Mice Purgatory

Story online since:  18.01.2009 / 12:28:45

The American project BATTLE OF MICE offered an expressive, harrowing and emotionally overflowed music for the lovers of contemporary post-metal movement, authentic sludge/doom tunes and its oppressive, intensive atmosphere. BATTLE OF MICE is (or maybe more precisely "was”) even alternative to all this, pushing the whole genre more forward with their intuitive approach without compromises. No wonder – the line-up is full of very experienced and skilled musicians. Amongst others let’s name the composer, multiinstrumentalist and multimedia artist Josh Graham (NEUROSIS, RED SPARROWES, A STORM OF LIGHT etc.).
But the most visible and audible person of the BATTLE OF MICE squadron is an amazing female singer Julie Christmas – the face and voice of this uncommon band. Her vocals bring a schizo touch to the whole – in one moment she is like a naughty schoolgirl, next second she turns to the angry beast or desperate woman... In our interview (few time ago, after releasing their debut) she spoke very openly even about very sensitive and emotive aspects connected to the creation of their debut album. The drummer and producer Joel Hamilton made some additions to her answers as well...

"A Day Of Nights” was a debut album of BATTLE OF MICE (and the only regular one until now), but all of you have yet huge experiences from the others bands. Which of these experiences did you exploit and pay interest on? And on the contrary, which of the aspects of your previous bands did you want to overstep, push off, to do it this time in a totally different way?
Julie: I’ve only been in one other band: MADE OUT OF BABIES. I have read reviews and articles where people think that the two overlap. To me, they are totally different. I scream and whisper and sing loud and rant in both bands, but the BATTLE OF MICE songs are more about melancholy and things beneath the surface, while MADE OUT OF BABIES feels much harder and more pissed off and wild. I love both things. I look forward to work with other people, who will give me other music to work that helps me to uncover other voices I have.
Joel: As the producer, I wanted this to be a unique experience. Not a "cookie cutter” production. I feel like this record has its own "feel” to it right off the bat. How can you NOT draw on your previous musical experiences? They always work their way into the music. That is a good thing. We would be doomed to do the same mistakes we had made in punk bands in high school if we didn’t bring experience to the table...

The songs were written in a timeline that mirrors what happened in your growing, and then rapidly decaying, relationship with your bandmate Josh Graham. Are you able to imagine how could the album sound and look like, if your relationship would not be so wild (savage) and dramatic? Where and how could you draw the inspiration?
Julie: I think the music would be just as strong. The mistake between Josh and me was that we ever tried to be anything MORE than people who worked on music together. My inspiration doesn’t really come from letting out new feelings. I’m not the kind of person who writes love songs to silly boys. We couldn’t work together and we really tore at each other for a while, but for me, the songs are written to the music, not the failing relationship. It was very hard to make the record, because we are both very passionate people with bad tempers. I like to drink and that makes me worse and more violent. These songs, though, are about deep regrets and high, high hopes and day dreams and nightmares and fairytales and all the things I’ve lived and seen and laughed at and fallen over in my whole life up to today.

Was the whole process of making the album some kind of psychotherapy for you? Did it help to you that you had an opportunity to scream out all your frustrations and feelings immediately and to put it in the songs...? Did you also learn something during the creative process? (I mean about yourself, your emotions, inner growing...)
Julie: I learned a lot. Sometimes I learn that I can’t do with my voice what I can with the voice in my head. I write so many vocal lines in my head or singing softly to myself, mostly because there is never enough money or time for me to make music where I can sit down and bring together what I want to do with what I am physically capable of. It’s not always a bad thing. How many times have I ruined things from thinking about them for too long? I also realize how much I have all bottled up inside, and I don’t mean only terrible things. Singing is sometimes like dreaming. You just get carried away and you can say things that don’t make sense to anyone but the song. It’s like singing to another person. A person that doesn’t have a head, or arms, or legs, or a belly.

When listening to the album, I feel it either as epic piece (telling the story from the beginning), or as a collection of fragments (crushed mirror – crocks of feelings, emotions, ideas, sounds...), or as a continuous and sometimes hypnotic flow (of the same things that I did mention before...). Which of the approaches do you prefer and why?
Joel: I feel like when a person is under duress, their thoughts can jump around, from hate to love, destruction to creation, nice to mean... I like the mood swings of this record. It seems to follow some sort of disturbed logic... like plotting something, getting anxious about it, then making it happen...
Julie: If I had to define the album, I’d say it was like a book of short stories. Each story has its own beginning and end, but they are all related in some way because they come from the same author.

