In Framing: Bat House
Blossoming out of a friendship between four Berklee College of Music students, Boston-based psych/math rock group Bat House came to fruition in 2014. With regular gigs in basements & bars around the greater Boston area + the release of their self-titled debut LP, the quartet have started to garner some well-deserved recognition. Bat House have built a brand off of their live show: an energetic amalgamation of spacious, kaleidoscopic psychedelia & frenetic, progressive math rock — and their debut album does not disappoint. Their sound switches from spaced-out & sprawling, to absolutely manic in one swift motion. It's the type of calculated chaos that only those with the chops that Bat House hold can truly pull off [and hammer on].
We caught up with Shane [Guitar], Pompy [Drums] & Emmet [Bass/Vocals] before their looming Fall '17 tour, where they'll be making a stop in Burlington for the 25th Annual South End Art Hop [RSVP to their event here]. For the second installment of our In Framing series, the gang chose to talk about two unequivocally gargantuan albums that have made an impact on their musical careers & their own personal lives. One record arrived at the turn of the millennium & came with a heft of expectations. It was not immediately well-received, but has since become one of the most lauded, influential records of our generation. The other is an inarguable classic — a first real look into the mind of a Beatle stepping out of the shadow of his former bandmates & one of the first records to truly push the boundaries on what an album can be.
Kid A by Radiohead
hope: Where were Radiohead in their career at the time that they released Kid A?
Shane: I know that the band was going through somewhat of a crisis at the time. They were definitely adjusting to fame. This was in 2000.
Emmet: They got really famous after ‘Creep’ from their first album. They were going on world tours & after a lot of that, Thom Yorke [the singer of Radiohead] was really not feeling the whole idea of ‘Fame’ & living the rockstar life. He kind of was departing from music altogether. He was having issues with a lot of ‘melodic’ things & everyone in the band was in a very dark space. Obviously they continued to make music. Kid A is what came out of that period — it’s kind of a crisis album.
hope: Where were you when you first heard the album?
Shane: When I first heard the album I had just been broken up with for the first time. I remember a really good friend of mine, who I had gone to high school with, was always a really big Radiohead fan. I had never really listened to them much. He brought me a CD of Kid A. I was going through the motions of being a young teen & heartache. I was in the ninth grade—probably like 14 or 15 years old. I listened to the album & I remember my room was very dark & I had listened to it in full. It definitely spoke to me as a young, angsty teenager. That was definitely my first experience with it. I’m sure a lot of people’s first experiences with Radiohead are when they’re going through break ups.
Emmet: The first time that I had ever heard it was in high school. I used to try to make music with Garageband & whatnot, but it always sounded absolutely terrible. I still go back & listen to it sometimes just to make fun of myself. Some kid in school told me that my music sounded kind of like Radiohead, so I went & listened to them. Then I listened to Kid A specifically probably like 1000 times. It definitely spoke to me in high school & I still carry that.
Pompy: I actually discovered Kid A while I was in college. It was my fourth semester of school & it was snowing. I was sort of introduced to Radiohead through Ally [Bat House Guitarist] & Shane. Ally would talk to me about Shane as though he was this Jazz aficionado guitar player who also really liked Radiohead. I hadn’t really known Shane that much, & I was kind of just like “What is Radiohead & why does everyone talk about them so much?” Then I started listening to them. I just remember it being winter & it was a really weird time of my life. It was very appropriate.
hope: Did any of you play the album in front of your parents when you were younger?
Emmet: Yeah! My mom loves Radiohead! She has some tinnitus in her ear sometimes, so she can’t turn it up too loud, but she likes it in the background. She just really likes anything that has interesting sounds in it. She always asks “What instrument is that?” but it’s usually just a keyboard of some sort...
hope: How do you connect to the album now compared to when you first discovered it?
Pompy: I feel like I generally have the tendency to listen to Radiohead when I’m in an intrinsically sad or existential moment. That’s my relationship to Kid A & Radiohead’s catalogue in general. It hasn’t really swayed.
Shane: It’s probably the same for me. I pretty much only listened to Radiohead intensively for a year. Now at this point I hardly ever listen to them unless the time calls for it. Even then, it’s rare.
