“In bed with Battelle...” That’s Chas, LostAlone tour manager, with an unwittingly prescient pop reference. Manchester’s Deaf Institute is a venue as labyrinthine as it is well-loved (by bands and punters alike.) In Victorian times, when it was built, it actually was The Institute for the Deaf. Reinvented in recent years as a stop-off to namedrop, its rabbit warren construction isn’t ideal for housing three touring bands (Evarose and The Dead Famous flesh out a classy bill) and finding a quiet room while one of those bands sound checks is a struggle. So Chas leads us to the best option - a bedroom housing three bunks. Cat swinging: forget it. We stand. And we talk. We talk a lot. Or, to be more accurate, Steven Battelle, leader of the Derby three piece, purveyors of a sharp mash-up of legacy riffs and alt. exploration and 2012’s excellent I’m a UFO In This City, talks. And I listen. I’m good at listening. And Battelle, it turns out, is very good at talking.
This is LostAlone’s biggest headline tour to date. The venue’s a smart choice for a start. Your rawk types tend to favour the Academy across the road while this place tends to get the indie beatniks. “We’ve played at The Roadhouse, too. Is that the place? But yeah, I’ve heard of this place because of Marina and the Diamonds.” (Battelle is famously a huge fan. When we finish up, I gift him a promo of their first EP. He’s thrilled, scouring the b-sides with glee.) “They did a special kind of gig here – some kind of candle-lit thing. I’ve got a couple of friends who live in Manchester and they’re like, 'It’s the best place to see a band in Manchester!'”
Even though I don’t know the detail, it’s not that difficult to guess the provenance of a band like LostAlone. Being brought up in an unfashionable Midlands town with an all-encompassing love for music is a typical, nay classic, route to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Those of us who got through the rigours of O-levels and bum-fluff via an obsession with power chords and the emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal connect, still, with the next generation of alt-rock. “For me, it was a similar thing to you – nothing else mattered to me. Pre-11, it was football and music. From 11 onwards, music just took over. My dad was obsessed with music and football, so...” And you were/are the same. “Yeah. As a child, I was dressed in a new Man Utd strip every year.” He catches my raised eyebrows. “Ah. I love football and I support Man Utd still because my father would simply disown me if I didn’t. When 11 hit and at school me and Mark met, it just became, like you said, an obsession. I’ve never had a cigarette in my life. I’ve never done drugs. It all harks back to...me and Mark were not cool at school but we weren’t picked on. We were kinda like respected by all the different peer groups purely for the fact that we simply weren’t bothered. All we cared about was saving our paper round money and our pocket money so we could go to record fairs. I was collecting Queen, he was collecting Status Quo. Nowadays, if you’re into a band, you can hear every song they’ve ever done online in a second. You can see what they look like. Buying records back then was this amazing journey of discovery, as you’ll know. You didn’t get it all at once. You really had to work for weeks and weeks. ‘Oh right – I’ve got Queen II, now I’ve got to get enough cash for another one...’ And you’d play the one you had to death while you saved for the next.”
That’s a very romantic view of how we gravitate towards music and how we build a relationship with the music we like. “It is – very romantic. I wish that’s how you still discovered music. I wish that’s how people discovered us. I’m still of the opinion that...I do all the Twitter stuff, I love it. I can just say something ridiculous and it’s tweeted everywhere within seconds. It’s funny. I don’t take it seriously. I like to have fun with things. I still crave that thing where fans might not even know what you look like, especially since you were last in town. That show was the one connection you had. And now you have people coming up to you at shows who, you know, think you know them. And with the best will in the world, you don’t. You may have spoken to them on, say, Twitter quite a few times, but...” He trails off.
It’s a different world, though. The lines of communication are ever being re-drawn. “Yeah. It’s your own fault to some degree. You put it out there. My favourite band is Queen. Freddie would never have been on Twitter. I love that.” Mystique is a weakening currency. “Mystique, right. And so, even though I do communicate via Twitter and Facebook, I’m still trying to retain some...mystique. I’m not trying to big myself up but there’s a line. You know, I’ll talk about the songs but I won’t give too much away. At shows, I love meeting everybody but I’m very clear on what I will and won’t talk about. You don’t talk about your personal life. Some people go too far and...well, I just talk about the band and the music. That’s it. Mmm...I’ve totally gone off on a different tangent... What were we saying? Sorry.”
Not for the first time, I bin the questions. Battelle is difficult to pin down and best left to expound upon his own passions and plans. He talks at length and with unstoppable zeal about his own band and the musicians who’ve inspired him. He’s articulate and funny and, I realise afterwards, boundlessly optimistic. He doesn’t offer a bad word about anyone in our half hour together. Apart from the fact that his three piece make a big enough sound to reach row Z and beyond, you can’t help but think their popularity as a support option is due to more than just music.
