Battle, as a verb, is to “fight or struggle tenaciously to achieve or resist something.” Battleme as a band name, then, is the definition of the creative opposition that has long been brewing inside musician Matt Drenik.
As the front man of Austin’s guitar-heavy, psych metal band Lions since 2005, Drenik was the group’s electric muscle, meaning he often had to keep his love for the acoustic under wraps.
“There’d be these times I’d get the guts to bring a slow folk song to the band, and every time they’d tell me it wasn’t ‘our sound,’ so I’d go away defeated and write a heavier riff that they’d love, and that was the end of it,” Drenik says of working with his band mates who Houston Press once called the “Wolfmother for people who drink domestic beer.” And so, “that cycle went on for years, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t writing other songs when I would sit in my apartment by myself.”
Then one day the line was finally drawn. Lions had been asked to produce a song for the equally raucous FX hit show Sons of Anarchy and soon Drenik had formed a close friendship with the series’ music supervisor Bob Thiele. “He started asking me to do different things out of my creative comfort zone, which stirred me,” admits Drenik, who found himself striking a chord with a number of country-tinged ballads like that insanely charismatic cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My” in season three or the slow surrender of “Burn This Town” in season two’s finale, both of which he wrote in a matter of weeks. “In TV, things turn around really fast.” Such was the case when Thiele asked Drenik just a few days after the second season finale how he wanted his band name to appear on the soundtrack compilation—and thus Battleme was born.
“I had never seen a TV show have that kind of effect on music,” he says, referencing the great amount of support the show provides for musicians, both in picking up-and-comers for its soundtrack and in curating its own house band, the Forest Rangers (with members of the Elvis Costello Band and Velvet Revolver) that frequently tours. It should be no surprise though—the creator, Kurt Sutter, is married to the show’s lead actress Katey Segal, herself a singer who once was backup talent for Bob Dylan and Bette Midler before penning a few solo albums. Her son, too, is a musician who once was in a band with Paul Stanley’s kid. “The whole family is awesome,” Drenik confirms, speaking fondly of their dinner parties that result in sing-a-longs.
So, with the star support and after another serious battle in front of him, this time with an autoimmune eye disorder that almost made him blind, Drenik decided to put a new focus on his Battleme solo project in 2010 and thus quieted Lions for the time being. He packed up his belongings and made the cross country move to Portland where he met his now wife as well as a handful of local musicians who got him on the right track, including Mudhoney’s Steve Turner, Drenik’s neighbor. “There’s a real good crew of people I got to meet living up here,” says Drenik. “The best was when [Steve] introduced me to Michael Maker from [Sub Pop garage rock band] The Makers who I really admired when I was younger.”
The alternative community comprised of bands like The Makers, honed just north of where he now lives, was the music of Drenik’s youth—“my first CD was Nevermind; my mom bought it for me when I was 10,” he says. So, naturally the ‘90s nostalgia seeps through the crunchier material on Battleme’s 2012 self-titled debut and its follow-up, Future Runs Magnetic (released in February), which unapologetically features a song called “I Want My Kim Deal.” Appropriately, Battleme was also just tapped to open for The Toadies Rubberneck anniversary this spring.
“Whenever you put together more standard rock songs with crunchy, fuzzed-out guitars and pop melodies over it, you’ll get that feeling of stuff happening in early ‘90s, but that’s what bands like Soundgarden were doing—they were crafting pop songs over louder guitars,” rationalizes Drenik. “In all of that noise though you have to find your own voice. Every artist should progress forward and not think too much about what happened before.”
And so Drenik does with the heavy-handed “Just Weight” and soft lo-fi innuendo of “Nights on the Strand,” two of his newer songs that both were born from his own unwarranted paranoia of artistic annihilism. “You want to stay relevant and fresh and current, like you’re moving forward and not grasping for air,” he says, like a true perfectionist, but we’re sure that’s one battle he won’t have to face anytime soon.
In addition to his love for Kim Deal and his sometime mentor Katey Segal, Drenik had a few other kind words for these lady musicians who have also left a lasting impression.
Who are some of your favorite female musicians of all time? How have these female artists inspired you and your music?
“Patti Smith without a doubt. She’s definitely the most influential female artist that I’ve ever come across on a personal level. She’s the one I instantly connected with and still connect with even as I get older. I find myself going back to Horses and really everything she has done. I loved her book, Just Kids, about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe; I loved that she was married to Fred Sonic Smith because I’m a huge fan of MC5. Her entire lifespan has been just so cool. She’s a pure artist—really raw, uninhibited and did it for all the right reasons. Everyone who plays music should strive for that.
“PJ Harvey was also a huge influence on me when I was younger, I remember listening to Rid of Me over and over again. I’d also say Emily Haines, We got to do some shows with Metric and I feel like she is definitely a voice of a generation.”
Are there any female musicians on your radar now that people should check out?
“For sure Sarah Jaffe. She’s magical as a singer and performer. There’s another band called Blouse, the front woman Charlie Hilton actually married my wife and I. She has great vision and a good voice, and her records are getting better and better.”
Which female artist, living or dead, would be your dream collaboration?
“Of course, Patti Smith. I’m sure a lot of people say that.
“So far though I’ve only collaborated with Katey Segal. We sang a cover of ‘House of The Rising Sun’ together, the first time in her living room. She has such a strong voice so she was blowing me out of the room.”
Photos by Rebecca Steele