INTERVIEW WITH JOHN BAIZLEY BY KEVIN STEWART-PANKO
Baroness’ growth has been astounding. Steered by lone original member, John Baizley, the band has exhibited leaps and bounds of growth from their labyrinthine sludgy origins to being one of the brightest lights in progressive rock, one on the brink of breaking the mainstream’s glass ceiling seven albums later. Latest album Stone is rife with typical Baroness intricacy, care, depth, and songs melding the past and present that set the table for the future. We caught up with John Baizley for an extensive chat about intensive creative processes, significant changes, and skipping out on the color spectrum.
Before we get the most obvious question, tell us about recording in a cabin in Barryville, NY. Was the album created from scratch up there?
The case was this: when lockdowns occurred in 2020, we were four days away from going to Australia and Japan and had a year of touring planned ahead of us. As soon as the reality of 2020 set in, we all wrote alone and constantly from the spring through to the fall. I think we’d started 37 songs in 2020 and whittled them down to 12. Keep in mind that none of those were written by more than one person. We had all these musical ideas, but no real practical way to get together to see if they were any good.
“WE DIDN’T HAVE A SOLID IDEA OF WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH IN ANY OTHER FORM OUTSIDE OF THE PURELY CONCEPTUAL.”
So, we chose a cross section of that music we thought would make a good record, rented an Air BnB, and built a studio so that our rehearsal time would be a chance for all four of us to learn and rehearse for 12-14 hours a day. We took music everyone thought was cool, but no one really understood, and showed it to each other and turned single person instrumental ideas into full songs. We didn’t have a solid idea of what we were trying to accomplish in any other form outside of the purely conceptual. And I had no idea what the record sounded like until December of 2022.
Now, when you look at what you went in with and what came out, what were some of the biggest changes or surprises?
I have a slightly different experience making this record, at least from [bassist] Nick [Jost] and [drummer] Sebastian [Thomson]. [Guitarist/vocalist] Gina [Gleason] and I worked really hard on the vocals. We were in the Air BnB for a month, and the goal was to come out with instrumental versions of the songs, specifically all the rhythm parts finished knowing that Gina and I would have all the time we needed to finish guitars and vocals in my home studio. We had all that finished in early 2021, and it was cool and compelling, but I consider instrumental versions of Baroness to be music, not songs, if that makes any sense. For any band that has a vocalist, a song is designed or complete when it has a vocal element or a hook—that’s what we pay attention to first. The vocal approach was a very difficult thing because it’s a lot of music, it’s dense, some of it was improvised, and it was a blank canvas for vocals.
“THE SPIRIT OF THIS BAND IS ALWAYS MOVING OUTWARDS, NOT FORWARDS OR LATERALLY.”
Looking back on it, I don’t really know how to write vocals if I’m not on the road absorbing culture, absorbing places, having experiences with people, and interactions with the outside world, which is typically where I get the most impetus to write lyrics. For about a year and a half, there were little to no vocals on this record. What was surprising was how badly I needed to be out on tour in order to have the inspiration and meaning to balance against my personal musings and introspections. It was all coming out too dark, staring pointlessly into the void with a bunch of uninspired ideas.
Another big change was having a consistent lineup. The spirit of this band is always moving outwards, not forwards or laterally. So, with each record we leave ourselves open at the end for the future. Musically, we found a new way of writing, as this is literally the first record we’ve had with a continued lineup. In two decades of playing music, I haven’t had the experience of developing a depth of chemistry with a band on record. For Stone, there wasn’t some new person to be showing the ropes or who needed instruction on how the band operates in the way every other full-length we’ve done has. We didn’t look backwards at all, so musically speaking, the record was very much an instinctual thing. For the first time in our history, we weren’t talking in terms of who was doing what specifically in a song. We’d played enough together that we could have non-verbal musical discussions, and that’s a little more interesting and feels more genuine when you generate a whole song without talking about it.
Did all that change also mean changes to how you approached the artwork?
In terms of how we make any singular record, I like to try and be pure about my intent and integrity about what we’re doing. So, if everything up to the artwork has succeeded on the basis of instinct, it felt seamless to do it that way. For artwork, I typically do quite a bit of research, collect notes, plaster my studio walls with stuff, but I tried to keep it pretty light on this record. I had some ideas in a sketchbook, but I quite literally put a piece of paper down, started, and didn’t plan it out too much. The idea was to let one thing lead to another. I knew there would be characters and figures as with all our albums, but in terms of the actual details, composition, and some of the choices made along the way, it was also instinctual.
“WE GOT TO MAKE A WHOLE RECORD WITH THE FEELING AND ENERGY OF BEGINNING A NEW SERIES.”
What precipitated the move from color to substance for the title?
(laughs) The simple answer is that for the series of color-themed records, there were only six we ever intended to do. We were just trying to do the color wheel or a rainbow. We had fulfilled the need of that simple idea, and it took us 15 years to do it. For me, the greatest conceptual change that comes with that is that when we were making [previous album] Gold & Grey, we were writing the end of that series, so we had the energy of trying to wrap it up by saying something wild and definitive. Now, with Stone, because of interior and exterior factors that happen to dovetail with our old concept running its course, we got to make a whole record with the feeling and energy of beginning a new series.