Q&A: Baroness Frontman John Dyer Baizley On His Recovery Albums, Performing Solo, And Returning To The Road
Baroness announced a summer tour today, the first proper domestic jaunt to promote Yellow & Green, the double album that received critical raves and introduced the band to a much wider audience. Normally, this would be another in a series of summer tour announcements. However, this is the first tour for Baroness since a bus accident in England last August injured every member of the band and forced frontman John Dyer Baizley to undergo a long and difficult rehabilitation to repair a broken arm and broken leg. Baroness will finally get to properly promote and perform the album after their career was put on hold. Stereogum had an exclusive chat with Baizley a couple weeks ago, shortly before the departure of Baroness’s rhythm section, Matt Maggioni and longtime drummer Allen Blickle. Their replacements haven’t been named.
STEREOGUM: How have you been?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: I’m doing pretty good. According to my doctors I’m doing very good. Admittedly, nothing seems as quick as I’d like in terms of physical recovery. All that aside, I’ve learned how to appreciate what I’ve been left with. I can still play guitar, and playing a few shows recently has been a real boon. It’s helped the mental recovery along. It brought back the desire and excitement about touring again. Before I just wanted to get myself better so I could get a small taste again of what touring would be like. I’m eager to get back on the road. It’s how I’m defining my treatment and my recovery, by the first proper Baroness show.
STEREOGUM: I was in Philadelphia in January and saw you play a song with Converge. What was that experience like? I think you intimated that listening to Converge was a cathartic experience.
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: Just the experience alone was awesome for me and I hope the band would agree. It felt like the endpoint of a long process where I was more aware of my disabilities than my facilities. When I was able to walk out on the stage after being in a wheelchair it was pretty big. It wasn’t just a physical thing; there was a huge emotional component. I’ve known the Converge guys for a long time. We started as tour mates and ended up as friends. I was a fan of the band and as I recounted on the stage when I first got out of surgery and was confined to a hospital bed I felt like I was up against a brick wall. I had no sense of where I was going or where my life was going. Ruminating on that 24 hours a day will start to drive you fucking bananas.
I asked my wife to being me something to listen to. The first thing I did was put earphones in and listen to something relaxing and comfortable. It felt like a huge invasion of my physical privacy. The music sounded very jarring and angular even if it was nothing like that. It shocked me and it almost made me feel like I had lost music. There was a lot of depression and frustration. It compounded what was already the darkest week of my life.
A couple days later — maybe a week later — I decided to give it a go again. But I thought I’d listen to something that on the surface was much more abrasive, something done by people I know. I thought I’d have more of a connection with the music. At that point I was released from the hospital but was stuck in a compartment. I had the Converge record and a very early copy of the new Neurosis record. So, those become my recovery records. Somehow I found some comfort in the intense parts of those records. In retrospect it makes sense, but then it was surprising to me, that something intense and punishing would actually calm me. But there’s no rulebook for these things. I had those two records by my side the whole time I recovered and my first two performances when I returned were with Neurosis and Converge.
STEREOGUM: I understand you will be working on a T-shirt with Jason Statts, a paralyzed artist and writer. Music was also very important to his recovery.
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: I’ve known Jason for years and his story hit very close to home with me. He’s always been an inspiration. What I’ve dealt with is nothing compared to what he’s been through, especially in the long term [Statts was shot and paralyzed years ago after finishing his first metal performance]. But I have a sense of what it’s like to live with this pain and anguish and forget that there is a whole planet of activity outside of your own suffering.
I spoke to Jason right after the accident and a few others who’ve been through similar things. And it helped me snap out of the weird egoism that was happening. When you are injured you have to respect it in a healthy way but you also have to come to grips with things to look forward to. There are other things happening that will give you more perspective. Talking to Jason, I was able to realize the value of the lesser and greater things, of life in general. In the early days after the crash it would have been easier to give up and just say I’m tired and miserable, there’s nothing to look forward to. But I had that kick in the pants and Jason and a few others were an integral part of it.
STEREOGUM: What is the project looking like?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: He’s put together something already and it’s going to take me a little while to dig my heels into it. I gave him an open-ended invitation to do whatever. He draws with the knuckle of his pinkie finger. He sent me a drawing already and what I’m to do is in a collaborative way is embellish on what he’s done. It’s awesome for me to get the opportunity to do that and I think he was excited about it. I’ve written songs that have to do with him in the past and it’s a nice, full circle thing to be part of, a reminder that music matters. The connections that we make from it can be lifelong.
