If you live in a small town and see an international band, the supporting act usually is actually something to force yourself through. It’s the band you don’t really want or need to see because it is some local band that does the same thing as the main act, only a little or a lot worse. Now, since I live in Berlin, I’ve come to appreciate supporting acts a lot more. I discovered Wye Oak when they supported The Cold War Kids (and subsequently made the CWK-concert boring after their amazing set) and was blown away by Mozes and the Firstborn who supported some fancy Hipster-band I don’t even remember anymore.
Baroness have a rooster of supporting acts that actually turned me to Baroness. In the last few years, I’ve picked one metal album each year to fall in love with. It started 2010 with Mastodon, 2011 with True Widow and 2012 with Royal Thunder. Now, True Widow and Royal Thunder both were supporting acts for Baroness and because Royal Thunder would be the supporting act for a Berlin Gig in October and because I missed them the last time they were in Berlin and because I got a mail from one of my label-contacts informing me about the Baroness show with Royal Thunder as support, I thought, ‘Hey, why not going for a Baroness-interview whilst enjoying Mlny Parsonz live?
So, that’s how it happened and that’s how I got introduced to Baroness (whom I already had heard occasionally on blogger-friend-circles).
Now, their newest but not necessarily new album “Yellow & Green” is somewhat of a departure from their old sounds. Don’t get me wrong, Baroness managed to confidentially yet slowly make their way from the kind of metal that hits you like an iron pole to incredibly complex pieces that give you some room to breathe, so the departure seems more like a necessary step for them to work out the dramaturgy that their albums always have but that really shines on this double-record.
They released their album last year but weren’t able to tour it fully because of a pretty nasty accident that left them recovering for quite some time. If you want to read about that or what they have to say about that, you have to check out pretty much all other interviews with the band, I personally didn’t think that it would be a.) polite to address a potentially traumatic experience b.) necessary as they have covered pretty much all about the accident, the aftermath and the recovery in detail in previous interviews.
One last thing, before we hop right into the interview: These guys are amazing live. I admittedly haven’t seen that many metal bands live but there have been a few and rarely was their sound as clear and focused as these guys’. I am always concerned with intricate metal like this because it tends to sound a lot better on record than live but Baroness don’t fuck around on stage and really work their way through the setlist. That’s rock’n’roll, y’all.
Me: So your new album is not really new.
Pete: I like how you started this. But yes, we are finally getting the chance to tour it like it’s a new album.
Me: What’s the difference when you tour an album immediately after you recorded it and touring an album within the space of one year.
Pete: When you go out right after the album was released, you can see where the record hasn’t caught on yet. You can see where people haven’t totally absorbed the album yet. The album had a long time now to set in and everyone knows the songs now. So we come out now and play, everyone sings along. (…) So it’s interesting to do it this way.
Me: Did you have to relearn the songs?
Pete: No, it’s all there. We’ve played the songs so many times in rehearsing and recording. For me, whenever I record something, I never forget it. It just really sticks with you.
Me: Even the bad stuff?
Pete: Yeah, I try to avoid that.
Me: Do you play the songs as they are on the album or do you reinterpret them?
Pete: There are small parts we reinterpret, maybe in the vocals or some guitar-bits but one thing is for sure: We are not going to write and record something that we can’t actually get away with live. We don’t wanna get too far off in the left field to the point where we can’t play the song. Some songs are like that, we have written some songs like that.
Me: I kind of blazed through the albums in the last couple of days and with each album the sound gets more spacey. Because at the beginning it was like storming through the songs and the last record was so much more spacey. Was that intentional?
Pete: It was to a degree but it also just happened. The Blue Record was really dense in terms of the way we wrote it and the material itself, each song is full of notes, thousands of notes, that record is just notes, loads of notes. A lot of stuff to remember. And after two years of touring on that record – we would play for an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes – we were wiped out. There was no break in the set there was just pummeling all the way through because we were playing the blue record stuff, the red stuff and the earlier EPs which were super heavy. (…) So when we got the chance to take a break to write Yellow & Green, we looked at our set and said, ‘What does our set need?’ We wanted to be a little more dynamic and we wanted to have room for a breath.
