When the four guys in Battle Tapes came together a handful of years ago, they didn’t really have any plans for what they were doing.
“It just kind of started out as a passion project where we’d rent a rehearsal space and play these songs that I’d written,” says vocalist and guitarist Josh Boardman. “We really dug it, so we played some shows. Then people really reacted positively to it, and we just started growing and accidentally stumbling along the way to where we are now.”
It didn’t take long for Boardman and his bandmates to make the leap from passion project to bonafide player in SoCal’s music scene, as Battle Tapes found a niche for themselves living somewhere between the worlds of electronic music and rock. Rather than taking the easy way out and relying exclusively on synths, drum machines, and overproduction to create the musical visions in their heads, the quartet decided to pick up instruments and actually play the music themselves.
“We love electronic music, but we didn’t want to make the live shows feel like somebody playing their iPod at full blast through big speakers,” Boardman says. “There’s a rawness and a volatility to a live band, and I think if you can get those things to work together, it’s almost magical. At the same time, drum machines and synthesizers sound so awesome and you can do so many things with your sound that you couldn’t necessarily do with your classic rock band format, and the classic rock band format has been done for the last 40 years, so where are you going to take that? But there’s that spirit of rock and roll that doesn’t really exist in the electronic world. Trying to infuse those two things together really spoke to our values.”
While they’re happy to avoid the awful live DJing pitfalls of dumpster fires like the Chainsmokers and David Guetta, Battle Tapes is still able to pull the best parts of electronic sets for their own performances. From the light shows to the pacing (Boardman and crew perform a steady stream of music rather than taking awkward pauses between tracks like most rock bands), some aspects of Battle Tapes’ concerts would be a better fit at EDC than a punk club.
“There are so many shows in LA and so many good bands that you have to do something to set yourself apart,” Boardman says. “You have to give people a reason to come out and leave their house with all of the distractions, so we started thinking about what we would want to see. I think you have to make people feel like they left the room a little bit.”
On the tracks since 2015’s Polygon, Battle Tapes has made a distinct move away from their classic clean synthesizer sounds and more into the muddled tones of the electronic-based alternative of the late ‘80s. Considering their older tracks landed on TV shows like Girls, Lethal Weapon, Bones, and State of Affairs (as well as Grand Theft Auto V), switching up their sound after just two EPs and a full-length may come as a surprise to some, but Boardman is really just going back to the roots of what got him interested in music in the first place.
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“We knew we wanted to take on a new sound — not necessarily a full-fledged reboot, but a nuanced shift in what we were doing,” Boardman says. “We looked back on some records that were really impactful for us in our formative years and things you wouldn’t think about at first. We wanted to take things like Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and all of those esoteric ‘80s records that came out of left field and see how we could incorporate those tools into what we were doing more.”
Of course, beyond just paying homage to records like Violator in their new music, Battle Tapes sees the shift in tonality as a way to keep things interesting. With so many electronic acts out there, it’s easy to get lost in the never-ending waves of new artists, but the LA-based four-piece is always looking to carve out their own niches. Rather than following the pop trends and taking the safe route, the band is pretty much always looking to venture into new territory.
“What’s always important to us is how we’re influencing the culture,” Boardman says. “That’s something we always think about when we’re being creative is how it plays in the cultural landscape. We like to challenge ourselves and fill some of the blank spaces in the musical landscape because it justifies our existence.”