Baroness’ John Baizley Feels an Obligation to Stay True to the Artist He Was in His Formative Years
Baroness frontman John Baizley was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show, dropping by to talk up the band's latest album, Stone. And, at six records in, the musician says he's still a student of music and trying to continue to evolve, all while staying true to the musician he was in his early, formative years.
The singer also talks about the end of their "color wheel" series of titles, but offers some insight on how Stone kicks off a new era for the band. And he shares his excitement over the wide array of opening bands playing on their group's upcoming headline tour.
Check out the chat with Baroness' John Baizley below:
It's Full Metal Jackie, on the show with us this week, we've got Baroness frontman John Baizley. We've got this new record Stone and John, over the years, you've had a theme of album titles with colors. Is Stone kicking off a new thematic series or do you view it as a standalone title?
Two-part answer, it is yes, it is part of a new series and I think what we internally think of as a new but not altogether different era for the band. I think that this being the first record that we've ever released with two consecutive lineups, that was enough to qualify this being a new era. There's stability, and there's some predictability now, for me. If anything else I'm gonna spend so long moving forward through this album cycle through to the next time. I feel confident that I've got that we are a four piece that's not going to have to suffer through any more lineup changes. So, I think that is one sort of aspect of it that.
Yes, the idea of titling our records after different colors, it was a really fun project. I mean, it really, really was like an exciting, wild, ridiculously long project to be part of. It took 15 or 20 years to get through it. But I think we're interested in moving beyond that, moving forward.
Having said all that, I don't ever think that the overarching concept philosophy, existence of the band needs to change beyond what it is. So, it's just to say that we've sort of closed the book on what we had been doing, more or less, for title purposes, more or less for the concept of creating this rainbow of albums. But that doesn't mean that there's going to be any hard turns. Otherwise, our idea about making music, even though the lineup is entirely different now than it was in 2002 and 2003, our idea and concept for this band has always been the same. So, I have come to see this as a big lifelong project that I'm taking part in where each record that is made is in fact, for me personally, part of a larger series of records that are all, they're all kind of the same thing to me.
I start them off the same from me, they come from the same place and I would like to think that in terms of who we are, what we are and how we present ourselves, nothing fundamentally has changed there. It's just the concept of those creating that color wheel has come to an end, so it's time to engage in a new series.
Baroness, Stone Album Artwork
John, how does the Stone album title play into what we're hearing on this new album?
Much like past Baroness records, I intend the title to be considered in a variety of ways. There are clear thematic tie-ins with some of the lyrics and some of the meaning and some of the images and ideas that started the record off. But it's also a fairly broad term, as we're all color theme records. So, the intention there is that the listener, depending on their investment in our music, and depending on how deep they choose to go with, who we are and what we do, and these records that we put out, we are meant to offer as a starting point, and nothing else.
Personally speaking, I can go several different layers deep with the idea and explain it to the point where I think I'm actually ruining the experience of listening. So, to me, it's got some very personal, very deep-seated meanings, as well as I think for some of the other guys. However, those deeper meanings are not just the things that we bring to the record, you know. Like I could explain some of that stuff to you, but what I wouldn't be doing is explaining to you what the record is to me and where it came from and that would not put you as a listener on my path to hearing it with fresh ears. So, what I prefer about are very, very simplistic titles was that the listener can really try to figure that out for themselves if they want to. And to other ones, it's just a quick, snappy title.
So, I think there's deeper and deeper layers of meaning and some of which actually aren't that deep at all. There's some sort of funny kind of humorous aspects to it but really, it's meant, like our prior records, to be a starting point for people.
It certainly is an evocative image. In my mind when you think of Stone you think of things that are solid things that are timeless. Stone can be anything from a lump of coal to a diamond. Classically speaking, it's an archetypal term. So, there are millions of instances of the idea of Stone coming up throughout history throughout mythologies throughout religion, Moses tablets, there's Christian belief system, there's Sisyphus, the doomed man in the underworld in the Greek and Roman mythologies whose sole job is to push this gigantic boulder uphill every day to find its way back to the bottom each morning.
