I was told that John Baizley and the Baroness fellows would be taking calls from the back of a tour van somewhere between Denmark and Sweden so it was a pleasant surprise to hear that John was enjoying a spot of down-time from the European tour in in Granna, Sweden. Apparently he’s hanging out next to the biggest lake in Sweden. Whallop! Geography fact, right there...
It was about six months ago when we last spoke; you were getting ready for the acoustic tour with Scott Kelly (Neurosis); how was that? “Man, that was amazing; one of the most difficult tours I’ve ever done technically and performance –wise. It was a very, very rewarding experience and very informative for me. I came back from Australia and New Zealand with kind of a new lease on performing so it was really great.” Was it confronting to be out on stage with no amps or band-members to hide behind? His response is an affirmative “Fuck! Yes, it was! It was kind of like a terror that kicks in when you’re performing that I was absolutely unprepared for, but I think it was very good for me and I think that I will probably continue to do this [solo acoustic shows] in order to keep myself sharp because it definitely gave me a humility check and some perspective on where I am as a musician and a performer.” Speaking of that terror, I guess if you don’t feel that then maybe it’s time to give up performing? He gives another affirmative “Fuck! Yes! And that’s the thing – do I want it to be easy? No, no, that would probably be the death of creativity and the loss of my real music; that moment when it kicks into autopilot or something.”
In our last conversation, you hinted that the new album Yellow and Green would be very different to the Red Album or the Blue Record. I’ve heard the new one and FUCK! It is pretty different, aye? “Yep, it is, isn’t it?! I would say to you specifically it’s not really ‘metal as fuck’ is it?!” True, true but it is a damned fine piece of work, despite the diverse reviews. Speaking of which, when you release a new piece of art or a new album do you monitor the reviews? “I shut myself away from it as much as possible but I’m so entrenched in the business or the game or whatever you want to call it that I know what’s being said and know what’s going around. It’d be nice if this wasn’t the internet age and I could truly shut myself off but that’s fucking impossible.” I can see the headlines now: John Baizley Becomes Hermit...only in your Sunday Sun...
So what’s your review of the reviews - or do you not give a fuck? His response is both eloquent and passionate. “I mean no offence when I say this but I really don’t give a fuck about the entirety of the journalism or the reviews cycle. I know what its importance is and basically here’s how I feel: I want you love or fucking hate what we do, the worst thing for me is on a scale of one to ten is to get a five. You don’t want somebody to go ‘Huh, this is kind of what I expected...it’s good enough’ – that’s not enough for me. I think art, and that’s what I consider our music, is meant to confront and is meant to elicit a reaction and I am very well aware of the fact that the way that we create music and the way that we choose to present our art is going to make both reactions happen; both the positive and the negative. It’s that middle of the road that’s fucking bullshit. That’s when you’re not doing anything – you might as well have not done anything. So if somebody hates this then they’ve felt something, just as if they love it – of course, that’s what we would like to hear! But I’d rather polarise people with this than bore them.” He elaborates: “I don’t mean this comparison to be in any way, shape or form a reflection of who I think I am but just look what happened when Dylan stared playing electric music – his fans turned their back on him and said ‘Fuck you! This isn’t what we want you to do’ – but you know what? I’ve tried to word this in a way that doesn’t sound disrespectful because I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way but you know...” And then the fucking phone cuts out, slap bang in the middle of John’s discourse. God-fucking-damn! I frantically punch the numbers and get reconnected...but the moment’s gone...John's view is essentially that a band should not be dictated by fans, just as a band should not pander to fans. As he puts it : "That’s horseshit. That’s the death of art and that’s the death of this band. The day that stuff starts influencing the way that we write is the beginning of the end of this band.”
