Interview: Exploring The Grand Tour with BATTS

Friday, April 12, 2019

During the process of working on her debut album The Grand Tour, Tanya Batt aka BATTS explored the compelling history of Voyager and channelled her observations, research and feelings it gave her through the music she crafted. We recently sat down with her to learn more about the history and creative process that led to the creation of the project.

BATTS’ passion for space exploration stems back to her childhood, “I guess I kind of grew up on Star Trek and Stargate,” she says, “I always just really loved space, and as I got older, I really got into Cosmos, the TV series by Carl Sagan and then the remake.” During various stages of her life, she's rediscovered her passion for the area — especially when the music industry has left her discouraged. “I think I got through making the album because of my interest in the area. I was hating the music industry so much and I wanted to quit and I didn't want to make my album at all and when I got this idea to make it conceptual, it drove me to finish it.” Planning the album conceptually came naturally to her, “I really like working like that. It’s just how my brain works and how I operate as a human. I think it makes it more enjoyable for me.”

Carl Sagan’s work on the Voyager Golden Record influenced her the most when working on the concept album. Made over forty years ago, the recordings are an audio-visual capsule of humanity — In 1977 when N.A.S.A. launched Voyager 1 and 2, a golden record was attached to each spacecraft. Sagan was asked by NASA to create a message from humanity to extraterrestrial civilizations who might encounter it. Through listening to podcasts, she came across details of the Voyager Golden Record and decided to dive deeper into its story. On the record, BATTS said, “It was just this incredible, beautiful, romantic story. The fact that the Golden Record is a time capsule of humanity, and that it's gonna go for billions of years and we won't exist anymore but this tiny little thing of us is just gonna keep going forever. I just find it so romantic.”

Sagan and his team’s passion and enthusiasm for collating the material for the record is particularly inspiring, considering the odds of the records making their way to extraterrestrial life were slim — but that didn’t deter him or his team from pouring their hearts into the record. “It was such a huge thing to have done back in the 70s. They didn't have the technology to do it back then and it was a huge achievement to have pulled it off. It took space exploration to a whole new level,” said BATTS, “When you read about it and about everyone that was involved, it just seems like the most beautiful thing to be part of. I just really love studying it. Thinking about it makes me feel very insignificant and calm.”

Accompanied by moving instrumentals, the ‘Interlude’ on the album features a recording detailing the components of the Golden Record — including readings from people of Earth in 60 languages, samples of music from across the world, animal sounds and weather recordings. The record also includes brainwaves from Ann Druyan during the creation process as she was falling in love with Sagan, who she then married. 

Whilst researching Voyager, BATTS reached out to NASA — who she notes are easier to contact then some people in music, “The science community is awesome because it's quite easy to contact them. It's easier to get a response from them than all of the music industry (laughs), I found it really nice working with that side of things. I think I got through making the album because I had the research to focus on.” 

Journalling and recording notes played a pivotal role when exploring her thoughts, observations and research. “There was so much research. I've got books of random notes, facts and dot points, as well as notes on every name I saw of someone that worked on Voyager”. A book that especially caught her attention was The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell, which details the Voyager Mission — “I went through so many sticky notes when reading it, tagging every single name and cool fact that was in that book. I would pop them down and then transfer it into a notebook.” BATTS wanted to make sure she was across all aspects of the mission, leaving no stone unturned. “I really wanted to know enough about it,” she said, “Not just throw together this album using these samples just because they sounded cool. I wanted to use them with intention.”

Sifting through the samples from the mission wasn’t always an enjoyable process as it involved a lot of white noise and hours of complicated commentary. BATTS notes, “I spent so much time listening to words I don't understand. Like on the launch day, there was so much scientific language. There was so much white noise and you might find one perfect moment that then you've got to treat really well. I had to cut out all these frequencies to make it sound nice.” She also had to keep track of the ordering since they’re in chronological order, “I had to think about what songs should go there to represent how that felt at that time, to make it feel like the journey”. 

Because it’s a concept album, BATTS suggested that it’s best to listen to it from start to finish. “If people have time, I hope they can listen to it from beginning to end then can go on the little journey I tried to recreate.” When I asked her what she hoped listeners would get out of the album, she said, “Whatever they need. Whatever humans want to get from it.” — with an album as intricate, artful and carefully curated as The Grand Tour, listeners will be moved wholeheartedly by BATTS' debut offering.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

Stream The Grand Tour by BATTS below:

You can purchase the special edition gold vinyl version of The Grand Tour here.

You can catch BATTS live at the following dates:
April 13th - Record Store Day - Rocksteady Records 
April 25th - Gum Ball Festival - Dashville 
June 7th - QPAC Concert Hall - Brisbane (Supporting Sharon Van Etten)
June 11th - Hamer Hall - Melbourne (Supporting Sharon Van Etten)
June 13th - The Grace Emily - Adelaide 
June 22nd - The Vanguard - Sydney 
June 28th - Howler - Melbourne 
More information is available here