Headed to Australia for Soundwave next year, sludge metallers Baroness will return for the first time since 2010 armed with a horde of new tracks from latest album ‘Yellow & Green’. Ahead of their visit, Killyourstereo.com chats with frontman John Baizley about the new album, the creative process and hitting the road again after a bus crash last year that led to serious injuries and lineup changes.
You guys are headed back to Australia next year for Soundwave. It’ll be your first time as a band since late 2010, you guys did Soundwave that year and then were back later for the Metallica shows and a few club shows. How were those shows? Those Soundwave shows were the first time Baroness had been over here, right?
Yeah, the Soundwave shows were the first Australian shows we did. The opportunity to come back with Metallica was of course one that you don’t pass up on, so for us it was a super awesome year. Melbourne specifically I think we played eight or nine times throughout the year I think, and we don’t even do that in cities in New York or something. We’re definitely stoked to get back, the first time was great.
In the time between, obviously quite a lot has happened to you as a band. For one thing you released your third album ‘Yellow and Green’. Going into the creative process, what were some of the main concepts you had for the album?
The concept itself was really simple. We didn’t sit down at the beginning and come up with some grand, esoteric theme like we could have. Instead, the guidelines were that we just wanted to develop our skills as songwriters. I think, for us, that was a different starting point than a lot of our other records. In the past, I think we’ve been very “guitar-centric”, and then bass, drums and vocals kind of came second. With this record, we made every attempt to keep the songs the primary focus, the songs themselves. It was musicians acting in service of songwriting, rather than highlighting technical abilities.
I think that element definitely comes through quite strongly.
I hope it did, because we put a lot of work into it (laughs). Especially for us, it’s not an easy, obvious thing for bands like us to do.
There’s this stereotype that you’re super-technical “guitar” bands.
Exactly. With a lot of bands in our genre, I think the albums can come off more as a showcase for musicianship than showcasing songwriting, and we just recognized the difference and tried to focus on one rather than the other.
Less than a month after releasing ‘Yellow and Green’, you guys were involved in that bus accident. That led to putting touring plans on hold for a while, and having Allen [Blickle, drums] and Matt [Maggioni, bass] leaving. Post-recovery, how difficult was getting back into the swing of things?
It was definitely difficult physically. I think because there was some physical infirmities and we were dealing with those lineup changes as well, there was a mental component as well. We weren’t in particularly good shape after that crash, and we spent the better part of eight months waiting for me to be physically capable of playing music even on a basic level. I had to be able to stand up, I had to be able to use my arm again, and those were two badly injured places on my body. It wasn’t an easy year, but it was a very hard-working year for us and I think the reward was something completely different from what we’d experienced in the past. Much of the success of last year came in that we started off with something broken and we fixed it. That was kind of a big deal for us.
Beyond the obvious physical and logistical effects, what sort of personal impact did the incident have on your perspective?
There was less of a change in perspective, more of a reaffirmation of our belief system. When you’re a young musician, you’re filled with piss and vinegar. Everything’s exciting, everything’s new. You look at things through these utopian goggles that in time wear off after years on the road and on stage. You can be left with a group of jaded musicians, and that happens very often. I think, with us, we were able to rediscover some of the purer, simpler things that music offered us early in life. To go through what we went through and then have to re-learn how to play and go through a cycle of being patient and recovering and at the end of the day still having the facility to play music was for us, a really amazing positive thing.
That’s really cool. Earlier this year you guys put out a live EP. I found that really exciting in the sense that I’ve always thought of Baroness very much as a ‘live band’, even in your studio material. There’s this feeling of “live-ness” and it sounds very present. I was curious as to capturing that kind of energy something that you see as a vital part of the Baroness framework?
Yeah, of course. When we started, our mission statement was pretty simple – we were going to be a live band. We weren’t big, no one cared about us, so it was easy to pull it out. The whole modus operandi was that we would write, record and release music in order that we might tour and see the world. In some ways, that idea hasn’t changed over the years, so we still put our primary focus in the way things come off live. There’s always time to have fun in the studio and do things, but I think it’s more important that we recognize the fact that these songs are going to be performed, night after night after night. They have to have that quintessential “live-ness” to it.
The artwork on ‘Yellow and Green’ is unsurprisingly fantastic. As far as approaching the art for the albums, and Baroness artwork as a whole – not to mention your art in general – are there certain elements that you try and tie together into both your visual work and your music? Do the two kind of feed off one another to some extent?
Absolutely. On the most basic and fundamental level, personally speaking they come from the same engine so there’s nothing intrinsically different between the reasons I make art and the reasons I make music. Fortunately with Baroness it’s an outlet for both sides of that for me, so when I want to we can tie the two together. Sometimes the music responds to the art, more often than not the art responds to the music but they’re absolutely meant to go hand in hand.
Just to wrap up, beyond the Soundwave appearances, what sort of plans do Baroness have for next year?
We’re just going to write and hopefully record something.
Good to hear. Thanks for taking the time to chat, John.
Thank you. Take care.
Baroness tour Australia February/March as part of the Soundwave 2014 lineup.