John Baizley; Resilience Personified

"I don’t want that to be the only thing that people remember…”

I’m not one for painting people as heroes or brave little soldiers but you’ve got to doff your cap to John Baizley (and indeed everyone else involved in last year’s bus crash). John and I last spoke in July 2012, about a month before the accident; Baroness were in Sweden and were just starting their tour for the Yellow & Green album so I ask how did the crash impact on the album/tour life-cycle? “It completely fucked up the lifecycle of the album,” John laughs, adding “It completely blew out all the work that we’d put into the album. We had to cancel four tours – we crashed in August and I think we were booked up through till February of the next year so it was really, really bad timing.” Bad timing? That’s putting it mildly…

So by now Yellow & Green would have been done and dusted and you’d be starting work on the next album? “Exactly. So essentially what we’ve been doing for the past six months is playing catch up; we had to tour the US – that was really important to us – and then we had to go over to Europe and do the same thing. We did exactly what we wanted to do, and then with this record, like the past two records, we’re gonna finish up in Australia. I’m quite excited about that.”

When I ask how it’s been, touring on an album released 15 months ago, John is exceedingly positive. “It’s awesome. The timing has been totally fucked, and everyone agrees it probably would have done significantly better if we’d toured immediately after its release but we didn’t get a chance to so there’s no use crying over that spilt milk. That said, we’ve just finished up about six months of touring in the US and Europe and it was all incredible; the shows were all great.”

Baroness toured the US from May to August then it was over to Europe for September and October; you finished the tour in the UK; how was it going back? John is quite nonchalant about it. “I thought that maybe it might have been a little bit more dramatic but it wasn’t. It’s one of those things; if you’ve got some anxiety or fear about something, it’s very easy to hyperbolise and blow that balloon up into something that, in reality, it’s not. So we showed up in the UK; fucking rocked as hard as we could, and left – and that’s that. It was just one step in getting through recovery and getting back to just being a normal band again.”

Without wishing to get all morbid, did you visit the crash site? “The touring didn’t really allow for it, though I’ve been to the crash site; about a month and a half after the crash, just as I was leaving the UK. I took my family there – and I’m sure they were all super-excited to go there! But it was good therapy for me…”

He laughs when I ask how it is going through customs with all those plates, screws and wires in his arm, and he adds “I haven’t set off one metal detector. I want to set one off because I’ve got this 15 inch scar on my arm – I wanna show it off!”

We mentioned Baroness will be coming down next year for the Soundwave circuit, and you guys have done the trip a few times now. Are you used to the heat and terrible dryness? He sounds almost thankful when he says “I’ll take that heat and dryness any day over the cold and the wetness that’s happening in the States at that time of year. February here in the US is really miserable so any opportunity to get where it’s sunny and warm? I’m down!”

I read a recent interview where you spoke about getting back on the proverbial horse, what was it like getting back on a tour bus for the first time? “Surprisingly easy. It was just another instance of taking something that could be a fear or an anxiety or a stress and just engaging with it full on. There’s only one way to face that kind of fear and that’s get on with life and walk on to the tour bus and get on tour. That was that.” I haven’t seen John’s scrotum but I bet it’s fucking massive.

I see that Matt Maggioni (bass) and Allen Bickle (drums) have departed but now Nick Jost (bass) and Sebastian Thomson (drums) have come into the Baroness fold – what happened there? “I think it makes total sense; those guys were very shaken up from the accident; physically there were some injuries to contend with, mentally there was some reticence to continue touring, especially if it was gonna be on a tour bus, so they decided, probably smartly, to choose other career paths. It was a very easy and very friendly way to do everything so it was, kind of, the best way the situation could have played out and from then on we really didn’t want to do auditions or try out people for the band, so we talked to a very small group of our friends who are musicians, hoping that the word wouldn’t get out. It was just friends of friends who showed up and it was Seb and Nick who walked into the rehearsal, and they worked, they were great. There was a chemistry with one another and they totally fucking rule what they do.”

