You may have heard of Matt Drenik via his well known hits on the popular sitcom Sons of Anarchy; though apart from the excitement of the show is a whole different side to the artist you may of thought you knew. Now, with his second studio album out early next year, it’s time for Substream to really diverge into what really ticks for Drenik and what Battleme really is about.
Substream Magazine: Let’s start with the obvious hit you had with tracks within Sons of Anarchy; do you think the path you’re on now would differ if you were not musically involved with this television show?
Matt Drenik: Absolutely. I feel that the show really gave birth to my identity as Battleme. The thing about SOA is that it isn’t concerned with fan base prior touring, releases, band members and everything else that usually goes with being in a band. They were just looking for great songs. So, it really allowed me to stretch my wings and think of songs as pieces of art. That was a beautiful thing for me. I was burnt with the hustle of being a musician: the touring, the hours, records, management, label, everything. This was something that was pure. They were asking me to write specifically for a show. And they wanted it to be different than my previous band, Lions. So, I was able to take the bedroom pop stuff I’d been doing for years alone by myself and give it a platform. In the beginning, the folk stuff gave way to me moving to Portland and writing a record in the basement. I formed a live band to support that record and that band ended up sticking around and writing the new record with me.
SM: Your new album, Future Runs Magnetic, is due out early next year, what can you tell fans about the music featured on this album?
MD: It’s a big rock record with strokes of pop, garage and psychedelia. We cut the record in 10 days, mostly live sans vocal overdubs. I wanted to get the band in a room, throw up mics and hit record.
SM: Within the 12 tracks featured, it’s overall a very colorful album, with a great infusion of ballads as well as hard-hitters. As an album, which were the harder tracks to create fully; those softer ones or the one with more bite and why so?
MD: I would say the ones with more bite were the easiest to cut. Those tend to come together quick. The slower ones, like ‘Future Runs Magnetic’, needed to be caressed a bit more. I think we may have spent most of a day on that just getting the right feedback to come in from the top of the song. If it wasn’t right, we’d stop and start over. Those moments of trying to get everything live can be painful when someone’s feedback acts out of whack and you lose an entire take four minutes into the song. ‘I Am A Lightning Bolt’ was one take. We learned it five minutes before we cut it. ‘Easy Comes Riding’ took half a day.
SM: You explained that writing the first album was rather ‘isolating.’ How did you find recording and taking this album journey as a band?
MD: It was liberating for me because I was able to write sketches of songs and bring them in and trust that these guys would add their own perspective to make it our song. I can’t say enough about how great it was to work with Eric and Zach on the writing of the record. It took about a month to write and demo the songs. I’d show up with an idea, they’d hear it out and make suggestions. Then, we’d work through it and hit record on the laptop to get a demo. It was fairly easy and painless. I didn’t have to do everything on this record. So it comes across much more organic.
SM: Are there any points within the writing and recording process that were made easier because of this?
MD: Absolutely. You save a lot of time and I was able to put more effort and focus into the narrative of the record, rather than what drum fills would sound best. I think when you’re in a band you have to figure out where your strong points lay within the confines of that group. Zach is by far a much better rhythm drummer than I could ever be so it makes sense to let him handle that aspect. Eric has a great ear for harmonies so I would let him come up with interesting counter melodies that I wouldn’t have thought of. All this takes a lot of the pressure off me to do everything and let’s me focus on the songs and lyrics and where the record’s focus should be.
SM: How was it working with Doug Boehm?
MD: Great. I love Doug. He’s a real salt of the earth kind of guy. We’re from the same hometown (Cincinnati, OH) and there’s just a thing that happens when two people from Ohio get in the same room together. I can’t quite put my finger on what that is. There’s just a familiarity that sounds off in the room. He knows where I’m going with things. And I can tell if he loves or hates something immediately. There’s no bullshit happening and certainly no ego boosting in moments that don’t need it. Since the record we’ve become fast friends. He’s been more than just a producer to me.
SM: Do you think, at the end of it all, you’ve crafted the perfect halfway balance between the softer vibes you created with your first album (and previous projects) and the new rockier vibe you’re sporting on this one?
