DURING the making of debut album The Grand Tour, Melbourne musician Tanya Batt (aka BATTS) fired off an email to NASA.
She had become obsessed with Voyager 1 – a probe launched into space in the late-1970s – and wanted to place sounds from the mission throughout her album chronologically. The album would end with Voyager 1 entering interstellar space.
“I think mixing the sounds of space which have existed for billions of years with the music we make on Earth is a really beautiful and powerful tool to share knowledge and excitement of science within the popular culture of music,” she wrote to NASA.
After being granted permission from one of the physicists involved in the mission, Don Gurnett – “Every single member of the science community I have encountered so far has been really supportive,” she says – Tanya set about weaving the samples into a record that grapples with some very earthly subject matter.
Here is her track-by-track guide to The Grand Tour.
The album opens with the start up sounds of Voyager. I sifted through more hours of commentary than you can imagine to cut up the bits I used, but I also had a lot of fun doing so. I made this track just in my studio at home and it was one of the first things I put together for the album. I really like experimenting with weird sounds at home and seeing what I can do because frankly, I feel like I have no idea how to use Logic so I just smash around with things until I turn it into something I like. The first track was obviously super important to me for this album. I wanted it to set the right mood and I think it does that.
I had just purchased a Roland JC-22 amp and was playing around with the inbuilt chorus when I wrote this song. I have no idea where the story of it came from. My partner is a musician and we both tour a bit so maybe the longing for human touch comes from that? Its placement in the album is the initial feeling of Voyager leaving Earth and being all alone. Even though Voyager never went to Mars, it is an ode to Carl Sagan who put together the ‘Golden Records’ [digital time capsules portraying life on Earth] on Voyager with his team because of all of his extensive research and obsession with life on Mars.
At the start of making my album I actually went on tour to the UK. While over there my partner sent me a song by a man named David Bazan. The song was called ‘Virginia’ and it was off an album called Strange Negotiations, which has now become one of my favourite albums of all time. I listened to it so much it felt as though it became a part of me. When I got back my partner was playing three chords over and over on the couch and I just started singing some words along. I asked him if I could use them and I ran into the other room and wrote this song. It’s a fictional story heavily influenced by the stories and characters in David Bazan’s album.
Christ, I was in a bad place when I wrote this song. I think sometimes if you’ve been badly hurt before it’s really hard to believe someone can truly love you or want to. That’s not true by the way. Anyway, I wrote the first two verses of this song just over 3 years ago and realised I wanted to finish it for the album. Ross Beaton on Modular Synth just nailed it with the subtle synth parts, they break my heart, it blends so so perfectly with the space samples it’s hard to work out what’s what and in my opinion that makes it so special.
This song is on my debut EP 62 Moons, but it was the last song I’d written for that EP. It really felt like it fit into this chapter of writing, too. It was the start of this new growth period of writing and I really wanted it on the album. It was suggested to me by my bassist Brendan and as soon as he said it I just knew it was right. I did a new mix with Alex O’Gorman, who mixed the rest of the album so it would all fit nicely. It feels all fresh to my ears again and fits perfectly on the journey, I think. A song I wrote while being obsessed with Andy Shauf, I picked up my guitar and it was just one of those days where something actually happened.
Gosh what a last minute stress this was. I actually had a whole different version of this but something happened and I had to remake the entire thing in an afternoon and find different commentary to use. So I sifted back through about eight hours of commentary and picked out these bits. Then Alex and I worked on making the sample of Saturn’s rings sound really special because at this point in the album Voyager is passing past Saturn.
I wrote this song when Australia was going through the plebiscite on same-sex marriage and all the Trump stuff was happening in America. My heart was hurting and I’d gotten stuck in some pretty horrific comment sections. So I just wrote a song about hoping the world gets better and that humans treat each other kinder, and also that we treat Earth better. A bit of an angsty brit-pop song.
I was sitting in my apartment at my dining table (where I do most of my work) and had this moment where I realised I wanted to cut one of the songs from the album, which meant I’d need to write another. I was also feeling pretty shit about the industry and was generally a bit exhausted with everything. I picked up my guitar and started playing. I sang the opening lines over some chords and then thought I best record it in case something good comes. I walked into my studio, hit record, and just played. What came out was what I kept [for the album].
Another one I wrote just after getting my Roland JC-22. That chorus really did inspire me. As a kid I loved to write stories so much, but as I got older I guess I stopped writing fiction and started writing about my life in songs instead. I don’t always feel like doing that and this was the first song I’d delved into writing about fictional characters. I felt really nervous about showing this to anyone at first, but the moment I did I was validated so that was nice. It’s a pretty heavy story, but the band did a magical job creating the world of the story in the music. So to me it feels as if you actually enter into the world, or at least that was the outcome I wanted from it. Definitely one of my favourites on the album. Also Adam’s lead guitar line in the bridge kills me. It’s so damn good. To be honest my band on this album are just phenomenal. It truly is such a honour to make music with them.
I think this is the oldest song on the album. Some of the songs were written two weeks before recording, but this one I’ve had for quite some time. I did add the parts to it just before recording though as it was never really “finished” to me. It’s a song that focuses on the “other person” in a relationship with someone who suffers severe depression.
At this current point in time I think this is my favourite song on the album. I was playing around with a couple of different guitars in the house and picked up the Epiphone Casino and found these three chords I loved. It’s a super simple song. It’s kind of mean but gives me the most incredible sense of relief to play live. When I took this to the band it was a nice challenge to try work out how to keep it interesting and give it the right feel. It was so much fun to live track and I think you can really feel the energy in this one of us all locking in. It also holds a dear place in my heart because it ends with the sound of Voyager 1 crossing into interstellar space. I just think that is so beautiful.