The Battlefield return to TRiP on Friday night to preview tunes from their forthcoming album
By Bliss Bowen
When guitarist/banjoist Matt Ducey invited co-worker and occasional bandmate James Addison and country singer Jenny Weaver to play his birthday show at North Hollywood’s Federal Bar, little did he realize he was planting seeds for an Americana band. But when the three chimed together in harmony, they were surprised to realize they shared strong vocal chemistry.
Barely two years after that “jamboree performance,” the trio of actors turned musicians — collectively known as the Battlefield — are preparing for the July 10 release of their debut album, “Tipping Point.”
They’ll preview tunes from it when they return to TRiP Friday.
“Jimmy approached me at that Federal Bar show and I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’” Weaver recalls. “He may have been slightly inebriated. [Laughs] I had a song I’d written in three-part harmony, so we got together for fun, and when we started singing there was barely any talking — it just happened seamlessly. We started booking gigs immediately.”
“I heard Jenny’s voice and I knew that she would be a good buffer between our voices,” Addison says. “I have more of the brass to my voice; Matt’s more of the gravel, the character. Jenny is the butter to our bread.”
Adapting their individual songs to three-part harmonies — including Ducey’s yearning “Into the Smoke & Maze,” a highlight of their shows— they set about composing new songs together. Which can be tricky with three songwriters in the room. Accepting a two-set club gig when they only had one set’s worth of material lent urgency to their mission.
“We went up to Big Sur and we made it happen,” Weaver says. “That was pretty much our first year as a band: flying by the seat of our pants.”
They cite folk ensemble the Wild Reeds and Run River North as other L.A.-based bands with whom they feel a sense of creative roots-meet-pop kinship. Backgrounds in musical theatre and acting also helped shape the Battlefield’s sturdy melodies and storytelling, while deeper influences came to the fore as the three drank and jammed around a Big Sur campfire: native Texan Weaver’s country idols (“Waylon, Willie, Dolly, Patsy”), Addison’s North Carolina Baptist gospel background and alternative rock leanings, plus Ducey’s Northern California folk tastes.
“We have the desire to tell stories and talk to humanity about what humanity is,” Weaver says. “There are so many ways to do that, whether it’s writing songs or playing characters. And being onstage is so similar to theater. You have that audience, that immediate energy.”
Plans to “write a really happy song” went south when Ducey started plunking out a banjo riff that evolved into the plangent “Never Grow Old.” As Weaver sang, “Sleep, sleep my angel,” she says, “we suddenly realized we were writing a ghost story. It developed into this story of a Civil War soldier who returned home from battle to find his fiancée has died, and he walks directly in on her funeral, and that’s where the story begins. Jimmy and I sing in the voices of the dead bride, who ends up luring her lover into killing himself to join her in death.”
The Romeo and Juliet overtones did not escape the self-described “recovered actors” and Shakespeare fans. Their theatrical experiences inform not only their storytelling inclinations, but also their image consciousness and business savvy. They wasted little time making band photos and videos for “Into the Smoke & Maze” and the gospel-hued “Brother Benjamin.”
“Working as actors out here in a professional environment has taught us a lot about marketing ourselves and branding as a group and even Battlefield as concept,” Addison comments. “Your successes are very tangible. You have personal relationships with your promoters and venues, with other musicians. It takes a lot more work in acting to get to that level.”
“It’s our own creation and we have control of it, as opposed to the business of trying to be a professional actor,” Ducey observes. “We’ve got so much momentum that we’re able to put into it. It feeds our creative soul a little more in that sense. We’re able to book ourselves into shows, and write our songs. We don’t need someone to give us the job.”
He calls the experience of booking their summer tour a necessary “learning process” as they gradually learn the DIY ropes and find their place in
L.A.’s supportive Americana community.
“We’ve had this album finished and mastered for what feels like an eternity now,” Addison adds, “and it’s something we’re all incredibly proud of. We really have high hopes and expectations for it.”
The Battlefield perform at 11 p.m. Friday at TRiP, 2101 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. $5. Music starts at 9:30 with Steven Casper, then David Serby. Call (310) 396-9010 or visit wearethebattlefield.com.