Rob Batke's electro-pop Artistan Loyalist makes its own light
Through a chaotic force field which quickly corrects itself into calmness, you can feel Rob Batke’s tension in his new album’s first lyric. “Light,” he sings hopefully. “I’ve been waiting here for light.”
While this idea of yearning from darkness is how Caustics begins, it’s only the midpoint album in a planned trilogy for the Edmonton musician’s dreamy pop-electronic solo project, Artisan Loyalist.
Batke compares making albums to keeping a diary going.
“I make this music because I have to,” he says.
That said, the 33-year-old is hesitant to pinpoint what’s been vexing him with any confessional precision. But that’s really beside the point, as the album’s built of ephemeral metaphors about tilling soil and hidden hearts, anyway.
He compares the record to his previous one: “Lonely Ghost was a personal, self-reflective piece. This is more of a battle with other stuff — I don’t know how much to allude to.
“But I think what’s next,” (he means next album), “will be a lot more free and open.”
The album is named, on the surface at least, for caustic light rays reflected or refracted though another object. The album cover Batke photographed himself of such an optical effect in his home, after the idea kept emerging for him though his experiences.
I mention the evolutionary trio of thesis, antithesis and synthesis — a back and forth conflict that results in something new and hopefully better. He likes this and taps it into his phone.
“Some of the lyrics reflect that, too: Diffuse Transmission, the reference to the notion of caustics. Rather than light being fully absorbed — or fully reflected — it’s absorbed and transferred in a different way.”
Insert metaphor of your choice here.
Born in Edmonton, Batke left the successful Faunts a couple of years back to focus on making music on his own terms. And that worked — for the most part. As he’s often done, Batke wrote the music for Caustics’ nine songs before the lyrics.
But of all things, a grant deadline forced him to commit the words faster than he might have.
“But it was really good, actually. I was close to the end with no lyrics and they all came quickly.
“I didn’t understand them all,” he laughs, “until later.”
He gets philosophical: “The best thing for any artist is to have to have constraints. If I didn’t have that deadline, I would’ve taken another year to finish it.
“I try to limit it with instrumentation, too. I still have a problem with too many layers,” he says with a grin.
The full-length Artisan Loyalist albums are intended to be pop, which the two so far are in a post-New Romantic sort of way. Though his songs are more spectral than theirs, he volunteers Tears for Fears as a sonic influence. “Or, some people might scoff at this, self-titled-era Genesis. That idea of ‘80s stadium rock with synth was always very interesting to me.”
But unlike these bands, Artisan Loyalist is firmly a solo project, outside of mastering by Joe Lambert (The National, Animal Collective). Batke’s vocals are sung softly, almost shrouded in mist, over stretched-out keyboard notes fit for a Blade Runner film. There are more bumping tracks than this comparison implies, but I joke that he’s definitely not trying to summon Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.
“I think maybe that’s a comfort zone. I don’t love being a frontman — even the project name I never wanted to call it my name. The haziness is a way to merge even love for amped music. It’s a fun way to challenge the rock album.
“I recorded all the guitars direct into an ’80s pre-amp. That’s my way to cop that sound from some of those artists.”
As a day job, Batke teaches graphic design, and even started a music course, at Lillian Osborne High School. Talking about how he tries to teach reveals more about his music.
“We often only provide kids to musically trace, replicating someone else’s piece. We’ve very much conditioned kids that certain groups belong and certain don’t.
“How many kids have we marginalized? Certain kids who are into rap and hip-hop just making a trap beat — it’s not my kind of music — but seeing them come to life, I love that they love it and I find connection to it. It gets me out of my own box, seeing these kids find their own agency.
“The full idea is to experiment and create something — it’s not going to be perfect.
“It’s a neat energy. They’re excited, and that reflects back. The more I blend it all together, music and pedagogy and academic ideas, the more it influences the next thing.
“I’m at the stage where I know I’ll always be making music. I can’t not do it. Can I model for them what I’d love to be able to see them continue to do?
“For music, the challenge is melody and lyrics and all those things that have to fit just right. It’s a cathartic process, I guess. Even with my students I’m like, ‘You’ve got to finish, and you’ve got to own it — good and bad.’”
Speaking of waiting for light, you can watch the swirling new video for Acres, created by aAron munson, at artisanloyalist.com.
Batke explains: “You just let him do his thing — all I did was provide a germination point. It was neat to see the visual motifs fully express what I’ve been writing about anyway. And he did it all on a light table this big,” he makes a little circle with his thumb and pointer finger.
