Melancholy, melodic and moody – it’s what Nick Batterham does best.
Melancholy, melodic and moody – it’s what Nick Batterham does best. From playing guitar for Melbourne collective Cordrazine, to producing the Blackchord’s emotive debut album, it’s safe to say Batterham’s trademark is the dark and foreboding. And while some are asking why it took him almost two decades to release a masterpiece like Second Lovers, according to Batterham – believe it or not – it’s been a matter of confidence.
“Being a reasonably insecure person and very self-effacing hasn’t helped,” he laughs. “I don’t think there’s anyone more down on me than myself! I guess there is always a fear factor that comes with putting your own name on something.
“At first I didn’t feel strongly about calling this project a certain name, but friends and advisors kept saying, ‘Why would you even give it a name? Just call it your name because it’s so obviously you’. I just wasn’t – and I’m still not – totally comfortable with the idea of putting my real Earth-name on my music,” he laughs. “When you do that, it just means that whatever you release represents you as a whole artist, as opposed to representing just another facet of you if you’re a part of a band.”
It’s taken some getting used to, but Batterham is slowly warming up to the idea of being a solo artist. Having not only played in Cordrazine since the early ‘90s, Batterham also made a name around Melbourne thanks to his days with Blindside and The Earthmen, the former having once supported Smashing Pumpkins and garnering a significant fanbase in the UK. Meanwhile, during his time with the indie-pop outfit The Earthmen, in the ‘90s Batterham toured the US playing support slots for giants like INXS, Lemonheads and Teenage Fanclub before the band split in 1999. These days, Batterham claims his interests have expanded into production and sound engineering.
“I do heaps of sound recording for TV commercials, documentaries and occasional films,” he lists. “I got an AFI nomination last year in the Best Sound In A Documentary category for Lionel. I probably spent a few weeks on that, just editing all the sounds and scraps and atmospheric bits, so it was very flattering to get that nomination. But you know, always the bridesmaid, never the bride! That was a high water mark in my life and career, and I find myself still bringing up the ARIA nomination (1997, Best Debut Album, The Earthmen). Talking about myself more is something I’m still trying to come to terms with.
“I talked to a friend recently about my Facebook status and how the number one thing they tell you to do in the industry is to plug yourself on social network sites. Normally people make live updates and they want people to see they’ve got a record out and they’ll post a review or something… And I was saying how I find it all a bit false and uncomfortable, like bragging… but my friend said, ‘well at least you’ve got something interesting happening in your life; at least it’s something worth talking about!’”
To say the least. Released this month on Head Records, Second Lovers is one part folk, one part rock, and all pure pop pleasure. Adding his raspy, gravelly vocals to the mix, Batterham claims the key to any good song is simplicity. “Most of the songs are just me by myself with minimal overdubs,” he explains. “It’s best off not to add anything unnecessary and make the performance as raw as possible. You’ll always find that the song was there the whole time; you don’t have to tart it up in a sexy dress. If it looks good naked, why would you?”
While simplicity and emotion are a must, according to Batterham, singer-songwriter types could ease up a little in the self-indulgence department and occasionally treat their music as an art-form rather than free therapy.
“Any singer-songwriter is going to invest himself in the work they make,” he states. “But pretty much anyone with some self-respect will try to distance themselves from delving too deep in their personal life. It seems to be a familiar tone for singer-songwriters to say that their work is autobiographical, and that’s fine, just as long as it doesn’t give away too much or becomes too literal.
“I understand that everything you see, hear and do ends up in your material, but there’s only so much that you should put in your songs. It’s important to leave some ambiguity, to leave some space for the person listening to your music. Let them have that openness so they can connect with the song in their own way. The same words can mean different things, and that’s the beauty of it.”
According to Batterham, so far it seems to be the most recently written tracks Baby Blues and Hospital Song that audiences are connecting with most strongly – which happen to be his favourites too.“I feel a connection with those the most, just like everyone else seems to,” he says. “Maybe because they’re the most recent songs written and they’re probably the most raw. I’m really looking forward to playing those songs in particular over the coming months while I do some touring. It’s like when people hear them and talk about them, I can see it on their face that they get all mushy about them… And I guess I do too.”
NICK BATTERHAM launches his excellent new album Second Lovers (out now on Head Records) at The Toff In Town on Sunday November 7. He’s joined by Blackchords.