BARONESS – Press punters and rain in the yellow and green
The rain was pouring down over Roskilde and I had enjoyed one of my many sober nights at the festival. Tucked away at the right side of the Orange Stage was the area that was open to me with some exclusitivity, at least that was what I told myself. The press area was not filled with drunken record industry punters like the night before. At noon they were probably still sleeping through some alcohol indused nightmare or were busy banging away at their newly aquired festival goodtime girl or boy, whatever their persvasion might be. Friday would be modern southern rock’s great day. It would begin with the freaks in Weedeater, followed by Red Fang and the main course of the day, Baroness. The party would continue with Hank III and end with Crowbar in the morning hours. At the time I was enjoing my favorite drug of choice, coffee, eagerly checking my cellphone and awaiting my appointed interview with Pete Adams from Baroness.
I eventually found John Baizly and Pete Adams near the empty barn that we used as the press facility. Pete Adams was being interviewed in the rain outside, a small umbrella bearly covering him. I eventually hooked up with them, thank’s to the nice press-manager Yvonne. I shook hands with John and Pete, and the we started talking about the festival, " Great weather man. I would be scared shitless if I lived at one of the camping grounds." Was the response from John Baizly. When I informed him that most of the campers bascially survived on a diet of alcohol, fast food and ganja he simply said, " Oh Shit." The american accent giving away that he wasn’t from this neck of the woods. It was time to do the interview and me and Pete were left to our own devices to find some shelter from the rain. We quickly found one of the reload shacks that where scattered all over the festival grounds. The orange walls and roof would suffice.
Baroness is one of the most popular rock and metal acts that have come out of Savannah, Georgia. Since Mastodon (Atlanta) released their second album Leviathan, Georgia quickly rose to a position as a southern rock and metal mecca. That isn’t to say that bands like Baroness, Kylesa and Black Tusk rode in on anyones coattails. They all have had to work for it and most of them have been in their respective bands for the past 10-years. That being said, one can’t deny the popularity of the bands from that region and Baroness is no exception. They may not fill up Wembly Stadium, but their names have been on the posters of many of the world’s most popular festivals, from mainstream festivals to metal oriented festivals. Baroness has through albums like The Red Album and The Blue Record spread their progressiv rock sound to the awaiting beer soaked masses, and now awaits the new double-album, The Yellow And Green. From an antropological point of view, one of the things I was interested in finding out is what drives that town culturally and historically
It’s tucked in the south-east of the US. A little of the beat in pad, mosqitos and you know, gators man. So, you got it all down there and it’s hot man! It’s such a hot muggy dingy place at times and you got everthing from black stagnant water to some of the fastest moving tides on the east coast and those tides are fast! It’s also a very small town, so you get small town things. Big tours do not come through Savannah. In order to see a big show you gotta get out and if you want cold weather you got to get out. So it creates this enviroment. So once you’ve gotten used to an existence it has an affect on you. On how you you write your music and to some extent on how you live and do your things. When it’s hot out, people don’t move awful fast, you know. You slow down a little bit and you grind it grind it out.
The energy in how Pete describes Savannah has taken it’s hold on the audience in the reload shack. A mix of record industry punters, journalist types and guys and girls, who for some odd reason happen to have access to the press area and they all have the same dying wish like me and Nick, to keep ourselves sufficiently dry. They are all keenly eyeing Pete, because my digital audio recorder reveals that he is of some importance and in his southern drawl he is quick to give a history lesson to everyone in attendance.
During the civil war in the United States in the 1860s, General Sherman who was a union general, who did his march to the sea and in his march he burned, raped and pillaged the south. It was really a disaster and it destroyed much of the south’s infrastructure. Further wrecking the economy and the moral of the south. It was pretty brutal, but then he got to Savannah and spared it. It was a beautiful city and he thought President Lincoln needed a place to come and see that the south isn’t devasted, destroyed and burned. So they made a deal and saved Savannah, so you know, there’s something special to that. Savannah is one of the few southern towns that still has it’s entire pre-civil war architecture. Everything from Richmond all the way down to Alabama and Mississippi got burnt and those towns had to be rebuilt and they have burned several times since then too. All of that has an effect on that town, even as young as america is. The place is stamped in history man.
