Leks Pistols and Danilo Parrales, lead singer of New York’s Battery One Dollar discuss Morrissey, literature, film, and Michael Jackson being inside of every child in America.
When I asked lead singer of Battery One Dollar, Danilo Parrales, what genre of music they classify themselves as, he offered “Folk” initially, and then Indie, and finally he classified the band as: “gloomlodic folk rock.” When I hear bands this honest, and this original, I have to do them the justice and create adjectives of my own to describe them. After careful and appreciative listening to the newest album, “The Devil Said No,” while reading lyrics to each song, I must honor this band with an appropriate title that is neither indie nor folk, but a musical genre of its own: Dystopian-Noir.
“Noir” and “Dystopian” are terms usually reserved exclusively for film and literature, in which the setting and subject matter involve themes of awkward sexual content, depression, fear, social problems, and various dead-end scenarios.
The music and lyrics of Battery One Dollar almost instantly place you in the story setting of a society content with despair and hopelessness, told by a protagonist that is somewhat dysfunctional, alienated and yet above all brilliant, expressive, and HONEST. Its the story of “Ok, today I might die, but if I don’t, meh . . . there’s always tomorrow.” …and so on. This is the music you might expect to hear in the soundtrack to a Wes Anderson film at first, but just as the somber vocalising comes in, there is no dark comedy there- it’s just DARK, but in an oddly cheerful way.
Their sound takes influence from sources that are not directly identifiable musically. The reason for this is because many of the influences come from literature. As a band having its origins traced back to a landmark New York City bookstore, it’s no surprise that, whether intentional or not, this band encapsulates the spirit of great literary minds that have made writing come alive, in addition to also being creative writers themselves (aside from music). There is no secret (and it puzzles me quite often), that many writers for whatever reason, are one part lunacy, and one part intrinsic virtuoso. What you can expect then, from Battery One Dollar, is nothing less than the perfect symmetry of both gene pools.
You can tell when a band is a band you’ll love when you can’t directly tell the influences, but the tunes reminds you of music that you already know and love. The beginning of Got Born, for example, it’s guitars sound like you’re waiting for Kurt Cobain to come in, as in the Muddy Banks of Whiskah version of Spank Thru, but just then appears Layne Stayley’s more moody little brother, who is just as dismal, but doesn’t want to scream as much about it on vocals. Its just as awesome. The tracks on their album The Devil Said No are generally consistent in tempo and tone, which create a category of their own, but not yet a current recognised musical “movement.” This may be a good thing, however- it’s what separates something that is “heard” from something that is “listened to.” Parrales’s “love me with agony” plaintive poetry and glum vocal attributes, paired with King’s equally forlorn backing vocals, almost makes you picture both Layne Stayley and Jerry Cantrell doing backing vocals for Damon Albarn in a band with Johnny Marr contributing his best “empty rocks glass of whiskey” melodies to the project. It isn’t easy to get the artists I just mentioned under the same tent. For a band to result in a well balanced proportion of all these particular artists, without intending to, doesn’t happen very often. The outcome is a project that will leave its imprint for years to come, for a time capsule, if in the event aliens come to see what good this planet has contributed to humanity. Check out what’s ticking under Danilo’s hat in this Q&A below.
Battery One Dollar are:
Jack Irwin on Bass and contributing to Background Melancholy.
Patrick King on Drums
Danilo Parrales on Guitar, Vocals, and Forefront Melancholy.
Leks: What’s the meaning behind the name Battery One Dollar?
Danilo: The story is, before the age of ipods and other mp3 devices, people used to have cd players, and before that, walkmans, you know portable ones. People had them on the train, and when they used to run out of batteries, there was usually some immigrant, a nice immigrant, either from Colombia, or somewhere in Asia selling batteries – saying “battery! one dollar!” on the 4 train. I brought it up to my bandmates, originally I thought it was too comical, but they loved it.
Leks: I love bands that have interesting stories behind the name. So many bands are all about these flashy, colorful, catchy names, but their music sucks. Your music has such honesty in it, and depth, aside from the name.
What inspires your writing, and what gives it the sound that it has?
Danilo: My attempt to make my sadness flow into someone’s ear without being ridiculed too much. The sadder I get, the more music I welcome.
Leks: That’s a very Morrissey thing to say (laughs). Your music in its entirety, doesn’t sound much like The Smiths, or Morrissey’s music after The Smiths, but its very centered upon that sort of “hopeless” narrator, in a very charismatic appealing way. Are you a fan of The Smiths at all?
Danilo: To be honest, I’ve heard of them, people are always telling me about The Smiths, but because they were always associated with “80’s bands,” which I hate, I never really listened to The Smiths.
