After two years of nonstop touring behind Red Album, Baroness is back with a new CD. According to Decibel Magazine, Blue Record “might be the album of the year.”
Far from a bit–and–bridled manger of one–trick ponies, Baroness — which began just over six years ago in Savannah — has evolved into one of American metal’s most eclectic bands. While staying essentially true to their kinetic thrash/punk attack, the four musicians add in dramatic time signature changes, soaring twin lead guitars out of the Southern Rock almanac, and - this is important - really interesting melody lines.
Of course, Baroness is still loud and in-your-face, which is why the band has massive numbers of fans the world over. A fall U.S. tour will begin shortly, and Spring 2010 will take Baroness back to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan - places where they're received like rock gods.
The band's singer, guitarist and chief songwriter John Baizley is an accomplished and visionary visual artist, too - along with every Baroness release, he's been commissioned to design covers for Skeletonwitch, Blacktusk, Kylesa, Pig Destroyer, Darkest Hour, The Famine and others.
Later this month will come the new album from New Zealand's Flight of the Conchords, with a Baizley-painted cover (it's a satire of the old Seals and Crofts long-player Summer Breeze).
Savannah, though, remains home for these hardworking headbangers, all of whom are in their mid to late 20s and take what they do extremely seriously.
Saturday's show at the Jinx - the band's favorite local club - is a celebration of the Blue Record release.
Earlier in the day, Baroness will play a rare all-ages concert at Windsor Hall, which bumps up against Woody's Skate Park.
Baizley, guitarist Pete Adams and bassist Summer Welch (three-fourths of the band) sat down recently to talk about these two shows, the new CD (their second for Pennsylvania-based Relapse Records) and their approach to making music.
Why is it important for you to do this all-ages show?
John Baizley: We're sort of eternally at odds with our own audience in this town, and a lot of other towns where there's not many clubs that provide an all-ages atmosphere. And there certainly aren't any clubs that make it easy. I think that's primarily because this is a college town, and any club downtown that's going to profit from a show is going to profit from a show where alcohol is served. So, no all-ages.
There's been a lot of kids under 21 or under 18 who I think had a desire to come out and see us, but who either had to devise some illegal scheme to see us, or just wait outside.
You play all over the world. Why do you choose to live here in Savannah?
John Baizley: This town in so many ways affords us the time and space, and some of the solitude we need to put our feet out if we want to. And when it comes to writing, we don't have a whole lot of distractions in Savannah.
It's nice to come home to where people don't care that you're a musician. Savannah's a pretty easy town to live in, as well.
Summer Welch: We're gone four, five, sometimes six months out of the year. Sometimes more, sometimes less. We have friends here that we've known for such a long time.
You're on a big metal label, Relapse. What does having that afford you?
John Baizley: It's really simple - it's a matter of publicity and distribution. They're able to advertise in areas that we would have no access to. As far as distribution, there's a world of difference between having to mail them out of your house to people that order it, and having your record widely available to an audience.
In the simplest terms, how would you describe the music you make? Some people refer to it as Sludge Metal...
John Baizley: I think that's just a limiting term. If you think about it, we're playing music in a rock context. We've got two guitars, bass and drums, and vocals. That's the rock ‘n' roll template. That encompasses what we do well enough.
Yet there are a lot of preconceived ideas about metal, and the doomy-sounding, minor-key sound you make.
John Baizley: There's nothing but preconceived ideas! Sometimes the media will go one step further than what we're comfortable with: They'll say we're about scaring your parents, or worshipping the devil. This, that and the other stuff. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Speaking of preconceived ideas, I was surprised that "Steel That Sleeps the Eye," from the new album, starts with a full minute of acoustic guitars and layered harmony vocals. "O'er Hell and Hide" opens with an acoustic, too.
Pete Adams: We all listen to so much music, and have been over the years influenced by so much music. Acoustic guitars just lay around your living room, so that's what you write on. It's available, it's right there, so you pick it up and you write something.
