Baroness

Baroness
With the release of debut full-length The Red Album (Relapse) in 2007, Savannah, GA technical dirt metallers Baroness have proven themselves to be on par with like-minded genre heavyweights such as Neurosis and Mastodon. Initially praised for the weight and extensiveness of their fundamental EPs, The Red Album found Baroness — drummer Allen Blickle, guitarist/vocalist John Baizley, bassist Summer Welch and guitarist Brian Blickle — trying their hand at something equally complex yet slightly more concise: paring down songs from the 15-minute epics that graced their early work. Naturally, this shift in structure split proponents between adoration, confusion and frustration. However, with time to process The Red Album, even the wet blankets have calmed down and grown to love it. Delivering enduring blows thanks to its union of tempered serenity offset by relentless attacks, The Red Album reveals many layers, from the preliminary entertaining thrusts to more intricate, almost orchestral progressions. This in turn has found Baroness touring unceasingly over the past year, garnering infinite praise, including The Red Album being championed as top selection in the Exclaim! 2007 Aggressive Tendencies Year In Review. Baizley reveals the Baroness state of mind on the heels of hitting the road once again, this time as a featured act on the 2008 Exclaim! Aggressive Tendencies Tour.

The past year has been particularly busy for Baroness. The Red Album is still a hot commodity.
John Baizley: Up until July, we were basically on tour for a year, with very short, long-spaced breaks off. Now that we’ve been off for just over a month, everyone is just enjoying the break wherever they are. We spent a lot of time in our van driving across Canada or wherever for 28 hours at a time. We’ve been taking it easy. I’ve been making artwork for bands pretty steadily while those guys work on their houses. We’re all trying to re-establish our personal lives.

A year of touring takes its toll on the personal front.
Yeah, and then we come back to Savannah and have record-highs all week long coupled with the tail end of a hurricane, so there’s rain and wind everywhere. Some break.

Well, at least being a part of the Aggressive Tendencies tour will pull you out of the storm.
We’re really looking forward to that. For the first four years of our existence, we only got up there sporadically, usually illegally. Most recently we were up there with Coheed & Cambria, so we got in front of larger audiences. They were amazing shows so we’re excited to come back.

As noted, The Red Album has been out for over a year but you’ve been touring non-stop. How does that affect writing new material?
I’ve got a crazy work ethic so even though we have a break, I’m putting stuff together, if for no other reason than so that we have fresh material for us on stage. Touring as much as we do, it gets tough playing the same material so many hundreds of times a year. New material here and there keeps us involved with our live stuff. At this point now, I think we have a sizeable chunk of our new album written, which we’ll play on this upcoming tour.

What does the new music sound like? You’ve always noted that you prefer not to tread the same ground.
It’s hard to quantify the progression because generally, I don’t see it in the same terms as our audience does. People’s reactions to The Red Album were pretty drastic compared to our earlier EPs. The thing is though, at the core of it we’re not doing anything different. We’ve just logged more hours on stage so our writing faculties have broadened. When we sit down to write, we have that much more experience or inspiration. I guess we’re getting better at playing over the years too. I think prior to The Red Album, with the EPs, we got into the habit of writing long, drawn-out songs. Going back and listening to them, they really sound like a number of songs squished together. The difficult thing for us is to streamline our writing and trim the fat off the songs so that with each new song we understand ourselves a bit more. We can speak more truly about ourselves through the music. It’s challenging for us to take 12 minutes of music and condense it into three minutes of pertinent songwriting.

Most people would probably say the converse: a three-minute song would be easy to write while a 12-minute epic would be impossible.
I guess it is weird. We started off writing 15-minute songs — nothing wrong with that — but as musicians, our primary goal is to remain challenged and engaged with what we write. It became bread-and-butter to write 12-minute things so instead of resting on our laurels, we decided to attack our weaknesses and write a short rock’n’roll song. When we first did that, it was a difficult process.

At least you faced it head-on and beat it. Now you have to find a new hurdle to get over.
Oh, I’m sure we will. Having entered that realm, we’re finding the strengths and weaknesses with the last record and again, we’re not content to rest on The Red Album. The next [album] will certainly have a different direction. To add onto those difficulties though, we have to write music that’s ours, sounds like us and has the unique properties of what we’re doing. At the end of the day, it has to speak to us. We have to get excited and pour ourselves into it.

Are you anticipating the same drastic reaction to your new material that people had with The Red Album, even though initial detractors seem to be onside after having time to digest it?
I’m the last person to know. I’m just surprised at how excited I still am at playing shows. This far in, this many years in and thousands of shows, I still love it. I think it’s the upward progression of the band that’s a part of what excites me. From day one we meant to challenge ourselves and we’re excited to find new [challenges], take the weaknesses of the band and turn them into our strengths. That keeps us excited. I never set out for the easy path, to write easy music. I hope our audience hears and appreciates those challenges. Obviously the negative reactions to The Red Album proved it was a challenge for some people. But both the positive and negative sides are great and stand as a testament to our desire for progression, that it has been exciting for us and shown through in our recordings.

That’s a respectably humble outlook.
I think humility is of ultimate importance for any musician. There have been thousands of bands that have proven that over the ages. We don’t exist when people stop listening so we — the musicians — are the lucky ones at the end of the day.