Record of the Week: Bats’ ‘Good Game Baby’

Bats interview

Nashville native Jess Awh hated country music…until she moved away and started missing home. Now she’s back and she’s written an album that is country in its core but also dabbles in long extensions of layers of found sound that she has been collecting since she was 15, and big droning guitar. For her fellow Nashvillians, Awh offers detailed references to what it’s like to drive on Dickerson Pike after a DRKMTR show after 11 o’clock at night and the relatable song title, “Downtown Sucks, You Can’t Park Anymore.”  

Jess Awh’s band is Bats and their new album, Good Game Baby, is our Record of the Week. Find highlights here and listen to all our interviews at WNXP’s podcast channel.

On the influence of Country music  

“There is a deep Tennessee-ness to Bats.”  

Jess Awh moved to New York city for college and attended the prestigious Columbia University where she studied ethnomusicology. While there she started working at Columbia’s student radio station. “Like most people who grow up in Nashville I hated country music. It’s what my dad listened too on 95.5 [FM] and I didn’t think it was worth anything. But I had a case of missing home.” She started to host the Sunday afternoon country music show called, “The Tennessee Boarder Show.” The station had an extensive vinyl archive of country records from the ’70s to the ’90s that she picked from for her show. “I learned everything about country music in that era and I think that it probably really informed my songwriting.”   

On Nashville  

“Nashville is a source of great pain for me, but also a source of great joy and great love,” said Awh.  

“Nashville is the only place I have ever thought of as home even though it’s not the only place that I’ve ever lived. Every time it falls through it breaks my heart. Like, I recently took my partner out to see the Nachez Trace Parkway Bridge cause I was like, ‘Oh man, we used to always go here when we were teenagers and like, spit on cars and stuff like that and it’s amazing and the view is beautiful and you gotta see it!’ And when we drove up, they had just put up the chain link fence. I burst into tears. I was inconsolable. What am I gonna spit on now?”  

She gets pretty specific about those pain points, with the second song on the album “Downtown Sucks, You Can’t Even Park There Anymore.”  

“I would describe that song as a song that is equally about my worries about my shortcomings as a partner and gentrification,” she explained. “I chose to express that anxiety about myself through the lens of kind of watching Nashville crumble and kind of watching my illusion of the Nashville I knew as a teenager slip away because I was experiencing those things simultaneously.  

I was getting into my first real relationships when I was moving away from the city and every time I came back to visit my parents or my grandparents another building would be knocked down and I would also have another crushing milestone in my journey of figuring out that I am a messed up person. So I think it made sense for me to depict those things as being hand in hand.”  

On songwriting 

“I’ve been, I think, at times, a difficult person to be close with. But I’ve always had the privilege of having really close friends regardless. I have a lot of lifelong friends who have always been there regardless of how stupid I’m acting,” she said.  

“A lot of what Bats songs are about to me is being able to view my own decisions and my own character objectively. In order to see the ways that it’s kind of silly and kind of dumb and how life is kind of ironic and a lot of the fault in adverse circumstances is often mine.”

On found sound 

“The sounds used at the beginning of ‘Downtown Sucks’ are ripped from YouTube videos and I’ve had them saved as MP3s on my laptop since I was probably 15 years old. They are samples from informational videos about the weather that I got when I was first learning how to use garage band,” said Awh. “I’m a hoarder of found sound.

When I found that sample on the computer of the kid going, ‘This is weird! Everyone is gone except us.’ It was perfect. That’s my first love when it comes to recording music: field recordings and found sound.”

On the song that makes the whole album make sense 

“I think there is great use of found sound in the song ‘Queen’s song We Will Rock You,'” she told me. 

“To me the existence of that song makes the rest of the record feel like a greater commentary on the condition of life. Whereas, without that song I think maybe it could be just a record about a relationship or a summer or something.” 

The song starts with the lyrics, “Grandpa died standing upright on two feet, listening to Queen’s song We Will Rock You on repeat.”  

But Awh clarifies, “He did not die listening to Queen’s song ‘We Will Rock You.’ It’s not true. I wrote it as a metaphor for this gradual realization that I’ve been having about my family over the course of the last year which is that we are, like it or not, of really strong stock.  

My family are immigrants. And they are military people. They are just the type of people who are destined to go out fighting and to keep getting up after they get kicked down again and again and again. That song is about having a low moment in my life and then realizing that I am genetically programed to try again anyway. And I’m never going to stop.”