On October 8th, Battleme, the newest project for lifelong rocker Matt Drenik, released its newest EP, Weight on the Brain, through El Camino Records. The EP features four new songs that will be on his January full-length release, Future Runs Magnetic.
In anticipation of tonight’s performance with Metric, I sat down with Drenik to discuss a near cross-country move, his opinions on varying music scenes, and how a diagnosis of a debilitating ocular disease opened his eyes. Get to know the humble man and be sure to head out to the House of Blues tonight for the show. This one is bound to be just what we Clevelanders need to get our blood moving again after the terribly cold weather we’ve been having.
Battleme initially began as a solo project where you were writing, recording, and playing all the instruments. What made you want to expand this project into a full band?
I had to put together a live band for the first record when we went out on tour. And with that came a slew of musicians that started reinterpreting these songs that I had done on my own into a bigger and broader live performance. With that, it just made sense that I couldn’t do everything on my own. I was interested and keen on the idea of bringing people into the fold to interpret certain songs.
How did you meet the other members?
They’d all been in different projects through Portland. Just kind of word of mouth kind of thing.
Are you still predominantly writing the music for the band or is it now a more collaborative effort?
I’m definitely the main songwriter for the group. It’s a collaboration in a sense, I bring in these skeleton songs, the other players, they of course interpret it certain ways, so they’re pushed on it, but I predominantly write the songs for the band.
What inspires your sound?
Oh, I think it’s just the idea of trying to be unique and fresh and a lifer in rock ‘n roll has always made me feel that music should take you to a certain spot that you weren’t at before, if that makes sense.
What is the biggest difference between the upcoming album, Future Runs Magnetic, and your previous works?
I feel like I’m becoming a better songwriter. I think that as an artist you’re constantly trying to beat yourself, you always want each record to be better than the previous one, whether that’s in production value or lyrical content or songwriting. I think with this one I literally sat down with the songs and would craft them on acoustic guitars, try to come up with creative melodies for them and paint pictures, try to tell stories with the songs. More so than the other one. The last record I was interested in a vibey kind of record with certain spots of song.
Why did you decide to work with Doug Boehm?
I had looked at a number of different producers and Doug had done some records with some of my biggest influences, Guided by Voices and Elliot Smith, so we got on the phone and it just seemed like a good match. We started talking about records and what we liked about music and it made total sense. It seemed like we were from the same cup.
Why do you think there is a resurgence in vinyl?
I think because no one buys CDs. There’s a certain niche of people out there that want to support artists and there’s also the idea that things from the past are pieces of art and they’re beautiful. People get off on the idea of spending money on something that is almost like a piece of art, it’s something tangible, you can look at it, you can watch it spin on the turntable, it’s almost like a ritual. It’s a process. I think people are buying into it.
Do you think the CD is on its way out?
Yeah, without a doubt. I’m surprised that it’s lasted this long at this point. People do still buy them, you still sell them at shows. I think that the way that digital music has moved into more internet-based consumption, especially with iTunes and Spotify, that vinyl holds a very special and sacred place in my heart. It’s the one place where an artist can put out a piece of work and people will actually buy it and buy the entire thing, and listen to it.
Do you think the digital age makes it more difficult for artists to succeed?
I guess it depends on what your expectation of success is. Every artist that I’ve met has always wanted to not work a real job and they’ve wanted to provide for themselves solely on their art. I think I’ve been lucky enough to do that, but there’s also a lot of people who haven’t. And I think that for as bad as it was back in the eighties or nineties with certain record labels ripping bands off, I don’t know if it’s that much better now for artists making money just because people have accepted the fact that they don’t want to pay for music and they just don’t buy it. But I think that also it’s gotten a lot of bands a broader audience. There are pros and cons to it all.
You’ve been in Portland for a few years now. When you initially moved from Austin, was it difficult to make that transition?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the cities have similar qualities, you could almost say they’re sister cities. I think it’s mainly culture. Austin and Portland are both very liberal places where artists feel that they can live and make a living, it’s somewhat affordable still, where New York City is expensive, even LA is expensive, San Francisco…all these people that when we were growing up you’d read about writers and musicians and different kinds of fine artists living sought refuge in places like Portland and Austin and different spots like that. In that sense, they’re similar cities
Whenever you move somewhere and you’ve lived in another place for years and it’s practically on the other side of the country, it’s going to be a tough transition. I only knew a couple of people when I moved up there, so that was difficult because you have to meet everyone and you have to make new friends. You’re leaving a place where you’re somebody and you’re going to a place where you’re small fish again.
What do you think is different about the music scene in Portland versus the music scene of Austin?
I think Austin, you know, Austin has more musicians, I would think, just because it seems as if everyone is in a band in Austin—everyone plays guitar, everyone sings, it’s kind of a running joke when you’re down there. And with that breeds a lot of competition. A lot of bands hate on other bands in Austin. Sometimes it’s a very warm and open experience, but other times it can be a little brutal. But I think in Portland, there’s definitely like this sense of community that I feel like, people get behind the bands a little bit more in that Pacific Northwest in general, Seattle/Portland area, then they do in any other part of the country that I’ve seen. It’s almost like, we’re so far up there, Portland and Seattle are removed from everything. It seems like it’s close to San Francisco, but it’s not. It’s far. You gotta want to go there to be up there.
As far as like the musical aspects go, Portland has a resurgence with the heavier music with Red Fang and bands like Modest Mouse and Decemberists are more on the indie tip, I think Austin is definitely more day turn blues music down there.
You were diagnosed with uveitis in 2009. How did that diagnosis impact your view on life?
Any time that your vision gets compromised, you start to question everything around you. The things that used to make me upset, don’t get me upset anymore. They just fade away. You start to really look at your life, you want it to be more meaningful. You want to not wait to do certain things, you want to do them now because it might not be there tomorrow. That was the big issue with me, with the uveitis, I wasn’t sure if my eyesight was gonna be okay. I think once that starts to happen, you just start to see the world differently. You look outside and you just think about how beautiful it is and how you don’t want to lose that. I think that was the big transition, that’s why I left Austin. I pretty much abandoned a lot of things that I felt were bringing my life to a halt, and I wanted something that was going to be fresh and new and I wanted to feel alive again, so I did that quick transition to Portland. I have to say fifty percent of that was due to my eyes.
Do you find music to be therapeutic?
Oh, yeah, to say the least. Music is the only thing that I know how to do anymore. I’m officially a lifer at this point. I’ve been doing it since I was eighteen, and I haven’t really done anything since. So, therapy is definitely on the list of the many things that it does for me.
Tonight you can catch Battleme opening for Metric at House of Blues in Cleveland. Doors are at 7:00, show begins at 8:00. Tickets are $24 adv / $26 day of show. We’ll see you there!