Ten years ago, Shawn Brice and Evan Sornstein created Battery. They soon acquired the gorgeous vocals of Maria Azevedo, and in 1993, were signed by COP Records, which released their first disc, Mutate . Personally, I really dig female-fronted industrial bands (not to label or anything), and Battery is one of the very best. Maria was recently voted people’s pick for best female vocalist by Side-Line magazine.
Through the next two albums, they continued to switch off, dividing the songs between what I call “Maria Songs,” where Maria sings, and “Non-Maria Songs,” where Shawn and Evan would get a little more experimental and eccentric. Their cover of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (on their third effort, Distance ) became a hit on college radio, and boosted their popularity.
After Distance , they released a side project called Ivoux, (pronounced eee-voh). It is a gorgeous concept disc called Frozen , and its songs all deal with different cultural legends about mythical winter women. Now, with the release of the Momentum EP and Aftermath , Battery have outdone themselves. Let the band explain for themselves…
Tell me a little about the genesis of the band. Who found who, when, and where? You know, the basic history.
Shawn : I can’t tell you much about the band Genesis, except that in 4th grade, I thought Duke was just the coolest album! Actually, Evan and I met at Bennington College in Vermont in 1989. After writing much music together, we decided to form a band with fellow student Stuart Scanlon. The reasons were: we could get extra credit for one of our electronic music classes. Also, the college paid student bands $100 to perform at a weekly party. After our exciting first show, we worked on a demo tape to send to labels. Nothing happened. Battery kept writing new material, but eventually, each member either graduated, or went our own way. Fate put us in touch with C.O.P., and we were the second release on the label ( Eternal Darkness , 12″ vinyl only) in 1992. Evan’s sister had a roommate, Maria Azevedo, whom (she claimed) could sing. We needed a vocalist, tried her out, were thoroughly impressed… and the rest is history!
How has the band transformed over the course of Mutate to Aftermath ?
Shawn : We’ve all gotten a hell of a lot better at everything we do!
Maria : More specifically, we’ve learned how to work more efficiently together as a group, and have become more adept at crafting the songs into what we want them to sound like. I’ve become a more proficient and aggressive lyricist, and our live shows have improved tremendously!
Evan : Back then, we wrote songs that we thought were cool, now write songs that mean something to us. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Mutate (most of it). Zeitgeist, you know?
How were you discovered and signed by C.O.P.?
Shawn : We were handing out flyers to one of our shows. I happened to give a flyer to couple of German tourists, and they turned out to be the C.O.P. founders. They came to our show just to get a free tape, but they ended up liking our stuff.
Who writes the music and lyrics? What decides whether it will be a “Maria song” or a “Shawn and Evan song”?
Evan : When we started, we just did what we could do. Shawn and I tried our best at singing, but to be honest, we weren’t vocalists. Also, we had grown tired of the “industrial” male vocal style. I think that kind of “singing” is mostly a cop out. Besides, Shawn and I aren’t really that angry, when it comes down to it.
Maria : After Distance , we decided to focus on having me sing on all the songs on the albums. This progressed naturally alongside my becoming a better and more experienced vocalist! We believe that this makes the albums flow more smoothly into a cohesive unit.
Shawn : There are no more “Shawn and Evan” songs. We killed them all. R.I.P.
What inspires you lyrically? What do you feel most compelled to write about? Does Battery have a central message or recurring theme throughout its records?
Maria : Most of the new songs are very aggressive, and deal with a lot of the anger, betrayal, and bitterness I was feeling when we were writing new material for this album.
How do you feel about being categorized as “female fronted industrial music”? What category, if any, would you be comfortable with?
Maria : We’re used to being called a “female fronted industrial group,” mainly because we were one of the first industrial bands to have a female vocalist. It was our differentiating feature. There’s not really any category we’re completely comfortable with. We reside in a scene that has too many labels already, and all of them are extremely limiting.
Evan : Earlier on, we tried to make up our own categorization: digi-goth, cyber-this and cyber-that — sheesh! What’s the point? I’m tired of reading interviews [where] the artists says something like “our music transcends categorization” blah blah blah. When it comes right down to it, people need a frame of reference. The best thing I can come up with depends on who I’m talking to. If it’s my aunt from god-knows where, I ask “Have you heard of Depeche Mode? Nine Inch Nails? Sinead O’Connor? The Eurythmics?” If it’s a friend’s younger sister dressed for Halloween in April, I ask “Have you heard of Apoptygma Bezerk, de/vision, Cocteau Twins, Delirium, or whatever?” The European interviewers refer to us as an electro band, not industrial. Electronica doesn’t cut it, nor does goth. So, I really don’t know what to say. It’s all relative.
Maria, tell me about your singing background. Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?
Maria : Being from a loud, boisterous, Italian family, I’ve always made lots of noise. Joining a band was just an extension of that! I never had any concrete dreams of “being in a band,” but everything happened so naturally that I fell into the role quite easily. I never took any vocal lessons until after our first full-length album.
