INTERVIEW WITH BARONESS – “The ‘fads’ and ‘trend-lines’ support us one year, and reject us the next.” John Baizley.

Posted on by Oran

Overdrive digs deep into the mindset of Baroness frontman, John Baizley to talk about the stunning new album ‘Gold and Grey’ and future plans for the next album. Get acquainted with the latest news, his feelings about the recent US tour with Deaf Heaven and Zeal & Ardor and much more…

The hustle and bustle of Dublin city centre rages outside as the Friday Autumn sun sets on the bumper to bumper rush-hour traffic. It’s the weekend and Baroness are in town, what more could anyone possibly want?

A long line of punters snake their way around the capitals legendary Olympia Theatre for tonights show, and as we hear the excited banter from outside the stage door, we are led to one John Baizley is casually waiting for us in the hallway with a gentle smile and laid-back demeanour.

Having focused most of his adult life on Baroness, Baizley has experienced a journey that has led him through two EP’s and five studio albums, a well-documented, horrific bus crash where he and his bandmates narrowly escaped death, and a new vision/perspective on his role as a professional visual artist and musician.

We take a moment to get a sense of where things are with Baroness and what may lay ahead in the future.

OD – It’s been 12 years since the debut album, not counting the EP’s. Now, five studio albums deep, there is a blatant evolution in sound and production on each album that is almost a guarantee with Baroness.

With this new album, did you set out with a very definite idea of what the album should sound like prior to recording?

© Down The Barrel Photography 2019

JOHN – In a roundabout way yes. I think the chemestry of the band is evolving. I’ve been doing “Baroness” since 2003 and I’ve always had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do with this project.

That idea is based on having a lot of space to move around and allow for adaptations and evolutions to happen, so I can’t really say with ‘Gold and Grey‘ that we had a clear idea about what each song would sound like, and how they would work with one another. I just had a very clear idea of the overarching concept of the record and how that would be presented.

OD – If you could sum it up in one word or sentence, what were you endeavouring to do with ‘Gold and Grey‘?

JOHN – Well, to sum it up in one word, I was looking to create an album that was ‘kaleidoscopic’ and by that I meant that there would be multiple fragments that were operating in parallel and in tandem with one another, whereby you get lots of reflections.

If you listen to the album there are lots of melodies that bounce and pop-up across the arch of the record. There’s also textures and tones that become familiar.

The album just needed to be constantly influx and moving. This allowed us the freedom of approaching and attacking each song as a very separate identity, with separate pieces that when put together; would create something different.

OD – It’s well documented that the original idea of the chromatic cycle of album titles started out as a joke, and a very successful one at that. Now that you’ve completed the traditional artist colour wheel, can we expect a very different approach to the music?

JOHN – The clearest way that I can articulate this is that…. well, by the time we released ‘Yellow & Green‘ when we reformed and began writing ‘Purple’, I had made the decision that I was going to forge ahead.

I remember having a discussion with our former guitar player Pete (Adams) and we were hanging out just hovering around my record collection at home and there was the section that has all of the Baroness stuff, and he looks at it and says; “Look man, we’ve come this far, so let’s just keep going. You can’t NOT finish the cycle of colours!

At that point I really didn’t want to do it, but then I just looked at it from a different perspective and it became a very fun and interesting challenge to finish. The way I think moving forward is, it’s not that we’ve completed this cycle of albums and the next thing we’re going to do will be wildly different, it’s more like, we’ve now done this so the next thing that we do can be whatever we want it to be. It’s a purely blank canvas.

OD – Does that worry you to some degree? That there’s not a ‘plan‘ just yet? Especially since you’ve been working off the chromatic concept for all of the bands album discography?

JOHN – It terrifies me! [Laughing] I think that this record [Gold and Grey] had been a much more meaningful experience for me than I had anticipated. The internal success we’ve experience since the albums release has also been a little bit overwhelming, to say the least.

OD – Do you think you can top ‘Gold and Grey‘?

JOHN – I’m not sure that it’s something that we can top, or something that we need to top. We all know that we just have to continue our legacy and never be content to settle and never be content to refine or narrow our collective vision to something that is just a variation on a theme. That seems like resting on your laurels to me; and that’ simply not going to happen to Baroness.

I think boredom is the death of good art and we have to do something that keeps us challenged and move forward. And who knows what that will be.

Photo – Exposing Shadows Photography for © 2019

OD – From an external opinion you’re involvement in Baroness is almost all-consuming from the artwork to the composing and recording, do you find that at times you can be overwhelmed by it all and if so, what do you do to step away from it and clear your head?

JOHN – I think context and perspective is difficult to achieve as an artist. It’s difficult to gain any real kind of perspective for what you’re doing because you don’t understand what the impact is going to be at the time that you’re making it. When it’s released, the reviews give some kind of an indication, then you’re looking at the album sales, and the live show attendance, ticket sales etc… that’s fine. But that’s an immediate thing.