Indeed, there are those among us who would prefer Baroness to churn out the same thing over and over, as opposed to enjoying their evolution. John sees my point: “Yeah, that’s commercialism, you know? There’s this strange dichotomy where everybody’s like ‘Choose your own path, life’s there for the taking. But don’t you go fucking changing your path’ – don’t upset your audiences delicate sensibilities on what they assume that you are. I am more than my music and as I get older my music should more accurately reflect who I am; and as I get older I become a more diverse human being and I get something different from my music so my music should reflect that.”
Was it an act of - I'd prefer not to use the word 'bravery' but it's the only one I can think of right now - bravery to write Yellow and Green or did it come to the band naturally? “Both. It came as natural as anything. It came as necessarily as it had to come – there was no pushing to do this but within the band, there were moments where we said ‘This is definitely going to shake up the overall public opinion of what we do’ – lest we become character actors or something; and who wants to assume the same role for the entirety of their lives? Sometimes you have to do something that breaks that tradition a bit, in order to show people that you are more than what they assume you are.” It’s good to keep mixing it up and freaking people out? John laughs and says “Yeah! That’s kind of the point of it! Some people are going ‘Whoa! This music sucks because it doesn’t freak your parents out’ and I’m going ‘Yeah, but it’s freaking YOU out!’ so essentially I’ve gone one better!” He reaffirms “We should write what’s within us. This isn’t soul music but this is music that comes from our souls and as long as we feel content with that, as long as we’re comfortable with exposing ourselves a bit more because it’s writing music that’s much more personal, then we’re doing what we set out to do.”
So playing the new album live, the songs obviously differ to those on the Red Album or the Blue Record? “Well, they don’t feel that much different on stage, honestly; there’s more singing and a little bit more melody and all that, but what happens on stage is the same; whether it’s brutal grind-core or a slower, more hand-holding-lift-your-lighters-up-in-the-air type thing – it’s coming from the same place and we’re putting the exact same thing into it; it’s the same fire inside that drives both directions so for me, live, it fits in rather seamlessly.” John tells me that despite playing new songs that haven’t yet been released, the audiences are embracing them. As John puts it “People are opening up to them and I think it’s a good sign for our audience. But furthermore, I think it’s a great sign for us because we’re still putting the same shit into the music that we do regardless of the style or the content.”
The tour’s been kind of curly (or “serpentine” as John puts it); doubling back into countries to play additional gigs. Mr Baizley puts this down to the fact that “We’ve recently changed representation and changed our agent in Europe and I think we took someone new on very late in the game for a summer tour but honestly, there’s nothing different about that – we’ve been doing that shit forever! It seems to me that there’s no way to do a sensible circular tour.”
You’re a well known artist aside from your work with Baroness so when you’re on tour do you visit art galleries or just get wasted? He plays down the idea of getting plastered in Paris or coked-up in Copenhagen. “My extreme partying days are in the past – I kind of hope I got that shit out! That’s what we did with the first six years of our band. I enjoy the day time more now so I wake early and try to soak in a bit of culture every day. It’s tough on tour because there are so many daily demands on the band; what I call the other 23 hours of the day can become a bit of a grind but today for instance, as we’re speaking, I’m surrounded by nature and I’m looking at the largest lake in Sweden and this is good for me. This is good for us on tour, Hopefully I’ll get to see some galleries over the course of the tour...”
I’ve only got 15 minutes with John and that’s nearly at an end so I just have time to ask about the changes with bass players; Summer Welch out and Matt Maggioni (ex-Unpersons) in. No press-releases. Nothing, so what’s the go? “Here’s the way I like to handle the press on stuff like that: it’s immaterial, you know? If we were to make a big stink about it that would be to put like a corporate personality on us within the band, and one of the driving factors with this music is that we like to think, and I know this is a bit of a stretch, that our music is entirely merit based. We’re a collection of guys and no one of us is more important than any other so when we’ve done line-up changes we’re like ‘Why make a press release?’ – it’s just gonna put a bunch of attention on something that doesn’t warrant it.”
John Baizley and Baroness. Making music for your pleasure not for your demand. On tour in Europe even as we go to press.