Baroness Interview

Baroness

Baroness‘ latest album is Gold & Grey. I chatted with drummer Sebastian Thomson about the album, their newest member Gina Gleason, his recent stint on Late Night With Seth Meyers, physics and other topics.

Chad Bowar: How did your newest member, guitarist Gina Gleason, come to join the band?
Sebastian Thomson: The way that John (Baizley, vocals/guitar) and Gina met was through the Internet, funnily enough. John also makes pedals with a friend, these Philly Fuzz pedals. Gina had bought some and John talks to the people who buy the pedals. Some conversations started and then they started talking about music and one thing led to another and then we hung out in person and then another thing led to another. And here we are.

In addition to guitar, she’s also providing some backing vocals. How has her addition impacted the band?
It’s been amazing. Musically she’s a total shredder, which is awesome to have in the band. And it’s like you said with the vocals. John and Pete (Adams, former guitarist) had a certain way of doing harmonies and now John and Gina have another way of doing it, which is kind of cool. I think it adds a whole new dimension to the album.

This is album number two for you. Compare and contrast the songwriting process from your perspective for Gold & Grey compared to Purple.
There was one thing in common, which is the majority of the band songs start with me sending John some drum recordings. I’ll send him like 10 ideas and he’ll choose five or six of them. And then he’ll start writing riffs or progressions over it. But the big difference is that on Purple, we were super prepared when we got to the studio. Everybody knew what they were playing, everybody knew what leads that were doing. I knew what fills I was doing. We had everything rehearsed. But when we went to do Gold & Grey, that was totally not the case. So we had to write a lot in the studio, which was an awesome challenge and a lot of fun and also a lot of work.

It seems like you have more interludes this time around. Were you going for a more cinematic feel or was that just how it turned out?
For Baroness and also from other bands I was in, I think it’s kind of normal for bands to react to the previous album. Purple was a pretty concise album. It was not too long. It was a pretty concise rock album. There was maybe one semi-interlude on it. And so we decided this time let’s be more expansive. Let’s be more accepting of weird ideas. Let’s be a little more experimental. Yellow & Green was a double album, more experimental for Baroness. And then we brought the focus in for Purple and now we’ve sort of zoomed out again.

Are there any songs from the session that aren’t on the album that we might hear later, such as a b-side, etc.?
That’s a good question. I don’t have the answer for that right now. There’s definitely a lot of stuff that did not make it onto the album. But we haven’t had a discussion in a while about releasing it. So we’ll see about that.

Do you struggle with track order on the album?
It’s a struggle for sure. And you know, I think the biggest decision is which track is number one. That’s a huge discussion and there was a lot of emails going back and forth and a lot of phone calls between the four of us. But I’m very happy and I think everybody’s really happy with that, the sequencing. It might be something that bands worry about too much, because I think nowadays people listen to tracks sometimes, on Spotify or whatever. Some people don’t sit down and listen to a whole album. So maybe we’re worrying about something that only some fans will actually experience. But I think, as a piece, it works. A couple of times I’ve sat down with a friend and actually listened to the whole thing from beginning to end. I think it works. This is a really cheesy word to use, but it is kind of a journey, a musical journey. It has its ups and downs and peaks and valleys. I like that.

Would you say Baroness the most global band you’ve been been part of as far as touring all over the world?
The band I was in before, Trans Am, basically toured the same places that we tour, which is Europe and South America and Australia, New Zealand, places like that. But it’s a very different kind of touring. Trans Am was us in a van driving ourselves around. Baroness is a little more professional, let’s put it that way.

You’ll soon be doing some acoustic in store performances to promote the album. What’s the vibe for a performance like that?
The thing that’s pretty weird is that Nick and I are going, but we’re not performing. John and Gina are singing and playing acoustic guitars. And so Nick and I are just going to basically hang out and meet fans and sign records and stuff like that. But the vibe is great because it’s very casual in a good way. We talk to everybody. It’s very intimate and casual and fun and low stress, and the chance for the fans to meet us and also a chance for us to meet them. And also a chance to say thank you to independent record stores.

They don’t even give you a bongo?
We talked about that and I was like, you know what? I love the acoustic songs on Zeppelin albums. They don’t have extra percussion, usually. I would rather have it sound like a Zeppelin track than a nineties MTV Unplugged track.

