Interview: Baroness’ John Baizley discusses the “unexpected” tone of their third album

March 30, 2012 by Annie Zaleski

Interview: Baroness’ John Baizley discusses the “unexpected” tone of their third album

Metal demigods Baroness are so prepared for their third album—which they’re recording with producer John Congleton, who helmed 2009’s Blue Record—that frontman John Baizley knew exactly in what direction the band were going months ago. In fact, they tracked bass and drums for the album last November in Hoboken, New Jersey, right before Baizley gave AP the scoop on what to expect from their new full-length.

Why did you guys decide to go back and work with John Congleton again?
Doing the last record [with him], we [developed] an awesome personal relationship. He and I keep in touch. I pretty much love the sound of every record he does; he’s a wonderful engineer and producer. I think of him is as someone who doesn’t really pay any attention whatsoever to the order-of-the-day production techniques—he’s the guy who’s just trying to put out records that sound good regardless of the time period. What we’re trying to do is work with somebody who’s not going to make our record sound dated in 10 years. He’s a good friend, got a great ear, and he’s worked with the band before, so I think one of the most important things with this session is that we didn’t have to meet anybody to get tracking. We just showed up at the studio and it was like we hadn’t skipped a beat since we saw him last two years ago. We got straight down to business.

That’s so nice. I’ve talked to bands before where the producer tryout process is rough.
Yeah, there are guys that are heavy handed, guys that trust the band implicitly; there’s all sorts of studio m.o.’s that the producers have. John just works with us. We basically show up with records written, he engineers them, we assess the music, and he weighs in on important, over-arching things and gets involved in some of the composition. But, really, I think he’s got a fairly unique sound—one that works really well with our band.

The thing I love about his records is there’s not one of them that sound like anybody else’s record. He’s definitely got this sonic imprint that doesn’t color the music the music you’ve written. It doesn’t change the way we play or the way we write or record—he just sort of harnesses the energy we’ve got. It doesn’t do that contemporary hard rock/metal thing that I, frankly, hate. He definitely was being inventive during recording, mixing, post-production—all that stuff. For a band like us, adrift in an ocean of “heavy” bands, the thing any band is looking for is something to set them apart so you’ve got your own voice speaking. He helps bring that out.

How would you describe the material you’ve been working on? How does it fit in with the rest of your catalog?
I demoed all the songs [last] year when I was writing them. I can say with complete confidence that the record is different. I think it’s been part of our process since day one that we buck repetition in our songwriting and in everything else—that we’re constantly giving ourselves some work to do, lest we fall back and sit on whatever laurels we’ve earned at this point.

What we did at the very beginning was talk about what we wanted to do. It was an absolutely unanimous decision within the band to push our sound outwards a little bit. The record’s going to be really reactive—whether it’s positive or negative, [anybody who hears it is] definitely going to have a reaction to it. We tried to do different things. We tried to improve and clarify some of our songwriting.

The result is that, on the whole, the record’s got a much broader palette of songs. There are some moments where we’re sticking to some of the foundations we’ve laid down and others where it’s a brand new type of song for us. Doing something like that is kind of a risk, especially when you’re so closely associated with a grouping of bands or style or label. That just isn’t something we care about. I feel just internally between the members of the band, we’ve taken some real risks and some risks that were absolutely worth taking for us and bore some interesting truths musically for us. It’s kind of cliché to say “expect the unexpected,” but when I listen to some of the stuff we’ve written, for my ears, it’s unexpected.

I’m very pleasantly surprised with what we were able to do in terms of making the record. There’s more material, but everything is a little bit more direct. I think with the last record we had maxed out on this kind of songwriting that we had been accustomed to, with these kind of dramatic shifts within each song. It was sort of like, don’t look back, and just keep pushing through the song. We had twists and turns and all sorts of things going on.

In the past couple years of touring, I started to become more and more impressed by songwriters who were able to really catch one direction with a single song and keep it orthodox and pure. You’ve got some set intent with one song, and you just don’t deviate from that line until the song is over. As many things as we used to say in one song, now I think we’re spreading out into the course of two or three songs.

It’s a little hookier. I’ve sort of adopted the stance that I wanted to write some songs that were more malleable so you could play them in other styles or tempos—or you could arrange them in different ways, but you still have a similar song. You have more of a choice as to where you take it, so structurally it is simple on a song-by-song basis, but much more rich over the course of a record.

It sounds like it’s given you guys a lot more flexibility. I totally understand what you mean where some people expect bands to stay the same and write the same record five times over again. It’s so limiting, and I imagine for a musician it must be such drudgery. It’s almost like you need to push yourself forward.
You make this bed that you’ve got to lay in. When you’re a young band, you don’t think “Well what’s it going to be like to play these songs three years from now and hundreds of times later?” It’s not that the material becomes boring, but if you’re working in a box too much, you become hyper-sensitive to it. If we’re still playing shows in five years—and we’re still going to be playing these songs and they all sort of feel the same to me—I’d like to have a better selection of ammunition so we can tell a better story. If you’re only going to say one thing, why say it over and over again? As a listener and music fan, I’m not always enthralled by bands that have a formula and adhere to it ad infinitum.

The one thing lamentable with contemporary music is that there’s an implicit fan base response that you need to come out fully formed as a band. There’s no patience for the progressive bell curve. Some of my favorite bands, when you listen back to their body of work, you are able to see this course developing and you can see a band really honing in on what it is that makes them unique in the whole wide world of the music business.

When the book closes on us, I hope people are able to say, “Look, there was constant growth. There was constant challenge.” That’s interesting for me as the person in the band, and I hope it’s interesting for the listeners. But again, that’s the ultimate risk. At some point, you run out of dark alleys to run down. And then the fear is you start grasping at straws and you starting writing this ridiculous music. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I want to be challenged and I want to present a challenge. I don’t want it to stay the same—I want things to become different, even at the risk of making mistakes.

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