After logging hundreds of hours together in a cramped van, the members of Battlehooch have developed a fluid listen system, complete with vetoes, to ensure everyone has a fair shot to play what they like while they’re on the road. The system once even included an iron-clad rule: you could never have too much Van Halen. That was until guitarist and vocalist AJ McKinley played a few too many Van Halen tunes back-to-back. As a consequence, Van Halen may no longer get that pass, but that doesn’t mean The Frogs haven’t enjoyed their promotion to limitless listens in the band van.
“The amount of music we have heard collectively when we’re all listening and commenting on it together is so high,” says drummer Ryan Huber. The San Francisco six-piece, appearing in San Jose on November 2 at Cafe Stritch, has been sharing tunes together since their days studying together at UC Santa Cruz. Those passionate exchanges were strengthened by access to high-speed Internet in the age of Napster. Seemingly overnight, music nerds had access to songs they’d only previously read about. For the members of Battlehooch, that meant Radiohead and Mars Volta mingled in playlists next to Fela Kuti and Lee “Scratch” Perry, while some members were also studying experimental modern composers like Steve Reich and John Cage. This wide-open fascination with, and exposure to, music of all sounds was further incubated at Battlehooch’s first shows, where the band found audiences that allowed its members to explore and jam at will.
Since those developmental years, Battlehooch has created a sound that’s hard to place into one of the numerous boxes iTunes and promoters wish the band would conveniently fit inside. Instead, it’s that desire for musical freedom coupled with an appreciation for melody and well-crafted compositions that guides the output. Even the band struggles with placing a tag on the sound. Bassist Grant Goodrich says the best descriptor so far is “shape-shifting orchestral rock.” Multi-instrumentalist Tom Hurlbut, in an effort to not confuse strangers, admits he tends to fall back on psychedelic rock. Labels notwithstanding, it’s clear that while BattleHooch’s sound may be hard to classify, the members of the band are just as energized about the music now as when they started a decade ago.
“I think one thing that should be abundantly clear is that we’re best friends,” Tom states confidently, after a conversation that contained plenty of laughs from six guys who were set to hop back into a van headed for Visalia.
With a sound that draws from everywhere and a core of great friends that still share a common musical vision after ten years together, what can someone new to the experience expect as an audience member at a Battlehooch show? Vocalist Pat Smith offers a succinct sell for those willing to get lost in the sound: “You’re gonna shake your ass, you’re gonna scratch your head, and then you’re gonna smile.”
Written by Brandon Roos
Photography by Daniel Garcia