Band website: www.baronessmusic.com
August 15, 2012 was the day that everything quite literally came crashing down for Atlanta rockers Baroness. On tour in England, their bus plunged nine metres after sliding off a viaduct near Bath in the rain, injuring all on board but thankfully killing no one. Such a spectacular brush with death could have ended the band for good, with spinal injuries to drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni forcing them to leave. Yet frontman John Baizley and guitarist Pete Adams eventually decided to push on, the experience actually further crystalising the deep love of their craft.
“Before the accident we were very happy to be playing music, very happy to be on tour and very proud of the record we had done and happy to tour on it,” Baizley says. “For a while it seemed as if that might not be a reality anymore, and that was terrifying. There was short-term damage to our confidence and our psyches and once we set our minds to task and figured out that we could in fact get ourselves back out on tour and be active again and re-engage the adventure of being in a band and touring, then it was great. We were back! But I think we’ve got a greater appreciation for things now.”
Rather than let it ruin his life or frighten him from the road forever, Baizley says the accident has made him realise how important being in a band is to him and he feels a sense of enormous relief that he can continue with Baroness. He feels that he has now had his eyes opened to a whole new perspective on what it means to be part of a successful touring and recording band.
“As musicians, we tend to speak hyperbolically. Everything’s gotta be this grandiose declaration of intent,” he declares. “I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s so easy to be in a successful band and you’re up on stage and all these people are paying admission price to get tickets to see your show, it’s easy to put a mic up to your mouth and say, ‘We do this because we love it,’ and ‘If it wasn’t for you guys we wouldn’t be doing this’. I think very few of us get the opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, and we have. We have proof that we’d rather be playing music than anything else, because it almost didn’t make sense for us to get back together and play again.”
While the crash didn’t have the tragic aftermath of the one that involved their sometime touring fellows Metallica many years ago, there are striking parallels. The accident came at a particularly cruel time for Baroness. With their critically lauded third album Yellow & Green cracking the US Top 40, the group was on the verge of major worldwide recognition and the recovery cost them more than six months’ momentum. But recover they did, albeit with the rhythm section of Blickle and Maggioni having to depart due to extent of their injuries. With Nick Jost and post-rock pioneering drummer Sebastian Thomson of Trans-Am now part of the line-up, Baroness began touring again in May.
“Pete and I decided to carry on,” Baizley says, “but now I – and I don’t want to speak personally here, but now I have a lot of physical infirmities that make the reality of being a touring musician more difficult. But it’s still worth it. I still love it, in spite of all that. I still want to get out and play.”
Yellow & Green marked a significant departure from the band’s earlier recordings, with less heavy riffing and an expansion of their experimental, ambient and electronic sides. Drawing universal plaudits from the music press as one of the best releases of 2012, Baroness fans were somewhat more split in their opinion, many expressing disappointment with the musical direction the double album takes. John Baizley understands the reaction.
“We are in a very subjective creative field. It is much easier to upset people than it is to please them. We can both agree on that, correct?” he says. “We play guitar based rock n roll, which hasn’t been a new thing for fifty years. So we’re in a weird music climate with a weird style of music. I don’t anticipate that we will speak for everybody out there. In fact, that would be preposterous.”
He is unapologetic to the point of defiance about the shift, however.
“Given that reality,” he continues, “we’ve got a couple of options. One, we can stick to our guns and maintain our creative integrity and do what we want to do, for ourselves in the hope that our intent, our passion will play over to a wider, more inclusive audience. Or, we can try to appeal to fans who have some sense of what they think we are. In a lot of cases we maintain a sense of ourself but in another direction, I think that we’re pandering. I don’t want to fucking pander. I didn’t get into music so that I could make other people happy. I got into music because I wanted to piss people off. I needed an outlet for my anger and my angst and my aggression.”
Growth and development of their sound is something that Baizley has always looked towards for Baroness. Each new release has seen a departure from the previous one, and with the addition of Thomson, with his post-rock background, to the band, even Baizley is reluctant to suggest where Baroness may end up on the next album.
“It’s just part of the growing process,” he says of the band’s musical journey so far. “Sometimes we’re accelerating and some parts are growing faster than others, but the point of this band is – and it’s probably not the point of all bands – but the point of this particular band is that we grow and we offer ourselves the opportunity to grow. That we open doorways to potentially diversify ourselves. I would rather not say everything through one filter. The spectrum of creatable music is infinite. I think we would be remiss if we tried to limit ourselves to one particular thing. The exciting and interesting thing for Baroness is that there a lot of musical paths you can take, and it’s always been a fun and adventurous trip to discover each new album.”
Prior to the release of Yellow & Green, Baizley undertook a personal adventure when he toured Australia and New Zealand with Scott Kelly of Neurosis, performing as a solo musician and acoustically for the very first time. Describing it as “a lesson in humility, but … also a lesson in performance”, it was something he greatly enjoyed too.
“That was amazing. It was terrifying,” he says. “I remember I had been working on the layout for the LP all day the day before and I was sending the artwork to the printer as I was taking off to fly to New Zealand to start the tour there. I had no idea what to play. Not a clue. It was super fun, it was very informative for me. It was really nice to be put out on a limb like that and Scott’s a great friend of mine. Any opportunity to tour with him is one I’ll take.”
The way he talks about it, John Baizley will ensure that Baroness will also take any opportunity to play on the Soundwave Festival. After making their debut on the tour in 2010, the band will be back again in 2014. Baizley reckons that it’s so comfortable, it feels like they’re cheating the system when they play it.
“It’s a pretty luxurious thing to be picked up, to be catered to for two weeks in a row and to work for roughly 45 minutes to an hour every few days. I’m sorry, that’s not how the rest of touring works. It’s not the way the rest of the world works. So it’s as much a vacation for us as anything else. It’s a really, really pleasant experience. And I’m only going on about it because we don’t take it for granted,” he says. “The food’s great, the hospitality is fantastic, the accommodation is great, the transportation’s well organised, it runs super smoothly. It’s a festival that we always look forward to playing because there are so many circumstances on the road where you don’t get those nice and easy comforts, let alone all of them at once.”
Catch Baroness at Soundwave:
22/2: RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD
23/2: Olympic Park, Sydney NSW
28/2: Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne VIC
1/3: Boynthon Park, Adelaide SA
3/3: Claremont Showground, Perth WA