Baroness prep for a new album with another new lineup and an incredibly strong familial bond
Ogden Theatre | March 27
By Benjamin Hutcherson
John Baizley has a lot to be excited about. Baroness, the dynamic rock outfit he’s fronted for nearly two decades, will release their fifth album later this year, their first since 2017’s Grammy-nominated Purple. The as-of-yet untitled record is the first with new guitarist Gina Gleeson, who replaced longtime member Peter Adams last year. Prior to that, the quartet will embark on a co-headlining U.S. tour with shoegaze-meets-black-metal darlings Deafheaven, who recently received their own Grammy nod for their 2018 release Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. In spite, or perhaps because of the band’s momentum, Baizley was refreshingly humble and candid when he recently spoke with The Marquee, and he emphasized the collective dedication of all of the members – former and current – to prioritizing art over dreams of fame and fortune.
“We started this [band]because nothing else seemed as creatively free and compelling, nothing as exciting and adventurous, as music. Why would we [let money]stifle that? Doing anything and everything we can to keep our music fresh and exciting like when we were young is an integral part of what we are today. This band is a family more than a business. Our attitude is ‘I hope you like playing music because the financial reward is… not present. [laughs].’”
As the sole original member of Baroness, Baizley stressed the importance of approaching a band as a family rather than a source of revenue. “If you operate your band as a business and you have employees, then when an employee passes the threshold of inefficiency you fire them. I just don’t believe in that; if that was the standard to which people held me, I don’t think I would’ve done [all of this]. This is a family. In order to be a strong family, you need love, chemistry, acceptance, and tolerance, but there has to be a healthy way to disagree and grow. It’s as important to recognize that as it is to bask in the glow of familial love.”
Lineup changes are rarely easy for bands, and fans often find it difficult to reconcile a change in the appearance and/or sound of their favorite groups. Some require the new members to don the garb and play the preexisting role so that the machine can roll on (e.g., Kiss). For Baizley, that approach was never an option.
“When we started this band, I had no idea it would last this long and that we’d have so many lineup changes. I feel incredibly fortunate in the fact that these [lineup]transitions have all been simple, because they didn’t have to be. We’ve all heard the horror stories about lineup changes in famous bands, right? But we’ve never had auditions, we’ve never had to do casting calls,” he said.
“I look at the trajectory of lots of classic rock outfits where the starting point is barely recognizable from the whatever they blossom into, and yet there’s a thread, some consistency or recognizability that doesn’t disappear. It seems to be a difficult balance to maintain, but we’re trying to do it. The real test for us, at any point, has always been ‘Is the idea we’re discussing, the concept we’re approaching when we write or perform, something we can claim ownership of? Are we proud to serve it?’ And we can often say yes, and that’s the real beauty of this for me. After all of these years, I… we still find our inspiration internally. We don’t have to go manufacture it, don’t have to turn over every rock and look for something fresh. That feels like good luck. There are plenty of other aspects where we feel like we’ve had bad luck, but…not here.”
That “bad luck” most notably includes a 2011 accident in Bath, England, wherein the band’s tour bus fell more than thirty feet from a viaduct after a mechanical failure. Several members of the band and crew experienced severe injuries; Baizley, who had been up front with the driver at the time of the accident, broke his left arm and leg when he was hurled against the front windshield. Drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni left the group shortly thereafter, and the band’s future seemed uncertain. Yet Baizley found inspiration in the tragedy and posted a lengthy letter to the band’s fans on their website. “I have come to realize the importance of time in this particular equation, that is, I have none to waste and none to spare. There is no better moment than now to devote ourselves more fully towards our art than ever.”
Baizley and guitarist/backing vocalist Peter Adams recruited a new rhythm section — bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thompson — and entered the studio with producer Dave Fridmann, (Weezer, The Flaming Lips, and Sleater-Kinney). In December 2017, the band released Purple on their own newly-founded label Abraxan Hymns. Given the tumult of the previous years and the relentless touring schedule associated with a new album, such a massive undertaking might seem borderline-masochistic. As he told The Marquee, however, this was simply the next logical step in the evolution of Baroness.
“Starting the label was about creative control and artistic freedom,” he said. “Trusting my gut lead me to this point, so I’m not going to stop now. Releasing our own music means that we can feel a profound sense of pride — not the Greek tragedy kind where everyone dies at the end — but genuine, unbridled pride in our successes. By the same token, when something goes haywire, we know it’s our fault. We have to own it. And the most powerful lessons that I’ve learned are from failure. Being in control of that part of the process gives us all of that.”
With so many things on the horizon, Baizley explained that success of any sort requires a connection to one’s past and a willingness to own it. “It’s important for me to remember what it felt like to be that kid who plugged into an amplifier for the first time and just let the feedback roar. I try to be true to that. When I’m 80 and thinking back about all of this, I don’t want to think that I took my hands off the wheel and just let things happen. I want to look back and say ‘Everything I did, even — and especially — the biggest mistakes I made, I back them. I look back now and see mistakes we’ve made and think ‘Oh that didn’t really stick,’ but I know what we meant then. If you can honestly say, ‘This is the best album or tour we’ve ever done,’ and it flops, then you still have a real, personal success on your hands. I mean, isn’t that what we’re left with anyway? When you strip away everything else, those actions, those creative accomplishments, are all we’ve got.”
Ogden Theatre | March 27
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