John Dyer Baizley and Baroness - In the country, right fucking now...

Melancholic triumph or triumphant melancholy...

Last week when I spoke to John Dyer Baizley, he was at home in Philadelphia. Now he’s here, in Australia, blowing our fucking minds with the rest of the Baroness fellas. I kick off the interview by asking him who is blowing his mind with their art, music or other? “Oh boy! Let’s see…right now?” Right now. “It’s not contemporary but I just discovered this composer called Arvo Part; there’s a compositional style that he developed called Fratres. I just heard a piece of music the other day that was written by him…unbelievable! Other notables; I just checked out the new Tribe Called Quest record – that’s incredible, and the new track from DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels (Nobody Speaks) which was completely killer. Last week I went to see my New Zealand friend’s extreme metal band called Ulcerate play here in Philadelphia – they were absolutely monumental, and I’ll give a shout out to one of my favourite Philadelphian death metal bands called Horrendous who are just beyond blowing my mind…incredible music.” There you go, boys and girls, something to Google after you’ve read this piece.

I get a bit tricksy and ask a deliberately provocative question; when you see all the powerful talent out there, do you ever feel like hanging up your brushes? It’s a definitive answer from John. “No! If I see something that’s better than mine then I see that as a challenge. It makes me wanna get better.” I ask about the Trump situation in the US but I get the impression that John doesn’t want to talk politics and he brushes the question off with “I don’t know – you tell me…I’m dying to know!”

Fine, we’ll talk about Purple (2015) – it’s been out almost a year, are you still wholly engaged with it or moving on to new projects. He’s enthusiastic: “Oh yes, definitely engaged! Though it’s obvious that we’ve been touring on it for a while now and we are starting to get a bit antsy and wanting to write some new stuff but we haven’t officially started that process yet – though we are still super-thrilled with this record and playing shows with it so until our energy runs out for it, and until our love for the album wains a bit, we’re still doin’ it. It’s just been an awesome year to tour this record.”

While newest recruits Nick Jost (bass) and Sebastian Thomson (drums) are not exactly new members anymore but how are they slotting in? Again, John is most enthused. “Incredibly well. It’s seamless as far as I’m concerned.” And their influence? Purple certainly seems a tad ‘jazzy’ to my grizzled old ears. “I think working with more fluent, comprehensive musicians means we can allow other influences to come in, and we can present them in a way that’s confident and in a way that doesn’t sound too ham-fisted. So with Nick and Sebastian, and Pete and I trying to grow as guitar players, we were excited to see where the obvious growth in our sound would be, and you know, I guess ‘jazzy’ is the right word for it – there’s certainly a little bit of that in there – and with Sebastian getting to play loud, bombastic drums (Sebastian is from funky groovers Trans-Am), we got his full psychosis on the drum-kit. Everything was on eleven all the time, and I think those were some awesome changes that we experienced.” And you, you sly old dog, you play the glockenspiel? He down-plays this fact. “I think I’ve played it on almost every record…” So, any other hidden talents? “I wouldn’t say that that’s a talent! There are a ton of hidden instruments on the records and if I told you half of them, I think the band would kill me! When you’re in a recording studio and you’ve got everything at your disposal…if I think something’s gonna work then I wanna try it. If it doesn’t work, I will not use it but I like to try…”

We move onto the sound of Baroness; for me it’s always been inherently Baroness, regardless of the album – but the sound, I struggle to sum it up and end up with ‘melancholic triumph’ – it’s not what I’m aiming for but John likes it. “I’ve never heard anybody describe it that way but I think that’s pretty apt. The way the melodies play out inside the band, it’s really interesting; we’re probably the worst people to try and define what we do but we’re in the music and there is that element of triumph and celebration which the melody brings – but then the way that the songs are structured, and the way that melody plays out over the course of the song, it can be very melancholic. Mixing those two things together, we almost consciously did it on the last record. I can’t say that we can take credit for it though; it’s not like we sat there and said ‘Let’s write something that’s triumphant. And now let’s write something that’s melancholic.” But we knew that it was going on. As up-beat and triumphant as the music might be, I had to make sure that the lyrics were appropriate for me and that I was writing about fairly heavy subject matter – that’s why it comes across the way that you describe it. I like that; it’s pretty apt!”

We get darker and talk of recurrent themes within the music and lyrics. “There’s a little bit of a stream of consciousness to the lyrics but the songs are based in experiences that I’ve had so, lyrically speaking, whether it’s direct and straight forward or super-obtuse and angular, it’s just that I’m writing about the things I’ve seen, and half the time they’re more like questions than answers.”

I mention that I made a conscious decision to stay away from question around John’s heinous crash but everyone is still banging on about it, and he responds with a resigned, perhaps slightly amused, “Oh, I know!” – what I want to touch on is the cold, black void that he mentioned. Is it a source of inspiration? *Warning – large quote coming up*

“Yeah! Of course! It has to be. It’s something that was terrifying to experience so I wasn’t going to let something that had the potential to be such a traumatising and negative force on me win, so I chose to see the beauty and the universal majesty in that particular experience because I think, regardless of how specific my experience was, everybody knows something like that. Everybody’s been through some kind of accident – not necessarily the same kind of accident but certainly some kind of accident - and we’re all confused, we’re all trying make sense of what’s going on in our lives. The subject matter was appropriate because it dealt with that, and as long as the record isn’t asking you to step into my shoes and go through this terrible thing I went through, as long as it’s more about the way we consider these things, then maybe we’re all asking ourselves similar questions. Perhaps we could all have some kind of discussion about it, or at the very least the show is some kind of discussion about it? We’re transmitting from the stage into the audience and they’re reflecting back their enthusiasm, excitement or emotion, or the fact that they’re overwhelmed, back to us, and that proves to me that the subject matter was appropriate. And after the show when we’re winding down and we get a chance to meet some of the people who have paid money to see us play, they’ll share their stories with us, and I think that’s when the whole experience goes full circle.” I felt John’s eloquence needed to be captured in full for that one…

So people are more willing to share because of your own experiences? “One hundred per cent, yes – and I’m very respectful of the fact that people are willing to do that, because it’s not easy – it’s not easy for any of us to do. It wasn’t easy for me to put it down on paper and sing about it, knowing that I’d have to sing those lyrics night in and night out for years to come. So anytime someone is willing to share some of their experience, I consider that a minor victory on behalf of both of us because we’re articulating those things that have power over us and we’re giving that power away to a certain degree, insofar as we’re capable of doing that in a venue. But you know, sometimes you just have to let the air out.”

Hoorah for the cathartic rituals of a bloody good live gig. Finally, do you reckon you’ll have any time off between gigs in Australia?  “Generally it’s back to back, and where I do have a spare few hours, I’m throwing some little pop-up art events at local businesses so I’ll probably be busy the whole time.” Oh, I do so love interviewing John.

Baroness. In Australia right now.