Pete’s energy and enthusiasme has made everyone with half a braincell interested, but where one history lesson ends, another begins. A lot of the Savannah and Georgia bands have a punk rock approach to their music, especially Kylesa and Black Tusk. Can the same be said for Baroness?
That was what we were raised on as kids! Througout my entire teenage existence it was nothing but punk rock. It fit the aggression I had in me perfectly man. I was angry and there were questions I needed to answer and punk rock answered those questions for me and for all of us in Baroness. It’s where we started you know, we started with punk rock at the youngest of ages. The more brutal the punk was, the more agressive it was, even politically inspired punk rock. The first punk shows I went to, were these small punk shows that had me absolutely deciding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, which was to get it out, all out with the guitar cranked up. So punk rock is in my core, it’s in my heart and it’s a way of life. It’s how you think, it’s nothing but how you think and conduct yourself.
You also covered the descendents song bikeage a few years back. Why did you do that?
Just for fun man! One thing about covering a song, you have to have everybody agreeing on the song. I had a different idea and maybe John had a different idea and Alan. We covered bikeage and we were like let’s just do this, you know. We all liked the song, so let’s cover it and we actually threw it together in about five minutes. We had never played it before and did it right there an the studio. We just listened to it, went in there and banged it out real quick, hit record and then played it. We didn’t do anything crazy to make it sound like us and I sang that. I was just, let it rip the best I could. It was just a fun thing to do.
One band that usually comes up when it comes to the Savannah bands is Neurosis. This band has influenced tons of other bands and of their closest relatives can be found in Isis. There are other influences they share with the bands from Savannah, like the Melvins, but since we were covering the aspects of punk rock, english bands like Amebix, Rudimentary Peni and Flux Of Pink Indians should also be named here as a influence on Neurosis, as well as some of the Savannah bands. They were also interviewed in the documentary about Amebix called: Amebix Risen: A history of Amebix. The influence that Neurosis has had on a lot of the Savannah bands can be recognized in the vocal delivery, were you often have two singers complementing each other or answering each other, but also the general flow of the music, where it can start of with brutality and then turn on itself and go off in a more mellow kind of guitar flow. I asked Nick about the influence Neurosis had had on the bands from Savannah and how much the band has meant to the scene from that town and the state of Georgia.
Oh yeah, Oh yeah. To try to deny it would not be honest. I mean, I regard Neurosis as one of the most influential bands of our era. They paved the way and because of Neurosis, it allows bands like Kylesa, Baroness and Black Tusk to be heard, and even Mastodon to be heard. Neurosis has influenced us in one way or another. If you’d put us all in this room we’d all agree.
It seems like Kylesa and Baroness share a bond. Philip Cope did produce The Red Album and during the last year I interviewed Philip Cope twice and the bond between the two bands, was one of the many topics we discussed. One lesser known fact was also revealed by Philip Cope, that John Baizly was inspired to start a band after seeing a Kylesa gig.
Well yeah. There is a special bond there and the special bond will exists because of how tight knit Savannah is and that bond will always be there no matter what directions our bands are going. Whether it’s similar or completly opposite of each other. No matter what our bands are doing there will always be this common bond because we all come from the same ilk if you will.
Rock forums and messageboards went haywire this spring and the reason for this debacle was the three tracks from the upcoming third release from Baroness, called The Yellow And Green. Some interviews with the band revealed that the next album, which was going to be double-album, was going to be Baroness, but stripped down. The tracks were released during this spring were Take My Bones Away, March To The Sea and Eula, all songs from what was going to be the Yellow side or the first side of the double-album. Take My Bones Away was not met with much approval from the metal and rock crowd and the band was seen by some as a Nickelback clone. The two other tracks were met with some careful praise from the already mentioned crowd. The other thing I noticed was that there were some rumbling from another music loving crowd, namely the pop-kids. Pop or indie isn’t that unfamiliar to Baroness if you listen to certain tracks on The Blue Record, like Steel That Sleeps The Eye and it seemed like the pop-wing of the popular youth front liked what they were hearing from the first taste of The Yellow And Green. With that in mind, what can we expect from the new album?