Emmet: I would say that certain songs on Kid A kind of call out to me. I haven’t over-listened to the album, & I’m not sick of it, but I haven’t consistently listened through Kid A in a long time. When I do, I’m usually in a dark place — I think that’s part of the experience especially with this album in particular. Radiohead was in a dark place & you can feel it. The album feels very anxious — it’s crazy. The album’s cover is something that I like to think adds to it. It’s very tundra-esque.
hope: I’m a new listener to Kid A & I have very little experience with it thus far, but it sounds sort of like chilled-out hacker music to me.
Emmet: [Laughs] That’s true. Matrix vibes!
hope: Do you have a specific song off of Kid A that you hold especially close to you?
Pompy: ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’. The song is in five... Everything that is great is in five... It’s a bizarre song because lyrically it doesn’t make any sense. They sort of picked the lyrics out of a hat when they wrote it. Also, like, just sitting on the roof alone at night & listening to that song is a really strong memory for me. But I also think that it’s a very lush song & again — it’s in five. It’s the overarching intensity of the song, it’s pretty unsettling.
Emmet: ‘In Limbo’. It’s interesting because there’s so much happening in the mix — it’s like total chaos. The only thing that you can really pick out is this guitar riff that keeps on going while Thom Yorke’s vocals are completely destroyed by crazy production effects. I identify with the song a lot because it’s kind of reminds me of being in solitude — it’s the loneliest song I’ve ever heard. It’s a really dark song, lyrically, but I really like the line “I’m lost at sea, don’t bother me.” It’s the darkest stuff, but I like that shit.
Shane: ‘Idioteque’. Across the whole album, it’s probably the most jarring, intense song. I appreciate Thom Yorke’s ability to take a lyric like “I’ll laugh until my head falls off” — which is a funny, nice, comedic phrase — & turn it into a dark image. Speaking of the collage of words [like in ‘Everything in it’s Right Place’] this song has some samples of really minimal, neo-classical music that the band was into at the time. It’s really really cool that they basically made the beat, had Thom Yorke sing over it & everyone dove in on it. It was really progressive for them because up until this point they were just considered a live rock band. I appreciate the song because it made it clear what Radiohead was really capable of when it comes to making music.
hope: As a whole, how do you think that this album has influenced Bat House as a band in terms of songwriting?
Shane: It definitely has encouraged experimentation. As a band I think that it’s important to always be willing to try new things & like go places that you have maybe not gone before. This is an album where it really worked out for them, & I really appreciate that. I always think about what Radiohead was thinking when they wrote Kid A. When we’re writing our songs it’s always like “Well why not try it this way or that way, because Radiohead probably tried it when they were in ‘Writers block galore’” ya know?
hope: Are there any songs on the new record that might be directly influenced by Kid A?
Shane: I think from a production standpoint maybe, not necessarily the songwriting aspects though. A lot of the stuff on Kid A was made with computers & could never really be done live. In our song “Viridian City (Party)” there’s a break in the music where Emmett is playing bass & singing at the same time, everything else behind Emmett in the mix has a lot of delay on it, then it all fades out & the band comes back in. It’s kind of like using your computer as an extra instrument to exaggerate certain parts of the song more. It’s a semi-direct influence from Kid A, for sure.
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
hope: Do you know any of the backstory of where George Harrison was in his life when writing All Things Must Pass?
Emmet: I do believe that The Beatles had broken up & George Harrison had been spending a lot of time in India & studying the music over there. He came back to the states & recorded the album. This was in 1970... It was his first that he made without The Beatles. He had a lot to say that he didn’t get to say with The Beatles & I think that it’s great that he was able to let it out. A lot of people have trouble listening to the whole album because it’s so long..
hope: Where were each of you when you first heard this album?