We find statues and idols and all sorts of items of high significance in our society built from or carved in stone. To me it's a very evocative term. It comes along with a lot of imagery to me, it has to do with a handful of fairly significant experiences that I underwent through the writing process of this record. So, I think it's a good for me. It's a very good term, much like our color theme. It's got an attitude and it's got certain connotations that come along with it and depending on the listener, those connotations are guaranteed and very likely to change.
We're talking about the Baroness' new record, Stone, and there's a great new song out there now called "Last Word." It really shows off the band's amazing chemistry and John for this new album, you all got together in a private home to record it. How much does that 24/7 experience help in what we hear on the music?
Tremendously. Again, the way we've made this record was very different that in some ways in the way we make former records. But we've always gone to somewhat remote locations to record. Our last two records we did with Dave Friedman and those were recorded in a cabin in the woods in upstate New York. When we recorded the prior two records to that and before the records for that it was two records with John Congleton, when we did almost all the tracking those records in Dallas, Texas, just kind of incognito when we were all in session and working.
The type of music that we make, requires a very, very, very heavy enough dedication. So, for Stone, the big change, and the thing that we've been working towards for many, many years is this is truly a self-made record. We produced it, we engineered and I recorded it, we even in a certain sense mixed the record, and then Joe Barresi and I out in L.A., like he really put his magic on the final touches the record and brought our mixes to life. But up until that point, the idea for us and as has been a goal for nearly two decades now was to be able to create our music by ourselves.
We started off as a DIY band and I feel like at this stage in our career, we're sort of working towards albeit a slightly redefined idea of DIY, but it was really fantastic to go ... it was just a random Airbnb that we found that we thought looked like it might have positive acoustic qualities. You know, big ceilings, plenty of reflective materials to make our drum sound nice and lively and it was a big space so we could bring all of our equipment in there and Gina and I spent the first 36 hours of that session just building studio from scratch in a sort of vacation rental retreat style home.
The idea of that then means you wake up in the morning, you get a little bit of food, you do your preparation work or get some time to yourself and then we would have 8 to 14 hour sessions daily. It was a lot of rehearsing, or it was a lot of jamming, a lot of developing our chemistry within the context of each song and then just when we got to that point where we knew the song that we learned, maybe over the course of a couple days, we just run into the sound booth and start tracking the drums and the bass. The idea of that not having a producer and not having engineers, not having anybody else other than the four band members was that every moment was dedicated to and in service of this record.
It's a fairly intense thing to walk into a house with your bandmates and everybody's got a loose idea about all of the musical ideas that are intact. We sort of had to wrestle them together just like bootcamp. We tend to do this when we're in these situations, but it was just playing music all day and all day long. When you do that, when you dedicate yourself with that kind of work and have that kind of vision, there's this special thing that comes when you get in that shape. It's kind of a transcendental thing.
If we spent a week working on it, we could have made a decent record, but we spent nearly a month in there, just not fine tuning, not refining, not embellishing, not overdubbing., but trying to find the essence of these songs as we played them as four pieces in a similar way to the way that we will onstage. We really worked on finding rhythmic pockets, finding bodies, finding a way to communicate musically with one another in a nonverbal way so that by the time we felt 85 percent sure that we knew the song, that's when we recorded it. Not at the point where we played it a half a bazillion times and knew it back and forth. We really wanted to have some kind of in the moment energy on the record. So, yeah, it was a really, really fun way to record a record..
Baroness, "Last Word"
John, you mentioned in talking about this record the desire to never repeat yourself musically. How much of a challenge is that at six albums in?
Well, it is a challenge as much as six albums in as it was at the second. I think when we talk about music, we have to use these sorts of tricky terms because our music doesn't really have easily definable language. When I say we don't want to repeat ourselves, well, we are going to repeat the fact that there's a drummer and a bass player and two guitar players, generally, two voices of singing, that's something that you can't avoid repeating. But what I mean by repetition is when we've done something well, and we define well as something that is successful onstage, potentially those songs that people gravitate towards in however they're listening, you know, the fan favorites. And the fact that those songs are obviously good songs that the band and the audience agrees have some kind of special magic.
