TOFU AND WHISKEY Battlehooch might be a tad ridiculous. The San Francisco six-piece has said it simply focuses on "colorful sounds and heavy rhythm" but that's like saying a mud run might get you a little dirty. Or, a gooey glazed donut burger being listed on a low-cal menu.
No, Battlehooch is not subtle. And those colorful sounds pop in all sorts of surprising ways. They hit you over the head with a chaotic masterpiece jumble of guitars and synths, percussion, hints of horns layered over cello and searing robotic bleeps or vintage printer-reminiscent dot matrix screeches or lyrics like "Laugh 'till I choke/I get the joke" off newest album, Hot Lungs, opener "Joke."
The band's twisty, psych-inflected orchestral pop (meets industrious cyborg army) gives a sense of ultimate art-rock camaraderie. Indeed, when I chat with the band members, they're all giggling and playing darts with guitarist A.J. McKinley's dad in Santa Cruz before a show on a weekend mini-tour. For the next couple of months the band is doing little weekend jaunts in the greater Bay Area, as opposed to one long summer tour.
But the Battlehooch six will all be back in San Francisco this weekend for a triple vinyl release show with fellow locals Major Powers and the Lo Fi Symphony, and Hungry Skinny. Battlehooch will celebrate the release of Hot Lungs on vinyl, Major Powers and Hungry Skinny of new seven-inches (Sat/22, 9pm, $14. Slim's, 333 11th St., SF. www.slimspresents.com).
"We did this crazy US tour in 2010 that was like, four months long," McKinley says. "When we got back from that we decided to devote the majority of our time to just recording the gnarliest album we could, instead of just trying to crank it out really fast, we spent as much time as we wanted and went as deep as we possibly could."
It was recorded in bits and pieces over the course of a year and a half, all over California. The musicians did a lot of work on the mixing with Kyle McGraw at Faultline Studios in SOMA, and recording with Mike Scully at In The Pocket Studios, Jason Kick of Maus Haus and Exray's, and with Jay Pellicci at Tiny Telephone ("he did our song 'I'm Exploding,' which is kind of our loud and stupid rock song, and we mean that in the best way possible," McKinley adds).
The band also took a trip to Mendocino County to an off-the-grid communal living space. It did a work-trade with the community there in which the band members got to record in the space and stay there, and in exchange did some outdoor work. They were shoveling the earthen roof, which badly needed to be rebuilt. The band's resident wind instrument expert Tom Hurlbut describes it as "back-breaking labor for a band of six dudes who don't do anything like that normally." The big, palatial space of this location with its stone floors created the drum sound in the song "Yeah That" and showed up in a few other instances on the album.
Lyrically, Hot Lungs is all over the map, but singer Pat Smith and Hurlbut agree the most common themes were "animal behaviors" and "breaking up."
New songs were added into the mix whenever Battlehooch could scrounge up enough money to book a few days here or there in this studio or that. This piecemeal process lends itself to the band's sound, creating a dense and multidimensional pop record.
"The end result is a very kaleidoscopic listening experience," McKinley says.
Throughout all of this, the group listened heavily to contemporary psych band Tame Impala, along with famed dub producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Prince. It learned all of Prince's Purple Rain for a Halloween show.