The Bradford’s Print Editor-in-Chief sat down with Science teacher and music lover Mr. Ken Bateman to talk about Bateman’s favorite bands, the ten-album test, rock and roll in transition, and more. Here is their conversation.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Zach Miller: So when did you first start really liking music?
Ken Bateman: Probably when I was a freshman in high school. I played music from the time when I was in fifth grade — I played the drums. I didn’t play in high school, but I played with friends whenever they would want to jam. But I’d say my love for music took off when I was a freshman.
ZM: What were the first musicians or bands that you really started getting into?
KB: Oh that’s great…off the top of my head I’d say my favorite band [from high school] probably still is one of my favorite bands: The Police; they were probably one of the first bands [I liked]. After that, a band called Midnight Oil, and then beyond that there were a bunch of other bands that I kind of fell in love with my freshman and sophomore years of high school, such as Jane’s Addiction, and Soundgarden, and, later in high school, bands like Alice in Chains and Tool and Rage Against the Machine and bands like that. My brother also liked music, and he introduced me to other stuff that I listened to a lot when I was in high school, like The Replacements or The Pixies…I’m losing track of all the bands he introduced me to …but there were other bands I really liked. I liked the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in high school; they were a fun band, and they were one of the first bands I saw live.
ZM: That’s a lot of classic rock, hard rock, so that’s pretty clearly your favorite genre, but are there any other genres that you listen to a lot?
KB: Yeah, definitely. I’m going to put this out there — my musical influences were probably because of my brother and my friend Sam. [Sam] lived in Los Angeles. I went to a boarding school, and there were boarding students and day students. [Sam] was a boarding student and he lived in Los Angeles, and he would come back [from Los Angeles] and tell me what they were playing on K-Rock, which was their radio station, and he would just feed me bands and then we just started listening. I always went to him for new musical tastes; he still always has the right suggestions and they’re always the right suggestions at the right time. There are also certain folk artists that I like listening to, like the one that I was listening to when you came in. There are some electronic artists that I like; there’s rap that I really like as well; I like certain styles of jazz as well, and I love funk, but I don’t necessarily follow a major funk band. I just think funk is fun, and really fun to play.
ZM: So you said The Police are your favorite band of all time?
KB: Yeah…I would agree with that. My favorite album of all time is from them.
ZM: Which one is that?
KB: Regatta de Blanc, which is their second album. From start to finish I can listen to it all day.
ZM: What differentiates The Police from other bands for you?
KB: Man, that is a loaded question…I would say nostalgia has a big part to do with it. There are moments in my childhood when I would have The Police on in the background, and when I hear the same song to this day, I think about that moment, which is a cool feeling, it’s a great feeling. So I would say that, and also growing up being a drummer, Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police, was like the first drummer that I was like I love this dude, and I want to play like this dude. So I really fell in love with that, and overall, I love how minimalist the songs can be, but they seem to take up so much room, if that makes any sense. None of [the musicians] are doing too much at one time, but all together it just feels full and I love that, I think it’s a brilliant mechanism that they created in doing that.
ZM: Would you say you have any clear second, third favorite bands?
KB: Oh, yeah. I play a game with my friends sometimes: name your top ten favorite albums; or, if you were stranded on a desert island, what ten albums would you bring?
ZM: (Laughing) I actually asked Mr. Brazier that.
KB: So I have that list in my head at like a moment’s notice…but other bands that I always go back to if I’m bored with what I’m listening to now and want to listen to other stuff — I really love Fugazi. Their first four albums are some of the most fun albums for me to listen to from start to finish. I like that band a lot. I love the early Mighty Mighty Bosstones stuff. It’s funny; there are bands that I love but there are albums from those bands that I like even more. Let It Be by the Beatles is one of my favorite albums, because it’s just raw. They didn’t put a lot of production into it; it just sounds cool. Other bands that I really like — I like the band Blur, they’re a Brit-pop band. Recently I’ve been listening to a band called Mutemath, which is kind of cool — they have a blend between like rock and electronic. There are always bands like Led Zeppelin that are in the back of your head — I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite, but they’re there if you need a good rock song. If you need to listen to some good drums, they’re always good for it. And then there’s bands like Pearl Jam, that I like, I like all their albums, but I get sick of listening to them.
