After Portland imports Battleme (Matt Drenik – lead singer/guitarist, Chad Savage – bass, JJ Eliot - guitar, Scott Noben – drums) toured relentlessly in 2014 for their sophomore album, Future Runs Magnetic, the self-described “slacker-rockers” quickly got back to work, with frontman Matt Drenik writing and eventually recording the band's third album with his brother Jason (Hairy Patt Band) co-producing. Matt Drenik took solace in seclusion after months of massive, guitar-driven performances almost every night for spirited, hungry crowds. He decided to move in a different direction, spending more time recording piano ballads demos on his phone instead of his usual kinetic show-stoppers. Reconvening with the band, Drenik’s songs began to take life, ultimately producing a newly blended toned-down style.
Battleme's upcoming album, Habitual Love Songs, will be out January 15 via El Camino Media. On October 29, Billboard premiered the record's first track, “Shake Shake,” described as a “spooky, infectious rocker with a killer Queens of the Stone Age-style groove.” Of the song, Drenik tells Billboard, “’Shake Shake’ was the first song I wrote for the new record. I wanted something that felt heavy, both lyrically and musically, and encompassed the idea of touring for a year."
Drenik also reveals the meaning of the snappy track, “All Night, All Night." He says, “I think it’s a fairly universal occurrence now, at least at some point in your life. Usually there’s a partner involved, and in my case, there was. And once the TV static came, I knew it was just a matter of time before it all disappeared and we were left with each other, tired and sober, like bruised angels.”
Read on as Matt Drenik talks slacker rock, Phil Collins, and Sons of Anarchy.
The album art for Habitual Love Songs is very interesting, eye-catching, and aesthetically pleasing. Were you involved in the creative process for the artwork? What inspired the art?
I’ve been friends with Kime Buzzelli for years. She used to own a vintage shop with my older brother in Cincinnati called The Blue Piano. I was in high school at the time, just sinking my teeth into music. I remember going off to college and she’d send me these wild letters with her classic drawings all over them. She was more or less a big sister to me.
Jump ahead 15 years later to Joshua Tree. My wife and I decided to go down there and work on some art (me on Habitual Love Songs) and we ended up meeting up with Kime, who now owns an amazing store called The End in Yucca Valley. Sure enough, we became fast friends again, and a few months later I asked her if she’d take a crack at the record cover. She said, “Sure.” I sent her the record, she sent me back some ideas, and after much discussion, we decided on the current cover. It’s a beautiful, visual interpretation of the record.
You co-produce with your brother Jason. What are some similarities and differences between the two of you in terms of musical style? How do you handle differences in opinion?
Jason and I have always been close. Matter of fact, all three brothers (Doug, Jason, and I) are close, but Jason and I have always worked on art projects, mostly music, together. I don’t know how it started. I’m guessing I was the annoying brother obsessed with the older brother, imitating him until I finally got some guts and did something on my own.
First it was all about what he was doing, then I finally started sending him stuff of mine. He’d comment and usually his comments stood the test of time, good or bad. So when I started writing this record, I wanted some feedback from someone whose taste I respected, or better yet, admired. I sent him a few tracks. He wrote some ideas back. After a few more, we got on the horn and he asked me to let him produce the record. I said, “What the hell!” I knew going in that Jason had a bizarre spectrum of musical taste. His two favorite bands are Black Flag and the Grateful Dead. But he’s a fucking master of all that is punk, and I needed some of that. I’m more of a pop guy. I dig hooks. But sometimes hooks are bad. Sometimes things need to have a bit of dirt, a bit of soul. So when I sent him “Go” and I’m basically losing my shit vocally on the 2nd verse, hell, I don’t even really know what I’m singing, he wrote back, “That’s what I’m talking about.”
I love demos. I think records — big polished records — can turn into piles of shit and sometimes it’s best to leave the dirt. I think it’s something we both see eye to eye on. Also, there’s a mutual respect between the two of us. And I think that’s hard to find, especially because neither of us is offering the other person anything other than making a cool piece of art that maybe someone will listen to.
It's nice that you have such admiration and respect for each other. Sounds like a great collaboration.
As a self-described “slacker rocker,” how do you think you differ from other artists in similar genres?
There’s something slacker in my approach. I dig the hook and the melody, but I’m not trying to pound you over the head with it. It’s easy. It doesn’t have to occupy so much emotional landscape. Why does pop have to be so, gulp, grand? It doesn’t. It can be easy, man. It can be a song, take it or leave it.
When songwriting, do you draw more from personal experience or artistic mediums such as film, artwork, books, and other music? Or, do you get random spurts / light bulb moments that don’t quite make sense until you put them on paper? All of the above?
Most of the lyrics in my songs come from a fairly personal space. A buddy of mine once told me, “Run your own race.” And I’ve pretty much lived by that motto ever since. I admire other artists, but I’m not good enough to lift anything from them. Sometimes I’ll get inspired by watching a movie or a book, but usually not enough to make me sit down and write a song.
I would say that I’m more or less a “spurt” like artist, living in these bubble moments where a slew of ideas will come at once and hopefully I’ll have my phone or some kind of recorder on me. If not, they usually float away.
After an idea comes, I’ll usually sit with it for a few days, listen to it while walking around my neighborhood, trying to decide if the idea should live or die. If it lives, I’ll write some lyrics for it. And I think about those lyrics. They usually have to do with a very “in the moment” feeling. If I’m bummed that I lost a shitty bet, I’ll probably write about it. It all depends what’s happening in that given moment. Every once in awhile I’ll sit down and pen something, start to finish, with no gaps in-between, but I would say that’s a rare occurrence.
In what ways has growing up in Ohio influenced your musical taste and style? Then Portland, later?
