The Battle Royale
When you start a band, write a few songs, cover a few songs, meet after school and practice in the basement, when does it become real? When is a band really a band? I believe that the band begins the second that first note is played. The band is formed the second that knowing glance and half smile is shared when you know you have something special. There may not be a name or a plan, but the sound of friends creating music… that is the essence of the band.
The Battle Royale is a group of friends (John Pelant (vocals, guitar), Grace Fiddler (bass, vocals), Sam Robertson (organ) and Mark Ritsema (synth, vocals)) from Minneapolis, Minn. They make high-energy dance rock, and catchy sing-a-long folkpop tunes. Their second album Wake Up, Thunderbabe, was released last month on Afternoon Records.
Recently, Mark, John, and Grace of The Battle Royale were kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): The name Battle Royale makes me think of classic WWF action, and Hacksaw Jim Dugan storming to the ring with his trusty 2x4. What is the story behind the name?
John Pelant (JP): Mark thought of the name. I used to not like it. We were C-Section beforehand and I guess that was too visceral or something so we changed it to the Battle Royale. I’m alright with it now. Mark's crazy in a good way
Mark Ritsema (MR): The name Battle Royale is actually the name of a Japanese cult film where kids in the future are sent to fight to death. None of us had seen the movie when we decided on the name, but we thought it fit pretty well. I am the only one who has gotten around to seeing it, and it made me happy. It would’ve been weird to be stuck with a name of a bad movie you know? I guess it was good luck.
Grace Fiddler (GF): The Battle Royale was actually the 2nd or 3rd name we have had, depending on when you want to say the band started. The other two were on the opposite ends of the band name spectrum – one was way sissy (Love and Happy Hour) and one was way hard core (C-Section). So, when Mark approached us with The Battle Royale, it was sort of a mixture of the moods of the two past names.
OA: After touring the country for a year, I bet you have a few stories. What has been your favorite city to visit, and what has been the most unusual thing that has happened?
JP: Sioux Falls was the most fun. The most unusual thing was the weather driving through Iowa. Our van lost its wipers during a torrential down pour. Then we had to stop because we almost were whisked away by a tornado. Omaha was a weird eerie place.
MR: Well, we have really only toured the Midwest, but our favorite city so far is Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There are always a bunch of kids at the show and the place we play (Racys, the Nucleus) has the most amazing sandwiches. It is also right on a river and we are told there is no police jurisdiction on the river side, so crazy things always end up happening, like some girl tubing down the river flashing us, and its like there is more broken glass from beer bottles than rocks. It’s amazing. Besides that we saw a Tornado in Iowa and had to take cover in a rest stop that felt like it was going to blow over.
GF: Racy's in Eau Claire probably has the best vegetarian sandwich that I've ever eaten. Hands down. Both other than that... That same tornado in Iowa that Mark mentioned above was pretty insane. I was in a different car, a bit farther up the highway, and the winds from the tornado literally pushed the car over a bit in the road. At that point, we pulled off into this great antique clothing/furniture store, and I shopped until the storm passed. That antique store was awesome. It had Elizabeth Taylor's bed in the movie "Giant". Good times.
OA: Your new album, Wake Up, Thunderbabe, has two distinct sounds, Side A contains danceable electro-pop and Side B has a more toned down acoustic sound. Why was the album arranged this way? Was it planned to have these two styles or is that just what came out while recording?
JP: It was planned. I don't know. I said one day to mark, "Would you be down with doing a half folk half electric record." He said, "yes," Grace and Sam were also cool with it. I write a lot of songs that have a folksy feel to them. The songs are softer and just as pop as the dance stuff. I ended up with so many 'folk' songs that I had to get them out of my head. I liked playing them with Mark, Grace and Sam because we originally were a folk band. It was lots a fun to play a whole new style with them, one that harked back to the old days. The songs themselves turned out alright. Grace has a really pretty voice and you get to hear more on folk songs. Mark is really fun to play music with 'cause he's down for anything and has good ideas/skills. Sometimes I feel exhausted in the electric dance department so taking a different road, the folk one that I enjoy so much, was a breath of fresh air. I thought it might be a good idea to hear a record that was half electric and half folk, I think the two blend together really well, if you listen you can see the songs themselves are really similar.
