What it’s like to be the Baroness of Bad News

 

Source: Photo by Jimmy Hubbard
Source: Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

With Baroness hitting the Commodore Ballroom May 29th in support of their latest release Purple, Vancouver Weekly had a chance to speak with guitarist, vocalist, “the Johnny” of Johnny Welfare and the Paychecks, Rhode Island School Of Design alumni, and founding member of Baroness, John Dyer Baizley.

Vancouver Weekly: This was one of those offers where I saw subject line and didn’t even bother reading the body of the email, I just replied “A thousand times yes”.

John Dyer Baizley: What if the body of the email was “We need you to destroy them in the press”?

VW: It probably would have been something completely salacious, right? I would have had to then, I already agreed and I am a man of my word.

(Laughter)

VW: How sick are you of being asked about the bus accident?

JDB: I’m not, it’s not the only thing that I ever want to talk about but I am comfortable talking about it. I realize that it will be a topic of conversation.

VW: Has how your tour changed? Or are you still on a bus?

JDB: We do, it’s very uncomfortable for me to tour in a van. My arm is of such a nature that if it is pressed up against something like a window or even an armrest for extended periods of time it really becomes irritated and bothersome. Even once I am out of the vehicle, so we are on the bus now, which gives us space, but we have a big enough crew now that we need to move more people than would comfortably fit in a van.

VW: Do you have your own “band bus”?

JDB: No, we really like to tour as a family. We travel as a group; we do everything as a group. I really don’t believe in drawing a hard line in the sand between musicians and the people that help us. They’re a very critical part of what we do. I don’t separate them, plus travelling with two buses would be crazy expensive.

VW: Who is the crewmember that has been around the longest? Can we give them a shout out?

JDB: We have a roadie from Poland that has been with us since 2007. His name is Marek Farba and he is as near and dear to me as my family. If you’re a musician and you have a crew you have to earn the loyalty, trust and respect of your crew and they have to do the same. We work in an environment where we are constantly trying to earn and maintain the respect of everybody around us and that involves treating people equally. So he has been an important part of our team. As has our tour manager Victoria Zanghi who has been with us for several years. Without people like them and people who work for us or have worked for us the tour falls apart. If you have a bad crewmember you would be surprised how much of an impact that it has on your tour. When we book a tour we just assume that everybody who is currently working with us will continue to work with us. We don’t want to go through the whole hiring thing every time. You can look at it as a business or you can look at it as a creative endeavour that everybody is doing something on that they are passionate about. I choose the latter.

VW: Maybe a little devil’s advocate here, but doesn’t a family often sit around and bicker? Maybe the load of work is not even distributed? Whereas a business has more accountability? Or is there an ideal grey area.

JDB: There is, but you can sacrifice the family aspect for a more commercially professional aspect for a more predictable sort of environment and if somebody messes up then they get fired. But I think the better route for us is you hire people you see potential in and they grow with you and you were with them and your success on tour, however you define success whether financial or otherwise as we do, it’s co-dependent on people working together. If people are working because they think things can grow and change and get better then you are going to get more passion poured into everything. And that is in regards to the four of us on stage, but also for everybody who is not on stage who are working longer hours and do less spotlight worthy things. Like our front of house guy who makes us sound good. Our tour manager making sure that clubs are not taking advantage of us and things get organized for us.

VW: Any aspect of getting promoters taking away from your having to deal with them is a good thing.

JDB: That is also a huge help. There was a huge part of our career, if you want to call it that? Where our team was 5-6 people max. Which meant the band and a merchandise person managing a tour and the finances and setup every day. Say a promoter or something at the venue goes wrong during the show, with someone in the band essentially managing the tour you have a real issue. It has gotten to the point where we have accumulated a crew but my policy has always been “never hire until you need to”. So there is no indulgence. Honestly a lot of the time I feel like we’re asking too much of people, because you can do so much up until a point. If I’m asked to do something outside of what is typically looked at as a “musicians responsibility, I’ll do it, but there comes a certain point where I am just outgunned I’m not going to do it as well as somebody else could and if I continue to do it it’s going to cause us to suffer or cause something for us to go downhill. When we reach that point with anything, that’s when we start looking for somebody. It seems like common sense, but it is not. A lot of bands out there will throw money at something, hire a big crew and hope that things will work.

VW: Well, you have to pay all of that money back at some point too.

JDB: Yeah, exactly. Nobody on any Baroness tour got into it because there is money in it. The bubble has been burst about a thousand times over, but there’s not a whole lot of money in this industry until you get to the top of the top level. So if that is the case we just want to get people that really love what they do. If that’s not the attitude and the attitude is “I’m just going to wait till the end of the week to get a paycheque” then find somebody else to work for.

VW: I was talking to Tim Sult from Clutch a couple weeks ago and there are a couple parallels I have noticed, aside from you both being Virginia boys. He mentioned the biggest difference in touring is just how much harder it is in a van.