A lot of times when you translate acoustic stuff to electric, it gets lost in the translation. So we do it acoustic, because it just sounds better.
John Baizley: What's the point in limiting yourself to just one thing?
Summer Welch: It's easy for people to label something, because it puts it in context of something else ... it's like a reference to "this genre" or "that genre." Whereas, I think it's harder for the general public to not have a label on something. That's just how it goes.
Pete Adams: Like John says, why limit ourselves? Why get ourselves lumped in to any type of one genre? Next thing you know, that's what you do.
John Baizley: There's plenty of bands that, if they stepped outside the boundaries, then I'd be upset. You don't want to hear Slayer playing acoustic songs. Just as much as you don't want to hear Simon and Garfunkel playing distorted speed metal. What's the point?
The point with this band was never to restrict, never to limit, and never to create something that was exclusive to an audience. We have always favored inclusivity, as opposed to exclusivity.
When I sat down to write, conceptually I thought to myself "Why are we making this record?" I think that's an important question that any artist should ask themselves.
The answer with this record was, we wanted to sort of give our musical version of our human experience. That's a lofty idea, but if you're gonna attempt something like that, you should paint the picture with as broad a palette as possible.
That said, acoustic guitars are fair game. Electric guitars, of course, are fair game. Anything that we could possibly to better express ourselves, we might as well use.
But isn't there a danger of the core audience saying ‘Hey, wait a minute ...'?
John Baizley: Absolutely! But if there's no danger, then what's the point in making music? I never started playing music to be safe and "profitable." I started playing music because I'm driven to make it. And everything that impressed itself on me when I was young and impressionable was dangerous in one form or another.
Pete Adams: Yeah, you're taking a chance with your fan base when you do that. But on the same hand, when you do that and you challenge yourself, you never know who's going to be turned on, or who you're going to turn around.
These days it seems that when a lot of people see something done by a credible source, they go "Oh, well, it's safe now. They did it." You just don't know what's ever going to come out of it.
John Baizley: (laughing) It's the Pearl Jam Effect. Everybody sounds like Pearl Jam, or Stone Temple Pilots or something.
The difficulty, and I think the beauty, of playing music the way that we do is we're constantly trying to understand what is acceptable, unacceptable, what has become rote and boring, what is exciting ... and "How does this fit in the context of me expressing myself, and striking a balance between all of these auxiliary ideas?" And shooting for an end point that it exhilarating and meaningful, and has enough danger that you're pushing outwards and not repeating yourself ...
But also something that somebody else can relate to. Because it's easy to go too far with it, and then all of a sudden nobody gets it.
John Baizley: For this band, and for me, rote and boring music is music that adheres stringently to the scriptures that have been laid out in the past 10 years. That's A/B, A/B song structure, balancing a verse with a chorus, then you get your bridge, your guitar solo and then you leave. That's what I hear on the radio every day. It's super-safe; that's how bands do it. This put-on attitude and 13-year-old diary confessional-style lyrics. None of this stuff makes any sense to me.
The interesting thing, though, is finding the part of it that's worthy. Because you can go to the worst music and find something that works there. I think music is personality - it's not technique, it's not precision, it's not repetition. It's personality.
But you're always mindful of that core audience.....
John Baizley: Yes, but you can pander to their expectations. Because your audience, whether or not they admit it outwardly, they want something familiar but moving forward. I think that was the mood that we had upon completing this record. At least we know, in our heart of hearts, that we did the best we could with that mindset.
We consider ourselves, at any given point in time, a work in progress. We consider ourselves intrinsically flawed as musicians, as composers, as performers - once you can be comfortable in that area, then you have nothing to do but learn and sponge things in. That's what we did with the last two years.
Baroness With Kylesa
All-ages show (with Blacktusk)
Where: Windsor Hall, 302 Briarcliff Circle
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
Admission: $10 (includes access to Woody's Skate Park)
21 and over (with Unnamed):
Where: The Jinx, 127 W. Congress Ave.
When: 11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
Artists' Web site: www.myspace.com/yourbaroness