We always had the flow but not like now. Now we introduce slower material, spaced out material and still play our old stuff and it fits in there nicely. So, now we can play for an hour and fourty-five minutes and be just as tired or still have more energy. It just gives you a breath, it gives the crowd a break. There’s plenty of bands out there that just nail you to the ground and that’s what they do but maybe we’re not that band.
Me: Is the experience different on stage through that?
Pete: Yeah, I would say so. It allows me to relax more on stage and listen and take it in.
Me: When you’re on stage, are you in the zone or can you actually kind of see yourself and appreciate the moment?
Pete: I can totally appreciate the moment. One thing is for sure, I have the tendency to daydream on stage a lot. And these days my daydreams are quite heavy and vivid which is kind of awesome and I am not going to go into depth as to why – it’s not drugs – but I can actually space out and drift off and think about – I am not going to tell you what I am thinking about but it’s all good. It’s all puppy-dogs and flowers and cats and shit.
Sometimes, it depends, I go in and out, but I can stand there and play and just take it all in. Sometimes, when the sound on stage is right and the crowd’s reaction is just right and everything is happening, you’re feeling it and you can just be right there in the moment.
Me: The first word people use to describe you is usually ‘metal’ but you’re a thousand other genres as well, including this ‘sludge’-thing that I still don’t get…
Pete: Me neither, don’t worry, I don’t get it either, I want to get so far away from that word, it’s not funny.
Me: It’s not even nice, it sounds so horrible. I mean, the music actually sounds nice.
Pete: You’re right, we’re not grimy and dirty.
Me: It sounds like punkrock, you would expect something like snot on the walls that’s sludge…but anyways, what I wanted to ask was, I suppose you played in front of a lot of different crowds and different settings, so what was the weirdest place or festival where you played?
Pete: Just recently at the end of our US-tour we played this show at this really beautiful amphitheatre, it’s called the Gorge in Washington State, beautiful area, huge canyons and the view is magnificent. And we played with some crazy ridiculous hardrock-radiobands. I think Sevenfold headlined that night and we’re not that band…that was weird. And we played for an entire crowd that just didn’t know who we were with the exception of maybe five people. It gets weird. Lots of rocker-dudes with tribal tattoos…
Me: Speaking of weird, did you ever have a Spinal Tap-Moment?
Pete: What’s awesome about Spinal Tap and that you bring that up is the fact that I am watching this since the day it was released in 1984 or ’85. My mom bought that movie on VHS and I sat down with my family at least once or twice a year and watched that movie during the rest of the 80s and through the 90s into the early 2000s, so I can cite the entire movie to you. It was always this kind of family movie. And now that I am in a band and touring, I get it, it is so spot on. Those guys were geniuses.
We definitely showed up to signings at the end of a full set and there was no one there. ‘You have a big signing at this tent’, and you go and just sit there and you’re like, ‘Do I really have to sit here and wait for no one to show up?’ And then one guy comes up and he doesn’t even know who you are.
Me: And those guys are always weird.
Pete: There is always a Spinal Tap-moment, getting lost backstage, all that stuff is so true and every band goes through that, I know they do.
Me: Back to your music. You said over and over again that you’re going to stop with the colors. Do you already have something in mind?
Me :So you’re not a band that writes during touring.
Pete: No. We don’t do that. We very much take time, writing an album. You know, take time, it is important that you have quality over just quantity. There are a lot of bands that just pump out records and tour, pump out records and tour and I hate to say it, but they lack in quality. The bands that do that, it’s just like, yeah ok, they have a gazillion songs and you gotta sift through those songs to find those pieces of gold and I don’t wanna be that band. I want to be that band that takes time and puts energy and effort and quality into the music that we’re doing.
At the end of the day, if I die and I have only written five albums in my life, I hope they go down as classic records that people always will listen to.
We will always take time to go home, be with the families, relax, go home and write and think about it. And not rush, ever.