How does the whole album interact with you when listening to it? Does it have a healing effect, or in the contrary disturbing? Are you able to listen to it with some "distance” from it, although it is connected with some emotionally exhausting and hard period of your life?
Julie: I guess I can listen to it with some distance, because the songs who were my favorite when making them are not the same as the ones I like the most now. That only happens when you begin to hear things the way most people do, without having to think about the technical aspects of recording, just hearing the song and liking it or not.

Did you find yet some positive aspects on all this, what happened around BATTLE OF MICE for your life? Is your belief based also on the persuasion that everything happens for a reason?
Julie: I don’t think everything happens for a reason. Thinking that would turn my whole world upside down! I do think everything have consequences, though. The last songs we recorded were for a split with JESU, released some time after the debut. They are some of my favorite songs we have ever done (Josh and I were separated during the recording).
The consequence to completing BATTLE OF MICE is that I want to take a break from making music with other people. I know I won’t, but I want to. I would say BATTLE OF MICE was very positive. It was difficult for me, but people keep telling me how much the music moves them. As a musician, that is the highest reward. To make music that makes people feel something. I just wish I was there listening with them, so I could see their faces. That is why live shows are so draining for me though, I guess.

Is it possible to continue with work in such an emotionally turbulent, sometimes destructive artistic surrounding? Can you imagine yourself operating and creating constructively and long time in these conditions? More concretely, do you have yet some ideas or concepts for the next album and how will look like your cooperation?
Julie: There is a split coming out, and I know we will work together on more music and it will probably be as difficult to make. It doesn’t really matter though, does it? If you are committed to something, you try to keep at it or let it go all together. I do have a breaking point, but at the moment the music means too much to me to let anything get in the way. I also don’t need to be friends with the whole world. It doesn’t really bother me if people think I’m difficult or crazy or a total bitch. I’ve lived through worse things than a few uncomfortable silences.

One more perception when reading your biography: Beside others things I feel there a touch of sarcasm and dark humor sometimes. Does it have some place in your band and artistic thinking?
Joel: The touches of dark sarcasm are crucial to this way of life... Humor is not an option. How do you define normality/abnormality and where is your personal borderline between it? "Normal” is boring, "abnormal” is attractive. The line between the two is "indifference”.
Julie: And you have to be smart to be funny.

Your music is with no doubt forward thinking and in some aspects experimental. How and with what do you like to experiment mostly?
Joel: I like to experiment with the delivery of the content. The sonics tell a story all their own. This story involved many aggressive moments and some melancholic, beautiful sentiments. Pushing the limits of "human animation” was a goal, but with certain time restraints and other factors, we really made the record quite fast...
Josh’s writing really works when presented as superhuman in size, and Julie’s approach brings fangs one moment, then the ghost of a beautiful girl calling you into the alleyway to be stabbed... we tried to frame each moment appropriately.

Is it true that you recorded the vocals in one take, with no pre-written lyrics? Can you reflect and describe more the process of expressing them, using the direct, immediate inspiration etc.? When reading your booklet, it seemed to me as flashes of words, almost surrealistic imagination...
Julie: That is only true of "Cave of Spleen”, the last song on the album. When you are listening to the album, in most cases you are hearing my first attempt to sing them because we never practiced together – just went in and recorded. But with "Cave of Spleen”, I went in with no ideas or words, and just listened to the music and let go. It was so emotional that I was crying at the end, but I didn’t even know until the music starts. I listen to it and I can hear the point when my voice breaks and fails. Listen to it. You can hear it towards the end of the song

What means vocal for you? Usually it is a "medium” which helps to express some emotions and music colors, but is it for you even something more?
Julie: I use words and my voice to try to tell people things that I can’t in normal ways. I am too clumsy with speech to explain my feelings, so I use my voice in other ways and I hope people can understand.

Did you invent the name for the band BATTLE OF MICE in the beginning, or as the reaction on the climate inside the band? For example in Czech language, the "frog-mice battle” means some redundant or "good for nothing” conflict. What was your direct inspiration for it?
Julie: I saw the name; it is from an Aubrey Beardsley painting where mice battle with cats. In the painting, there is a mouse army and they are armoured and carry spears and hold flags with anti-cat signs on them. It is also a real battle, one of the bloodiest in Alexandrian times. It just seemed to fit.

Martin Cermak

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