Looking at this in a long-term context, who knows how people consider us? It doesn’t matter to me because I feel very proud of what we do, and that includes the mistakes,  as well as the successes.

I’m a visual artist as well as a musician and this project has been such a huge part of my life which at times intertwines a lot. So, anything that I can do to step outside it for just a moment here and there and that tends to helps a lot.

I find solace in the little things. Like toady for instance, Gina (Gleeson, Guitars) and I did a fie mile run around the city and just took in our surroundings and enjoyed the moment.

Pic – Down the Barrel Photography © 2019

OD – Do you feel that Dave Fridmann’s cabin in the woods studio influenced the overall aesthetic properties of the album?

JOHN – Most definitely. Whenever we’ve been asked by labels about who we wanted to work with in a producer capacity, I’ve always said Dave Fridmann as I’ve been a huge fan of his work in the past, and I would get laughed out of the room, either financially, or by virtue of the fact that Dave only works with artists that HE wants to work with.

OD – So, did you hit it off with Dave from the get-go?

JOHN – He welcomed us into his studio and when he and I developed the working relationship that we have,  for me, it was as good as meeting one of the worlds most famous rock stars. [Laughing]

He [Dave] was an idol of mine and became a friend very quickly. This made me realise that I had to be confident of where I was, and who I was now working with.

I had to find inner peace in understanding that there are people out there that find what we do ‘valuable‘ and that’s an odd thing to feel at times. Just based on that alone comes responsibilities and those responsibilities can turn into fun and eventually turn into discovery, and luckily for us, that happened. It was a great experience.

Exposing Shadows Photography for © 2019

OD – The US tour you completed recently with Deafheaven and Zeal & Ardour was a very prolific with regards to the genres and styles between the three of you. Did you find that the mix of bands worked well?

JOHN – When the idea of that tour came up, now, bear in mind that this was our very first proper co-headline tour. I’ve known the guys in Deafheaven for quite some time now and I realised that our bands were going through something similar.

In the both ‘perceived‘ genres that we inhabited, we were considered a little left of centre. We have both experienced careers where we’re cool one year and not cool the next year. The ‘fads‘ and ‘trend-lines‘ support us one year and reject us the next.

Both we, and Deafheaven have done a very interesting and constructive job of ignoring those trend-lines and just cruse over it regardless of the consequences, and so, when we finally came together on that tour, it made so much sense on paper, but it did so much better than we could ever have imagined.

OD – That touring bill was one of the most diverse and exciting line-up’s of 2019 so far.

JOHN – It was a very diverse and eclectic selection of bands that really managed to pull people out to the venues. It was impossible to deny how well it worked, and how very special those live shows were.

OD – Did it ever feel unbalanced at any point?

JOHN – No, not at all. In fact quite the opposite. It felt very equal and balanced. All three bands just doing 100% of what they were capable of doing every night and it succeeded based on the work that was put into it so, it felt very good and merit-based.

Pic – Exposing Shadows Photography for © 2019

ODBaroness are not only recognised for their music; but also for the spectacular album cover art, which of course you design. Can you tell me one of your favourite album covers? Or perhaps one that’s so bad, it’s good?

JOHN – I love to talk about stuff like this [Laughing]. One artist that I really love is Roger Dean (YES cover artist). YES put our an album called ‘Relayer‘ (pic below) which I think has one of those beautiful, evocative covers and let me get this straight, I fucking hate YES [Laughing]! It’s just… their music does nothing for me. And you wanna know what? I have collected all of their albums because of the cover art. The rest of the band are YES fans by the way. I’ve grown to have a certain amount of appreciation for that music over time, purely based on the power of the cover art.

YES ‘Relayer’ artwork by Roger Dean. 1974

Look at the cover of ‘Dark Side of the Moon‘ (Pink Floyd), when anyone thinks of that album, they don’t think of the songs or the melodies, they think of that iconic cover. So, it’s helped me justify staying in the game of creating covers for other bands.

I really think there is some synchronicity in what we see and what we hear, and when you consider the stage production that goes with the live shows, I feel that in some way it’s an invitation to enter the world that was created by some of these bands who invest time and energy into carefully creating their overall aesthetic and vibe.

It can be a very personal and unique experience for the listener or the person in the venue. It’s a very special feeling once you engage in that level of participation.

At the end of the day, all of us are driven by the power of music and art and it really brings us all together and it’s a beautiful communion and long may it continue.

Baroness are currently on tour with Volbeat and Danko Jones across Europe. Their latest album ‘Gold and Grey‘ is out now. Pick up your copy via this link.

John Baizley of Baroness with Oran O’Beirne of Oct 2019

Oran O’Beirne

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