Don't be fooled by its goofy demeanor and goofier name -- Battlehooch means business. Since signing a pact to form officially in 2007, the group has released an EP and two full-length LPs, toured the country, and even created a video series around its adventures. Band members have performed in cornfields, on the streets of Oregon, and in an abandoned amusement park.
Before Battlehooch's slot next month at SF Weekly's All Shook Down Music Fest at Regency Ballroom, we caught up with AJ McKinley (guitar) and Grant Goodrich (bass) to talk about how the band got started (hint -- it's a much weirder story than you'd expect) and where it's headed next (hint -- it may involve lots of goo).
On Facebook, Battlehooch's genre is listed as "slatherous." WTF?
AJ: We're arguing over who actually wrote that down. I thought it was Grant.
Grant: I thought it was AJ [laughs]. That's a word that I would say describes AJ's guitar playing. It's eloquently sloppy.
AJ: Let's break this down. I guess to slather something is to smother it in some kind of gravy or something, right? It's kind of like being covered in goo, essentially. So I guess "slatherous" would be having the quality of being covered in goo. And I think that is probably a pretty good way to describe our music. Think about Nickelodeon -- they used to have people that would get slimed all the time, and that was the ultimate embodiment of pure ridiculousness, like, "Oh my God, I'm covered in goo!"
How did you all meet and decide to form the band?
AJ: The six of us proper started hanging out and playing music when we met at UC Santa Cruz. I met Ryan and Grant and Tom about half an hour after I got to school, then the other guys shortly afterward. It was kind of magical -- we all ended up at the same college at the same time in the same year and we just kind of gravitated toward each other. Battlehooch was the people that were the most serious about playing music in college, carrying onward once college ended.
Grant: Everybody in the band except Pat moved to a house in the Sunset, where we named our wireless network in the house "Battlehooch." And at that moment, January 10, 2007, we had our declaration where we all signed in blood that we committed to doing a more serious endeavor.
Did you literally sign in blood, or is that an expression?
Grant: We literally signed in blood. We still have that to prove it. I saved it because it was gonna be thrown out when we moved out of our house, and I knew it would be worth something to someone at some point.
Was there a ceremony with weird candles and music, or was it unromantic?
AJ: There was no music. That was more just like jack yourself with a knife and put down a drop. Pat, our lead singer, he went crazy.
Grant: He still has the gash to prove it.
AJ: Ryan lightly tapped himself with a thumbtack and put the most timid amount of blood [laughs]. It was the first official motion of the band. We moved to the city and we were jamming and doing this and that, and not really practicing. That was, "Alright. We're gonna sign in blood, so any time that anybody's slacking or not carrying their weight, or somebody's dropping the ball, you gotta think about the fact that you signed in blood and what that means, the magnitude of that."
Did you ever write a song about that?
Grant: I think the first EP, Oof Owf, is what AJ described as our musical manifesto. I think perhaps those first four initial songs characterize the beginning of the band. Our music has changed dramatically since then, so that was just an early taste of our rock.
AJ: He's got it right. The first EP, even though I feel like we've definitely improved upon it and grown exponentially as a band, I feel like we did basically lay down the groundwork of what was the purpose of the band all along: Not only would there be no boundaries on what kinds of songs and what style songs we played, but it was our prerogative to really explore what that means. That's the most exciting thing about being in this band: Every couple years we get to look at what we have and go, "Okay, what haven't we done? What would be something that would be totally random for us to do?"
I think that all that was contained on the first album. Even though the first album has only four songs, there's everything in there -- there's elements of big band jazz, but also mellow indie rock acoustic music; there are pop elements, but there's dissonance; punk elements, but also super intense orchestral elements. It's all there. We're basically still working at finding what is possible to do with that stuff.
Grant:We're not really bound by any genre but the one we created for ourselves.
How did you decide on Battlehooch as a name?
AJ: Do we give him the honest or the joke answer? Ryan Huber, the drummer, gave Grant the nickname in high school. Ryan is a modern-day wordsmith. He just creates the most peculiar combinations. That was just the nickname he gave. You'd have to really ask him where that came from.
What's the fake answer?
AJ: The fake answer is what I prefer. Battlehooch basically is the last band name that ever existed. Now, there are no more band names. There's literally no more band names. There's good bands, there's brilliant bands coming out, but they all have terrible names. Let's be honest with each other. Grizzly Bear? Give me a fucking break. Washed Out? Are you serious? This is a travesty. And the last unique singular word that existed was Battlehooch, and then immediately afterward it was Beach House, the Drums, and all these terrible bands. That's it. It's just the last one, and we managed to get it. We didn't get Led Zeppelin, we didn't get Velvet Underground, we didn't get Nirvana, we didn't get any of that. But we got Battlehooch.
Grant: Yeah, you print that [laughs].