“Ring”, the first song on Battle Ave’s third full length album I Saw The Egg, begins with the warped cries of Jesse Doherty’s newborn daughter Esther while his wife soothes her. It’s a sound that sums up the thematic universe of the album, where rock star dreams of a past life are displaced by the beauty and patience of becoming a new parent. It’s an album that embodies the creative enrichment that comes with becoming a father while also highlighting the challenges in navigating shifted priorities and new responsibilities. Much like the keys that blossom over the baby’s cry, “Ring” introduces an album that embraces both chaos and calm.
“I have a ton of recordings of her happy, babbling, laughing… but there’s something beautiful about that era, when she was newborn,” Doherty explains, adding that it was recorded after progress on the album was halted due to Covid-19. Doherty, his wife and their daughter were completely isolated from everyone, sleep-deprived and living on coffee and bad food from the school cafeteria where he works as an English teacher. “Life just revolved around Esther and the record,” he says. “It was this brief moment in time where I had to turn away from everything else.. I was forced to be reflective and insulated.”
Formed in 2009 by Doherty, drummer Samantha Niss, and lead guitarist Adam Stoutenbrugh, Battle Ave are a band that masterfully balance both tumultuous and gentle instrumentation. Their raucous side was showcased on 2011 debut War Paint, while a more subdued and contemplative mood was embraced on 2015’s shimmering Year of Nod. Now, with I Saw The Egg, their first full-length in seven years, Battle Ave has found an organic middle ground; the lush textural dynamics of the album’s 11 songs boast a patchwork of angular guitars, gentle synths and loose, driving rhythms. Doherty was keen to explore how a song can be both meditative and dramatic, using loops to build hypnotic, repetitive foundations to undergird the band’s three guitars and his gravelly voice, which is always threatening to come apart at the seams.
Collaborating with guitarist Peter Naddeo, Doherty spent months slowly demoing and figuring out the sonic universe of I Saw The Egg. Once the blueprint had been mapped out, Battle Ave turned to producer Kevin McMahon (Real Estate, Titus Andronicus, Swans), who had worked with the Hudson Valley five-piece on all of their previous LPs. “He’s the reason we sound the way we sound,” Doherty says. “His approach is all about pulling you out of your comfort zone. His studio is this giant barn with a reverb chamber in the grain silo, walls of old amplifiers, covered in Malcolm X and Bowie posters.. It feels like home to be there.” The atmosphere of the record is, unsurprisingly, the atmosphere of the studio – warm sounds bouncing off old wood, worming their way through mounds of old audio gear and around stacks of books.
The full band recorded most of the songs live over three days, with additional time at home spent building the world of I Saw The Egg. “Our bassist John orchestrated some MIDI string parts, Sammi deconstructed her drum set and spent hours just slamming on different drums to create additional percussion, and Kevin has this MIDI controller he built that looks like a tower of junk – a 6 foot tall pillar of plastic tubes, scrap metal, and wires he named Sheila – that he smacks the hell out of to produce those washed out, distorted percussive sounds you hear all over the album,” Doherty says. He then spent a further five months sifting through hundreds of files, including “at least a full day experimenting with reversing all the saxophone parts.” This collaborative, playful approach can be felt across every note on the album, with the band also working with guest vocalists Emma Tringali (Pop & Obachan) and Laura Stevenson.
DIY indie-folk aesthetics, paired with glimpses of industrial instrumentation and bursts of feedback, mark Battle Ave as a band that can be both gigantic and murky, sweet and sinister, with an unpredictable and engrossing flourish. Made up of songs written at a glacial pace—one clocking at 16 years—and those composed in 20 minute bursts during a song-a-day writing workshop, I Saw The Egg paints a vivid sonic landscape, a pastoral scene punctured by dynamic unpredictability. The band and producer McMahon find a seemingly infinite variety of ways to enhance, undermine, attack, and support the melodic and emotionally direct songs of the album. This is the sound of Doherty loosening the constraints of a preconceived future, instead embracing the uncertainty of whatever comes next.