ZM: Yeah, I know what you mean. Pearl Jam can get repetitive.
KB: Right, exactly, but if you don’t listen to them for a while and then you listen to one album, you’re like “Oh, this album’s good”. But you just can’t listen to it daily, whereas there certain bands, like The Police, that I could probably listen to daily and be okay with it.
ZM: You said you were getting into Mutemath — what other new bands have you been getting into recently?
KB: Miike Snow — these are bands that came out about 10 years ago or within the last 10 years or so — I really like to listen to. And then there are bands that I listen to but I don’t own any of their stuff, like Chance the Rapper, I kind of steal [his music] from YouTube and just listen to it on YouTube. I like the flow of his raps, I think they’re fun.
ZM: Oh, [Chance] is great, he’s one of my favorites.
KB: Yeah, I would say in terms of new artists those are the ones that are in my mind. But for me, my buddy Sam, that guy in Los Angeles, if I call him and say I need new music he’ll say “Check this band out”, and I’ll check that band out. They could be modern, or they could be 10 years old, 15 years old.
ZM: Have there been any super memorable concerts you’ve been to?
KB: Oh, yeah, for myriad reasons. The show that always comes back to me is when I saw the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in a bar in Syracuse. I saw them when I was either 20 or 21, in my senior year of college, and my friends and I drove from Hamilton to Syracuse, which is only like an hour. But you know tickets were like $7 or something crazy like that it; it was in like a bar about as big as a classroom and the ceilings were less than 10 feet high and the stage was only about 2 feet off the ground. And the Bosstones are notorious for letting people get up on stage and dance with them while they’re playing songs. And people would jump off the stage into the crowd afterwards. The place was packed — it probably fit 500 people and 500 people were there — and by the end of the night so many people were jumping off the stage that when they got thrown back into the crowd, the ceiling was so low that all the tiles right in front of the stage were knocked down. It was bizarre and it was so much fun in there — there was so much energy in the room. I loved it.
ZM: Were you one of the jumpers?
KB: I might have gotten up on stage and danced a little bit, maybe. (Laughing) Back when I was limber and could do those things. But that’s probably like the show that stands out to me. I’ve been to other shows that have been fantastic, but that one stands out.
ZM: Okay, so going back to the ten-album-test, the desert island test — what are your ten [albums]?
KB: The last few fluctuate frequently, but Reggatta de Blanc is in there; 13 Songs by Fugazi; Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys, that’s up there; probably Let It Be by the Beatles; there’s a band called Rival Schools, their first album, United by Fate, is absolutely there, I can listen to that thing nonstop. Then after that it’s just massive fluctuation, but those are probably like my top five [albums] that I could go to at a moment’s notice.
ZM: What’s been the stuff that you’ve been listening to most recently, like within the last couple of weeks?
KB: A Tribe Called Quest’s new album; De La Soul’s new album; Mutemath; a band called Kings of Convenience — they are just two dudes, they’re out of Norway, and it’s just acoustic — that’s who was playing earlier. So those have been in heavy rotation, and then the last few days while I’ve been in the car I’ve just put my phone on shuffle and listened to whatever came up, because I just need some variety right now. But I really, really like the new Tribe album. I think it’s good.
ZM: Yeah I listened to it; it’s really long, so I only got like halfway through, but I really liked it.
KB: I love Busta Rhymes; he might be my favorite rapper, and I think his raps and the way he rolls into songs — I love him on the new Tribe album.
ZM: When did you start getting into rap? You don’t always hear people who are really into classic rock also being into rap.
