Woo-hoo! First post in over a year! I’ve been well and truly slacking…
Having been hammering the awesome new Baroness album, Yellow and Green, for the best part of the last week, I was inspired to dig out from my sent items the below interview with John Dyer Baizley and Allen Blickle, conducted at Salford Islington Mill in January 2010 on behalf of the now-defunct Love Manchester. Note the final couple of lines… I can officially claim to have inspired JDB! Or not.
Love Manchester: First, as an aside, I heard in the sound-check you started playing ‘Say It Ain’t So’ by Weezer, and I was just wondering with the album names, you’ve got a Blue Record and a Red Album and so have they; is there anything to that!? Has it ever come up before?
John Dyer Baizley: Well, it’s come up; there’s definitely a chromatic title theme going on there, but we’re definitely not the first band to do that and nor was Weezer. The odd thing about that is the year we released Red Album they put their Red Album out too, and here we are with Blue Record and they put out Raditude in the same year, and their Blue Record was what, 15 years ago? But there’s no link other than the tenuous colour thing.
LM: Strangely, it seems as though you guys are in the ascendancy and they seem to be getting weaker…
J: I don’t know about that! Put them playing in a room next to us and see who fills up faster!
LM: Your first EPs were First, Second, Third and now you’ve get Red and Blue; will there be a continuation of this?
J: I can’t say yes or no; switching from the chronological thing was us moving into a different era as a band, because we thought we’d passed what we were doing and were now in new territory. We always try and keep our album titles real simple though.
LM: I think that’s a good idea, because you don’t lead to any preconceptions about what the album might be about.
J: The thing is, this band’s always been based on inclusivity, we don’t want to push anyone away and we want to give everybody an opportunity to listen to the album. But, we put so much density into the music, the lyrics, and the art, that if we were to try and conceive a title that encapsulated all that, it would probably be something very heavy-handed and pretentious, and if you see that in a record store and you’re not already a fan, it’ll drive you away, so that’s why we stick with the simple titles.
LM: That actually leads on to my next question… the current album has experienced great crossover success, it was featured in a lot of ‘album of the year’ charts, and it seemed that a lot of people that might not have been into you before have got into you through Blue Record. How do you feel about this huge increase in interest in the band?
J: I feel great about it; like I said before, we’re not ones to choose our audience, and we’re certainly not ones to tell our audience what to do. One of the earliest lessons we learned is that you can’t preconceive who’s going to be your fan base, so you just humble yourself in front of any audience that’s willing to pay a dime to see you. So as our crowd grows and diversifies, it’s wonderful for us; it’s been the MO since the get-go.
LM: Who are your main influences?
J: We don’t really have main influences, they change over time. Put it this way, when you were a young teenager, you were listening to different stuff than you probably do now. When I was a kid, I used to listen to a lot of punk rock, and that spoke to the angry, blunt, simple side of me, the part of me that didn’t know how to say things in a complicated way, who didn’t understand shades of grey; it was just black and white. But as I grew older, I developed an interest in classic rock, electronic music, hip hop, even pop and country, and as that base grows it becomes something that you’re capable of being influenced by.
LM: Did that broad taste in music have a bearing on your choice of John Congleton, someone who’s worked with a diverse range of bands, to produce Blue Record?
J: Yes and no; the core reason we wanted to work with John was that he didn’t bring to the table any set notions or rules on how to record a band that tunes down a little or plays a bit louder than an indie band. For us, we wanted to challenge ourselves and step out on a limb and we wanted somebody who could approach the record with a fresh set of ears and not have to push it in one direction. I don’t know about anyone else, but I personally wanted to be surprised by the record, because prior to that, we had got to a point where we knew what we could do, we knew our producer well enough and that we could produce a consistent record, but this time we wanted to take a risk because we thought that if we didn’t do it now, we may never get round to it. Luckily it worked, and we were quite surprised with how the record turned out.
LM: When you were writing and recording it, did you think it was something different or special compared to your previous work?
Allen Blickle: The song writing approach was definitely a progression in terms of how we went about it, so the songs came out different compared to the first record, but I think working with a different producer added an extra dimension or space to it, and the record as a whole has a different feel.
J: When we’re writing, we never think that the stuff is ‘special’, we didn’t look at each other and think “oh my god, guys, this is the one that’s gonna make it for us!”; for us it’s really a matter of understanding the material and feeling this gut-level reaction; you think “yes, this is good”, you get pumped, and you get excited when you’re coming up with stuff.
LM: You’re based in Georgia, and there’s recently been a wave of great, original bands to come out of there, like yourselves, Mastodon, Kylesa… is there something there that breeds creativity?
J: It’s funny that everyone seems to ask that, because the answer’s not as obvious as it seems. From the outside, it seems like there’s this rampant creative pulse running through the state, when in fact you’ve got Savannah, quite a small city, and then on the other side of the state, about 5–6 hours away, you’ve got Atlanta, and both towns have, what I would consider, very small music scenes. However, what that’s given us is an isolation of sorts that’s allowed us to do what we want without having to follow trends, or be aware of too much of what’s going on. If you take a town like Boston, where there’s a lot of bands now that sound the same and all kind of work off each other or have a sort of one-upmanship with their sound, but with us we explore any tangents worth investigating. There’s no one there saying, “No, you can’t do that!”
