Interview: John Dyer Baizley of Baroness

by Jack Diablo
Baroness from Savannah, GA have been making serious waves after the release of their sophomore full-length, the Blue Album. Decibel magazine named it their number one album of 2009 and the pre-order for the limited 3XLP vinyl edition sold out on the first day. EU spoke with lead singer / guitarist John Dyer Baizley in anticipation of their upcoming Orlando show.

EU Your new record, the Blue Album has ben described by some as poppier and proggier that its predecessor, the Red Album. Were there any particular influences that contributed to the sound change?
John Dyer Baizley: I don’t think there were any particular influences. I think it has a lot do with how much we toured with the last record and the range of bands that we toured with and maybe the guys in the band, we’re all getting a little bit older and our interests are getting more melodic. We’re able to use melody now a little bit more convincingly than in the past.

EU: When you are writing albums, is there an underlying concept?
JDB: Yeah. Well, with this one there wasn’t a very very deeply underlying concept. With our last record, the Red Album, we wrote this very reactive record in that each song was a kind of reaction to something external. If that was another song or a piece of artwork or literature, that’s what the last record had a lot to do with. With this record, the reactions were all very internal, you know we wanted to write something that was personal to us. So we used experiences and a lot of the baggage that we each brought to the band as a theme or as a concept. And like you said, it’s very underlying, it’s meant to be there for us and sort of flavor the music for everyone else.

EU: Do the colors that you’ve named your full-lengths after have anything to do with the content of the albums?
JDB: Absolutely. I think that there’s a very heavy-handed way that you could use that type of chromatic titling. We try to avoid that in that blue is like a sad or somber color. We thought it was more a reflective color or an internal sort-of shade I guess. I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about that without either sounding really heavy-handed or really vague. But you know, we have our own reasons for it. We felt all in all that that was the tone of the material when compared with our last record so it was a very obvious choice for us. There are very many reasons although not all of them make a whole lot of sense when I say them out loud (laughs).

EU: You recorded in Dallas at The Track Studio which seems like an unusual location considering some of the other groups they’ve recorded. What made you chose them for this album?
JDB: It wasn’t as much the studio as it was the producer (John Congleton). We intentionally worked with a producer who had very limited experience working with a band like ours, meaning a heavy-influenced or a metal-influenced band. Like I said, he has nothing in his back catalogue of projects that had much to do with that so we figured, here’s a guy who’d fresh, who has a fresh set of ears, no preconceptions and doesn’t adhere to any of the strictures because he’s never had to. But whose ear and taste for producing records was great to us. There is something timeless and sort of honest and genuine about all of his recordings. So he was just outside of the box and the risk that we needed for the record.

EU: All of you are originally from Lexington, VA but the band came together in Savannah and I noticed a write-up today in SPIN about Baroness, Kylesa and Black Tusk. Why did you guys move there and what makes it such a breeding ground for heavy bands?
JDB: Everything with our location and our geography I think has to do with pure happenstance. I moved down there. At the time, our original guitar player was down there as was Pete who is our current guitar player. Summer, our bass player moved down oh, ya know, a year later and Allen came down a couple years after that. We’ve sort of filtered in and out. Only two of us actually live there full tim as of now. We are Southerners and when I was making the choice to move out of Lexington, it was just a city that at the time had a lot of appeal to me. The way that that city works its magic on bands is that it’s a very small town, it’s a very hermetically-sealed town that’s not close enough to anything to be affected by it. It’s got a very peculiar landscape, a very peculiar climate. All of which sort of shut you in that town and all of which lend themselves to the music that we make in one way or another. It’s a hot town. In the summer it’s above 100 degrees every day and it’s always 100% humidity. So there’s something to be said about the claustrophobia, some of the oppressiveness or heaviness in the music that comes from there. But really the cool thing about the town is it is so small and there’s so few bands there. We’ve all got the time and the space that we need to develop our own individual sounds to an alarming degree without any band – keeping up with the Joneses type of thing. We really are able to spread our wings there and do what we feel is comfortable and natural to us.

EU: You do all the album art for Baroness and many other bands as well. Your signature style has become easily recognizable and seems to be in high demand. What inspired your style?
JDB: Everything inspired that style. I grew up listening to punk rock, hardcore, metal, that kind of stuff and I also had a great love for classic rock. Also, I grew up in a family with a background in art history. So I really got the full-on art schooling from everything from 7″ covers and fan-zines to the great modern and classic masters. And I think there’s a little bit of all of that that eeks its way into my work. Additionally, while my work tends to be hidden in metaphor and heavy imagery, it’s very personally based. I bring whatever my experiences are to the artwork and I bring whatever my artistic background is to it as well. So there’s a little bit of that stuff that’s held in generally high esteem and there’s stuff that’s lesser-known and more underground that works its way in.

EU: When you play in Orlando you’ll be sharing the stage with Torche, Iron Age and Dark Castle. Did you have much say in choosing your supporting acts and what is the relationship between those bands and Baroness?
JDB: Well we always pick the bands that we tour with. I feel like it’s important to tour with bands that you feel strongly about. I don’t think there’s any one common theme or common thread running through those three particular bands other than that, we in Baroness find them all to be exciting bands that play good music and have a fresh take on it. And at the end of the day, it’s music that we like to listen to, that gets us moving.

EU: Finally, besides art and music, do you have any other personal aspirations?
JDB: I’m sure I do but I think all my aspirations are in some form or another related to either art or music. They are now and will probably always be the focus of my life. I don’t have any other secret interests. Well, other than cooking. I love cooking (laughs). I guess it’s food, art and music. Sensory pleasures.