“We’re not talking about art at some point. We’re talking about the product, you know. Some people want consistent products, some people want innovative products.” Or, at least, that’s how John Baizley, guitarist and vocalist of Baroness, sees it. Amidst a tour with metal juggernauts Meshuggah and Decapitated, they’re leading up to the release of their third full-length release, Green & Yellow, on July 17 through Relapse Records. Before their show at the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts, I sat down to have a conversation with John about the state of affairs with Baroness and got a massive amount of insight about where the band’s minds were throughout the creative process of Green & Yellow.
Baroness, as a band, are no strangers to change. Longtime fans will certainly remember their first two EPs, aptly titled First and Second, as well as their split LP with Unpersons, A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk. If there was ever any doubts that the members of Baroness are aware of the changes they’ve gone through over the years and how their fans see it, those doubts can be squelched. “I’m aware that they expect one thing, and I think that there will be some surprises. I’m not an idiot, I’m well aware that there are some things on this record that the orthodox heavy music fan is going to turn their back on” says Baizley. “The song is more important than we are, so we sort of supplicated ourselves to the mercy of the song. You know, expose our soft, pink underbelly a bit. I anticipate that there are going to be new people out there who listen to and like it who don’t have an appreciation for our old music. This has been true since ‘Red Album’, but there are people out there who think the first EP we put out is our best material…I’ve got perspective on it, I know what we’re doing. I know the inherent risks, I know the other side of the blade.”
Something that might take most Baroness fans by surprise is that in seventy-five or so minutes of music on Green & Yellow there isn’t a single shred of screaming. Baizley mentioned in the band’s feature with Decibel Magazine that he “felt like [he] was getting almost apologetic for the softer songs because [he assumed] everyone wants brute-force aggression all the time” which is something Baizley was quite clear about with me: “It’s not because I think I’m through with screaming or that I have nothing left to scream about, it’s just that as we were writing this we just found a different way to say it” but perhaps more telling than that was when he explained what he anticipated before starting the creative process “we thought that we would write one record that would be the heavy record, one that would be the softer record; one would be the light, one would be the dark—two totally drastic records. Now, that idea appealed to me for a while until it seemed like a really preconceived and presumptuous idea. So, we stopped considering the record as the black and white records, so what we essentially did was say that this needs to feel like one continuous piece. Certainly the first record is a little heavier than the second one, but it’s not this stark contrast from one to the next. It’s meant to be two parts of a greater whole.”
Musically, as outlined above, Green & Yellow is a pretty big step from Baroness’ material so far. Not as heavy as the older stuff, not as overly technical and proggy as the stuff from Blue Record. Each of the members’ lives are very different, and they’ve learned a lot as John explained to me that it had a pretty huge impact on how the record(s) came out: “There was just a lot of stuff going on. There was definitely a mix of good, bad, and ugly that favored the bad and ugly more often than not. Rather than let that become something really bad for us we channeled it into the music and that’s why I think the record’s got that tone on it.” Even affecting the band’s thoughts about how they should go about creating their music and how they should not. “We didn’t say ‘Let’s write a softer record.’ We didn’t say ‘Hey, let’s make this one faster, or louder, folkier’ or whatever. Those aren’t the sort of ideas that drive the band. What drives the band is writing a song that feels good, that feels right, that feels like an apt description of an emotion or story or concept or whatever that feels genuine, like it’s us doing it. The four of us communicating with each other, spitting it out electrically to an audience—then we’re fine, because our hearts are in it.”
But just how different is Green & Yellow you might wonder. The simple answer would be to say that it is completely different, as much so as it could be while still being unmistakably Baroness. Why? “What we wanted to do was be a little more open, a little bit more honest, even when it felt slightly uncomfortable or exposed. I felt like that was a risk worth taking with our music.” explained Baizley, as if he were trying to work out exactly why as he was explaining it to me. He was quick to point out, however, that “We’ve doubled down and placed all our chips on the fact that people want us to innovate. Within our band, obviously, I’m not saying we’re reinventing the fucking wheel here because we certainly are not. I’m just saying that we need to invent ourselves constantly or else our machine gets rusty and we’re no good. Fuck that.”
Seventy-five minutes of material, packaged as one large piece of music. To put this in perspective, Red Album and Blue Record were fifty-six and forty-four minutes long, respectively. You’ll be glad to know that none of this material is filler, even the “intro” tracks for the two portions of the album are great. Remarking that it seemed like a pretty massive amount of material for the two and a half years it’s been since Blue Record, Baizley just sort of shrugged it off, explaining “It just came, man. It just hit me like a ton of bricks and I just started writing, and I kept writing, and I knew there was going to be a lot of stuff, and I knew we were going to cover a lot of ground so I just let it happen. We knew early on that we were going to do a double record instead of one long, strenuous record. And we knew it was going to be different, we knew it was going to be longer, and we made the decision to go with the double record and price it like a single record—not fucking hype up the monumental epicness of it, fuck that. It’s just 18 songs. I don’t necessarily want our audience to have to sit through 18 songs at a time, that’s a pretty big stretch. So you’ve got two records. Listen to one, listen to the other, listen to them both—I don’t care, just listen to them.”
Describing how Baroness approach their music and musical careers might seem pretty tough, but in all actuality it, at its core, seems to be quite simple. Whether it’s touring with bands that don’t share many musical similarities with them or challenging themselves musically, they relish all of the opportunities and challenges afforded to them. Speaking specifically about touring with bands like Decapitated and Meshuggah, Baizley outlines his take on the experience: “Well, see, that’s kind of the fun thing is we realize there’s some appeal still from Baroness to the metal audience, but there’s also the appeal to other audiences, so for us it’s fun to have the option to go out with a variety of different bands and kind of see what happens; this and when we toured with Deftones, and we’ve toured with some odd bands (well, Opeth wasn’t really an odd band I guess) or Metallica or something like that. A lot of those bands, their fans go to see the headliner act so the standard you’re held to is that of an opening act or as a support band, so if you want to make an impact, you’ve got to really fucking go for it in a different way. As opposed to some tours where we’re an easier sell to the audience where more people know our songs. This one, it’s not rough because Meshuggah fans probably expect them to bring out interesting acts on tour with them, but we’re in a metal sandwich. We are the filling on a very, very metal sandwich and because of that we brought out a set that really amplifies how different we were going to be. It’s been cool so far, people have been really respectful—not too many cups of beer thrown on me so far. Maybe one or two…to my eyes there’s some excitement and audience interaction with us, which would lead me to believe things are going reasonably well. It’s just fun. It’s fun when the tour’s not super easy, when the audience reaction is really based on the merit of your performance. And we have to fucking bring it, you can’t really fake it in front of their audience because they will shut you down.”
And that’s exactly what Baroness are intent on doing and have been doing for a handful of years now. If you caught them on tour with Meshuggah and Decapitated, you saw it first hand. Europe is about to experience it. Baroness are going to keep on keeping on, and at this point no one should expect less. Green & Yellow is an absolutely fantastic record, so you’d be doing a disservice to not check the album out when it drops. You could even preorder it if you felt so inclined. You can also grab a free download of the album’s first single, “Take My Bones Away,” at that preorder link. And, you can stream the song below.