Maria, your label mates seem to have a tendency to use your vocals on some of their tracks, as well as non-label mates (one of my favorite songs that you sing is the “Vampire” remix by Heavy Water Factory). Why is that?
Maria : The only reason my label mates use my vocals is because… I sing guest vocals for them! I really like working with other musicians, and I consider it an honor when other bands ask me to sing for them.
Shawn : The “Vampire” song is a funny story. The original version is on Author of Pain by Heavy Water Factory. Maria lent vocals to that song and one other on that album. When doing the vocals for the AOP version, we thought it would be good to have vocals, but didn’t really know what to do. Plus, we didn’t have much time to do it in the first place. When it came time to do the remix album Cries From Hell , we thought it would be interesting to try to create the “Original” version for the “Remix” album. We thought this would make our track stick out, because most remixes are 4-6 minutes long, and here you have a 3-minute pop song in the middle of all this de/re-construction. For some strange reason, it made perfect sense at the time!
Who are your respective influences in and outside of the genre? What got you into this type of music? What, respectively, are some of the artists you listen to or admire currently?
Shawn : I don’t know about my influences inside the genre. I listen to a lot of ’80s stuff (Cure, Depeche Mode, Chameleons, Gary Numan). Plus I listen to a lot of “well-produced” stuff. I really love all the stuff that Jon Brion does in his productions. The thing that got me into this kind of music, I think, was StarWars . I was unable to decipher the difference between the soundtrack and the sound effects. That gave me more of an appreciation of electronic music. Another great album was Queen’s soundtrack to Flash Gordon . It had some great songs in it, with some really great samples. Some of the stuff that I’ve been listening to lately are: De/Vision Monosex ), Love Spirals Downward ( Flux ), Hate Dept.( Release It ), Autechre (“Whatever that thing on nothing is called.”)
Evan : Music outside the genre… I have always held a candle for Laurie Anderson, XTC, Tom Waits, Schubert, Handel. Currently I am enjoying Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope , Moloko, Lamb, Autechre, Everything But The Girl, and Massive Attack.
Maria : I don’t listen to any other music in our genre. I used to think that was weird, but I got over it. I mainly listen to ’80s stuff, too: Kate Bush, the Smiths, Morrissey, Sinead O’Connor, Duran Duran. David Bowie is a big one. Bjork’s always fun. More recently I’ve been listening to Fatboy Slim, DJ Shadow, and the Crystal Method, but I wouldn’t call them influences. Just distractions.
Each consecutive album seems to have more “Maria songs” than it’s predecessor. Momentum is all “Maria songs.” Can we look forward to more vocal oriented tracks with Maria on Aftermath and in the future?
Maria : Yes, Aftermath features my vocals on every track.
Shawn : Battery is now all of the poppy, “Maria songs.” Ivoux is all of the slow drippy “Maria Songs” and “Artsy Songs.” The little boys pretending to be Grover and Cookie Monster are now in the back playing drums.
Why the name Battery? Why Ivoux?
Evan : The name “Battery” seemed multi-meaning and multi-useful, yet simple and easy to remember. We originally saw it in a comic book called Mr.X , for the name of an area of town (every port city has one). The percussion section of an orchestra is called a battery, there’s the energy cell, “assault and battery,” the artillery section of an army…
“Ivoux” came about after trying a few (and already taken) names — “Influx” and “Allegory.” It stands for voice — signifying storytelling and personal expression. It came from the name of one of our cats (“Ivo”), and we added a few letters to guarantee that it wouldn’t already be taken.
Is Ivoux planning to continue as a conceptual project, with myths, legends, or seasons? When can we expect something new?
Maria : Yes, the next album we work on is going to be another Ivoux project. The next release will be entitled Lost , and will focus on lost civilizations.
Evan : Alexandria, Avalon, Atlantis, the Mayans, Minoa, pre-deluge civilizations… we have much work and research to do!
Shawn : We are in the planning stages right now . We have set spring as time to work the new material.
What do you think is in store for the future of Battery? When are you coming to the Southeast ?
Shawn : We don’t really know anything beyond the fact that we will continue to create powerful, personal music for a growing number of individuals such as yourself. We would LOVE to visit South Florida. We are looking at a possible spring tour of the US, but nothing confirmed as of yet.
Maria : Of course, we’d love to tour, but nothing solid had been set up for Aftermath yet. Actually, the next album we will work on will be another Ivoux project.
Where are you all from originally?
Maria : Santa Rosa, CA. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for the past six years, and I love it!
Evan : I was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Marin County (San Rafael, San Anselmo, Ross) and in Santa Rosa. I lived in L.A. for a bit, and in Vermont. I presently live in San Francisco.
Shawn : Livermore, CA. A shitty little cow-town, which is also inhabited by some of the world’s smartest scientists. It was a really interesting mixture growing up, when we went into the supermarket, there would be actual real-life cowboys and real-life nuclear physicists. It was also reassuring during the ’80s, knowing that if there were nuclear war, Livermore would be the target of a first strike.