“I don’t even know what he did, and that’s magical.”
Lonely Ghost Album Review
New Noise Magazine
4 / 5 Stars
The solo moniker of Canada’s Rob Batke (of indie-rockers Faunts), the electronic artist has a penchant for dense reverb and ’80s influenced synth sounds that often seem cinematic. The vocals are generally quiet, as are the guitars, but the melodies are giant as Batke brings to mind The Smiths or New Order with a very firm modern day indie-tronica feeling where dance beats and video game noises won’t go unnoticed.
Lonely Ghost Album Review
Album: Lonely Ghost
Artist: Artisan Loyalist
Three-and-a-half stars (out of five)
Come to think of it, Artisan Loyalist’s synth-pop debut is very much a beach-flavoured album, too. Sun-kissed ‘80s synths, reverb-drenched melodies, hushed vocals, and danceable beats bob along with each other on Lonely Ghost, a svelte and sentimental nine-track collection by this Edmonton musician, legally known as Robert Ryan Batke (of indie-rock act Faunts). “Stay here alone or move along?” he wonders on Silica, which mixes wafts of sombre synths with laser-like pulses perfect for one of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi films. “You are not forgotten,” Batke chants on Rainsong, as a soft drizzle of claps, and sax-like hums makes way to a downpour of guitar jangles and eerie Sting-like moans. Like a lonely ghost, these tunes will pace the hallways of your bones for years to come.
Lonely Ghost Interview
EDMONTON — Some would consider having a laptop destroyed a piece of bad luck, but for Rob Batke, the mastermind behind Artisan Loyalist, it was the one of the catalysts for his new record.
Artisan Loyalist’s first full-length Lonely Ghost features some of Batke’s older creations, birthed before the death of his laptop, plus several fresh tracks.
“My laptop had crashed, which had mountains of MP3 files on it, so I started from scratch. I found a new space to work in, took some of the old songs, worked in some new ideas, and added about six new songs,” he says, reminiscing over the process of starting anew.
Based out of Edmonton, Batke grew the Artisan Loyalist project while still part of electronic act Faunts, writing his own material and beginning to play electronic shows under his new moniker. After Faunts went on hiatus around 2011, he had the space necessary to develop his vision.
Artisan’s first EP, 2013’s You’re Glory, proved Batke’s prowess as an architect of dreamy, sweet mood music one might expect to hear in a restorative yoga class. For the LP, Batke kept the dreamy synth element, but added more shape and dynamism with inspiring guitars and winding, melodic vocals.
“On You’re Glory, a lot of the sounds are more improvised. The songs and textures are to create more of a mood. Lonely Ghost is far more structured and focused. Some of the synth sounds have the same kind of ambience to them, but with guitars, drums and vocals. More of a pop structure to this album,” Batke explains.
The new album is a gorgeous blend of the first EP’s sleepy synth but with edgy guitar harmonies, inspired in part by Johnny Marr of The Smiths, as well as melodically warm vocal charm, likely to induce nostalgia. Batke describes the feeling of releasing new material as cathartic, saying, “putting out a new record is being able to let go of the songs, let them escape and be someone else’s and not mine anymore.”
“Emotionally, it’s this gestational period of creating and then it’s time to send it out to the world. That can be a scary thing, because you make yourself vulnerable and hope that people like it. It’s time to get it out there.”
For the live experience, Batke is enlisting the help of his full band including guitarist Jordan Yeo, Nathan Marshall on drums and bassist Paul Fuellbrandt.
Batke seeks to create a full experience for audiences when playing a show.
“There has to be a real element to it, where the artist isn’t just trying to recreate the album, but letting the music be its own thing and have its own life.”
Lonely Ghost Interview
Taking charge often means letting go. Just ask Rob Batke, former member of Faunts. After years with the local dream-rock act, the multi-instrumentalist decided to focus on his own synth-pop project, Artisan Loyalist. “In a sense, it’s tough to give up what’s proven or easy,” he says. “You have to start from scratch.” Not only did he end up writing all the shimmery, ’80s-infused tunes on Artisan Loyalist’s full-length debut, Lonely Ghost, Batke sang and played every instrument — synths, drum machines, guitars — and produced the nine-track album. As meticulous as he was with some songs — he rewrote Gestalt, a six-minute burbling sprawl, as many as “six or seven” times over a couple of years — he was able to quickly finish others such as Rainsong, a haunting Miami Vice-style lullaby, and O, Chamelon, a deliciously icy, almost aristocratic, new-wave anthem.