KB: I wouldn’t even call it classic rock; I would say my go to is more like grunge-era…but rap though, when I was in like 4th or 5th grade the Beastie Boys’ first album came out, which was called Licensed to Ill, and a year or two prior to that there was a band called Run-D.M.C., so they came out and their first three albums I owned on cassette. And I was in 4th or 5th grade, and I loved those albums, I mean loved them. Like you don’t know this, but if you played a tape for too long it would wear out the tape, and the tape would actually break, and the same three albums that happened to, and the same thing happened to my copy of Licensed to Ill and Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique. So those albums were around when I was in elementary school, really, and they were the foundation for the rap that I ended up liking. I listened to artists like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, KRS-One, and Public Enemy through like my later elementary years into high school. And then during college it was whatever came up. I lived with this dude from Portland, Oregon, who loved rap. He would listen to the Fugees, he would listen to Nas, he would listen to Jay-Z and stuff like that, and we would just listen to it all the time. Most of the rap now, I don’t know, I don’t necessarily listen to a lot of it, but I do like Chance the Rapper — I like the way he rhymes and I like the way he flows. And I also like Childish Gambino as well.
ZM: Yeah, he’s really good. It’s also interesting how [Gambino] is transitioning more — like did you hear his new album? It’s much more R&B. I think it’s cool how he’s evolving.
KB: You know, I think about that a lot, with bands, so you listen to certain bands, and you listen to them playing when they were like, 20, and then you listen to them playing when they’re like, 30, and them playing when they’re 40 and there’s always a transition. And I don’t know if it’s a matter of them getting softer or just getting bored with what they’re doing, but there’s always a transition. And I know a lot of people are like “I don’t like this album as much as this old album because it just doesn’t have the same sound”, but I actually appreciate when bands go out of their niche and find something new. I think it’s fun, and it’s cool to listen to, like “oh, they’ve evolved into this new idea”.
ZM: And it’s crazy how if you see them at the beginning and you see them at the end, just how much they’ve changed. Like I got really into the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers a couple years ago, and their first album was in 1984 and it was really like rap metal, funk metal —
KB: I listened to them a lot in high school, just so you know.
ZM: — Yeah, they were my favorite band a couple years ago. I’m even going to see them in like a month. But now, their new album [The Getaway] was not good. I didn’t really like it at all.
KB: I didn’t like it either.
ZM: But anyway, a couple albums before [their most recent album], they’d become just classic rock, soft rock.
KB: When they came out with Stadium Arcadium, I thought to myself, “huh, [their singer] Anthony Kiedis is actually singing on this album, because on all the other albums he morphs between yelling, talking, and rap. But when that album came out I was like that’s weird…one of my favorite albums of theirs though, which I love, probably because it’s more hard rock because Dave Navarro played on it, is One Hot Minute. I love that album, but I like how it rocks, that’s why. But you’re so right — they’re a band of transition. I don’t necessarily appreciate their newer stuff; their last two albums have been a little…
ZM: Yeah, they’ve been weak, I agree. I do like where they got to, though. I like their first stuff, like their ’85 to ’95 stuff.
KB: Well, they had two different drummers and two different guitarists, and John Frusciante, their guitarist who played on Blood Sugar Sex Magik and on Mother’s Milk, was on hiatus because he had a huge drug problem for One Hot Minute, and then he came back for a few and then he was like “I’m done”.
ZM: And their guitarist [Hillel Slovak] from the first two albums died.
KB: And that’s where John Frusciante came in.
ZM: Exactly. But yeah, apart from Kiedis and [their bassist] Flea they’ve kind of had a constant transition everywhere. But I liked where they got to — Californiacation I really liked, and By the Way I really liked,
KB: I agree.
ZM: But after that, it kind of just…
KB: Yeah, it sputtered out. I think it would be interesting; I really want Guns N’ Roses to make a new album — not like Chinese Democracy, but like a new album. Their first three albums, if you discard Lies because it’s just a B-sides, but Use Your Illusion and Appetite for Destruction were so rocking. And Chinese Democracy has that rock element to it — it was written in the ’90’s and wasn’t released until recently — but I’d love to see what they’d come up with now, because they were this rock band, this hard rock band, so what would they do now, would it be all acoustic?