LM: I think it’s maybe harder for us to grasp, considering the size of the UK compared to the US. With us, if you travel six hours from Manchester, you’ve gone past London, you’ve gone past other major cities. The musical heritage of cities in the UK usually consists of bands that are formed just miles apart from each other, and when we hear of bands from the same state in the US, like Georgia, I guess it’s easy of us to project that same thinking of a close-knit collective, when really the cities over there can be hundreds of miles apart.
J: Georgia definitely has a rich musical heritage, but you could probably count the number of bands you’ve heard of on your hands. But, there’s not that much going on where we are, which allows us to concentrate on what we’re doing and not be distracted.
LM: Where do you get the ideas for your artwork?
J: It’s always been the case of the artwork working with the sound; the vision of the band has to work with the sound, just the same way that the sound has to work with the vision. The four of us will begin the writing process, and there’ll be tones and textures, ideas and images, and those are the things that I work with.
LM: I know you’ve done a lot of work for other bands; I’m sure you get request all the time, but I was just wondering if you’d had any strange requests from any bands that you might not have expected, or ones you’ve turned down because you didn’t want to be associated with them?
J: I’ve had plenty of incredibly crazy offers from bands that I never thought would have paid attention to me or even know that I am. I can’t really divulge them, but suffice it to say, one or two of the biggest British metal bands have come to me, and I’ve had to turn it down, because I choose to work with bands that I know or that I like, and respect. If it’s not there, then I won’t do it. My primary impetus for making art and music isn’t financial, it’s creative.
LM: that’s commendable, especially in an industry so driven by money.
J: Well, I guess it’s easy for me to say that, because our band is now experiencing some success, so maybe it comes off as a little trite maybe for me to say that, but that’s always been the way it is.
LM: You’ve toured with a wide mix of bands, like Opeth, Clutch and Municipal Waste; do you find there’s a marked contrast in atmosphere on each tour?
J: Oh yeah! Municipal Waste’s crowd, Opeth’s crowd, and Clutch’s crowd would never be in the same room as each other!
A: We’ve known the guys in Municipal Waste for a long time; we haven’t toured with them in a while, but it’s always fun. We’ve also toured with Coheed and Cambria, which was different too…
J: Diversity is interesting to us…
LM: Who’s the strangest band you’ve toured with, in terms of people thinking “I can’t believe they toured with them”?
J: Probably Coheed and Cambria; that was one we definitely had some anxieties going into; their fans were significantly younger than our fans and the fans of the other bands on the tour, but they were so welcoming to us, and they were so enthusiastic, we just couldn’t help but smile.
A: When you’re touring with larger acts like Opeth, it’s just inspiring to watch, because they’re such great musicians.
J: Yeah, it’s inspiring; I prefer to tour with more technical bands, because it just elevates us and keeps our game sharp, because we have a lot to live up to opening up for bands like that.
A: we also learn from touring too; it’s the only way to learn really! We just throw ourselves into it…
J: Between Allen and I, we could list 10 totally obvious bands for us to tour with, but I think it’s out on the fringe, out there navigating waters you may not have been in before where you really learn.
LM: Who do you think you’d learn from most if you were to tour with them?
J: That’s a tough one; we just look forward to the next tour, whoever that might be with. At the point where we get to invite bands to come tour with us, we’ll try to keep things interesting, and keep a little bit of work involved, because when it gets easy, it becomes rote, and boring, and repetitive.
LM: You’re going out to the rest of Europe after your stint in the UK, and then off to Japan and Australia; is there much of a difference between touring round these countries compared to being back home?
J: It’s apples and elephants sometimes, in terms of the demeanour of an audience or the things auxiliary to the show, but for an hour on stage, it’s the same old story, no matter where you are. We could be in Belgium, in Texas, in British Columbia, it’s the same. The reason we do it is consistent; it’s the same reason, that when I was 15–16 years old, I wanted to do this. It’s a different style in different countries; for example, the hospitality over here is night and day different to the States, but the shows are the same. We’re playing the same music, and hopefully the crowds are getting the same out of it wherever they are.
LM: Do you have any festival plans over here this year?
J: Hopefully, any and all! One of the things that’s really been surprising and great being in this band, is that we’ve been able to different types of festivals and take something great away from each one. Festivals are fun; the whole organisation side of things is kind of weird, but they’re fun to do.
LM: When you’re there, do you get to hang out, or do you finish one a get straight back on the road to the next?
J: Sometimes it’s just like touring and we’ll fly or drive in and play and then have to go, but sometimes we’ll get to hang around…
A: In 2008, we played at Hellfest in France and then went up to Hove Festival in Norway in the middle of a forest. They were completely different scenes, and we got to hang out at both of them.
J: It’s weird; one day we’re playing with bands like Carcass and Dimmu Borgir, and the next day with playing with Jay-Z.
LM: So, finally, apart from the touring, what’s up next? Any new material on the go?
J: Well, we’re not ones to let sleeping dogs lie; for better or worse, we’re always coming up with stuff!
LM: So, is that Yellow LP, then?
J: You tell me!