It was around this time last year that Music Feeds last spoke with John Baizley – lead singer, guitarist, chief songwriter and sole original member of Savannah alt-metal heroes Baroness. At the time, the release of Purple – Baroness’ fourth studio album – was imminent, scraping into the final weeks of 2015 and helping to save Christmastime from being entirely dominated by carols. Since its release, Purple has gone on to top the independent charts in the US – it was released on the band’s own label, Abraxan Hymns – and Baizley (also a graphic designer, artist, husband and father) took up with the rest of Baroness to tour it around the world.
This December sees Baroness finally make their way to Australia, both serving as a heavy addition to the diverse Meredith Music Festival bill while also undertaking their first-ever headlining tour. For round two with the remarkably polite and intelligent Baizley, we caught up on Purple‘s reign, his art-making process and whether or not any members of Baroness are keen to run the Meredith Gift during their debut appearance at the Sup.
Music Feeds: Let’s talk about your relationship with Purple – specifically, your relationship with it now as opposed to when it first came out. Have these songs evolved, in a way, by means of you performing them every night? Has that changed the way you think or feel about these songs?
John Baizley: One of my favourite things about the type of music that we play is that it does evolve on-stage in a certain way. In a live setting, you figure out different sorts of ways of playing things. It comes naturally, and the songs evolve. In my opinion, they tend to get better the more that you play them. It’s been very exciting to see that happen to these songs. It’s been awhile since the album came out, but for all intents and purposes it’s still got a lifespan of less than a year as an album. In a way, I kind of feel like we’re still finding out exactly where it is that these songs will end up.
All of the songs of this record have been so great to play – which is weird, because usually with every record we make there’s at least one or two outliers. Every song from the album has gotten a great response when we’ve played it live. There usually comes a time when you’re touring in support of a record and it becomes clear that a couple of the songs aren’t going to be come staples of your diet when it comes to writing the setlist. That’s not been so with this record – so much so, that if we’re ever playing a festival set or have to cut some songs for time, it’s the old songs that are getting scratched out. With Purple, we’re playing it all and we’re still loving every single song.
MF: The artwork for Purple – which was an original artwork you created – was detailed and revealed initially through a time-lapse video that was released as a part of the promotional material for the album. One can only imagine getting to see a work that you must have put so much time into – hours, days, even months – reduced to 90 seconds must have been a surreal experience.
JB: If you can believe, that wasn’t even the beginning of the artwork. That was the point to which I had pen to paper, so to speak, which is never the beginning for me. That’s the fun part. [laughs] In order to create that time-lapse, I had to set up the canvas on an animation stand that I had developed and take a picture ever 45 minutes or so. It was something I had to adjust to – in most cases, for me, it’s not really good to take a break or stop what you’re doing when you’re working and you’re on a roll. I was so pedal-to-the-meddle… I probably haven’t even seen the video itself since it was made. I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I were to look at it now – it feels so long ago for me, and I’ve done so much work since then as far as my art is concerned. It’s all time-consuming and finnicky, but I love doing it. It’s cool to see my art represented that way… I just wish it actually was that fast. [laughs]
MF: What kind of work have you been doing recently, while we’re on the topic of your art? Have you been doing any album covers or the like; or has it been more just personal and private works?
JB: Since completing Purple, I’ve been working on really non-precious, very quick studies of the human form. I’ve been working with models, friends… anyone who’ll let me draw them or do their portrait. Because I have a tendency to be very slow and particular, I’ve been trying to break that habit for a little bit – just to see what it’s like. That way, maybe next time I start a new project I’ll have learned something new. I’m not content to have a well-tuned skill set – I want new ones. I want to learn how to do things that I’m currently incapable of. All I can do is improve. I apply that to my music, too – there’s no time to look back.
MF: The tour in support of Purple has been primarily positive as an experience for both you and your fans. There was, however, an unfortunate incident at a show earlier this year where a woman reported being sexually assaulted. She wrote about it, and you shared it with your Facebook fans with a very clear message that this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable.