Me: So how is your creative process, do you work on your own or do you get together?
Pete: All of the above. I’ll be at home – I live five hours from John – and so I’ll be at home and write. And I also have another band called Valkyrie with my brother. So, I am always writing and working on music at home, mainly fishing and/or hunting. John will be writing at his home and I will be writing at mine and we’ll share stuff with each other and then we get together and bounce it off. And maybe I add my bits or we will rearrange it so it works. And you gotta be willing to compromise, that’s the thing, but John and I write well together, we write very well, we communicate the best, almost, with instruments.
Now John writes all the lyrics and I have a real desire to write lyrics, maybe one day I will write lyrics to a Baroness song or two but he writes really beautiful lyrics and I like the way he writes, it sets the mood and the tone for the band. So he will always be the main songwriter in terms of lyrics and everything. But we all take part in that.
Me: Do you have a certain place where you write best or where you write when you have a blockade?
Pete: No, it just comes to me. If I am home relaxed, that’s when I write best. It generally happens when I sit around the house and something gets caught in my head and I just have to get it out or when driving down the road listening to music. I have to turn the music off and hum it all the way home and that’s it. Record it, you better record it because you forget it. You forget it by the end of the day.
Me: One thing that attracted me about the album is the intro. It just draws you in and it is like an epic intro for a movie, so how do you go about that?
Pete: Well, we like intros and outros for that reason. We want to draw you in and have a nice ending. And at the CD where it might end it just goes straight through and picks back up with the intro again and keeps it all flowing.
Now, we will write this at any point like any other song. We write several intros actually. It’s never the last thing, it’s never the first thing, it’s just kinda out there. Like, I played something at the soundcheck today and we thought, ‘Hey, that could be an intro’. And we just save these ideas and bring them out. We’re really analytical writers, we really analyse what we do, we’re not leaving it all up to some producer, we arrange everything to the point where we walk into the studio and all the guy has to do is literally hit ‘record’.
Something we always do for the studio is, we leave bits out, so we can insert them in the studio and wait for that magic to happen because it does happen.
We literally went into the studio with Yellow & Green with it all written out. Day one, in the studio with these songs, these guitars, with these pedals, with these drums, we knew exactly what we were doing. We had to, it was 18 songs, we could not go into the studio with no plan. (…) And we adhered to it, day by day until the last day we were on the last notes.
Me: Is that fun or exhausting?
Pete: It’s exhausting. We are also not a band that wants to stay in the studio for months on end. We’re like, ‘get in, do what you gotta do and go home.’ We’re not trying to sit in the studio. So what we do is we work five to seven days a week depending on the schedule with eight hours, nine hour days, banging it out.
Me: I was really surprised when I looked at your supporting bands because Royal Thunder and True Widow are some of my – I don’t listen to that much metal/something-bands but in the last couple of years I always picked one and in the last couple of years that was basically always one of your supporting acts. How do you choose those?
Pete: We try not to do metal-tours.It’s cool to be on a metal festival from time to time but we’re not a metal band and we’re not an indie-band and we’re not a straight-forward rock-band. We’re all over the place, so it’s fun to find other bands that are similar in the way that they have a genre-mash-up.
Me: So what do you listen to that people wouldn’t expect you to listen to?
Pete: You can hear all kinds of things in Baroness from rock to metal, folk and whatever. What might surprise people is that I play Bluegrass and I love Bluegrass-music. Straight Appalachian/Hillbilly-music because that’s where I am from, that’s what I am surrounded with and I do embrace it and appreciate it. (…) So, that might surprise people.
But then again, every now and then – if you really listen to some Baroness-stuff – I do these little picking patterns that might be reminiscent to Bluegrass or Country. When you bury it in it takes on a different form and you play it along this tempo with an electric guitar and this effect it has got a whole other sound and feel but really, when you strip all that away and play it on an acoustic guitar, you can hear that it’s Bluegrass. That’s what is cool, you can translate that stuff right over and to the ear, you might never pick that up.