So after the 2014 Soundwave shows (and possibly a run of side-show gigs), that will be the end of touring on Yellow & Green? “Yes. Then we record a new record and put it out and start the whole thing over again.” John tells me that the band will not be opting for a colour-based name next time around. That in itself is heady news.

Given that you lived through a pretty fucked up crash, do you think (I won’t say God or Jeebers) that the universe has a plan for you? His response borders on the profoundly philosophical: “I don’t know. For me, it’s always felt like these things that happen – and there have been a number of things that have happened in the past – they’re just tests. I think that all that kind of stuff is just a test of your physical grit, your mental acumen and your psychological well-being. If you’re around long enough Life’s gonna throw some weird curve-balls at you, and I think we’ll be judged not by the things that we accomplish but by the things that are not working so well for us. So when the accident happened it was really important for us to just keep our heads up and muscle through it; fucking hunker down and get the fuck through it because we wanna be active participants in life again. And that’s what we had to do – we really had to grit our teeth and white-knuckle through it. It’s painful, it’s tough, it’s not particularly easy but the rewards are worth it and we’re not gonna slow down and we’re not gonna stop – we’re just that much more dedicated to what we do.”

And how is the rehabilitation going? “Movement-wise it’s OK [but] there’s a ton of pain. It’s just one of those things – it’s not goin’ away.” He tells me the doctors reckon he’s got another 10 to 15 years of pain, continuing “So, again, I just have to accept that, and I have to accept the amount of pain I’m in, and I have to accept the fact that my arm’s never gonna work precisely right again. But once you accept that then you just have to figure out how you’re gonna get on with it.”

We talk about resilience and how people deal with life’s events (both minor and major) in different ways. John sees it quite simply as “The more shit that you have to go through, the more you should see that it’s only temporary. Injuries are temporary things – they can have lifelong effects – but the really terrible part of them only exists for a very short period of time. So I feel that I’ve been given a second chance and I just wanna make the most of it; the minor annoyance of a shit cup of coffee or bad traffic or someone being upset with you; it’s become easier for me to take a deep breath and get through it, because I’ve felt  much worse than that. I think that I’ve been right on the edge of what I guess is the most extreme thing you can go through, and I came back, so I’ve found a new lease on life, making music and playing music is more important to us because we’ve been given another chance to do it.”

When I ask if the experience of the accident acted as a source of inspiration creatively for him, both as a musician and an artist, John explains that he used the event as an incentive to get better, to get the band back on tour and, acknowledging “I’m sure, moving forward, it’s that same thing that’s gonna drive us to write new music. Of course it’s gonna come out in our new record – that’s part of our life experience and that’s what we write about.”

We speak about the love that the band has been shown by fans and industry-types alike and his gratitude is apparent. “For somebody who’s been on the touring circuit for as long as I have, and for someone who’s  been around musicians and the industry for quite some time now, that was a surprise! Because we all get jaded at some point; we’ve seen too many shows and we’ve listened to too many records and we start to see things for how they really are after a while, and it is very easy to lose sight of the fact that behind every record sale is a person who cares about music, and behind every ticket sale there’s a human being who’s deemed us worthy of the ticket price plus three or four hours of their time – and that’s fuckin’ awesome.”

Do you think there’ll come a point in the near future where people stop talking about the crash? He laughs as he answers “I guess if we write a good enough record then that’ll probably overshadow that! I hope we can!” Baroness will just have to come up with something to top Yellow & Green. “Exactly. We’ve just got to do something so good and something that rocks so hard that people don’t care about the accident. I’ve got my fingers crossed, man!”

And one last thing; are you sick of talking about the crash by now? His final say on the matter is honest: “I’m not sick of talking about it, in fact, I could talk about it all day long but I don’t want that to be the only thing that people remember…”

I'm pretty sure it won’t be.