Exclusive interview – hellfest.fr: BARONESS [John Baizley (vocals & guitar)]
“When I look back it’s like I should have slept last year”
John Baizley – Tilburg – April 21, 2017
I feel like in Philly you’re just a super connected punk and here you’re the curator of a festival. How does it feel to have that sort of duality?
I don’t see it as duality. If I did I would have to act differently. I think that one thing we have done over the years that has been really important to us is to act the same as we would in a DIY space as we would on gigantic stage. That’s the interesting thing and something I don’t see very often in that larger world of music, people who come from intimate backgrounds and don’t step into the cult of celebrity and try to enlarge the persona. For me it’s important that we dispel that myth. It’s not always the easiest thing to do and professionally speaking its not always the best thing to do but for us there’s no alternative, that’s what we are. It would be difficult for us to ask egotistical and self important. It would be doing a band a disservice and be unnatural if we accepted the idea that a stage makes you taller and better.
I want to inspire the people the way I was inspired in the 90s by all these weird musicians who were suddenly getting attention and notice for the artistry of their music, not the commercial value of it. When I was a kid and couldn’t play worth a damn I was inspired by those acts to play music. I don’t think the best inspiration I can offer is a larger than life unrealistic version of myself. I’m content the way I am. I’m happy we don’t have to do that, that we don’t have to shut up who we really are to be public. We have to keep the private stuff private but I think it’s important that there are bands out there that don’t need to buy into celebrity or false humility. You can be proud and self confident but also make mistakes. I love to make mistakes, I’m fine with them.
How do you communicate that attitude to someone who is a fan of a band like Metallica?
Through action. You have to play genuinely. We don’t sweat the kind of details that some acts at that level do in terms of the way they look and move around and operate with tons of people around them and shutting themselves off to the average ticket buyer. For me an important part of our night is after the set when we make ourselves available to the audience to speak to them. We want to show that what we are doing is achievable by anyone as long as you put in the sacrifice and dedication. You do have to get lucky at several points along the road and that’s what’s happened to us but because we’ve been so lucky we have to have this gratitude for what got us there in the first place.
I’ve always been struck by your kindness, how do you remain so nice in the face of so much adversity?
The adversity and the traumas and the anxieties and the pitfalls and that have caused us great injuries aren’t fundamentally different from the same things everybody goes through. The fact that after like this big thing that happened to us still had us walk away unchanged in our passion and our love for what we do and our dedication and focus to move forward that was more than anything a lesson for me that things that change you as a person and make things more difficult for you don’t need to sour you on life in general. I know that for an hour and a half every night I don’t have to feel like I’m in pain, I don’t have to feel all the weights and stresses of every day life and that’s what music is for the audience too. As you know I’m a frequent audience member .That’s the same feeling for me. I want to see up tempo music and feel good or down tempo stuff and reflect. For Baroness we try to be fans and musicians and human beings who take what we do seriously but don’t mind laughing at things and showing people that there is a human side to popular music.
Obviously you’ve signed with Q Prime Management and you’re not typically there kind of band, how does that work when you’re talking to people who are used to marketing Metallica and you want to maintain punk roots?
The idea of maintaining punk roots does not preclude growing! There’s a misconception in punk that that it is. Then you get this thing where you start getting big and everyone kind of leaves you, and that happened to us with some people. With other people that knew us better or had a wider taste in music they understood what we were doing. It wasn’t that we were saying goodbye to one thing and trying to run into something else, we were just changing. You need to work with change. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting picked up by a management company that has been working with bands like Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers for so many years or if it’s just kind of downsizing, it doesn’t really matter. You have to appreciate what you’e doing and take opportunities as they come.
With Q Prime specifically their management style is to take the talent and direction artists have and help that. There has never been a discussion to change something to be more marketable. It’s more about honest discussions. If for example we were to deliver a record that wouldn’t be a commercial success it would be mentioned. They would ask something like “Are you guys 100% into this, because it will be a tough sell.” But if we said yes then that’s where we would go with it. We would just alter the way that things happen given the material we have. No matter how large that company might seem and the company we keep might seem at points but what we’re doing and what a lot of those acts are doing is to stay invested in what they do. It doesn’t get easier for anybody.
You do want to move forward and grow and part of that is not staying exactly the same all the time, taking risks, going places you’re not necessarily comfortable or familiar with and if they’re not working out then you bounce. But if the relationship is good and positive and creative then why say no? It’s all about the individuals ethical, moral and creative compass. If it fits your mentality and your direction then saying no to opportunities is a mistake. If it’s bad and is counter to your interests then don’t do it. But we have always taken the opportunities and the risks that would benefit us the most creatively. Financially – whatever. We’re musicians we never thought we would make a ton of money. If it comes great, if it doesn’t that’s what we expected.
The idea that we can have more creative opportunities and work with a wider range of people and play on a more diverse set of stages and audiences is what Baroness is about, being inclusive. We want to cast a wider net. Nothing will work 100% of the time. We’ve done that for years with everybody though. We’ve taken on managers and agents and what not with that attitude though. So when I couldn’t tour manage anymore because it was hurting what we were doing on the road because I didn’t have the time or capacity we hired somebody. When we couldn’t book ourselves 100% we had to hire an agent. Largely I want people who say “I don’t think I can make money off you, but I like what your thing is and want to see what we can do together.” Those are the relationships that I have.
You’re very much come into this role as a sort as an artist across a variety of platforms, how do you build up yourself up to be this kind of renaissance man, where is that background from and why do you follow it?
I’m very bad at coming up with a plan and achieving a specific goal. I more or less just go where my gut tells me to go. I’m pretty neurotic and have a lot of energy so I’m constantly doing things. I don’t consider myself a renaissance man by a long shot but I do have interests and I don’t see why I shouldn’t pursue those. Especially when they run parallel to what I’m already doing. My biggest fear as an artist is that I get bored or things become stale for me. Unfortunately a lot of those are high energy, huge sacrifice, huge commitment kinds of things. It’s not always healthy but it allows me to do what I want to do. Unfortunately that’s my primary interest in life, being a part of something and being energized, oftentimes at the expense of my time, social life and body and mind, it’s work but it’s work. I like to work. I only say it’s unhealthy because when I look back it’s like “I should have slept last year.” Sometimes I feel like I’m getting worn down to a nub. I’m not less interested, I’m more interested now. I have seen what I’m capable of and that’s not enough. I want to achieve more personally.
Interview: Matt Bacon.