Leks: There’s a lot of music that might have influenced you, unbeknownst, that you’re not even aware of. Music that influenced the music that influenced you! How does the BAND Battery One Dollar approach their own songwriting?
Danilo: Usually I would write a verse or a chorus months or years apart from each other and put them together when they feel right, the “cut / paste” approach. The writing of the lyrics is the most difficult part, trying to do justice to a good melody. After that we play it together for weeks or months and build on it. There is also this other band that we feel exist inside Battery One Dollar, that is when we are really out of it at band practice and we come out with amazing jams and riffs but then we forget about how they went and how we played them, on this last album we were lucky enough to have a recording going when we came up with one of them and it ended up being “Tragedy In A Bench” track 3 in The Devil Said No album.
Leks: That’s my second favourite track. I like the “Aaaa-ha! Aaaaha’s” throughout the song. I’m a huge fan of “Ooo’s and Aaah’s and Aaa-ha’s and things like that. Vowels and such. Ha. How did you guys meet exactly?
Danilo: We met through the Strand bookstore in Union Square. We all worked there. Not all at the same time, but Jack and I did work together. Patrick worked there later, and we met him through Strand friends.
Leks: I used to love Strand. That place is a staple of New York City. I used to go there a lot when I was in college, because the girl I dated all through college was in love with that place. I haven’t been there in almost a decade. Has it changed over the years?
Danilo: Yeah, it did a lot, since I worked there at least. Its so clean and welcoming now. I prefer how it used to be all dusty in memory.
Leks: That’s too funny. I’m sure you would like it all despondent and solitary, that’s usually accurate for a writer. Ha. Everything in this city is becoming all Disney. I’m sad about that.
I was in The Tombs (Downtown detention center) not too long ago, sad about the outcome of that as well, and there was a guy arrested because he shoplifted some books from Strand!! Maybe he was trying to “Fuck The System” of today!
You mentioned you write, aside from music, and of course from the Strand background, you can almost expect this next question: What are some of your favorite authors or books?
Danilo: 100 Years Of Solitude [Gabriel Garcia Marquez], The Alchemist [Paulo Coelho], The Savage Detectives (Roberto Bolano) are a few.
When I was little, I really just wanted to be Michael Jackson.
I was like 13 or 14, and I used to spend a lot of time in the bathroom, because I had one of those mirrors that would hang on the back of the door, and I would just practice all his moves, like with his hat and all, for like hours.
In retrospect, I think my family used to think I would just jerk off a lot. That had nothing to do with writing, or books I read or anything, but you asked before ‘What inspires your writing’ and that just came to me.
Leks: Umm, so Michael Jackson just came to you. He came unto you, as in The Lord had cometh unto the virgin Mary? I’m only kidding.
Danilo: (laughing) I’d be all in the bathroom, like “Leave me alone! Like Michael Jackson’s inside me!!!”
Leks: I’m sure that’s exactly what any parent would love to hear- that Michael Jackson’s inside of them! So for any kid who does not want to be bothered by their parents, when they’re alone in the bathroom, and their door is shut, zonin’ out, all they need to do is yell out, “Leave me alone!! Michael Jackson’s inside me!!” No pun intended… I better stop. I know for sure, not from personal experience, but I know that Michael was a true genuine dude, who was an influence on this entire planet in one way or another.
Your music reminds me of certain films, or rather I picture the music in certain films, such as Heathers, or Donnie Darko, or Wes Anderson movies. Movies like The Rules of Attraction, American Beauty, or even A Clockwork Orange. The Pixies were played at the final scene of Fight Club. Movies like that for instance. Does film or even literature ever inspire your music?
Do you ever read or see a film and picture your music amongst the story or anything like that?
Danielo: Yes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a big inspiration, as far as literature. I have written a couple of songs based on the imagery he paints inside my mind. I have never tried to picture our music next to film until you brought it up, and right now I’m thinking it about it a lot. I know we have a song call “Politicosh” and I always felt if there was a movie about machines going on strike marching down the street, that song should be perfect for it.
Leks: That’s very “dystopian fiction.” That’s exactly why I asked. Another reason I thought of film during this interview was because I first “googled” your name, prior to the interview, ’cause I couldn’t believe that name wasn’t already taken, and I found a VIDEO clip that you guys put together. involving ‘occupy wall street’ i believe.. it was very ‘rage against the machine’ style of ‘message’ what was that video about, and how old is that?”
Danilo: Which video is that? Is it for “When The State Has Won Them All?”
Leks: I believe so.