Emmet: I grew up in Los Angeles & I used to play in a folk band that covered some of the songs that were on All Things Must Pass. It kind of opened the door to a lot of jangly rock & acoustic guitar music for me. When I first started playing guitar, which a few years before I started playing bass, I was playing a lot heavy metal: Metallica, Slayer, etc. Then I started to listen to The Grateful Dead because I had a lot of their T-shirts with skulls on it. I was a dumb teenager so I didn’t know that the skulls were like really friendly [laughs]. I started to branch out as I got older. All Things Must has so many essential George Harrison songs & when I was starting to develop as a vocalist it helped a lot to sing along with The Beatles. So I kind of gravitated towards that type of music, naturally.
Shane: I’m from Florida & when I was around 12 years old I used to play music with a neighbor of mine who was a really big folk enthusiast. He would play a lot of Bob Dylan, CSNY & George Harrison & he definitely introduced me to that type of music at an early age. As I got older — around 22 or 23 — I kind of realized that I had to revisit that stuff. So the first time that I listened to All Things Must Pass in full I was just alone in my room. It definitely shook me to the core. There’s a lot of things to take away from that album considering where he was in his career after The Beatles. It’s a really deep, thoughtful record.
Pompy: I have memories of listening to All Things Must Pass with my Dad — it was in his record collection. It reminds me of laying on my living room floor & listening to my Dad talk about all of his records. For a long time the stuff that he was playing wasn’t anything that I particularly enjoyed, but there were these cute moments of me humoring my dad as a kid. As I grew older I began to appreciate his music more & these moments became more like a bonded series of memories that I have. It’s one of albums that makes me think of being at home.
hope: How do you connect to the album as far as a musical standpoint?
Shane: As a guitar player, I think listening to George Harrison play guitar on this album kind of rocked my world in a unique way: he was really good at playing with what isn’t there. He is very visceral in his playing, but also plays where it’s tasteful. Even with his voice he knew where to operate his space.
hope: When I first listened to All Things Must Pass I was somewhat surprised at how great George Harrison's is. I typically think of John Lennon & Paul McCartney as the vocalists behind The Beatles...
Shane: I think that a lot of people have that thought & I definitely did too, like “Why don’t more people think of George as much as they do John or Paul when it comes to The Beatles?” That’s a classic age old debate!
Emmet: What about Ringo’s record?!
hope: Do you have a specific song off of All Things Must Pass that you hold especially close to you?
Emmet: My favorite song is the first song on the whole album, ‘I’d Have You Any Time’. There’s something about the melody & the chord structure that is just gorgeous. It’s the perfect introduction to the shit-ton of songs that are on the album.
Pompy: I kind of feel like the entire record in itself is this massive musical journey, so I don’t know. I think for me it’s about the body of work as a whole.
Shane: I think “Isn’t It A Pity” is my favorite song. It has this really interesting moment towards the end that, in true Phil Spector fashion, has all of these strings & reverb going on, but in the midst of all of that George sings the “Hey Jude” melody. The fact that it’s his first record after leaving The Beatles makes it a pretty clear statement. It’s a really clever thing for him to do.
hope: I wonder how the rest of The Beatles reacted to that when they first heard it...
Shane: I like to think that they just hated it.
Emmett: I like to think that they cried... Like little children.
hope: How did All Things Must Pass influence your concept of what an album can be?
Shane: I think the influence of this record will be more evident in the new material that we release. It’s kind of an album that I didn’t hear until after our album was done. I think really what inspires me is the amount of time it takes to get through the album. It’s a really deep & profound.
Emmet: The sheer amount of material on this record is ridiculous. I have a lot of respect for George, & this album kind of speaks to his unfortunate stifling when he was in The Beatles. He was clearly writing a lot of music while he was with them — he pretty much had three albums worth of material. So there is kind of some vengeance in this record. Like quite literally in “Isn’t It A Pity”.
Pompy: I think that it’s a journey of conception to refinement & creation. It’s a really big testament to not rushing the process & allowing things to naturally & organically happen — which is a really difficult thing to do as a creator. It’s a great testament to the varying degrees of control that you can have in the creative process.
Bat House play Burlington's 25th Annual South End Art Hop with Kal Marks, Clever Girls & Night Nurses on Saturday, September 9th at Speaking Volumes. Entry to the event is $5-10. Show up early. RSVP to the event here.
- hope all is well