MD: I think I’ve created a good balance for the beginning of this band’s lifeline. I think every band has a time limit, a lifeline. And with these guys, I feel like we just started. I now know how Zach is going to play or the feel he might give me behind the kit. I know how Eric will react to a certain song and how he might take it to a different place. And now I can write with that in mind. This record was almost a test record to see how we would get on together creatively. And I couldn’t be happier. I’ve already been writing new songs for the next record and every time I pick up the guitar I have both of those guys in mind. I can pick out which songs should be band songs and which ones I should leave for another bedroom folk record.
SM: While transitioning between the two musical projects, did you get many raised eyebrows from fans?
MD: Totally. People are so boring sometimes when it comes to that. Everyone is pigeonholing everyone to be something that they think they should be. It’s totally boring to me. What’s fun about a band doing the same record over and over again? And why do people expect that? Just because you love early Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash doesn’t mean you don’t also crank The Clash in your car late at night. People have too many expectations about things. Granted, I’ve thrown some serious curveballs, but that’s what turns me on as an artist. I can only write so many folk songs like ‘Here With Me’ before I just start writing the same song over and over again. Music is a broad landscape that should be explored. Some days I want to write a song that makes me shake my ass. And other days I want to crawl in a hole and bury myself in the rain. My songs are personal and reflective of where I was when I wrote them. I have a hard time writing songs where the content is fake. Fiction was never my strong suit.
SM: The Washington Post noted that ‘Touch’ from your self-titled as a ‘career maker.’ Do comments like that put much pressure on you to further deliver with Future Runs Magnetic?
MD: Not really. I don’t put too much value on snippets like that. I don’t even know what that means anymore. I just keep going and try to be as creative as I can.
SM: You’ve been quoted saying that, “Anyone who’s constantly pushing themselves to write and try new things inspire me so much more than any pop star.” Is there anyone you’re admiring in the music world, or anyone for that matter, today?
MD: Josh Homme. Dax Riggs. Beck. Aaron Behrens. Ty Segall. Really anyone that’s moving beyond the walls that have been built up around them. I really dig that attitude. I saw Ty at a festival up here last summer and he got on stage with 4 other guys and played acoustic songs. They were great and had that Sid Barrett kind of vibe. It was fresh. It was in the woods and I thought to myself, ‘this guy’s got it. He’s so much better than everyone else. And he can write a fucking song.’ I want to see people like that. The new Queens record has grown on me so much that I think it might be the best thing I’ve heard in years. He goes heavy, soft, and everything in between. I want that piano ringing through my ears and then a guitar washing over my face. That’s art. That’s not boring.
SM: Do you think the music world today is lacking in that push of creativity and originality and if so, why do think he has evolved to this blandness, especially in comparison to the drive and excitement that existed in music in the 50s-80s?
MD: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Everyday I feel like I find out about a band that really turns me on. Of course there’s bands that I don’t really get off on, but those aren’t the things that I concern myself with. It goes both ways. For everything you love, someone is going to hate, and vice versa. We (the band) talked about this on tour last month. And we all sort of came to the conclusion that in some ways everything has been done. So it’s hard to reinvent the wheel. Of course you can take this chord and match it with this chord and it might turn someone on, but the idea is to really be fresh. There will never be another Stones or Beatles or Joy Division. You’ll hear a lot of bands that sound like them. But in the end, the ones that stick around are the ones that find their own voice, their own perspective and try to write fresh ideas. The new Arctic Monkeys record AM is totally fresh. It’s visceral. Are they inventing anything that we haven’t heard in some way before? I don’t know. Probably not. But who is? They’re running their own race. And that’s what it’s all about.
SM: Is there anything you would want fans to take away from Future Runs Magnetic, a message or a certain feeling you hoped you have created? MD: Rock n roll. SM: As an artist who is so open to change, where do you think life will take your music here onwards – whether that be a genre change or even experimentation within the rock spectrum?
MD: Who knows? I think that everything is unpredictable. Every time I think something is going to happen, the total opposite thing happens. For instance, I left Ghostland’s label earlier this year to join another one. So the idea that I would produce the singer of Ghostland’s solo record was well beyond what I imagined might happen. But I did. And being with Aaron gave me a whole new perspective on garage rock songs. He was effortless in the studio. And it made me think twice about how I want to make my next record. Everything like that matters. And I try to let the world influence me however it may. I’m doing my best not to over think things. I once asked my friend Billy Harvey why he moved to Los Angeles. He told me, “The world was just pushing me there. And I moved with it.” At first I thought it was kind of a weird thing to say. But now, maybe it’s more brilliant than anything else.
Interview by Nicole Tieran