'Were Metallica dicks? No, they were really cool!' John Baizley chews the fat with Metal as Fuck...

John Baizley saved Soundwave 2010! What a legend!

I almost expected an accent as thick as swamp mud but when John Baizley, artist, guitarist and vocalist with Baroness, gets on the phone I find him both articulate and understandable. What the hell was I expecting- Cletus from The Simpsons?

My first question is one born from terrible, terrible envy; so Mr Baizley, you must be very happy to have combined a career of art and music? Naturally he’s “absolutely thrilled” to have done so. Lucky, lucky man. He tells me that as an artist and a musician, both creative forms are equally important to him; “Whenever I get burnt out on one, I’ve always got the other one waiting in the wings.” And he laughs when I ask if he could choose one over the other. “Not now. I think what’s happening now, the life span of the career musician is significantly shorter than the life span of the career artist so right now, as long as there’s music to play, I’m out there doing it.”

So are the creative processes for creating a piece of art and a piece of music similar? “I think it comes from the same place. I think the personal reward that comes from writing a piece of music is exactly the same as the personal reward from creating a piece of art; they both offer similar stresses and they both flex similar creative muscles – it’s two sides of the same coin. I think with the music, there’s like a physical attribute to it that doesn’t exist with art, and with the art I think there’s a cerebral aspect to it that doesn’t exist with music. So in a way engaging with both, it just rounds everything out a little bit more and it’s a little bit more comfortable.”

John works in traditional media such as pens, pencils, paintbrush, inks, and watercolours, and he’s provided art for a massive list of bands including Kylesa, Pig Destroyer, Black Tusk and Flight of the Conchords. But enough of art; what sort of music are you listening to? “I listen to a lot – everybody says that, you know – but I’ve been on a kick now for about two years where every single day I listen to a record that I’ve never heard so this year I heard 365 and a quarter records that I did not hear last year.” I’m not sure about the use of a fraction (did he get pissed off and turn the album off?) but that’s pretty good going...“It’s a little intense but it’s something I like to do. I think the rewards from it is that you gain a different vantage point on music itself when you hear similar things happening in similar genres, or certain things that happen musically across decades. It’s had the effect of allowing me to be a little bit more flexible in what I do when I write music.”

So when’s the new album coming out? “There is no official release date.”

 

Oh. And the title? “There is no official title yet.”

Bloody hell, John, don’t hold out on me...will it have a similar name to the previous two; eg the Red Album (2007) or the Blue Record (2009)? He says he doesn’t know; “That’s one of those things that we’ll just have to wait and see...”

The Red Album was voted album of the year by Revolver magazine, and the Blue Record took album of the year from Decibel magazine so did you feel any pressure with the new album? “There’s a pressure but it’s not a pressure to win any awards. Those things are fun when they happen, for sure - nothing against the awards in themselves - but the pressure is just writing a good record. Period. For me, to do something that I’m proud of, something that I feel that I’ve accomplished that I set out to do – that’s the pressure. The pressure doesn’t come because Decibel gave us this or Revolver gave us that. It’s nice but it doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day.”

The pressure comes from within? “Yeah. Absolutely.”

OK, we don’t have a release date or name for the upcoming album but what can we expect - any new directions or new sounds? John’s response is an emphatic “Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s gonna be different. I can only really leave it at that. We wouldn’t really be acting like Baroness [if we didn’t]. It’s always a goal of mine to make a record that’s challenging.”

Baroness have always spun in different directions when it comes to styles; I use the example of Bullhead’s Psalm, a track dripping in psychedelia. If you compare that to The Sweetest Curse which is a gigantic track; all thick and heavy; do you find it difficult to switch styles or is it just a case of writing what you like? “Yeah, I just write what I like and write what I’m feeling. It has many different sides to it. This new record is no different; there are some really soft mellow bits on it and some really thick, heavy bits on it. I would say, all in all, it’s different. People are gonna know that it’s a different record.” John reckons the new record will blow our minds but “It’s gonna be a challenge, you know? You’ll have to sink your teeth into it and get used to it before you know whether or not you like it. I feel like I can say that.” I don’t know about you but I’m both intrigued and excited about the new album. I don’t know much about it but I do know it was produced by John Congleton, who also produced the last Baroness release.

What was it like on the Soundwave 2010 tour? John releases a torrent of positive adjectives: “It was awesome – that was a fun tour. It was crazy, it was like the most fun. It was great. Really well organised...it was pretty fucking hot if you ask me, but it was still fun. That tour was super hot.”

John tells me a story about the Sydney gig:  “We were on this shuttle up to the fairground and there was miles and miles and miles of stand-still traffic, and we were in danger of missing our set, so I somehow managed to flag down a police officer and got the whole bus – there were probably 15 bands on the bus – a police escort through to the back entrance of the festival grounds, and we had to go straight up onto the stage without any water or any time to get used to it. I’m pretty sure that all of us passed out at some point...”

You saved Soundwave?! He laughs. “I don’t know about that. I’d say Soundwave essentially killed me! But it was a blast, I had fun at all the shows – it was the best introduction to Australia that we could have got...”

And now John is returning in early February with and NeurosisScott Kelly for a series of intimate, acoustic sets. So what are the main differences between an acoustic set and a fully amped up electric show? “Nothing about it is really the same, it’s almost entirely different, you know? You’re sort of out there and way more exposed than you would be if you had the rest of the band there backing you up. It’s much quieter, more focussed and personal and it’s a completely different challenge to playing with a band where you’re more concerned about everything being in synch and matching up.” So you basically stand or fall on your own merits? “Exactly, though I don’t anticipate any type of perfection on this tour. It’ll be interesting and challenging to do, which is kind of what I’m in to.”

Baroness toured with Metallica last year, what was that like? “Awesome.” Were they dicks? “No, they were cool, they were really cool. Super-cool.  They were one of the most hospitable bands we’ve ever toured with.” Oh really? The tabloid journalist in me rears its ugly head; so who was the worst? “The least hospitable? I don’t kiss and tell...” He breaks up laughing at this point. My hard-core interrogation style fails and he won’t spill the beans...

John previously lived in Savannah but moved to Philadelphia last year. I admit to having strange ideas about Savannah; what’s itlike? Is it ‘swampy’? “Yeah, it’s swampy and hot so not unlike Soundwave! It’s a really cool swampy town. I’m not sure if there’s anything I could compare it to in Australia, though the heat was like Soundwave though...”

This brings me on to a question about that ‘southern sound’ that permeates the work of bands such Baroness and Black Tusk; for me it’s organic - a touch of the swamp to it - does the Savannah environment/climate impact on how bands sound? “Yeah. I don’t really know how that came about, you know? It’s just all the bands from that area have that thing going on. I don’t think anyone really thinks about it, or talks about it, too much. It’s just one of those unique and interesting regional things that happen. It’s kind of like making music in a bubble; everybody’s doing it and we developed our sort of style and sound down there. It’s really cool, I think it’s awesome.”

And finally; will Baroness be touring on the new album after your tour with the acoustic set? “Yeah. When the new one comes out, that’s all we’ll be doing – just touring, touring, touring.”

A new album. A new tour. I can’t fucking wait.