Posted On 08 Jun 2018
Ruler is the new project of Matt Batey (Rocky Votolato, Cataldo). On May 25th, he released his debut album Winning Star Champion on Barsuk Records.
KEXP has praised Ruler’s “soaring hooks and insanely catchy riffs” as well as the band’s “totally life-affirming live shows,” while Under the Radar notes that, “Built on the principle coming from poet Robert Frost that the best way out is through, Ruler’s music is deeply personal” and PopMatters raves “with his idiosyncratic vocal delivery at the forefront, perched beside the catchy ebb-and-flow of his musical arrangements, the tunes [Batey is] churning out under the moniker [Ruler] are decidedly fresh and exciting.”
Already a respected veteran of Seattle’s music scene, the 30 year-old Batey has bided his time as a sideman with artists including Rocky Votolato and Cataldo while amassing a trove of over 120 original songs that he is finally starting to roll out under the Ruler moniker.
Learn more about Ruler in the following All Access interview:
So how has 2018 been treating you all? What is one musical goal that you have had for this year and how close are you to reaching it?
Truly the best year ever. The record came out on Barsuk and there’s been lots of great press. The next goal is just to play the best live set we can deliver at every show. I’d say we’re almost there on that one.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this band together? Has anything surprised you about it all so far?
The members of the band rotate but there’s the crew who are the first call for every show. Currently that’s: Aaron Benson, Stephen Baldock, and Eric Anderson, who are all long time buds and all around solid people. Anyone who knows them knows they are an obvious choice.
The most surprising thing since day 1 has been the positive reaction to the songs and live shows. I really didn’t expect very many people to listen, I just wanted to make the record for it’s own sake. I’m still surprised and honored that people continue to want to be involved and listen to the songs.
How difficult was it to come up with your band name? What other names were you considering?
It just occurred to me one day in 2011. Seemed like a generally positive and energetic word to work under. It’s also funny to me because I struggle to have confidence and optimism about my performance and ability, so it’s a slight poke at myself as well.
Matt, how does Ruler compare to the others groups that you have played with? What sets Ruler apart from them?
Ruler is my project, and I take responsibility for everything that happens. I’ve never had final say in a music project I’ve been in and it’s really nice. I can move at my own pace, which varies quite a bit from day to day.
How do you think your hometown of Seattle has influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group? If you don’t think that it has, why is that?
If you look through the bands that Barsuk has signed in the last 15 years (most notably Nada Surf), you can see our sound is pretty well in line with most of them. I moved here in 2005 because of music like that, and I’m proud to now be among my heroes on the label.
Let’s talk about your brand new album, “Winning Star Champion”! What did it feel like releasing it? Why did it take 5 years to make it? Do you remember what it felt like the first time that you heard it all the way through?
It actually took 7 years and it’s because I didn’t have the knowledge and resources to finish it any faster than that, so I did what I could when I could. With the experience and relationships I have now, I definitely don’t plan to take 7 years on the next one haha. The feeling of the release has been really great, but I have a habit of heavily guarding my expectations after so many years of playing music. I am more focused on whatever the next thing is that I need to do a good job on.
Because the process was so spread out, there was never a climactic moment where it finally felt complete. When the final mixes were done I was standing in Studio X with Eric Anderson and Andy Park, and we just kinda looked around at each other like “yeah cool, I think that about wraps it up.”
While it’s difficult, can you pick out a few of your favorite songs on this album? What was the inspiration for these songs? Overall, how do you guys go about putting together a song?
Favorite songs are: Petrified, Unhindered Pace, Cars And Houses, and Keep Moving, because they’re super fun to play live. Every song is, in some way, about living with mental illness. I write the songs by myself in my practice space. My process changes a lot but involves a lot of playing drums while yelling gibberish lyrics into a microphone and also laying on the floor watching movies when I’m tired.
Why do you think that Barsuk is the right place for this band and your music today?
Because of the people who run it. Everyone there has been amazing 100% of the time since they first reached out to me. Regardless of how successful anything I do is, I’m glad to have the privilege to work with these people right now.
How creatively involved were you with the making of your video for “Get To You”?
My creative involvement was limited to suggesting some locations and refusing to wear a scarf at one point. Beyond that, Dan Fromhart and Nathan Podshadley conceived and executed the whole thing. All I had to do was show up and look kinda sad and disconnected, which comes naturally to me haha.
If you had unlimited time and money for your dream music video, which song would you do and what would the video include?
I actually have this answer locked and loaded. Here is an idea I had for the title track, but don’t have nearly the resources to pull it off well.
In my head this video has 4 main sections:
Reality (hurts the most)
— Inspiration —
This is observing the things in the world you’d like to become. Watching a cool live band with a huge adoring crowd, something career oriented like seeing a businesswoman opening her own store or in business clothes getting out of nice car, something athletic like watching people finish a marathon on tv or in person.
— Practicing/Training —
Taking those necessary steps to achieve these goals. Footage of the band practicing (this will be the performance footage), studying textbooks or maybe preparing something like a business loan application, running and doing general athletic training for the marathon.
— Failure —
Playing a show live and only a few people are there and they HATE IT. Get back a test with an D- or loan application with a rejection stamp on it. Have to give up before finishing the marathon. Maybe getting picked up by a cab while other runners pass by.
— Reality —
The aftermath of failure when you’re just going about mundane daily tasks. Washing dishes, smoking a cigarette, looking at phone, etc.
This is a sad story but if it felt really real like it reminds you of what life feels like, I think it would be comforting in a weird way.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
I am very happy when doing any work that involves playing music, which ends up only being about 10% of the time. I struggle with the other 90% which is administrative duties and coordinating the group, but I’m slowly improving in that area. I try to remember that every moment I spend doing this is a privilege that might be taken away at any moment, so I really try to savor it.
How is your current tour been going so far? What have some of your favorite venues and crowds? Where are you excited to head to next?
Currently we’re mostly doing festivals and one-off shows in Washington. Every show is fun because I love playing, working, and hanging with my crew. I’m very excited to be heading to Timber Music Fest in Carnation, WA on 6/14.
How do you think being a musician and in this band gives you all the most joy in life today?
It’s really fun and cool. It’s similar to any rewarding hobby that provides a sense of accomplishment and brings you closer to people that have common interests.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period? If you don’t think it is, why is that? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
I think honest and real art is important and worth making no matter what’s going on, so the process and the goal remains the same. I don’t think about it in much more specific terms than that, which is definitely an indication of the relatively privileged perspective I’m coming from.
How important do you think social media has been to this band? Do all you help to maintain all your sites or is one of you more into it all? Or do you rely on your PR/management team to handle it?
To be real with you, I hate doing social media and I suck at it. I am responsible for doing it all and I’m trying to get better, but it doesn’t come very naturally to me. I don’t love talking about or promoting myself but I’m working on getting better.
Who would you love to work with in the future? Who are some of your favorite artists right now? What do you think would be a dream collaboration for this group?
To me these three questions are all the same question, and the answer is these people: Nada Surf, David Bazan, Charly Bliss, Chris Staples, Sloucher, Say Hi, and many others.
If you guys were all going to be stranded on a deserted island, what musical item would you want to take with you and why?
We’d take an epic grand piano because that would just look the best in the island bungalow that we would construct.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
My message is that life is okay even if it sucks, and it does totally suck no matter what you do, but it’s still okay. If people just enjoy listening, that feels like a win for me.