Interview: Baroness Frontman John Baizley Talks First U.S. Tour Since Bus Accident
On August 15, 2012, Baroness were traveling in the U.K. when their bus's brakes failed completely and sent the band and crew plummeting down a 30-foot cliff, smashing into the ground below. The horrific accident left some of those on board seriously injured but all survived. Vocalist-guitarist John Baizley had to have his arm rebuilt with two titanium plates, 20 screws, and a foot-and-a-half of wire, and then he spent the next couple of weeks confined to a wheelchair once he returned home. The crash also put a halt to the Georgian rock band's plans to tour on its then-newly released double album, Yellow & Green. Finally, rehabilitated and ready to go--although without bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle, who recently split with the group--Baroness have just announced an upcoming U.S. tour, the first shows since the accident (for the dates, scroll to the bottom of this post). Revolver caught up with Baizley to talk about coming back to the stage.
REVOLVER This is the first tour since the bus accident. Are you nervous?
JOHN BAIZLEY I’m both nervous and excited. I view that as a good sign. I’ve been touring for 15 years but it’s kind of fun to be nervous again. We feel cooped up when not on tour. It couldn’t come soon enough, as far as I was concerned.
What percent recovered would you say you are? You must be feeling significantly better, otherwise you wouldn’t be headed out on the road.
Yeah. Feeling better. It’s going to be a long time until, at least personally, to say I’m at 100 percent. I’m far from 100 percent at this point but I can play. I’ll keep the back-flips to a minimum with no full body contact and I’ll be fine. We are well enough to play and we are excited to do it. It’s good to be able to have a pulse and play music.
Seeing the pictures from the hospital, it must have been hard to play. You’ve been up on the stage here and there. What did that feel like?
It feels awesome! I guess, before August 15, I definitely didn’t have the same level of gratitude that I do now for the act of being onstage. It felt like the stage was too high, that we were physically too far above people. There was an odd distance there, but now having been confined to the house or wheelchair, I have a lot of respect for it. I really feel lucky that we were able to have played as many shows as we did up to this point.
In the update you put on the website in October, you described the crash in detail saying that even though you felt pain, it meant you were alive. How has that changed your life?
I’m sure that I have changed. I’m sure that I look at things differently. It’s not as much as a 180 as it has been a reaffirmation of things I thought to be true before. I guess, having gone through all of this, it’s been the best proof for me that we can have purpose in our lives. Music, it’s a gift. It’s a great beautiful thing to be able to perform it, write it, and play it. With a little bit of skill and a lot of tenacity, you can find the good fortune to be a good touring band. I think in the past year or two, we’ve experienced even greater fortune. It’s been motivating for me in terms of getting better.
But on a bigger scale, each morning when I wake up, I have truly been able to access that feeling of just being glad to wake up. I’m just trying to get back to normal. Of course, life changes you, but at a certain point, you beg for normalcy. All I can say, since the initial injury and crash and going through that with my friends and crew, it’s been a goal to get back out on tour as proof that something this serious and that traumatic doesn’t have to prevent you from continuing by physical or mental means. It’s important for me to continue playing because it will allow me to overcome any stresses or anxieties that have developed as a result of this.
America never really got to see Yellow & Green live before the accident, so how are you planning these live shows?
Not even one show. It is our intent to highlight those new songs that represented for us that was new and interesting. All the stuff off Blue and Red-- there’s been thousands of shows with those songs. It’s just good to play new material an furthermore I thought the songs were more engaging with our audience. So when we get back to touring, it’s going to be hyper-loaded with our new material. If we’re interested in what we’re doing, we’re going to put more into it. If we put more into it, that translates from the stage to the audience. The weird thing is we’re doing our first U.S. show on this record almost a year after its release. That’s bizarre. It makes things hard to anticipate but fuck it. I don’t want an anticipatable lifestyle. I wouldn’t be playing music if that’s what I wanted. I like the fact that things change on a dime. So it will be nice to tour and not to know exactly what we’re doing. I imagine that first week of shows are going to be difficult and nerve-wracking and frankly we haven’t experienced that in a long time.
Yellow & Green made a ton of end of the year lists--Revolver named it No. 4 on our Best of 2012 list. How has the reception hit you?
