of home grown albums has lessened considerably which means extra attention for those which come to light. BATS knew their album would have to be flawless and called on the skills of producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou in Salem, Massachusetts.
“Our decision to work with an American producer had nothing to do with who or where he was. It was purely based on the fact that we loved the sound on the records he’s produced and thought it would complement the songs we wrote,” says Conor decisively. “He is the man when it comes to recording guitars. He even went as far as recommending that I play a souped-up custom version of my favourite amp before I told him I already played one! He was insistent that we never slipped off rhythm and that the tempo never raced ahead. We’re talking milliseconds here. That devotion to rhythm definitely had a huge effect on the final sound of the record.”
“The click track has a lot to do with that,” says Rupert. “Kurt was the one who suggested it.”
“That nearly broke me!” groans drummer Noel. “As far as being tight in performance, whatever Kurt says goes!”
On listening, it’s easy to see why the band chose to go to Salem. The EP’s primitive dagger has been sharpened into a knife of bright metal. Well acquainted with the music of Genghis Tron, Beecher and Mastodon, all bands that Ballou has worked with before, BATS needed his discipline and precision to up the heft and free their twinkling guitars.
“We never set out to be a dance-metal fusion band,” says Timmy. “I guess in our heads we wanted to write metal songs, but in our hearts we just wanted to party. The EP has some dancey bits as well, but we made the hooks catchier and the heavy parts heavier. We really felt an obligation to ourselves to make the album we’ve always wanted – poppy but crushingly heavy.”
“Some parts are so crushing,” agrees Rupert. “I think the songs are more confident, more definite. The trick is to find a balance between poppy and sharp. Hooky but interesting. They sound more like real songs now. I guess I got a bit better at singing too.”
“We’ve evolved and tightened up our sound,” asserts Conor. “We’ve gotten better at structuring the sprawling messes we write and realised the importance of having verses and choruses. There was only one recurring verse on the whole EP!”
Rupert’s always enjoyed the creative aspect of songwriting more than performing. “Lyrically, I’m most proud of ‘Star Wormwood’, ‘Credulous! Credulous!’ and ‘The Cruel Sea’. I’m mad about ‘Vermithrax’ too though.”
“Star Wormwood’s a gem,” says a proud Noel. “Its rhythm break-down and build-up is the best part on the album for me, plus I sometimes cry when I hear Rupert singing “I feel welcome”. But that’s his gayness coming out through me.”
Rupert’s “gayness” in the bright chimes of ‘Star Wormwood’ is a longing to explore the true extent of the universe. “It’s my favourite,” he says. “It’s about extra-dimensional theory and quantum physics. The count up to 11 relates to M-theory and the 11 dimensions involved. It’s about the majority’s disinterest in the power of science in favour of ancient notions. I feel really strongly about it.”
“We’ve always felt Rupert’s voice and lyrics are what make us a unique band,” says a modest Timmy. Musically and lyrically, BATS have made a very exciting record.
Naturally, Noel’s impending fatherhood affected a band who play songs about biology, urging them forward to birth their album into reality. As far as he’s concerned, God was then, this is now. Harking towards nature’s brutal instinct for survival, which in mankind’s case now hinges on religion’s decline, Red In Tooth And Claw is a disco-intellectual roar.
“People believed there was once a talking snake… even now, chimps can’t talk or drink tea.” Noel’s wit is sharp but true. “Being fundamental in belief deserves ridicule, if only for arrogance alone. They’re trying to make a game show in Turkey in which four religions battle for the faith of a different atheist each week, but the frickin’ Muslims won’t give them an imam for the show. Jerks… talk about wasted opportunities! They gotta get their rep back up.”
“It astounds me that people can be suspicious of real science and embrace crackpot ideas when it has so many tangible proofs, achieved by gathering empirical evidence and the quest for knowledge. People always hark back to the atom bomb, but the atom bomb was a product of war. I really want to promote the idea that science is something really special and inspirational. There’s a girl in Utah who likes BATS and says she’s gonna become a scientist. Someone needs to stand up for it in the face of pseudoscientific bullshit and crippling superstitions like astrology, faith-healing, homeopathy, fuck, there’s loads…” Rupert takes a breath in disbelief. “All I can hope for is people might hear the tunes or read the lyrics and think, ‘I never thought about science in this way, in a poetic way. I might check some out…’”
Science is a tool and its responsibility lays with the people who use it. Babies are born to ‘Star Wormwood’, kids dance to ‘BATS Spelled Backwards Is STAB’, people leave parties still discussing the Higgs Boson Particle. It’s strange there was no talking snake… but that scientific tool created singing BATS.
Originally published August 2009 (AU Magazine)