You’ve been playing live for for a few years now with Baroness, How do you approach the songs that you didn’t record originally? Do you try to maintain the original arrangement?
That was a really interesting experience for me having to learn all these tracks that Allen (Blickle) played on it and helped write. It’s really a mind expanding experience for a musician to learn somebody else’s parts so intimately and it was a great learning experience. So we try to keep it pretty close. When I joined I tried to learn the parts as close as I could. I will say though, as the years have gone by, I have started adding my own things to it and it has veered off slightly. But I think the spirit is there. Allen lives in L.A. and every time we play L.A. we hang out and we have awesome drum talk. He approves.

Some bands when they go on a tour it’s the exact songs in the exact same order the entire time. Do you prefer doing it that way, or mix in a couple different songs here and there or doing a completely different set list every night?
That is a constant discussion within the band. My philosophy is that we are there for the audience. And so I like to repeat the same set a bunch of nights because it’s really nice to have all the transitions down smooth. We actually improvise a little bit in between songs with atmospheric sounds and things like that. It’s nice to get those transitions really dramatic instead of having them be kind of clumsy. But the downside of that, the fact that you’re not up on your toes maybe can be sensed by the crowd if you’re too comfortable. So I think that’s the downside to that. But we definitely talk about that a lot. I like doing maybe four nights the same set and then modify it.

You recently sat in with the band on Late Night With Seth Meyers. How did that come about?
I’ve been around for a while and I guess I’ve been on their shortlist for a long time. After that I met Eric Leidermann, who’s one of the producers, because we both live in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn and he’s like, yeah, you’ve been on the shortlist for a long time. We want you to do this, but we’re just waiting for your album to come out so we can time it. So that was the wait. And now with Gold & Grey, Seth Meyers could hold up the album every night, which was amazing. And the funny thing is that two of the guys in the 8G Band, Syd Butler and Seth Jabour, played in a band called Les Savy Fav, which was a band that my old band Trans Am used to tour with. So it was like a weird sort of reunion, which was really fun.

How much rehearsal goes into that before a show?
So the way that show works is that they don’t really do any covers during the taping of the show. So all the commercial breaks and all the walk ons for the guests we write in the afternoon. We have to write like eight or nine pieces in the afternoon. And basically somebody will be like, okay, I have this riff or I have this progression, or how about this kind of beat? They have their system down. It’s awesome. It’s awesome to be a part of that. Then before you know it, three hours later you have eight little pieces written. And then when we’re on stage, the band director, Eli Janney, he’ll play in our monitors a little snippet of what we recorded earlier just to remind us what the tempo and the groove is and then we just play it. It’s a really great system.

Are you so busy with that you don’t have time to do anything else or did you get to meet any of the guests that were on that week?
I didn’t really. I just chatted with Seth Meyers a couple times. You show up at like maybe 12:30 or one in the afternoon and you’re going until the taping, which is about seven. So there’s really not a lot of time.

Baroness is obviously keeping you very busy, but you also have a solo project Publicist that released an EP last year.
It has been put very much on the back burner, especially now that this year is going to be kind of crazy with Baroness. The thing with other projects is that of course I do have an extra hour a day, but it’s not just about having the physical time, it’s also about having the creative juices. And if you’re rehearsing every day with your band or writing or recording, when you go home, you want to do nothing for a couple of hours.

As somebody from a different country that has lived all over the world, traveled all over the world, how do you think that has shaped you as a musician?
One thing it did is it made me be not tribal about music subcultures, the way some kids in high school were, “I’m a punk” or “I’m a metalhead” or whatever. Because I had to move around and I was exposed to different things, I just liked whatever I liked at the time. And I think it made me a little more accepting of different musical subcultures.

Is is true at one time you wanted to pursue a career in physics and were getting a PhD?
That is totally correct. I never thought I was going to be a professional musician. It just happened.

Do you still follow that world at all?
I do follow some of the new developments, but it’s kind of like working out. If you don’t go to the gym for 15 years, you lose your game. So I can’t really do that, but I do try to follow it. It was so long ago, for example, that the idea of dark energy, which is a big deal now, we didn’t even learn about that when I was studying. That’s how long ago it was.

And I guess The Big Bang Theory made physics cool.
I guess so. I never watched that show, but I remember when it came out I was like, really? I can’t believe they’re making a show about physicists.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
This is going to be a super busy year for us in the best way possible. We’re doing a southeast U.S. tour in the summer and then Europe for a couple months. We plan on really supporting this album. So hopefully everybody will get a chance to see us.

(interview published June 13, 2019)

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