We were in Europe when the record came out and the reception there was pretty overwhelming on the positive side of things. We felt confident and then all the sudden August 15 happened. It was sort of like being sidelined for six months. I was almost anticipating more negative reaction than we got so I was almost disappointed I didn’t get to defend my point as vehemently as I would have liked to. That would have come with a U.S. tour directly following the record. That way if people doubted our direction or intent, they could have come to our show and fucking prove them wrong by shoving good music down their throats. But now we’ve had more time to reflect and rehabilitate. But either way, whether it’s a basement or a venue, we’re going to go out there and perform it because these are songs that we wrote and they meant something to us. If the record had really gotten the Spinal Tap-esque shit sandwich review, we still would have played it. I don’t want to end up with that one signature song that we’re, like, required to play.
What were you thinking about and confronting at the time these records were written?
One of the things I had to come to terms with in recent years is our open honesty in songwriting. I think that good music is borne out of struggle. A good musician can only access his full potential and creativity when he or she is struggling with like anxiety, pain, frustration or heartache. The stuff that made songs great in the '50s and '60s still holds true today. So I think the whole focus has gotten muddled. What I was trying to do on Yellow & Green lyrically and with the songs was just humble myself in front of songwriting. I would listen to old songs and I would end up with kitchen-sink style songwriting.
It’s intentionally an overly-ambitious record. It wasn’t meant to be easy to digest. I made sure we all understood there may be some huge missteps on this record. But if we don’t have the balls to put that out there and willfully make a mistake as long as our intentions are pure, then we’re just kind of catering to the crevasse that is commercial music where you’re just kind of pandering to the lowest common denominator of what the audience expects.
Your last few albums are all named after colors. Why does Baroness do this, and do you ever foresee not naming an album after a color?
I can answer that question very easily. To speak to the first part—the reason we chose the color thing was pretty simple. We wanted a simple concept that could work across a couple of records. And when I would make album art, it gave me a good starting point visually speaking. It’s not too much brain power. Where we felt like our records were dense or heavy in some direction, we thought one moment of levity would be good and that’s the album title. We’d joke too before we did Red and said if we did a couple of records, our merch table will look real nice. Now, three or four records into this idea…it’s done. No more. We’ve driven that nail home and there’s nothing left to do with that. So we will discontinue the chromatic titling and we will come up with something else next.
Speaking of art, it's easy to recognize it's your artwork, whether on your own or on others band's records like Kvelertak, Kylesa, or Black Tusk . What inspires you when it comes to your visual art?
When I first started doing it, within the genre of music I found myself in, there was an alarming number of this macho aggressive, really blunt stuff. When Baroness first started playing, which is the reason I started making art again, there was only a handful of bands trying to do something different. That idea appealed to me, that we could be playing metal but with the ethics for the do-it-yourself functionality that punk rock had taught me throughout life. One thing that I always felt was the purpose of music and art was to challenge the observers and listeners. So I thought initially it would be interesting to take this imagery which doesn’t typically exist in the genre or what’s presented in this macho fashion and take it and present it in this alternate light. So if it’s a woman on a rock-and-roll cover, where the tradition is, like, hypersexualized, then for me, it became interesting to strip that away, find something a little more realistic and being less eyes-poppin’ out of the head. My intention is to keep pushing outwards from the center in all directions.
Baroness Yellow & Green tour dates:
May 24 Philadelphia, PA Union Transfer
May 25 Baltimore, MD Ram's Head Live
May 26 Norfolk, VA Jewish Mother
May 28 Charleston, SC The Music Farm
May 29 Atlanta, GA Center Stage
May 31 Dallas, TX Trees
June 1 Austin, TX Chaos in Tejas (Mohawk)
June 2 Houston, TX Free Press Summer Festival
June 4 Lawrence, KS Granada Theatre
June 5 St. Louis, MO The Firebird
June 8 Grand Rapids, MI The Pyramid Scheme
June 9 Madison, WI The Majestic Theatre
June 11 Indianapolis, IN Deluxe @ Old National Centre
June 12 Cincinnati, OH Taft Ballroom
June 14 Pittsburgh, PA Mr. Small's
June 15 Huntington, WV V Club
June 13 to 16 Manchester, TN Bonnaroo (performance date to be announced soon)
August 10 – 11 Montreal, QC Heavy MTL (performance date to be announced soon)
Inter Arma opens May 25 & 26; True Widow opens May 28 – 31; Coliseum opens June 4 to 15