I grew up in Ohio (first 18 years) and I’d say that has influenced my musical spectrum more than anything. There’s something about Ohio that makes bands sound a certain way. I can usually pick out an Ohio band within 30 seconds of listening. Maybe it’s the water or the brown river.
But being in Portland the last five years has been good. There’s a number of great musicians up here — like-minded people — who believe in the same version of rock ‘n roll as I do, and I think that’s an important thing to find, especially in a city that’s as foreign as anything else is to you.
I find it pretty awesome you can detect "Ohio-ish music" within seconds. Sounds like a superpower. I might be jealous.
So, what’s on your playlist at the moment? Any recs you’d like to give in terms of indie artists?
I saw Jack Ladder in front of 20 people in Portland and it really blew my mind. It was a weird collision of Nick Cave-like delivery with Devo-like guitar playing. I can’t even describe it. The guitar player had a slew of shitty pedals that he was making magic out of, which I’m guessing is his thing, and there was something about it that made me fall in love with his band. It was very real, very punk. I can’t remember the last time I screamed for an encore. My wife and I stood in the back, howling like drunk kids, and after a few shrugs, they did it.
That's awesome. I've always found that howling like drunks kids produces positive results as well.
How did the creative process for your third album differ from your first album?
Well, they were definitely more similar than the second record (Future Runs Magnetic) was to either of them. Both the first (Battleme / Battleme) and Habitual Love Songs were crafted more or less in my basement and worked on in the studio after they’d been written. There wasn’t much “live demo-ing” throughout the process. It was mainly my brother and I working out the songs and trying to figure out if they were any good. I like making records that way. I think it’s important for songwriters to meddle and really think about what they’re trying to write. [Thinking] “What’s the point of this?”
There’s never a doubt that a song lives when it goes from acoustic guitar to a full band. I remember the first time I played with a drummer — I thought I was in Pink Floyd! I thought, “Man, I’m fucking good!” There’s a power in that idealistic thinking, but it’s flawed because there’s no sense of reality inside it. Same thing happens now when you write a song and put a beat behind it. It may sound cool, but is it?
I think you really have to think and figure out if what you’re doing has a purpose, for you and you only. If you can’t live with it in ten years, no one can. So I was searching, just like I was during the first record. But the end product is much different.
First of all, I surrounded myself with some good players and called it a band. Chad is a such a creative player, both on bass and guitar. Some of the things he came up with still knock me out. And JJ and I really got down in my basement during the overdubs, bouncing ideas back and forth, tracking things one way and another. I had my friend Paige sing on a few songs. Her voice is somewhat magical to my ears. And Emily Faas helped, as well as Paul Pulvirenti on drums. Man, he can play. Colin Hegna was at the helm during the Revolver Recording session part of the record and played bass on “Post is Dead.”
I don’t think that song would be the same without that monster bass riff. On the first record there were only two players; myself and Thomas Turner. This one was much more of a family affair. After the initial tracking sessions, I kept it close to home. I labored over it, mixed it. Of any of my records, this one is closest to who I am.
As a child, what was the first experience you had with music? In what way did it affect you?
I’m not sure what my first experience was, but I know the earliest memories of music revolved around driving in a car with my old man. The first one was a Phil Collins moment. He really loved “In the Air Tonight.” And I remember driving around with him one day and he was telling me to listen. And when those drums came in, he cracked a big smile like the world had just opened up in front of our eyes. That was a good moment.
The second was also with my old man. He was obsessed with a song he heard on the radio and was telling me that he kept calling the station, describing the song to whoever would listen, and they kept telling him that they didn’t know what it was. “I’m telling you, it’s about the plane crash! It’s a story about the lives of these three guys and the father, son, and holy ghost.” Well, it was Don McLean’s “American Pie.” And once he found out, he made us listen to it over and over again, while we drove around looking for something to do.
Ha! Of course. The plane crash! The three guys! That made me chuckle. Very endearing memories of both music and your father.
What advice would you give your past self (say, five-ten years ago)?
Start taking your own advice.
Right? That's pretty good advice. Maybe I'll take it.
Ultimately, what idea, concept, or theme would you most like people to walk away with after listening to the album?
It’s a record of mashed up love songs.
Schizophrenic romance. I dig it.
Is there any specific track on the album that holds the most meaning for you? If so, why?
Probably “Back to You.” It’s a song about my friend Rob. I miss him a lot. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. He used to send me video text messages with Prince on in the background. Video texting. He was the best at those. When I wrote it, I had no idea it would turn into such a Flying Burrito Brothers lost track. I guess that was Chad, doing his thing to it. Rob would be stoked.
You really can't go wrong with Prince video texts. Rob sounds like he was a pretty cool guy. It's nice that you were able to channel your emotions into a song. That must have been a difficult process.
I was impressed to learn that you’ve contributed music to Sons of Anarchy. How did that come about and what was the experience like?
SXSW ’07 or ’08 I played a day party with my band that a rep from 20th Century Fox saw. He contacted us about a pilot show happening on FX and if we’d be into creating some music for it. Fast forward a few years later and Bob Thiele (music supervisor) and I had become good friends, working together on songs for the show.
It lasted seven seasons. It was an amazing experience and one I learned a lot from. I learned what not to do in certain scenarios. It also forced me to grow up fast. I had to ditch the small town “coolio” mentality and approach music in a different way, one that had a sense of sustainability. If it wasn’t for the show, I don’t know what I’d be doing today.
If you could kick back and have a beer with anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be and why?
Charles Bukowski. He’d be a good drinking buddy.
After a bit of research, I would have to agree with you.
So, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I thought you'd never ask. Cue the Phil Collins.