I've always thought it would be a very easy thing to take what's working, and just continue to develop that thing that's working, to refine it or to find new ways of reconfiguring it and I'm not saying that that doesn't happen in the context of any event. It does. But for us, it's when we've written "Shock Me," it was like, okay, well, we don't ever have to write that. When we wrote 'Bones," okay, we don't ever have to write that again, "March to the Sea," don't ever have to write that again. There's music within us that can't help but come out. But what I'm not interested in is I'm not interested in figuring out what works, and then providing that for our audience. I'm interested in finding out what's exciting to me and what feels like discovery, what feels like an adventure, as a musician, and to help you, as an artist, and as a musician and as somebody who has is ultimately is going to have to play these songs.
Time and time again, I'm not interested in having a bunch of songs that all feel the same, I want everything to feel different. I want to see how diverse we are as musicians, and I want to see how fluid we can become using music as the language that we choose to communicate.
In our early years, it felt sometimes risky to include acoustic songs on our records. But that's now one thing that we do frequently. So, when it came to Stone, it just was about keeping your heart and your head, sort of musical receptors open, such that you are doing something that's still unfamiliar, felt like a new direction, felt like a new adventure and that's a feeling that you get frequently when you're 12, 13, 14 years old, and you just picked up an instrument. Every day is a discovery at that stage. Decades and decades into performing and being a musician, it's more difficult to find that. But I don't think that that's a reason not to look for it.
I think the obligation of the musician is to is to stay true to who and what they were in your early formative years. So, the best stuff that I ever did was when I was young, and I didn't know what was going on, and everything was the first time. So, I think it's important and again, it's almost like the obligation of the creative artist to consistently and confidently try to put yourself in a headspace where you are discovering where you are making up a new template because lord knows the old templates are there. If you want easy, quick, accessible fame fortune success, if you can define it, just write a song according to the numbers. Keep it under three and a half minutes. Picture, there's three choruses in there being solo, good hook, whatever, that sounds interesting to me. I want to feel like there's always an open road ahead of me. I don't know exactly where it's going. So, it was really, again, it was kind of internally inspirational to be in that headspace and really the entire time.
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John, in an Amoeba Records feature on your social media, you commented about listening to Beethoven's music and digging into classical music, and how it's giving you new ideas. In that same feature, you're also shouting out your love for traditional country music and Japanese hardcore. Some musicians prefer to shut things out while working on new music. Others take as much influence as they can find. How important is it for you to continually be evolving and being a student of all types of music?
That's the whole point of it to me. That's the whole kit & caboodle is that by the time we're, as artists and as musicians, by the time we're good at something, it's dead to me. It's like you have to keep your ears open. I think the most exciting time for any musicians is just before anybody pays attention to you, before you understand anything about what it's like to be given positive or negative feedback, before you've got a crowd that knows the words, before any of that happens, you're in this pure, creative state, where all you're trying to do is satisfy yourself. You're just trying to write something cool and I have found that many people, and this is not across the board, but there are many musicians that I know in my generation age and older, and then quite a few people that are a little bit younger than me, that once the thing takes off, once the machine of your music becomes mechanical, once you're out there making money, once you're out there experiencing success, your attitude changes and I find that a lot of people stop listening to music. They're not going to shows where they go to a different type of show.
For me, I started off in basements, I started in VFW halls, I started off in backyards and went out. We grew up in the country where it was you build a stage, you get a kerosene, diesel generator, whatever, crank it up and that's how you play music. So, in 2023, I don't want to lose that. I never, as far as I'm concerned, I never did.
It's always been as exciting to see what's happening in the deep, deep recesses of the underground as it is to go see a big like stadium rock show or something. I like to do everything in between as well. For me, it's like, just absorb, absorb.