Letting go, as it turns out, has its benefits. “It’s funny — my publicist thought O, Chamelon was the single, my label though it was the single, and I didn’t think so at all,” says Batke. “To me, it felt like a fun, thrown-together little thing. It didn’t get overthought, in a lot of ways, like some of the other songs did. I didn’t toil over it, so it came together pretty easy — I was trying to channel Gary Numan and, maybe, Mark Knopfler?”
Lonely Ghost Exclusive Artwork Feature
I recently had the opportunity to design some album art for Artisan Loyalist on the upcoming full-length album, Lonely Ghost, and the recently released teaser, The Ace EP. Initially, the artwork for The Ace EP was derived from pieces of the Lonely Ghost design: the gem-like cluster started in Illustrator as basic flat shapes that I had worked into 3D, and then overtop, layered a large number of photos I had taken to get the various textures.
This is the premiere streaming release of the the track Light Trail. Lonely Ghost is set to release on Tuesday, February 24th 2015 on Sky Council Recordings, and you can pre-order now on iTunes and Amazon.
‘O, Chamelon’ Single Premiere
“‘Chamelon’ is just a made up word — I liked how it sounded phonetically, and came up with a phrasing and meter that seemed to work,” Rob Batke of Artisan Loyalist explains of his new track’s distinctive title. The track, a dusky, babbling brook of liquid synths was the last song the Edmonton based artist, and former member of the like-minded Faunts, recorded for his record Lonely Ghost, he says. “It allowed me to take a few liberties in the recording process since I felt I had covered a lot of ground with the rest of the record.”
We asked Batke to walk us through the track’s composition and equipment.
“I was going for a Gary Numan feel with the soaring lead synth on my Yamaha CS-60, and one of my studio-mates thought the guitars had a Roxette vibe à la ‘She’s Got The Look.'” (Very good call dude).
“I recorded them direct (without the use of a guitar amplifier) to try and maintain a glassy guitar tone. The gritty arpeggiated synth part was double tracked–once through my Korg MS-20, and once through my DSI Prophet ’08. After the second verse, I cranked the resonance on the Prophet and played the filter for a binary solo of random blips and bleeps.”
‘Lonely Ghost’ Single Premiere
Artisan Loyalist, the solo pursuit of Edmonton multi-instrumentalist Rob Batke, premiered the first single and title track of their upcoming album Lonely Ghost set to release on February 24. The six-minute track was featured on American Apparel’s Viva Radio and offers a taste of Artisan Loyalist’s fundamental style—an effortless combination of synth wave textures, melodic vocals, and experimental beats.
A unique homage to 1980’s synth pop with modern day textures, Lonely Ghost delivers on the emotions built up through Rob Batke’s prior solo pursuits. The music evoke the failure, sadness, isolation, and ultimate triumph. Lonely Ghost is likely to resonate deeply when all the fans eagerly awaiting its arrival in February 2015.
In October 2014, Artisan Loyalist set the stage for the release of Lonely Ghost with their first four-song EP, The Ace. The EP featured two tracks from their upcoming full-length album that stirred up a great deal of curiosity among fans. It offered a preview of emotional intensity that can be expected on Artisan Loyalist’s upcoming full-length album.
André Obin & Artisan Loyalist Remixes Premiere
André Obin and Artisan Loyalist (the synth-pop project of Rob Batke) have both gained high acclaim for their ethereal and melodic approach to electronic music. Now the two have taken turns remixing songs from their most recent records, adding their own unique flavor to each other’s works.
You can stream Obin’s remix of Artisan Loyalist’s “Light Trail”, as well as Batke’s remix of the dark synth technician’s song “Furth Away”, in the stream below. The songs’ original versions appear on Artison Loyalist’s album Lonely Ghost and Obin’s album Endorphin respectively, both of which are available now via Sky Council Recordings.
Batke had the following to say about his remix of Obin’s “Further Away”: “The original mix of ‘Further Away’ has an upbeat, yet dark tone to it, and is a great pop effort on André’s part. With any remix, my goal is to try and allow something completely different to represent itself within the song. I want to hear what the vocals are communicating all on their own, so I solo’d the main vocal and lead synth parts and played some slow moving piano chords overtop. This allowed for the spacing in the cadence of André’s lead vocal to showcase itself. But, in order for the vocal lines to not feel too distanced from another, I put some reverse-reverb on them to create the swooshing vocal crescendos which highlight nicely in the verses. The slow moving piano and synth pad paired with a half-time drum pattern allowed for André’s vocals and lead synths to shine freely in a different context; André commented how remix felt reminiscent of Vangelis’ ‘Chariots of Fire’, and to which I will gladly accept such a compliment.”