ZM: When you see the really hard rockers get old, it’s really interesting, because they’ll either transition into something that’s not as good, like not what got them there, or they just end up kind of trying to do what they used to do and not doing it as well.
KB: Although I will say this — do you know Motorhead?
ZM: Yeah, a little bit.
KB: So Motorhead, I think, I think [lead singer and bassist] Lemmy didn’t change his vibe, and he still rocked out until the day he died. There are bands like that — I mean, that guy was an alcoholic and drug addict and he just didn’t care; he just kept on playing his bass. So I think there is that transition, but I think ultimately I like listening to that transition, I really do.
ZM: So what are a few songs, out of all these bands that you’ve mentioned, that stand out as favorites?
KB: I can tell you my favorite all-time song — it’s a Police song — it’s not on Outlandos D’Amour or Reggatta de Blanc, it’s on Ghost in the Machine — it’s called ‘Secret Journey’. And this goes back to a point that a friend of mine from college and I make have a lot — it’s [my favorite] because there’s a drum fill in the song I just love. I just think it sounds cool — the transition to the drum fill just sounds awesome — but I love the song, and I listen to it if I need a good song. But wow, other favorite songs…
ZM: Yeah, I just think if you ask someone their favorite songs their answers are really telling, even more so than the bands they listen to, because if you can name a song like that off the top of your head, it usually means you’ve thought about it a lot.
KB: That song is definitely my favorite, but there are other songs from random artists that I just think are awesome, just flat-out great, great tunes. Jack Johnson, for example, he has this one song called ‘Home’; I think it’s a great song. I like the lyrics in it, I like the guitar in it; I just like the overall structure of the song. But on the flip side, there’s this song from Tool, I think it’s called ‘Stinkfist’, that I absolutely love, but I love it for different reasons. There are certain Beatles songs that I think are phenomenal. Like I think ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is unbelievable. Those songs just pop into my head, and then like there are certain songs from other bands. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have this one song called ‘Cowboy Coffee’ that I really like, and it’s like a minute and a half long. It’s really, really short. [In general] it’s hard it’s hard to say “that’s my favorite song”. Sometimes it’s easier to say “what’s your favorite song on that album” or even like a band, like “can you name your favorite song from a band”. But it’s all difficult.
ZM: That’s why it’s hard, because I think the whole point of a good album is you can go back and forth on which songs are your favorites.
KB: I think that’s why the ten-album-test is more fun, because my thought is, well, ‘can I listen to this from start to finish without wanting to skip a song or turn it off’, and in this day and age it’s difficult. And the concept of an album has gone out the window because iTunes is like “yeah, I want that [song] but not that song”, and even on iTunes they have the ‘most popular’ bar, like how many people bought this [song] versus how many people bought that [song].
ZM: Streaming has kind of corrupted the album.
KB: To a certain extent
ZM: I think you can still find good albums, though, and I think part of the issue is there just aren’t that many great rock bands right now, so the album in terms of rock has kind of dropped off. I do think if you look at rap now, you can still find some albums that can function as a top-to-bottom piece of art, but I agree it’s a lot harder to find.
KB (from a post-interview email): I forgot to talk about two very influential bands in my life. The first is Devo,mid and the Second is Midnight Oil. Devo for their use of minimalism and Midnight Oil for who they are and what they stand for. Additionally, I just like their music. I also forgot about possibly my second favorite album of all time: Teenager of the Year, by Frank Black (the lead singer of The Pixies). I have no idea why my mind went blank, but man that album is amazing, start to finish. If you get a chance to listen to it, listen to the bass lines in just about every song. So perfect. Also, song 16, ‘Superabound’, is blissful. One of the greatest things about the album is that the lyrics are so vivid that you can almost see what he is singing about. That, and there is a song about the Three Stooges.