Tanya Batt is many things. First off, she’s a proud Gecko mum. Then, she’s a musician, an actress, she nannies, and she even works in a theatre. You wouldn’t know it by glancing at our table in the busy Melbourne café, The Hub, but Tanya Batt – who performs under the musical moniker BATTS – played a show in a packed Hamer Hall just a week earlier. Hamer Hall is one of Melbourne’s most beautiful venues, a room Tanya never thought she’d play in. Following a string of concerts as a special guest for Sharon Van Etten (“Sharon is the best. She watched my sets from the side of the stage”), Friday night saw Batt end her album launch shows with a special hometown performance.
For her previous show in Melbourne, Tanya Batt took the stage alone, an uncommon way for the performer to tell her stories. Batt beams reliving that night. “The audience was so quiet that my thoughts were so loud in my mind. I was like, ‘shut up, you’re playing right now! Stop thinking!'” Tanya Batt rides past the venue every day on her way to work, and she’s been part of the audience, watching the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra perform on multiple occasions. “To be standing on that stage alone was the weirdest thing ever. I was standing there with a leaking bottle with water running down my arm [laughs]. Performing in front of all those people was so scary but so rewarding.”
Tanya Batt knew that she always wanted to be on stage, somewhere in the entertainment industry. She studied and pursued acting for a long time before music called to her. “I love being on that stage. I love being on stage with my band.” The Batt family moved from Essex, England to Melbourne, Australia when Tanya was just thirteen years old.
Batt was surrounded by music all her life. Some artists transcended generations in her family, from Bowie to Etta James and Shirley Bassey, to Elvis. “We listened to a lot of soul and blues artists. I was exposed to a huge amount of artists, really. My dad used to tour doing covers around Europe, so whatever he covered is what I grew up listening to.” She was, surprisingly, tone deaf as a child. (“I was so tone deaf!”) That didn’t stop her from singing. “I used to get up and sing with my dad during karaoke nights on holiday. I’d sing ‘Mustang Sally’ by myself, and dad would have to get up and help me! I was just terrible. Awful [laughs].” She doesn’t know what happened, but something changed. Tanya Batt certainly isn’t tone deaf anymore.
BATTS released the debut album, The Grand Tour, in April 2019. The record captures Batt’s enthusiasm for outer space, featuring numerous samples from the Voyager 1 Mission given to her by NASA. The samples and the otherworldly atmosphere is contrasted by delicately showcasing the other side of humanity, back on Earth. The Grand Tour isn’t solely grandiose or all about space, on the contrary, it’s actually very human. The introspective “Folding Chairs” dwells in feelings of inadequacy, while Batt’s amused smirk shines in “Shame,” as she challenges the irony of wanting to escape Earth.
“The main thing I wanted, soundscape-wise, was to really feel the little worlds we create. Lots of things were in my brain at the time. Some of the songs are fictional, no longer about myself all the time. It’s nice to play with fictional stuff. I just got bored of writing about my own life; I don’t really want to anymore.” It’s a sentiment echoed by Sharon Van Etten, too, as she stated that she doesn’t like playing old songs anymore. They take her back to a dark place she’s no longer in. Tanya agrees, finding it much easier to write about fictional characters and what they’re going through. “When I was younger, it was so easy to be self-destructive. My life is in a pretty good place now, though, there are so many things I love and care about, and I don’t want to destroy any of them. You shouldn’t have to in order to create art.”
Working on The Grand Tour was a long, strenuous process for Tanya and her band. “You can hear every instrument, every line, every mind, yeah, you just hear every single personality that was involved in making the album.” Then, sending it out to press became an ordeal. “The term, ‘concept album’ has a tarnished quality to it.” She was met with a resounding, “yeah, not interested in concept albums, thanks.” They wouldn’t even listen to the album.
Listening to concept albums is such a cool journey, according to Batt. She already listens to albums from start to finish, regardless, and greatly enjoys going on the journey the artist created. Batt’s favourite thing to do when highly anticipating an album is going out and buying the vinyl, popping it on, lying down and experiencing the album’s voyage. “I guess I just wanted people to take time out of their days and do that,” she begins, taking a gulp of her long-black coffee before growing more animated. “I just wanted people to listen for 40 minutes, without looking at phones or anything else, just lay down and listen to an album. Just remember what it’s like to listen to an album. Because, we live in a singles-oriented age now, and I think it’s nice to weave back in the album format.”
BATTS also incorporate covers into live shows. At Hamer Hall, Tanya performed “Everything Is Free” by Gillian Welch, which has been covered by multiple indie-rock sensations like Father John Misty, Phoebe Bridgers and Courtney Barnett. “Everything Is Free” is especially relevant when examining today’s music industry. “I think that’s why [the song] has had this huge resurgence,” Batt nods. “It’s really resonating for a lot of people. I thought about no longer covering it,” that would be a huge mistake, I argue! “But I think it’s so important to sing that song and remind people to keep showing up, buy merch, and keep supporting artists.”
Fellow Melbourne-based band, Ne Obliviscaris (the extreme metal band with violin) have been using Patreon for years in order to get to the minimum wage ($15,000 a year AUD) through crowdfunding. They have six members, expensive equipment, lose money on national tours and almost go broke touring internationally. They still haven’t reached their goal of getting to minimum wage. “Yeah, you lose money all the time,” Batt muses. “I’m lucky to tour so much solo, but I have a five-piece band. I would love to take my band places, you know?”
This conversation won’t stop until there’s real change in the industry, but that doesn’t stop audience members approaching Batt after a solo show, asking “can you bring your band next time?” which Batt is always tempted to respond with, “can you bring your friends next time?” but she frequently worries that kind of answer might be interpreted in a way she didn’t intend. “I’m so grateful to even have an audience but you [music fans] need to spread the word. I can’t bring my band unless you spread the word and bring more humans to shows.”
It’s a team effort. Tanya needs to pay her band, she needs to pay for their flights, accommodation, the lighting, the sound, the merch table, everything. It’s obscenely expensive, especially in a huge country like Australia. Even to go to Sydney, the band loses thousands of dollars. “Melbourne is great, just drive down the road and play a show with my band! But that’s not fair, I would love to take my band to other cities.”
It isn’t just the financial strain making life as a touring musician so difficult. Batt suffers from vestibular migraines. “Strobe lighting triggers it all, as well as bass and loud music. So, being a musician can be the worst [laughs]. I get bad vertigo too so we need to keep it friendly.” Tanya and her team, including her crucial friend, lighting operator Maddie Allan, have embraced innovative methods for touring to remain a possibility. “We have a specific lighting show which is really interesting for me to work with. No strobe lighting! We are friendly to lots of humans!” At BATTS shows, solo or full band, there will be “no strobe lighting” signs put up. As a member of the audience, Tanya hopes for warning surrounding strobe lighting, so she can be prepared and keep her special sunglasses at hand.
So, what’s next for BATTS? We’re coming to the end of our interview, and I’m bummed about it! Thankfully, I got to see her again at Howler, a trendy Melbourne venue that holds 400 music lovers. The room was full. The hometown show was extremely special for the band; you just couldn’t wipe the smile off Tanya’s face as her confidence grew. “I’ll keep touring this album, get it out to more humans. I suppose I’ll start working on another album, I’d never force it.” And, there’s overseas touring on the horizon! “I really want to head overseas and do a lot of touring, I love Australia and I’ll continue playing here but I want to reach as many humans as possible. I am going back to England in August. I’ll spend some time there; I want to go everywhere, really. I’ll keep having fun and playing music to people, play some festivals, it’s going to be a big year.”