So, for instance, this year, Gina and I spent like a ton of time at clubs, just watching bands who have only been around for a year or so, watching music being played on a dirt floor. That, to me is still exciting. I still get ideas there, it's still more important for me to look outside my perceived genre, in fact, to find inspirational ideas.
So, us having not grown up with a ton of classical music, but having developed an understanding and appreciation for it more recently, it feels fresh and it feels new. I know, it's been around all this time almost, but that was a new discovery for me and oftentimes, when I look at what's happening in modern hip hop, or country or electronic music, or just generally speaking genres that people don't put us in, but of which I have always been a huge fan, I find that those more disparate genres offer more clear inspirations to me.
If I go to like a punk, hardcore, rock, death, metal show, whatever, the stuff that I'm more closely aligned with, I'm just seeing people doing it better and worse, and occasionally, something totally inspired. But it's better or worse. This has been more heavier, more aggressive, more brutal that the first, but can this guy hold a blast beat harder, faster, longer than somebody else, all that kind of stuff.
But I'm a songwriter, so I'm interested in watching how people write songs. The details of technique are not important to me, the details of performance are not important to me. What's important to me is that the song is being played well and that very often includes fantastic technical musicians playing but I just want to see the songs. I want to feel music. I don't care to rip it apart into its pieces to try to identify all these things and create some kind of equation. I want to understand what makes me feel this person's music versus what bores me about this other person's music. Sometimes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Sometimes your eyes welled with tears and that's the sort of stuff I'm interested and how it makes people feel and how can we tap in.
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I wanted to mention this great "Sweet Oblivion" tour you've got coming up in the fall. It's a headline run with a wealth of great support acts like Jesus Piece, Ken Mode, Imperial Triumphant, Soul Glo, Empire State Bastard, among others, opening shows. As the headliner on this run, how great is it to bring such a wide array of heavy music to fans? And are there any of these particular acts, you're excited to see what they're all about live?
Well, I'm excited to see all of them. I want to say that with the exception of one or two bands, and those are just bands that have only been around for a short while, I've seen almost all. I've seen almost all. This tour afforded me, this is the first time we've done a proper headlining tour in the U.S. in ages. We were meant to be on a co-head during the pandemic, but that didn't happen. We had done a co-head with Deafheaven in 2019. We've done tons of these little like small club shows. But we haven't actually put pieces together like the full tour in support of a record in way too long in the U,S. Europe and everywhere else was kind of a different story.
But here in the U.S., it's really been a goal of ours to have a headlining tour and just between like 2021 and now something really incredible happened in underground music in London music that I listened to and it just feels like everybody levelled up. It feels like every new band that is just starting so far ahead of where I did when Baroness was the young band. I'm so excited by the great wealth of music that is happening right now and being seen and being heard and being supported in the underground, whether that's the insanely huge upwelling that is happening now within the hardcore scene. There are these amazing sort of DIY death metal bands, all this sort of noise rock and just a lot of these more adventurous heavy artists. It just feels like it's such a good time right now and I know that the vast majority of these bands probably wouldn't want to do a whole tour with us. So the idea that I've had and my agent and I've been talking about this for years is just to put together like regional clumps or clusters of bands, where we can play with a band that's out and out intense like Jesus Piece for I think just under a week.
It's just kind of all over the map. But yeah, I mean, it's really a direct reflection of music that I listen to. These are bands that I am extremely excited about, these are bands that I have been reaching out to, Some of these bands I've met in the past, but these are bands that I more commonly see. These are newer bands that that I see them when they come to Philadelphia and I just have always loved going to see shows and I'm kind of shameless when it comes to meeting people in bands. It's like we all have the same profession here. So, I really just tried to make sure that everybody is on this tour comes from that same kind of mentality and background even though our sounds are different. We all have our hearts are in the same place. So, yeah, this is really, really an exciting tour.
Our thanks to Baroness' John Baizley for the interview. The band's 'Stone' album is due Sept. 15 and available to pre-order here. You can stay up to date with the band via their website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify. Catch them on tour at these stops. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.