Danilo: That one was about eminent domain, about how people were forced to “nice out,” in order to make the Barclay’s Center [of downtown Brooklyn] a reality. There is a film called “The Battle For Brooklyn” . . . I borrowed their images to make that video, and some other footage online, it’s not completely about this case of eminent domain . . . It’s more general [the message], but I chose to tie it to this case. The lyrics are there with the video on youtube. You just have to click on the “show more” at the bottom of the description.
Leks: Oh wow, that’s very brilliant dude. Respect! I have a confession to make… I totally don’t know what eminent domain is, but I remember that whole Barclays Center thing now. . . so much time had gone by, it kind of became “buried” in history. I can totally relate to that song, though. I remember that whole area of upper middle class, and working class people of downtown Brooklyn were completely against that center being built (just the same as many other recent changesin our city). I remember people hanging huge banners outside the windows of the properties that they were being forced out of saying “develop, don’t destroy” and such.
Danilo: Also, for the readers [who might not be aware], eminent domain is generally the right a state or municipality, or even a corporation has to take private property, in order to create something the public will benefit from. The Barclays Center was created using this law. Some residents from the Atlantic Yards area were removed for development to occur.
Actually, its the sort of thing we were talking about before [with regards to Strand bookstore], about how the city changes, and how its all Disney now, like you said. I like the lyrics to that song. It was recorded last year, for the On Come Condolences album.
Leks: So you’ve had TWO albums so far?
Danilo: We’ve had SIX. We’re shooting for two more next year.
Leks: Wow, you guys are not too far from becoming machines yourselves! Six Albums??!! Well, speaking of lyrics, how did “A Book Is Not A Book Without Its Smell” come about?
Danilo: I know I had the verse melody for a while then one day I remember being in the kitchen with my guitar and the chorus came over so I was happy about it. The song is mostly about technology although amazing and necessary it does seem to take away from the self reliant human experience. Then part of it is about Johannes Gutenberg not as the inventor of the printing press but a being with taste and time. The outro of the song is about Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. I welcome progress but damn let me sweat in the heat and get wet in the rain.
Leks: Totally. I’m with you on that. Music overall has become very impersonal. I remember just like with Strand, there used to be this CD store off Bleecker, in the West Village, called Generation Records (it might be there still, but very doubtful) that used to have all these rare video recordings of live band shows, or rare cd recordings. There’s something to be said about a physical recording of music when you get it. It’s like holding a newborn child in your arms, or like a newborn puppy or something. People of modern society are so deprived of that. They’ll never know what that is. It’s like trying to explain color to a man who was born blind. They’ll just never get it. Poor stupid fucks. Haha. Anyway, back on track . . . As far as the band, how would you guys explain or describe the chemistry that you have? Like who is what etc.. such as some bands have a “brotherhood” relationship, where its like a family… Other bands have a “business relationship,” where it’s strictly business in making records. Who plays what role in the band, and what do the band members do outside of the band?
Danilo: Oh it is for sure a “brotherhood” we are pretty honest about how much we love each other, happiest moments in life have been sitting in a bar drinking beer with a jukebox next to us after we’re done jamming. Jack and Patrick have introduced me to a lot of the music that I love. Outside the band we all do our thing, we read, love, and make our way through the city.
Leks: I don’t know man, I think Patrick is like a walking classic novel of his own. He’s a trip. People can just tell from the photos. Haha. Jack’s also a very profound dude. You can tell he’s got a very strong aura. You guys have a good energy as a band. Very well balanced. Are there any show dates planned?
Danielo: We just played a show on Friday, at the moment we have nothing planned but we might aim to play one more in December. After that I want to get the band ready to record one more album. I have so many songs I want to put out there, I want them out of my system, we might put out 3 albums next year.
Leks: What’s the strangest place you’d ever wanna perform?
Danielo: Patrick has always wanted to play outside Dos Hermanos, it’s a Mexican restaurant in Bushwick. I have played next to the Tacos Morelos truck for free tacos before. I guess put us next to any taco place. We should have an acoustic tour where we just play next to Mexican restaurants or trucks.
Leks: When I used to live in L.A. there were these taco trucks everywhere that hipsters would hit up. It was like the thing. I went home with some random hipster girl that wasn’t into guys one night, but she liked me for some reason, I think cause I had a cool Vision skateboard from like 1985 that I was dancing on. Hipsters love that kind of shit. I’m like ‘Fuck you’s I’m doin’ me.’ Anyway she dragged me to get tacos at some obscure taco place in Silver Lake or Echo Park. I thought she was bringing me to be killed for some cult ceremony or something. It was so strange, but when you crave tacos at 2am this will occur. Well if I can help it, you’re gonna do The R Bar on the 29th… I will try to have a taco truck park outside for you guys. There’s no saying no to Walk The Plank! See you there!
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Photos provided by Leks Pistols on site.