Even more progression man. We don’t like to repeat ourselves as a band. As musicians we like to continue and challenge ourselves and play new stuff to make it interesting for us, you know. When you live in a world of writing and then touring an album, it gets to the point where you start reflecting on your live-set, cause that’s what you’re doing most of all. You’re not in a studio, so what can you do? The question we always posed is what can we do to improve our live-set and strenghten our live-set? We had spent a little over two years on The Blue Records and when we took time off to write this new record, we thought ,"Let’s just reflect now and see what we come up with." Our live-set was so dense! We could play for an hour plus and we were wiped out. It was just like song, song, song,(Nick explains while he pounds his fist into his hand), just pound through the set. So the approach was a much more relaxed when we started to write, because we want our set to have a little more float to it. We want airbreaks, we want a good natural float to the whole set, so that was kind of an idea. When we started writing it was very natural, there was no struggle. We just started writing and what was happening was really relaxed, because in so many years with Baroness, we where finally at home with our families. We weren’t on the road and we weren’t asked to go on the road. We where simply there to write. We had changed location from Savannah to Philidelphia and we got for our first time ever a real rehersal space, which is nothing more than a dirty warehouse space that we share with a mechanic. It was a room, a real room. We got to sit down, relaxed with the coffee on, you know, with a smoke, so when we started to record, we started writing with a really relaxed feel. So that’s the difference.
Listening to the songs that are on the web, Take My Bones Away, March To The Sea and Eula, it seems like there’s more focus on the song itself and also the vocals. Like the vocals are not just an instrument anymore.
You nailed it! The vocals have always been a afterthought up until this point. We discovered during The Blue Record, that John and I acutally could sing. I’ve always played a lot of country and bluegrass, so I’ve always sung. I have a very bluesy range to my vocals, nothing crazy high, nothing crazy low. It’s sort of a mid-range kind of vocals and so does John. When we both realized that we both could sing, we started to focus on that a little bit, so it was more thought on the singing on this record. Also, to kind of add in as a new instrument, cause before it was more of a texture almost, than another instrument. So that was the idea there.
In interviews you have been qouted by saying that this is Baroness, but stripped down. Can you explain what you mean by that?
It was more focus on the song itself, than say, how many crazy guitar note ridden parts we could have, cause Baroness songs in the past have been very note ridden. Thousands of notes, then this part and variations of that. So we were constantly challenging ourselves with how can we become better guitarists. On this take we’ve learned how to play guitars past three chords, so we got that, but now let’s go back to the basics and strip away some of the notes. It didn’t entirely happen on this record, cause we still like to be progressiv in our guitar playing, but it’s more emphasis on the song itself. So if the song called for something note ridden, then ultimately it fit, but then if it didn’t, does it need it?
Pop elements on a rock record isn’t always something to take likely and metal and rock fans can be a unforgiving bunch if they feel betrayed. Music fans can at length debate the influence of a producer, but on that record and on their new dobbel album, they choosed to use John Congleton. A producer that is maybe most famous for indie type acts like Okkervil River and even neo soul queen Erykah Badu. Why did they use John Congleton again as a producer for this record?
We had a lot of material written and it was a level of comfortability that we needed to have, cause it’s nervewrecking once you’ve written twenty songs and demoed twenty songs. We wanted to do a double-album and I thought, "I don’t want to work with somebody that doesnt know us and doesn’t know where we’re coming from." They need to know everything about us. That was John again. Since The Blue Record we had developed a great relationship with him. Not only as a working thing, but on a friendship level aswell. We always keep up with each other, so it felt really natural to just go right back to John. John is GREAT! He hits record and let us do our thing. That’s what’s important to us, you know. Then we put our heads together on what we can do with the song as it is.
