Q&A with Birds & Batteries


Hey there, Mike! It’s so great to connect with you over your band’s recent 4th studio album, Stray Light, which is out on Eightmaps. It’s an engaging album of tuneful, synth-leaning pop that shines a light on your sweet ‘n’ elastic vocals and cogent lyrics. Can you go into who is in the band these days?

Thank you so much! Likewise. The current line-up is Jill Heinke and Christopher Walsh (who have both been with the project for five years) and Colin Fahrner on drums, who is a relative newcomer to the band.

Info online states that your album was created both digitally and in analog fashion. What instruments and/or recording techniques did you use and which category did each fall into? On “Be My Girl” you play ‘sunset guitar’. Is that a specific type of guitar or a style you played the guitar in?

The album was recorded, as most are these days through a hybridized process of analog and digital. So a lot of drums and some piano and other stuff were recorded to tape. Basically, I was just doing whatever it took to get it there and some songs, including “Be My Girl” were written along the way and recorded quickly at home. The sunset guitar, that’s just what the sound reminded me of, so I named it that. It’s a Fender Jazzmaster with a whammy bar bend. An actual Sunset Guitar is very hard to get these days because it’s so powerful.

As Birds & Batteries you’ve previously released 3 albums and 2 EPs where you took on almost all of the songwriting, singing, and playing duties. Your new album, however, is a collaborative effort with your bandmates. How did they influence this production?

This album was not really a collaboration actually, it was pretty much me chipping away at things on my own. Christopher and Jill offered a lot of moral support though and encouraged me to push some of the more romantic tunes into the world. It took some courage to do that and they really helped me feel like it’s ok to just sing about love in a simple way.

Your songs meld retro and futuristic styles, with shades of 70s-era, trippy guitars and warped organ notes and sweet harmonies slip-sliding around buzzing synths and bright electronics. “Love is Coming Back” is perfectly sunny Beach Boys pop, while “I Want You” exudes a funky vibe. What were your musical reference points when creating the songs?

I have trouble tracing certain influences at this point. “Love Is Coming Back” was originally an instrumental track that I did with a friend. We were listening to some Swedish pop at the time like Acid House Kings and also Arthur Russell. I had this synth sound that I really loved, which has made it onto a lot of songs including that one and “Arctic Flowers” and “Be My Girl.” So the sounds themselves influenced me. “I Want You” is a groove that seems to come from 80’s R&B, though I didn’t have anyone in mind when I was making it.

Birds & Batteries – Stray Light

The overall feeling of Stray Light is one of joy (“The golden age of dreams is on its way…” from the album opener), acceptance (“I say to my life: ‘you belong to me’.” from “My Life is Mine”), and hope (“…we’ve got lots of time to be anything we want to be.”), from the buoyant sonics to your breezy, but warm vocals to the positive outlook of your lyrics. Your album is like a ray of light shining into the dark room of the world these days. Did this positive energy flow from you as a natural byproduct of how you feel, or were you trying to actively craft an uplifting album to inspire listeners? Either way, it works!

That’s great to hear. The inspiration for those songs and those ideas was definitely genuine and came from moments of clarity for me. That said, I don’t feel positive and breezy all the time. So, there was definitely a conscious choice to move this music into the world and hopefully give something good to the listener.

You could easily be a singer-songwriter of the troubadour kind based on the strength of your vocals and lyrics. Did you start out with a stripped down set-up of just guitar and vocals at the beginning of your career or have you always been interested in a fuller, more complex sound?

Thank you! I sometimes do acoustic sets, they’re really challenging and very rewarding as well. Electronic production and playing around with recording has been a part of my process for a long time. But yes, before that there were days when I was just playing guitar or piano and singing songs. And I still do, it’s a pretty crucial way to connect with the music. I’m hoping to make a stripped down record of new songs at some point, not as B&B, more in the songwriter vein.

You moved from Boston to San Francisco in 2005, a year before you released your debut Selections from Nature vs. Nature. Was your journey from one coast to the other music-related?

Yes, definitely a musical journey but also a personal one. San Francisco had a very strong pull for obvious reasons, it’s an amazing city. The music scene in Boston was not what it is today. Now there’s the Together Festival and all this great stuff happening there. When I arrived in SF in 2005, it felt like there was a place for my music.

You put out an EP titled Unfold a month before Stray Light. Why did you do such a close release pattern? Is the EP in the same vein as your latest album or does it travel down a different road?

The Unfold EP is essentially B-sides from Stray Light. We put it out as a digital EP simply to put music out sooner than later! The EP is in many ways, the other side of the Stray Light story. I wanted Stray Light to be a continuous listening experience, something that could be played straight through and keep a vibe going. Splitting the darker, minor tunes off onto the EP allowed for Stray Light to be what it is.

You’re currently on a national tour that runs through mid-September. How is that going?

Tour has been great. Every time we go out it gets better and it’s really fun to see old friends.

Lastly, can you please list your official site so readers can find out more about you and your tunes? Thanks so much!