JDB: It’s just harder. We are human beings and we all require a little bit of distance from each other. Or else you get cranky and the inevitable bickering is going to become more exaggerated. The little issues are going to be big ones, quickly. I have toured in a van much more than in a bus and you get worn down quickly. 10 hours in a vehicle in a sedentary position makes your body ache and your mind exhausted. You’re always operating on fumes; you can sustain that for only so long before you end up getting into jaded territory and that would be terrible.

VW: That and you start relying on the adrenaline you get from being on stage solely just to get through the show.

JDB: Yeah, and for instance we did a tour this past fall that we wanted to play in small venues without all the production. Half those venues you couldn’t have even parked a bus within half a mile of. So we toured in a van and it was a reminder that it wasn’t impossible, it wasn’t miserable, but at this point we can tour on a bus which makes us more comfortable and have a  streamlined / better day. At the end of this tour we’ll have been on the road 5.5 weeks having followed up on a 6-week tour in Europe so if that was in a van we would just be haggard looking.

VW: How has the tour gone so far?

JDB: Europe was definitely amazing. That was the first tour since Purple had been released and it had been out maybe a month or two when we started the tour. Night one we noticed that something very different had happened. The audience was singing all of a sudden, and knew the words. The fact that we had finally crossed that threshold and the majority of the audience knew at least a portion of the songs on our set list and were participating by singing along was critical to that tour feeling like a huge step forward. It was just more fun. When you perform you are essentially having some kind of dialogue, nonverbal dialogue with the audience. There is a back-and-forth; there is no doubt about it. When you put something out and it is reflected back to you in an energetic and positive way, it makes the idea of being on stage and performing on stage more fun. It elevates things and that is reflected back and forth across the set list. By the end of the night everyone is just going ape shit. So we walk offstage like “wow, what an amazing experience we just had” and it is so amazing to bring different people into the same environment that would not happen without the rhythm and the melody, which is a very beautiful thing. It’s what attracted me to music to begin with, the idea of going to see shows and sharing the experience with people.

VW: That first time a stranger, not family, not a friend, but a stranger who didn’t have to comes up to you and shares how your music makes them feel is a very humbling experience. This is that next level?

JDB: Absolutely, along with that you have to recognize that that person has worked however many hours to afford a ticket has come to support you and what you are doing. We are indebted to those people, because that’s not necessarily easy. For some people it takes a lot of effort to go see a show, if they have children or a hefty work schedule or something like that. We are asking a lot, we are asking them to spend their energy and spend their time, and unfortunately it does cost a little bit of money to do it. So we want to make sure that whatever we can do to make that experience worthwhile is done because our fans are critical to us.

VW: You play Vancouver on the 29th at The Commodore Ballroom. Across the street at a venue called The Venue Prong is playing a show. Is there any chance that because Granville Street is already shut down, you could combine the two shows into one giant outdoor extravaganza?

JDB: Ah, no way! Ah dude, that sucks. I hate competing like that. It’s so unfair. That shouldn’t be happening.

VW: I know the logistics of it are impossible at this point but hypothetically speaking a merging of the shows would be a pretty cool thing to do.

JDB: Yeah, that would be amazing.

VW: Who’s opening for you in Vancouver?

JDB: For the western leg of the tour we are touring with a band called Heiress.

VW: So you are in Madison today and whenever I think of Madison Wisconsin I can’t help but associate it with the place that Otis Redding’s plane crashed. The obvious parallel between him having an accident and you having an accident does not elude me. I believe I speak on behalf of millions of people when I say, we appreciate that you were able to sidestep a similar fate. But let’s not end it on that note. I have a million questions here, none of which we broached, so let’s play rapid fire.

Did you play any sports growing up?

JDB: Yeah, I did. I played football for 10 years. American football. I don’t know the rules, I just like hitting people so, I am not really a sports guy but I have played a lot of sports.

VW: So living in Philly now, when Sam Bradford or when Ryan Mathews gets hurt you can step in for them?

JDB: Yeah, as long as they don’t mind having a player with one working arm.

VW: What colour comes next?

JDB: Hopefully none. I think that we are done with it. I hope that we are done with it, can I say that?

VW: Any personal art projects on the go right now?

JDB: Yeah, I am working on 10 things at all times. Whenever I am not on stage I am making art. For example today, I am throwing an event here in Madison before our concert. Next door there is an open space and I work with a silk screen company in Minneapolis Minnesota called Burlesque Of North America and some of them have come to Madison with new silkscreen prints for me and we are going to put on a little art party type thing in a few hours.

VW: Are you doing anything like that in Vancouver?

JDB: Actually, I think that I am. I don’t know the details yet but I will make posts about it soon. I think that we are just now finalizing the details on the where’s and when’s.

VW: Favourite Marine Mammal?

JDB: Well there’s not that many of them… I don’t know…Favourite marine mammal? That’s a very good question. A dolphin, I don’t know, they seem to have fun. That question came from nowhere, man.

(Laughter)