Most major touring acts skip Savannah, Georgia and opt instead to go to nearby Atlanta, a bigger market with a larger number of clubs. For Baroness singer-guitarist John Baizley, who formed the band in Savannah in 2003, the isolation proved to be an advantage.
“We cut our teeth [in Savannah],” he says via phone from his 19th century home in Philadelphia where he has both a recording studio and art studio. “We learned all the major lessons that we were to learn as a band. There is a very small and very potent music scene there. By small, I mean that you can count the number of bands in the ‘scene’ on one hand and you may not need your thumb."
He also gives credit to the loyal fans the band attracted in the town.
"The amazing thing is that the audience there is the kind of audience you get in a small city," he says. "They’re incredibly loyal and personable. They were as instrumental for our growth as anybody in the band was. There was one guy in town booking shows and one guy in town who was printing T-shirts. We wrote an album in the punk club there. It’s weird because major tours don’t go to Savannah. They skip it entirely. I credit that for being a large factor in how we were able to develop our sound without too much outside influence.”
The band initially issued a series of EPs before 2007’s Red Album
, a heavy album that commences with clashing cymbals and echoing guitar riffs that suggest the band’s artsier (even prog-like) impulses.
“The first EPs were written as a whole,” Baizley explains. “They weren’t written as an album because we were so far from thinking that we could afford to do an album. We did a demo and toured really, really hard with the demo CDR thing with Xeroxed covers that we hawked at shows. We made some money off T-shirts. We would do 250 days in a year and not a single show was outside of a house or a basement. There was a DIY network we were proud to be a part of. It meant that Monday night you made what you needed to spend on Tuesday and so forth. When promoters said ‘guarantee,’ they meant it was what they would optimally pay you.”
While touring in support of 2011’s Yellow & Green
, tragedy struck. Nine passengers were injured (two seriously) when the band’s tour bus slipped off the road.
“Mentally, it was and continues to be difficult [to recover],” says Bailey when asked about the accident. “It’s not a particularly easy thing to contend with. That was the moment me and nine people I care deeply about almost lost their lives. We didn’t but we all share that memory and have that communal experience. I don’t think any of us have categorized it the same way. We do care about one another and keep in touch as best as we can given that we tour on different tours and occupy different spaces professionally. Talking about it with our fellow crash mates has been helpful and good. Addressing some of the issues through my music and art has been helpful and therapeutic. It would be presumptuous to say I’m done with it or fully at peace with it. You couldn’t be.”
When Baizley and guitarist Peter Adams sat down to the write the songs for last year’s Purple
, they took a different approach. The two hadn’t written together but Baizley has plenty of “stage time” with Adams, who joined the band back in 2008.
“We decided to take parts from songs we had started to write in the past and bring them back,” says Baizley. “We had written one riff from the recording session for Red and some stuff for Blue and vignettes we couldn’t figure out what to do with. We started with those. When you write something and you have an idea that you know is good and the band doesn’t gel, you don’t’ forget that idea. We got to see these ideas that we knew were good. Maybe someone else wasn’t quite feeling it. When we showed them to the new guys, they ran with it, and it was kind of effortless.”
The demos became “hugely orchestrated things” that showcased every idea the band had for every song.
“We could send them to the producer, and he would hear the scope of what we were thinking about,” says Baizley. “We just wanted to make our album bigger and better and bolder and more fantastic than the ideas we had labored over for the past year.”
On the resulting album, the band delivers more of the “glorious riffs” for which it’s known. The title also reflects “a dark moment” and references that aforementioned bus crash. Produced by Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney), the album starts with the noisy “Morningstar” and doesn’t let up until the mid-song breather, “Fugue,” an instrumental featuring an undulating guitar riff that makes the tune sound like a '60s lounge song.
“Near the end of the writing process, it was apparent to me that we were not in danger of having a record that didn’t have any excitement,” says Baizley. “It was so frenetic in terms of songs that didn’t need that but sounded cool because of that, I thought we needed an ear break. We knew it would be short and sweet. For me, I need that moment to catch your breath. It came out of mistake when we were recording the final. If you listen to the solo at the end of ‘If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain),’ the chord progression is the basis for ‘Fugue.’ We do that on a lot of records. We’ll reference another part of the album. It’s a cool nod to the end of the album.”
Songs such as “Kerosene,” a tune with a clearly articulated chorus and a catchy guitar riff, might seem more melodic and accessible. But Baizley says the band didn’t intend to make a more approachable album.
“I think the melodies are focused in a different way,” he says. “They come out in a way that for me sounds more natural and accessible and fluid but not necessarily more mature, but I can hear a level of excitement. That’s something you cannot manufacture no matter how hard you try. You cannot draft a situation where you sound excited. You cannot just think it. Certainly that's big different that separates it from being a lackluster album that has all the familiar Baroness-isms. We wanted to improve on something and, because we were amped to be in the studio writing other, that comes across in the songs.”
Baronness, Pallbearer, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $25, houseofblues.com.