I have never recorded anything and I have never been in a band, but I know the emphasis on drums and guitars in a metal production. Was it therefore a conscious descision to get a producer who is not totally in that world?
It very much was. We didn’t want to have a compressed metal sounding album that’s one volume, cause our albums and the way we write all ties in with the artwork, it ties in with imagery, everything. It has to flow together. John Congleton has a way to capture that, so the parts are soft and the heavy parts are heavy and all and in between. Sonic stuff and effects that he can manipulate, but they’re not what make the song. They add flavour to the song, a touch. It was a conscious thing, it would have been easy for us to do a more metal kind of production. It might not have been a bad thing to do, but we just didn’t want to do it. We wanted to do our own thing with it and have our record sound a little different than everybody else in our genre.
In interviews with Baroness and Nick Adams one album from John Congleton’s work comes to the fray and that is Black Mountains In The Future from 2008. The psychedelic band from Canada is one of many great bands that have come to our attention during the the last couple of years. Has Baroness taken some inspiration from that record?
That was the first time I heard John Congleton’s name and that was the first time he was on my radar and I thought, "Man! The drums are perfect and the bass is perfect! He got everything right in there." The level’s were right. That record In The Future, you can crank it and you can dial it back and it’s still good. It’s not one of those records were you got to crank it just to get the feel of it and I like that. I want to be able to listen to it at any volume depending on where I’m at that day, you know. I feel that John is able to capture that. We all agreed as a band. This is a good sound and if just could get that guy to do that for us, at least give us a similar treatment that might do our band justice. Black Mountain definently has more of a groove than us. They lay down more of solid kinda thing, but they still have their flow in the band and we thought , "Allright! Let’s try this guy out." So In The Future was definently when we said let’s go to John on this.
After staying dry in the reload shack and our audience within the shack had dwindled, and so had my questions. It seemed like our entire talk around their new dobbel album had come down to one thing. Their Live-set and the strenghtening of the live-set. Their slot here on Roskilde were just some hours away, their chance to shine and to show their metal, so to speak. By now none of us were strangers to European weather and the effect a good rainshower can have on an already tested crowd. With those perils in mind, how has their live-set progressed so far?
We’re still working on that and I hope we’re always progressing as a live-band. I want our sets to just get better and better, of course that’s up to us. To perform it well, but keep in mind, you can get so used to playing your songs over and over, day in day out, but with this new album there’s room to lenghten them live or like, do it a little bit different. This album isn’t so structured that we can go," Yep. The way we wrote it, is the way you’re gonna hear it every single night for the rest of our lives." We want to progress in a way that allowes us to play our songs in any way possible. Every song we’ve played, you can play on an accoustic. All of these songs are even preformed as loud as you want. They have the capability.
Ending on that note, will you release an accoustic album?
I don’t know. Maybe one of these days, you know, when we can sit down on it a little bit more and have time to really do it. A lot of these songs are written accousticly, before electronics are even plugged in. John and I both play a lot of accoustic music. Because of that, we may do something one day. As you know, The Red Album, The Blue Record and The Yellow And Green all have accoustic stuff on there. I mean it’s very much a part of what we are and what we do.
Our chat was over and we exited the reload shack and went out in the pissing rain. Nothing like a festival to get your mood up. I showed Nick the quickest way to get to the stage area and I went in the direction of the many food vendours and bars in the press area. It looked like the party was on the down for many of the record business types. Mine was just starting. With a line up of Weedeater, Red Fang, Hank III and Crowbar, it looked like an all nighter was about to happen. Add Baroness for some flavour and the south would definently rise on this day. The Yellow And Green has some common traits with The Blue Record. As a heavy music fan myself, I must admit that I was a little bit sceptical after I heard the first tracks on the internet. That being said, I think that sound might attract other fans that doesn’t necessarilly listen all exclusivly to neurosis inspired sludge metal and rock. Time will tell, for Baroness will be with us for a long time.