In 2015, experimental singer-songwriter Jakob Battick was driving across the country—from Portland, Maine to Berkeley—with his band Afraid. As he traveled through the Arizona desert, blaring Gene Clarke’s classic psych-country album No Other, Battick remembers being blown away. Not typically his favorite form of music, he was inspired by the way the lonely desert landscapes interacted with the surreal rootsy sounds of Clark.
It planted a seed that day that manifested into his debut solo album, To Be Born Again and Again.
“I wanted to make a cosmic American record and take it as far as one could take it,” he says. “I hated when my dad played Hank Williams. I was a little weirdo kid who was into Jesus Lizard and the Birthday Party.”
No one would mistake To Be Born Again and Again for Williams. It’s a few steps away from even anything in the alt-country or psych-country realms. But it’s certainly the closest thing the weirdo, noisy singer-songwriter has come to anything traditional.
The songs are rooted in Americana, but have a slow, dreamy quality. Battick’s baritone is part mystical chant, part exhausted gospel soul singer. The layers of instruments create a wall of numbed out somber washes, even as you make out the pedal steel and acoustic finger pickings.
Battick recorded the album in early 2017, and for a while wasn’t sure he even wanted to release it.
“I came up in a freaky, DIY, noisy-strange kind of punk ethos world. I’ve put out a lot of different records under a lot of different names so far in my life. I never put one out that was this gentle,” Battick says. “I felt uncomfortable about that. I wasn’t sure if that was something I wanted to have attached to my name.”
These songs started to come out when he first moved to Berkeley, and the plan was for it to be released as the next Afraid record. But after recording it, he had a falling out with some of the band members, including one who was his partner. She sang on all the songs.
“Listening back to the songs, it started to strike me how the whole record was really about what had just happened with her. I didn’t know at the time. Sometimes the subconscious has more knowledge about what’s going on than the brain does,” Battick says.
It’s not a sad record though. In fact, it’s probably the most uplifting thing Battick has
ever recorded. The album is about rebirth.
“I’ve made sad music for a long time. To me, it feels joyous. I feel potential. There’s a mournful undercurrent, but I’m happy when I hear it, because it points more toward the future,” Battick says.
His original title at the time was going to be American Dreamer after the Dennis Hopper documentary. He laughs now, realizing what a poor title choice that was, and is happy he went with To Be Born Again and Again, which clearly points to its rebirth/reincarnation elements.
“What a shitty title. Especially under Trump. I wouldn’t want to have a record with ‘American’ on it. It’s such a weird, patriotic title,” Battick says.
The songs are full of potent religious imagery, despite the fact that he has never been religious. For him, there was something safe about using these powerful symbols to express his deeply personal emotions.
“I think the intensity of a lot of those kinds of images, I really gravitate toward those as a person,” Battick says. “I don’t think I’d been in a church until I was on vacation in New York City with my family when I was in my teens. Because of that, none of the dogma is there. So they’re really vivid and interesting and rich in symbolism to me.”
INFO: Jakob Battick performs at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994.