Baroness has been grinding on the stoner rock scene for close to seven years now. I first heard about them around 2004 and since then they have gone on several regional and national tours, signed to Relapse Records and are currently in the process of releasing a new record The Blue Record. I had the opportunity to speak with the band’s shaman and spiritual guru John Balzary. Here is the conversation that ensued.
When most people think of Savannah, the city conjures up images of the tremendous annual St. Patrick’s Day festival, historic homes and cemetaries, Tybee Island…pretty much everything written about in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. However, a thriving stoner rock/metal scene is not what comes to mind. Can you please describe the current music scene in Savannah?
There’s really not much of an established scene. There aren’t many musicians, but the people here really put a lot of effort into it and care about what they do. It’s more quality over quantity. There are just not that many people here. For instance, we’ll have our cd release party and the same 150 people show up over and over and over…and it’s been like that in Savannah for six or seven years.
Who are some of your favorite bands coming out of Savannah? What about the Atlanta area?
The scene we’re a part of is really small. Obviously bands like Kylesa and Black Tusk, I suppose I’m more familiar with the bands that don’t exist anymore. In Atlanta it’s about the same. Maybe Mastodon…it seems like a lot of younger bands come and go, but it’s still a tight-knit community in our scene.
Baroness just released a new album called The Blue Record. From a mainstream perspective, you’re still classified as a rookie/novelty act, what do you think when you see bands like Mastodon selling only 40,000 copies in their first week? How does that affect you and your label’s strategy in terms of marketing the record to fans and getting people to purchase the record instead of downloading it?
Honestly my thing is not about people purchasing records. My end point is not about selling records. It’s really more about the art as opposed to the “commercial packaging.” We enjoy throwing ideas around in the band to keep ourselves interested. However, I think it’s great when bands like Mastodon, who have the same roots as us, are doing well and get out there. There’s a community of bands and fans who enjoy this music and it’s good when the entire scene is elevated.
Aside from the departure of two guitarists (Brian Blickle and Tim Loose) Baroness has existed as a cohesive unit for six years, what has the journey been like? Would you change anything?
I would not change a single thing that has happened. We’re a process-oriented band, the reason we create the music we create is because it tests our mental and physical boundaries and stamina. That struggle and inertia is what we strive for. An easy week is something counterproductive to us. I love being put on the road and exposed, everything is raw. That’s what the real world and art is like, that’s what we’re about. We have potentially done things slowly and we try to maintain a certain amount of humility and gratitude. Ultimately, we are after the unattainable goals or goals that modify themselves after being reached.
Describe the songwriting and recording process behind The Blue Record ?
It was similar to most of our writing processes. I’ll start with some broad ideas or concepts and apply these thoughts towards what I’ve done in the past. What I’ve done in the past, but in a progressive manner so that we’re growing. We assemble more parts and pieces. Pete (guitarist) and I are very critical from a personal standpoint, not really for pop sensibilities. During the writing process, especially in our earlier days, every riff had to say something to us, be personal and strike a chord within us. We work on these riffs until things start to become visible and once things become clear, we add bass and drums. Sequencing was very important so things could be properly structured and laid out. Once that happened, we practiced the shit out it in the practice room and laid down the record in the studio.
Baroness worked with John Congleton on this new record. He produced and engineered it. Congleton has worked with some big artists in the past (Explosions in the Sky, Black Mountain, the Roots, Erykah Badu, Marilyn Manson, the list goes on), how did having him in the studio affect the writing process?
I think we had this notion that he would be this hot shot dude with slick hair, but he’s not. He is very humble, honest and irreverent. It was like having someone else in the band, it didn’t feel like we were in a recording studio. His m.o is not some heavy handed, I’m at the helm relationship. His strength is his engineering know how and disarming personality. He trusted us, took our songs, ideas directions and put it through his filter. He allowed what we wanted to transpire. Looking back, he was such a pivotal point and familiarized us with things we did not know. It would not have been possible in the same way. He’s a fantastic producer and incredible guy. He was instrumental in the making of our record.
Well I’m sure you will garner John an even bigger clientele base after people read your kind words.
(Laughs) Yeah, hopefully.
Your last album was called the Red Album and this one is the Blue Record. Are you trying to utilize colors in some sort of concept or theme?
That’s exactly what we’ve done. The thing is the material inside is so dense. Musically, artistically dense, there’s a lot of emotional response. It would be difficult to give our albums poetic titles that didn’t come off as pretentious or heavy handed. We want to leave it up to the audience and be open to interpretation.
John, you designed the artwork for the Blue and Red records, in addition, you do all the band’s artwork. What’s your artistic background like?
It’s the same as my musical background. I love making artwork when I’m not making music. I went to art school, didn’t graduate, but I’ve applied the training I received. It has always been in my past, you can look at my baby pictures and see me doing some kind of art. My parents were encouraging and allowed me to take chances…which I’m sure was risky for them. In a sense it’s not a super profitable career, but it’s a great job and I love it.
Baroness is signed to Relapse Records. Relapse has helped to catapult the careers of several artists, namely Mastodon and Neurosis. Do you view your current indie label as a stepping stone to a major or are you content where you’re at? Could you picture yourself going independent after fulfilling your label obligations?
Relapse is so incredibly nice and good to us. They have provided for us when we need them to. I am personally friends with so many people at the label. They have been hands off when it comes to our creativity and artistry. I have no reason to complain about anything and enjoy working with people I respect and give them their due respect.
What new artists have been influencing you lately?
I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to that. I don’t think I can answer that the way you would like me to. When we toured on the Red album, we toured with some incredible bands and it was like going to school. We use what we learn on the road and from other bands. We’re constantly trying to address our weaknesses in order to push forward.
Baroness will be performing with Kylesa at the Jinx in Savannah on Oct. 17.
To stream their new record, click here
Tour dates and other info is here