TOFU AND WHISKEY Battlehooch might be a tad ridiculous. The San Francisco six-piece has said it simply focuses on “colorful sounds and heavy rhythm” but that’s like saying a mud run might get you a little dirty. Or, a gooey glazed donut burger being listed on a low-cal menu.
No, Battlehooch is not subtle. And those colorful sounds pop in all sorts of surprising ways. They hit you over the head with a chaotic masterpiece jumble of guitars and synths, percussion, hints of horns layered over cello and searing robotic bleeps or vintage printer-reminiscent dot matrix screeches or lyrics like “Laugh ’till I choke/I get the joke” off newest album, Hot Lungs, opener “Joke.”
The band’s twisty, psych-inflected orchestral pop (meets industrious cyborg army) gives a sense of ultimate art-rock camaraderie. Indeed, when I chat with the band members, they’re all giggling and playing darts with guitarist A.J. McKinley’s dad in Santa Cruz before a show on a weekend mini-tour. For the next couple of months the band is doing little weekend jaunts in the greater Bay Area, as opposed to one long summer tour.
But the Battlehooch six will all be back in San Francisco this weekend for a triple vinyl release show with fellow locals Major Powers and the Lo Fi Symphony, and Hungry Skinny. Battlehooch will celebrate the release of Hot Lungs on vinyl, Major Powers and Hungry Skinny of new seven-inches (Sat/22, 9pm, $14. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slimspresents.com).
“We did this crazy US tour in 2010 that was like, four months long,” McKinley says. “When we got back from that we decided to devote the majority of our time to just recording the gnarliest album we could, instead of just trying to crank it out really fast, we spent as much time as we wanted and went as deep as we possibly could.”
It was recorded in bits and pieces over the course of a year and a half, all over California. The musicians did a lot of work on the mixing with Kyle McGraw at Faultline Studios in SOMA, and recording with Mike Scully at In The Pocket Studios, Jason Kick of Maus Haus and Exray’s, and with Jay Pellicci at Tiny Telephone (“he did our song ‘I’m Exploding,’ which is kind of our loud and stupid rock song, and we mean that in the best way possible,” McKinley adds).
The band also took a trip to Mendocino County to an off-the-grid communal living space. It did a work-trade with the community there in which the band members got to record in the space and stay there, and in exchange did some outdoor work. They were shoveling the earthen roof, which badly needed to be rebuilt. The band’s resident wind instrument expert Tom Hurlbut describes it as “back-breaking labor for a band of six dudes who don’t do anything like that normally.” The big, palatial space of this location with its stone floors created the drum sound in the song “Yeah That” and showed up in a few other instances on the album.
Lyrically, Hot Lungs is all over the map, but singer Pat Smith and Hurlbut agree the most common themes were “animal behaviors” and “breaking up.”
New songs were added into the mix whenever Battlehooch could scrounge up enough money to book a few days here or there in this studio or that. This piecemeal process lends itself to the band’s sound, creating a dense and multidimensional pop record.
“The end result is a very kaleidoscopic listening experience,” McKinley says.
Throughout all of this, the group listened heavily to contemporary psych band Tame Impala, along with famed dub producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Prince. It learned all of Prince’s Purple Rain for a Halloween show.
“I think that was super important because that’s an album that’s super dancey and complex, but also very poppy and populous. It taught us about making songs that were idiosyncratic but everyone can get into it in an immediate fashion,” McKinley says.
And thus, he lays out the Battlehooch way, a fun-loving group of friends that long ago absorbed pop and now stretches it to weirder planes. Plus, there’s that inclusive, all-in thing — the group is very much a part of the local Bay Area music community. It participates in nearly every creative project the city has to offer musicians. That Prince-cover Halloween show was part of the band’s month long residency at the Knockout.
Battlehooch also was a part of the UnderCover Presents series of live full-album tribute shows in SF, participating this February in the Radiohead show by recording and performing a cover of “In Limbo.”
“The original version is smothered in atmosphere, there’s this dense, thick fog hanging over it, with complex polyrhythm madness,” McKinley says. “So what we did was try to strip away all of that and present it as an actual song, just chords and a melody, and when we did that we discovered the song is actually really beautiful. So instead of having this very processed sound, we ended up having this kind of chamber pop sound with bass clarinet, synthesizers, electronic drums, acoustic guitars, and all of that.”
Most recently, Battlehooch participated in the Music Video Race, profiled in last week’s Bay Guardian cover story. The video made to the song “I’m Exploding” includes the band playing live, spliced with images of the musicians being nutty, dropping things into a bathtub, sticking a fork in a light socket.
Bassist Grant Goodrich explains, “I don’t know if our concept got across, but in the act of us playing we were all involved in doing something a little bit stupid…then at the end we see our demise. It translates that Battlehooch is not just ridiculous, but fun too. I mean, don’t even know if it’s ridiculous.”
And adding to that, the group has something else new to plug: an offer on BandPage Experiences (bandpage.com/BATTLEHOOCH/experiences). It’s an app that bands use on Facebook as a way to promote themselves, and create their own sellable ideas and concepts. Battlehooch came up with an idea called “Scantily-Clad Housecleaning” ($300) offering themselves as your new housecleaning team in fashionable, seasonable sexy wear. There are no takers just yet.
FEMALE DRUMMER SHOWCASE
Finding a good drummer is always one of the hardest parts of forming a band. And yet, for some reason, there haven’t been too many world-famous lady drummers — you can likely count them on one hand. Tom Tom Magazine set out to fix such gender inequalities by raising awareness about female percussionists and inspiring girls to pick up the sticks. It’s covered Patty Schemel, Janet Weiss, Kim Schifino (of Matt and Kim), tUnE-yArDs, and the Dum Dum Girls, along with hundreds more in its four years of publishing existence. Now it’s time for the drummers to give back, at this fundraiser for Tom Tom, also presented by Mission Creek Oakland and East Bay Express. The female drummer showcase includes local Oakland bands such as two-piece garage-punk act Dark Beach, vintage pop band Upside Drown, party duo Bam!Bam!, and Silver Shadows.
Sat/22, 9pm, $7. Uptown Nightclub, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl. www.uptownnightclub.com.
MT. TAM JAM
Summer forever. If you missed last weekend’s Huichica Music Festival, here’s another chance to enjoy live indie rock in a striking natural environment: the Mt. Tam Jam, like the name implies, is a fest atop a mountain (actually in a 4,000-seat stone amphitheater atop said mountain). And though it seems the perfect locale for such an event, the Mt. Tam Jam will be the first major concert here in decades — it’s a benefit for Mount Tamalpais State Park. The Jam includes live performances by talk-singing ’90s rock stalwarts, Cake, carnival funk New Orleans natives Galactic, the Taj Mahal Trio, Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, and more.
Sat/22, 10am, $50. www.tamjam.org.