JB: On the whole, I genuinely want to believe that a Baroness show is a safe place for everyone. What happened at that show was such a shock to us because it felt like such an isolated incident – we had never had any report of any assaults or violence towards women at our shows before, ever. It seemed natural that we addressed it quickly, and made it explicit that you don’t bring that kind of attitude and that kind of bullshit to our shows. I don’t condone it, the band doesn’t condone it and I don’t know of anyone alive that does. Bizarrely, it felt like we were stating the obvious – like it’s something that shouldn’t even have to be said.
We addressed the issue online with the full consent of everyone that was involved – we wanted to make sure that the woman was not upset or given any undue attention. I reached out as soon as I could to her, and said that if she wanted to get the word out about what had happened to her, I was willing and able to help however I was able to. For better or worse, I’m in a band that has a mouthpiece – if we’re in a position to make it clear that it’s an appalling thing to do, we will take to our platform and do so. I’m very thankful that it hasn’t happened at any of our shows since – and, to my knowledge, has never happened at one of our shows prior. I have a lot of respect for our audiences, and I’m really hoping I get to keep it that way.
MF: Many bands and artists have been taking a stand on the issue this year – do you feel it’s more difficult to navigate and control personally when you’re playing in rooms to fit a thousand people and can maybe only see the first two rows?
JB: When it’s one of our shows, that’s our environment. We try and have as much control over it as we can. The level of responsibility you feel over something like that happening is elevated because of the fact it’s your show. Unfortunately, when incidents like this happen there’s no real way to control it. You feel so helpless when something tragic occurs. If I had my way, no-one who ever attended one of our shows – or any shows, for that matter – would ever do anything like that ever again. Sadly, the reality is that knuckleheads are knuckleheads. Clowns like that will always slip through the cracks. Our mindset from herein is that, if we have any say in the matter, they won’t last long at one of our shows.
MF: A year on from the release of Purple, Baroness are finally headed back to Australia. This tour will be quite special for not only being your debut at the Meredith Music Festival, but also being your first-ever headlining tour here as well.
JB: That’s right. It’s crazy that we haven’t had the chance to do them yet in either Australia or New Zealand – they’re more or less our sole focus these days, so it’s surprising we’ve not yet made a point of doing them there. It dawned on us that it was very much due time, so when the offer came in we instantly said yes.
MF: On the note of Meredith: This is a very different festival to the last one you played in Australia, the second-last Soundwave. While at Soundwave, you were very much a part of a metal-friendly bill, you are definitely a unique heavy act on a line-up that features acts like Sheila E and Peaches.
JB: I much prefer being outside the comfort zone. I think it’s where we excel the most. We want to be an inclusive band. We don’t want to restrict our audience. We don’t want the type of music that we make to be stigmatised, as often as that happens. I feel like there’s enough going on in our music to have some sort of resonance or connection to a listener that hasn’t spent their entire life listening to heavy music. If we’re lucky, they’ll give us a chance and appreciate what we do. We draw from so many more influences than just the immediate spectrum of metal – and I hope that whoever comes to see us at Meredith that hasn’t heard us before or doesn’t like heavy music is able to pick up on that.
Baroness recently released a two-part BTS doco-style video of life on the road; Baroness On The Road. Their Australian tour kicks off this week and includes an appearance at Meredith Music Festival. Dates and details below.
Baroness 2016 Australian Tour
Wednesday, 7th December
Metro Theatre, Sydney
w/ We Lost The Sea & Lo!
Tickets: Live Nation
Thursday, 8th December
The Triffid, Brisbane
Tickets: Live Nation
Friday, 9th December
Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
w/ Batpiss & Child
Tickets: Live Nation
Monday, 12th December
The Gov, Adelaide
w/ Child & Krypt
Tickets: Live Nation
Tuesday, 13th December
Capitol Amplifier, Perth
w/ Skullcave and Bayou
Tickets: Live Nation
Also performing at Meredith Festival…
Meredith Music Festival 2016
Friday, 9th December – Sunday, 11th December
Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, Meredith