Is there an actual creative plan to fuse the old and the new? The searing solos and massed vocals of classic rock married to the chunky “riffology” (his words) of the alternative scene shouldn’t work but works beautifully. “I genuinely feel, and fans ask about how I write songs, that I never think about it at all. The only thing I can say is that if I showed you my iTunes now, it’s a list of a real wide variety of music. People will say, 'Oh you’re being ironic.' No. I’m not. I love music. So much stuff. Particularly pop.” Good pop is undeniable. “It really is. I’m just gonna show you...” It’s a good job I can speed read. A spin through the contents of the Battelle iPhone is dizzying. For the record: Marina and the Diamonds (of course), Rick Springfield’s ‘Jesse’s Girl’, Fame OST, ‘Summer in the City’, Heart covering ‘Stairway to Heaven (“Look that one up on Youtube – it’s the most biblical thing! Robert Plant at the side of the stage in tears!”), Les Miserables OST, Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ (“That’s my favourite song of all time”), Alicia Keys, much Bowie, The Strokes’ new one, Guns n Roses, Weezer, some old Dire Straits. On and on it goes. You suspect a Battelle mix-tape would be a party in itself.
“This is the best tour we’ve ever done.” We’re talking about life on the road, how LostAlone appear to have played everywhere over the past few years along, having bagged the opening slots on just about every rock arena tour worth having. You may have seen them open for Evanescence, Paramore (“The new album sounds brilliant – Hayley’s a really good friend and I’m so happy for her and the band”) and My Chemical Romance amongst others. “We have done some amazing support shows, yeah. But for personal satisfaction for the three of us, this is the first time, through all the upheavals we’ve had, that we’re going around the country and, you know...it’s not thousands of tickets but that room will be packed tonight – I’ve seen the ticket sales. This band has been very stop-start, largely due to some bad business situations. But even though we’ve been doing this for ages, we started this tour and we’re thinking, 'Are people actually here just for the other bands?' I think it’s good we’re like that. We don’t take it for granted. Every show has been good. People are so passionate about the band. My favourite thing about this tour is that guys are coming rather than girls.” Ah, yes. You could almost see why. Like many of your peers, it’s that deeper, emotional connection that perhaps attracts the more, erm, emotionally intelligent. Usually females. Ho hum. “Yeah. But I believe we have a lot of girl fans, too, largely because of many of the bands we’ve played with. No disrespect to them – they’re brilliant. But I like the fact that on this tour I’ve had guys come up to me, a lot like you or me at 16, wanting to talk about guitars. I’m not even that...I’m not a techie guy. It’s more important that people are just now starting to recognise us as a really good, musically good band. Someone tweeted me asking for a picture of my pedal board. That’s just brilliant!”
The crowd starting to queue downstairs might not necessarily share Battelle’s catholic tastes but their commitment is clear. Bar a sprinkling of clued-up older folk, LostALone’s core audience is made of mid-late teens and they all spring to attention as we head downstairs. (Chas has to prise his charge away from our over-running interview to go and join the bands and crew to eat.) He’s gracious and warm, telling them he’ll come and chat later. You suspect this lot could well show the loyalty that the previous generation have shown the 70s and 80s behemoths. The likes of Motorhead and Iron Maiden, once reviled, are now embraced as cool survivors rather than metal dinosaurs. “Yeah! This band has been through so much stuff. The kind of stuff that other bands have split up over. There really isn’t, whether it’s just blind faith or stupidity, anything else. I was born to do this. The fame-hungry world we live in, we don’t even recognise that. That said, I want my band to be massive. People are seeking fame for...nothing. It’s ridiculous. If I can make music and eat, that’ll do me. But I still want the band to be filling arenas. The fight to get our album out was ridiculous but it was critically acclaimed. People say you shouldn’t listen to what critics say but I did and I loved it.”
It’s difficult to see many full stops and commas in the non-stop schedule of LostAlone. They’re one of those bands who seem to be permanently on tour. “I know. We’ve never had any kind of schedule before but we’ve got one now and it’s great. We’re supporting Canterbury in April. It’s just another small run but the idea is, and I’m pushing this, I don’t want to stop. We’re working with a new producer, Dan Weller (Enter Shikari, Young Guns) and he contacted us, which I liked. He heard us on Radio 1. So he got the demos and he said they were the best demos he’d ever heard.” They all say that, Steven... “He didn’t say it to us. He told someone else...” Let ya off. “So we went in with him and did one song and we love how it sounds. And while we’re making the new one, I’m a UFO In This City is finally getting a US release. So yeah, we tour with Canterbury, then we do Hit the Deck and The Great Escape and hopefully some more festivals.” I’d book you for Reading/Leeds rather than, say, Download. “Yeah, you’re right. Reading and Leeds is where we want to be. Look, I just think I’m writing some really strong songs right now. I write them out of love. And when I hear something like ‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna, I find myself thinking I want to achieve that. That’s all I care about.” He pauses to catch up with his own thoughts. “I just know the next album is going to connect.”
You too can connect with Mr Battelle via Twitter. Ask him what gauge of strings he uses.