Words by Andrew Lampela
Baroness has never been a band to rest on their laurels. With every record, John Dyer Baizley has taken his propensity for experimentation further and further while retaining the heavy core that the band built their reputation on. Through several tumultuous years involving severe injuries and line up changes, Baroness reached a pinnacle in 2015 with Purple, a roaring comeback of sorts that fused grandiose pop aspirations to the heaviness, and introduced Sebastian Thompson and Nick Jost to the roster. It was an ambitious album that showed Baizley to have no intentions of reigning in his explosive creativity. Still, as ambitious as that album was with its pop intentions and experimental flourishes, it hardly prepares the brain for Gold & Grey.
Once again working with producer David Fridmann, Gold & Grey is the sound of Baroness shaking off the tethers of expectations and really cutting loose. It is a completely different album each of the first twenty or so times it plays through, and bristles with textural energy unheard of in the catalog. From the blast beats of “Seasons” to the lush balladry of personal standout “Tourniquet”, from the new age Krautrock of “Sevens” to the incredible psychedelia of closer “Pale Sun”, Gold & Grey finds Baroness entering a new phase of existence, shedding the trappings of genre and unencumbered by expectations, even those amongst themselves.
With the addition of new guitarist Gina Gleason, Baizley has surrounded himself with a super crazy talented group of musicians perfectly suited to launching to the outer reaches of his ambitiously creative mind. The middle chunk of Gold & Grey, in particular, is quite a journey, perfectly illustrating the peaks and valleys of this wildly creative new Baroness. Offshelf recently caught up with Gina to discuss what it was like in the studio, how it feels to be part of such an anticipated record, and… uh…running.
Offshelf: Hey! Congrats on the new record. It’s really weird!
Gina Gleason: [laughs] Thanks!
Offshelf: I mean that in the best way. Like, if you didn’t expect Baroness to get weird, have you really been paying attention? As a long time fan, I’d have been a little bummed if things didn’t progress, you know? With this being your first album with them, what was it like joining in on the songwriting process?
GG: I was a fan of the band already as well. I got introduced around Yellow & Green and went backwards and listened to everything. I was excited when Purple came out too. At the time I wasn’t necessarily expecting or anticipating it, then I heard “Shock Me” and “Chlorine and Wine” and it was like, oh fuck yeah. It was just like a great comeback, it was really triumphant and really straightforward, rock song after rock song.
Initially going into this process, I thought we were going to stay more in that vein. I don’t know why I thought that [laughs]. As we started writing together and I brought things to the table, it became apparent to me pretty early on that oh, they’re totally ready to depart from that, like they already did all that. It wasn’t until we really got into the studio, putting our heads together and allowing each other the space to create without boundaries that it started to really take shape where this was heading. Everyone was really respectful of one another and open-minded about letting each other really explore instrument space, and John and I did quite a bit of vocal exploration. He has this really, really unique voice. It really came about through all of us having an immense amount of respect for each other, just letting ourselves go and being experimental. It was really cool.
OS: What was it like joining that process, of being part of a band really getting out there?
GG: It was a really fast, growing experience for me as a guitar player. I’ve always thought about things one way for so long, and now I’m joining this band that is taking a massive departure from what might be expected of them. It forced me to evolve really quickly as far as writing music and approaching the guitar. It was a really intimidating process, but looking back and being able to breathe and listen to it, it’s something that I learned so much from, putting yourself through that kind of process.
OS: This is the first Baroness record that, to me, sounds like the studio itself was the fifth member of the band. There is an amazing depth to this record where I keep hearing new things pop out after a couple dozen listens.
GG: From what I’ve gathered from the guys, everything on Purple was written and arranged before they went to the studio, so they were going in and hitting record. With this one, we went to the studio with, like… I don’t know that any song was finished. We had a bunch of ideas and worlds that were starting to develop, but it wasn’t until we got there that we were like, alright, we’re locking ourselves in this studio in the middle of the woods for however many weeks at a time. Just being able to have that space, there’s nothing around, we’re in the middle of the woods in this awesome studio, just the four of us. We lived there, we slept there, We’d get up and make breakfast and then start writing and recording and we wouldn’t stop until two or three in the morning. So just allowing ourselves to just go nuts and try different instrumentation. Dave has a plethora of synths and glocks and bells and all kinds of stuff like that. It’s kind of a dream, being a musician and artist and being allowed in that space to just purely create.
OS: The middle stretch of songs is quite the journey. That stretch from “I’d Do Anything” through “Emmett-Radiating Light” into “Cold Blooded Angels” is where I think things get pretty weird and different. “Emmett” is probably the song that caught me off-guard the most. Was there ever a pause, where it was like, shit…maybe we went too far?
GG: I think I felt that way with other songs, like “Pale Sun”, that felt like a moment where maybe we went too far…
OS: Oh man, “Pale Sun” is one of my favorites, along with “Tourniquet” and things like “Sevens”, those are some of my favorite Baroness songs now!
GG: That means a lot to hear that. I really like that second side, it’s really sad and ballady. “Cold Blooded Angels” is a song that we thoroughly composed, so nothing really repeats and it’s not like standard verse chorus. I think it’s really cool that song sort of ends that valley of the record. It starts in a similar vein to those songs, and by the end it gets you amped up in maybe a more classic Baroness kind of way. We keep trying to add that to the set, but that song out of context keeps blowing my mind.
“Sevens” was a piece Nick was working on. We were ready to wrap up one of the sessions, like Dave’s getting ready to leave, towards the end of the record, and Nick just sat down and laid out this piece, like maybe we could use it, maybe not, and it turned into this crucial element to the album. It really tied things together. And the blast beat, we were just sitting in John’s basement and we were working through the chorus and I just said to Seb ‘dude, do a blast beat, that would be sick!’ and he nailed it. Those little moments come from spending a ton of time together and allowing things to happen. I really appreciate that about Baroness, they’ve never been the kind of band that says no, we don’t do that, we don’t have pianos on our records, we don’t do blast beats. We’re a band of musicians that is like, yeah, hell yeah.
OS: Just out of curiosity, because I will never, ever experience it, what’s it like being part of one of the most anticipated albums this year? That’s got to be pretty freaky, right?
GG: It’s terrifying. I’m a long time Baroness fan too, so I can understand people being mad the record isn’t heavy or this and that. All of that was initially freaking me out, sure, but just talking to John and other friends, touring friends, it’s like, isn’t that how you’re supposed to feel? It’s a really exciting feeling to be so terrified [laughs]. Genuinely intimidated, but better than maybe just feeling like yeah, we made a decent record or whatever. I think it’s cool we all had this fear.
OS: One last question. I follow both you and John on Instagram, and one of my best friends is in Skeletonwitch, and I see you all go running before shows now. Like, Scotty hopped off the bus in Europe and ran twenty miles to his next show. My knees scream in terror and pain looking through his pics. What’s up with this running thing?
GG: [laughs] Yeah, I follow him as well, he’s crazy. John and I started running on tour, the first couple tours I did with them were festivals, so there’s a lot of down time. We’d get there at ten in the morning and wouldn’t play until ten at night, and just be in this place for a long time. For us, it’s just an awesome way to get amped for the show, get the blood moving and feel like you did something productive. I wasn’t a huge runner before I joined the band, but when we get into a routine on tour it’s totally addictive. We want to keep pushing ourselves. Gotta keep pushing!