STEREOGUM: I understand you did a set of Townes Van Zandt songs at SXSW. I know Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till (Neurosis) were inspired by his music and recorded a tribute album with Wino. What about Townes inspires you?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: I could give you a long music-dork answer to that. But in this day and age there can be a certain falseness that comes with music. There’s a rulebook. There are things you can do to ensure your career is viable. There’s a whole industry built up. The underground might have lost touch of our simpler roots a bit. We seem to be paying more attention to technique than songwriting or soul.
Townes is an example of simple, heartfelt music. His music transcends style or orchestration. The songs are so simple, honest and effective. Scott and I feel a kinship to them and feel like we can play them our own way and approach the emotional core of the music. It’s a lost, obfuscated art these days — writing simple songs that cut to the quick. But when I read his lyrics they send shivers down my spine because they are so direct without pompousness or self-aware poeticism, from which I definitely suffer (laughs).
Your career should always be about learning and there is something to be learned from Townes. There’s just an alarming amount of emotional honestly in his work. But I think my answer to this might have been overwrought! (laughs).
STEREOGUM: Did playing these songs solo and exposed prepare you to get on the road with Baroness or are they different experiences?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: They are two parts of a whole, to be sure. Scott [Kelly] was the one who originally invited me to help present some of these songs. It taught me to humble myself in front of people and accept the flaws of a solo performance. There are many artists who work lifetimes to hone that craft. And I just jumped into it. What was I expecting? There isn’t as much precision as there is damage control, keeping the mistakes to a minimum.
When I did it I was like, finally, I’m nervous about music again. It was good to be reminded of your place in things. After touring with Baroness for ten years it got easy to take the stage. To get knocked back down to that level of performance has been awesome and very instructive. Being nervous and making mistakes and showing a different aspect to your playing can do nothing but inform the bigger picture as Baroness starts touring again.
STEREOGUM: How has it been practicing with Baroness again?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: This accident worked its way out on everyone on a different way. Nine people were injured. We were all affected in different ways. Getting back to rehearsals and even the concept of touring has been, at times, challenging. The most immediate challenge I faced was physical. But my anticipation and excitement is building. It’s been fun playing music and practicing again. We started doing this because we enjoyed the outlet. There was something rehabilitative just in the pure rehearsals. We’re excited to pay again. Our lives and livelihood were nearly taken away from us.
STEREOGUM: The band was on a big roll before the accident and sort of tapping on the door of more mainstream success. Does something like this lead you to reconsider the trajectory or do you just jump back and keep going?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: I’ve never been one to think about trajectories. We always thought if we were excited that success would come in one form or another, whether it’s personal or commercial. If we are excited that’s enough for us. If our creativity is intact and we’re moving forward and we feel we have more to stay musically that’s all we need. I’ll leave all the strategizing and trajectories and fifty cent words to people who care more about that stuff than I do. I just want to write more good songs, do more good tours and see more of the world. I want to keep doing all the things I’d been doing. There is very little money in this and the fortune and fame thing is very fickle and doesn’t offer any sustenance. We’re just going to keep going at it as hard as we can.
STEREOGUM: You have to get back on a bus. Will you do things different in terms of travel arrangements?
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY: The folks we work with are paying special attention to making sure that we feel safe. I’m not saying it’s going to be simple or easy to fall asleep on a bus on this tour. But we have no option. We can’t fit in a van anymore and those are no safer. So, simply put, it’s a matter of engaging in the things that could cause fear. There’s no sense in doing fly-ins for the rest of our lives. We started Baroness to travel and see the world and I plan on continuing that. There are still places I haven’t been and I won’t be satisfied until I see them all.
Yellow & Green Tour Dates:
05/24 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
05/25 Baltimore, MD @ Ram’s Head Live
05/26 Norfolk, VA @ Jewish Mother
05/28 Charleston, SC @ The Music Farm
05/29 Atlanta, GA @ Center Stage
05/31 Dallas, TX @ Trees
06/01 Austin, TX @ Chaos in Tejas (Mohawk)
06/02 Houston, TX @ Free Press Summer Festival
06/04 Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theatre
06/05 St. Louis, MO @ The Firebird
06/08 Grand Rapids, MI @ The Pyramid Scheme
06/09 Madison, WI @ The Majestic Theatre
06/11 Indianapolis, IN @ Deluxe at Old National Centre
06/12 Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Ballroom
06/14 Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Small’s
06/15 Huntington, WV @ V Club
06/13-16 Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo (performance date TBA)
08/10 – 11 Montreal, QC @ Heavy MTL (performance date TBA)
Inter Arma opens May 25 & 26; True Widow opens May 28 – 31; Coliseum opens June 4 to 15