MR: It was very planned. John Pelant who plays guitar has his roots in folk music and that’s what he is really good at. He had written all these song that couldn’t work electronically, but that we really liked, and we didn’t care about sticking to a certain style, and we could have lots of fun playing different instruments on the folkish songs too. Grace plays violin, and clarinet on some songs, and I play piano.
GF: I was really excited to play a bunch of instruments for this record. If it had just been an electro-pop album, I doubt that we would have orchestrated it the way that we did. But because those instruments were already out, we ended up including them on a few of the dance songs, as well.
OA: Afternoon Records seems to have an eye for talented bands. How has your experience been with Ian and the folks from Afternoon?
JP: Ian is pretty unusual in that he is very sexual and violent towards us. During recording he'll often make you feel so unwelcomed that you'll begin to question your own self-worth. In the end though, he'll start to come on to you and the recording job somehow gets done in a weird process of Ian’s violent/sexual attacks.
MR: REALLY GOOD. When Ian signed us, we went from being a joke band to being a real band that was pretty bad, and finally to a real band that is pretty alright. Ian would always talk about stuff like "I send all my cds to pitchfork" and it kind of inspired us just to try harder and write better songs. Ian has done basically everything but write our songs for us. He gets us really good shows, and is amazing with publicity. All the bands are really nice too and its fun being a family with them. The Poison Control Center and We all have hooks for Hands are our favorite to play with. Also A Night in the box, everyone is so nice. It feels also like Afternoon Records has the potential to get very popular, and its almost like a competition on the label who will make the record that will make AR really big. It’s healthy competition.
GF: Well said. I've ended up meeting a bunch of people that I know I wouldn't have thanks to Afternoon. It's one big family. We've been trying to have Afternoon records thanksgivings and Christmas, but we will see if those come together.
OA: What are your thoughts on "New Media"? Do you feel music blogs and on-line reviews can have an impact on your success?
JP: I really don't ever read blogs. I think they have maybe done something for us. I only know one music blogger and he's nuts. Thank you for asking me questions and having an interest ---I don't think you're nuts. But I’ve never met you.
MR: Yea, Said the Gramophone is my favorite blog, and I trust them. So I think a lot of people trust a lot of blogs, and I think they have helped us a lot.
GF: Absolutely. Kids these days don't read much in print. There was even this thing in the newspaper the other day that said in that some country in Europe is actually paying kids to go the library now. So I think the more news outlets available online the better, since it is what people are now paying the most attention to.
OA: What's next for The Battle Royale?
MR: We're writing another record right now. Its gonna be more of a fusion of our folk side and dance side. I think it’s an untapped genre that could be realllyyy cool. We are gonna tour this summer, hopefully the UK, and just try our hardest until its obvious we need to stop.
GF: Record a demo this spring, play hella shows over summer, rock and roll.
OA: Coffee? If yes what is your favorite type of coffee, and where is your favorite coffee spot?
JP: I like a dark roast. But I also like light and medium... I really don't give a shit as long as it doesn't taste like motor oil. There other day I made a shit cup that was wayyy too strong.... it made me sick and tired of all things. Sometimes Folgers is deceiving.
MR: Brueggers Bagels have my favorite coffee. The Hazelnut. yummmm.
GF: Have it every day. I have an awkward time between classes at school, so I usually spend it in this former frat house turned coffee shop. Kind? Black coffee.
OA: What is the last great book you have read?
JP: The trial and Death of Socrates--Socrates is too wise for his own good.
MR: Miranda July: No One Belongs Here More Than You.
GF: Right now I am reading "The New Kings of Nonfiction", a collection of essays and articles compiled by Ira Glass. So far, so good!
Wake Me Up/Notebooks (mp3)/Custom Clothes/Confessions Pt. 2/Hollercopter/Racecar (mp3)/Scream Scream (mp3)/Our Thoughts Are A-Pourin' (mp3)/Shook Up/Thunderbabe/Let's Leave
For more information on The Battle Royale please check out their myspace page and to order their album visit Afternoon Records.