Obin had the following to say about his remix of Artisan Loyalist’s “Light Trail”: “‘Light Trail’ immediately struck me because of Rob’s lyrical content, particularly the line ‘black veins we cannot seem to keep away, pave them in gold, we’re not ashamed’. I had never envisioned the darker industrial side of Alberta Canada where big oil dictates the ebb and flow of daily life. While the original is a beautiful piece of indie pop, I decided I wanted to give my remix a more dystopian and machine-like edge to mirror the lyrical content. I programmed electronic bass, reversed many of the guitar lines for a new and eerie texture, and vocodered Rob’s voice using the same technique that I used on the making of my own Endorphin album. It was an honor to remix such a talented artist and I’m happy to share a label with him.”
‘O, Chamelon’ Music Video Premiere
Canadian multi-instrumentalist Rob Batke recently released his debut album under the moniker "Artisan Loyalist". Entitled Lonely Ghost, the nine-song collection weaves through textured sonic layers and Batke's airy vocals, creating a mesmerizing soundscape that's easy to get lost in these winter nights. Today, we're excited to premiere the whimsical visual counterpart to "O, Chamelon" off the record. Watch the video above.
"Recently, I had the chance to work with talented director aAron munson on the video for, 'O, Chamelon,'" Batke begins. "Between completing the CBC documentary The Great Human Odyssey (as both a cinematographer and editor), and heading to the Sundance Film Festival, aAron was gracious to make room within his schedule to direct the video this January. aAron's passion and eye for capturing beautiful cinematic shots is evident in his documentary work, and was ideal to use that direction for this concept (I convinced aAron to stick to the camera that could shoot a modest 1000 frames per second rather than the Phantom camera that could do upwards of 1500 frames per second). We shot all the exterior shots in Edmonton's beautiful river valley, then aAron overlaid pieces of processed footage he has amassed over the years to create the different degrees of texture throughout the various shots. Overall his understanding of our music and his exquisite eye produced a nice visual for the song."
Lonely Ghost is out now on Sky Council Recordings and is available through iTunes.
The Ace EP Premiere
Cheekily, on the Facebook page for the Edmonton, Alberta-based synth-pop project Artisan Loyalist (helmed by Rob Batke), the genre designation reads “Post-Yoga”. Given the seemingly endless parade of genre splintering that is happening at the moment, it’s not a stretch to imagine that such a thing exists. However, on The Ace EP, the latest collection of tunes from Artisan Loyalist, the music definitely doesn’t sound like it’s meant to take you to a zen place. From the sitar-esque lead riff to “O, Chamelon” to the propulsive beat of “O, Chamelon (Khotin remix)”, The Ace EP is definitely something to get the feet moving.
The Ace EP is meant to serve as a teaser for what’s to come on Artisan Loyalist’s forthcoming LP, Lonely Ghost, which is set for a February 2015 release. For all of your synthy needs, give the tunes below a couple of spins.
The Ace EP Release
As a sampler that offers up a taste of what you can expect from Artisan Loyalist’s upcoming LP, Lonely Ghost, set to release February 2015, the band is dropping The Ace, a four-track EP that does its job in whipping up curiosity for the full-length record. Rob Batke, the man behind Artisan Loyalist, is a multi-instrumentalist and producer from Edmonton who is commonly known for his work with Faunts, a shoegaze project that enjoyed some touring and song placement success back in 2006 and 2009. During this time, Batke continued to work on electronic tracks that would inspire him to embark on a solo project for himself as Artisan Loyalist.
Batke unleashes his inner synth vibrations with “The Ace” and “O, Chamelon.” “O, Chamelon” is one of the last songs recorded for Lonely Ghost, and its sonorous use of synths as well as its arresting guitar notes with strings that sound as if they were made of titanium make it an instant hit. Even the remix of “O, Chamelon” by the Edmonton-based producer Khotin makes just as big of an impact. A different take, Khotin immerses the track in warm house with breakbeat thrown in. “The Ace” meanwhile is an ambient song that eschews emotional intensity for temperance. Fellow label mate T.H. White’s version of “The Ace” strips Batke’s vocals away for an instrumental number that brings out the lasers to play.