The Savannah, GA sludge metal outfit Baroness is developing a very colorful reputation. It started off with 2007′s slaughterhouse of a record, the Red album. In 2009, the band continued down the path of destruction, releasing the Blue album, an equally heavy record. And now the band is set to release another album on July 17 with Relapse records, a double record titled Yellow And Green that not only extends the color spectrum in name but also in tonality by experimenting with a lighter and more melodic sound atypical of the band’s earlier releases. You can stream the album via NPR here.
With such a sonic change-up, Baroness faces the possibility of scaring off a few die-hard fans with its softer approach. And just off of a set on Metallica’s Orion Festival, lead singer John Baizley is anxious for the album’s release but not because he’s worried about how his fans will accept it—he’s simply ready to put out the album, which has been ready to release for months now, and move on with life. All set to embark on a summer-long European tour, Baizley spoke with CMJ about Baroness’s mindset while recording Yellow And Green, the band’s new toned-down sound and why he thinks popular music today is “watered-down horse shit.”
With your new double album, Yellow And Green, you go with the color theme again. Was there some specific inspiration you got from yellow and green?
With that, we weren’t really overthinking it. It was kind of an initial reaction we all had. We knew we were gonna do the color thing, so it was kind of like, “Which one should we do?” Those two colors came up. There was no discussion, nobody disagreed with it, so we were all in accordance on it. It’s just supposed to be simple, kind of easy, like giving the album titles numbers or something.
Was there a reason you guys went with a double album this time?
We decided to do a double record just because we had so many songs. If we really wanted to we could have probably squeezed it on to a single CD, but that’s too long. Nobody wants to listen to the same record for 75 minutes, honestly, nobody does. Especially if it’s got 18 tracks on it. So we kind of did a record with a built-in intermission.
You’re saying that it could have been a single record, but the two separate records sound like they could stand alone. Do you mean for them to stand alone, or do you think they work together better?
Yeah, we had to balance that out. Once we committed to the idea, then we had to consider that fact that if there’s an intermission between the two discs, each one of the records has to feel like a record in itself. But not so much so that playing them both makes you feel too different. They had to be similar enough to comprise one record but different enough and sequenced correctly that they felt like records themselves.
It sounds like you guys definitely made an attempt to tone down this album. Why did you go in that direction?
I don’t think that we made a conscious effort to tone down. I think that was sort of the end result. What we did was made an effort to open ourselves up and write different types of music so we didn’t get bored. To be honest with you, we didn’t want to feel stuck in some same sort of rut that was gonna define the band in some weird way and stick us on tour with the same bands for eternity and run around in circles for the rest of our distance. There’s a broad taste in music, and there’s a lot of music out there to be written, so we just wanted to continue to keep our minds open and just keep pushing our records forward so we’ve always got options. And we’ve always got the opportunity and the availability within the band to write whatever we feel and always give ourselves new challenges to write. It’s just kind of like once you said one thing, you should say something else; you should grow and move forward, and you should be able to do what you want with your records.
So basically just to keep yourselves open to the possibility of new things?
Yeah, it’s everything. It’s all about writing a good, solid, honest record, and the only way to do that is to write music that you like and that you feel. With these two records we’ve written the music that recently we like. If it sounds new, it’s just because it’s the result of us having been on tour for so long and having written the types of records that we have. Now I’m sure the next one will be different than these two, and so on and so forth until we stop putting out records. And that’s our M.O. I think it’s sort of a mindset that’s missing from music. I think what a lot of bands do is they’re searching for a formula, and once you find a formula that works, the expectation is that you’re gonna keep doing that because it’s a profitable formula. We’ve just chosen to define success in a different way; success is kind of a record-by-record thing with us. As long as we’re proud of what we’re doing, it doesn’t matter what style of music or whether it’s loud and brutal or sort of soft and contemplative. We can do that, we can do both and will continue to do both as long as that suits us.
Are you worried that this new direction is going to be kind of off-putting to fans who are into the heavier stuff?
I’m not worried about that at all. In fact I’m excited to see what those fans think. Because, just to step back for a minute, when I was younger I would go through periods of my life and I would get stuck in these little musical ruts, and it would have to be very much the same kind of music over and over again, and the breakthroughs for me would be when I would discover a band who would push out and force me to reconsider the type of stuff that I’m listening to and provide alternatives for the status quo. I think that if there’s a part of our fanbase that expects us to stay the same, I’m excited about the fact that we can present a challenge for them, and that’s entirely up to the listener whether they’re gonna agree with it or like it. You can kind of say that about any record.
How was recording process for the double album? It sounds like it came pretty natural and you were ready to get this stuff down.
Well, here’s the thing: You have an outside perspective, and everybody but the four band members have an outside perspective. For us it’s the same thing; not necessarily business as usual, but writing and recording a record is always the same for this band. We write it, we practice it, and then we record it—it’s just that simple. There’s no magic. Just because we’re doing a few more songs and double record doesn’t mean we’re sitting in there in the studio and going, “We’ve gotta make this better than our last record in some new way.” Every time we go into the studio, that’s what we have to do, that’s our job. Every time we record we need to make a better record than we’ve made before. So every single day in the studio, we’ve set a new standard for ourselves, and we’re just trying to outdo ourselves. But from a technical standpoint, there’s nothing different on this record from our first EP. We’re better musicians, and we understand the equipment and the process better, but it’s still the same thing. You press record, I’ll play. That’s it pretty much. It really is that simple.
So there weren’t any different preparations for the more melodic music?
Nah, we just had to practice, and I think we’ve probably gotten better at practicing, and like I’ve said, in 10 years we’ve become better musicians, and the experience of touring, the experience of recording informs us as we move forward, but there really is nothing different. If you’re practicing or rehearsing for something or writing, the process is always the same. It’s just how much experience you bring to the table and how you can become more musically articulate over the years, and that’s just called growing up. It’d be the same if I was a carpenter or something, I’d be better now at building a table or something than I was 10 years ago, but it’s still wood, it’s still nails, it’s still a hammer. We still have the exact same tools; we’ve just become better and seasoned in terms of how we use those tools.
You mentioned that the tools are all the same but you guys as a band have progressed. That being said, would you say that this is your best release yet?
Absolutely. No doubt about it. And I hope to be able to say that every time we put out a record.
And do you think the fans will agree?
I do think the fans will agree, but I’m not making any predictions. This a highly subjective art form that we’re doing, and I’m very well aware that there are conservative listeners and there is this sort of orthodox mentality that some people have. So I’m not saying that 100 percent of everybody is going to love every record that we put out. If that was our attitude, that we have to make people love this record, if that was the way we thought about music, we wouldn’t play this type of music, because the type of music that we’ve always played has been either abrasive or slightly forward thinking or slightly left of center. Nickelback is one of those bands that knows what their fans want, and they keep putting the same records out every time. You know, do I want to sound like that? No! Not at all. It’s fun for us to put something out there that’s going to surprise people. I think that element in commercial music and in pop music is gone. Nobody’s surprised anymore. It’s all watered-down horse shit that for some reason tastes good to some people. And I say it’s not supposed to go down so easy.