Baroness

Grande Rock had a chance to sit down with Sebastian Thomson the drummer for Baroness and talk about their latest release “Gold & Grey”, among other things. Read more below…
Baroness band pic
You’ve had this run of albums that are all have colored titles. Was there a plan to naming all the albums based on this?
 
S: Yeah. So, John was an art student. And he, you know, does a lot of illustration and painting and drawing, as I’m sure you know, does all the album covers. So, when they made the red album, there wasn’t a plan yet. I wasn’t in the band yet. But this is now that I’ve been hanging out with the guys for so long. I like basically what happened… it was a challenge that john set up for himself. I think him and Alan were having a conversation one day, and they were like, wouldn’t our merch table look insane. If we continued with a color for each album. And we would do the whole color wheel. And it would be like the craziest looking merch table. It kind of started as like, half a joke, half challenge. And then it just continued. And I think it’s coming kind of like says a lot about John as a person is like his perseverance, you know, which is great for us as a band.
 
 
Oh, yeah, I can imagine. I mean, you want to have somebody there that’s going to, you know, drive things forward and create.
 
S: He’s unstoppable.
 
 
I’ve also read that each album has been recorded in a different way. Was that on purpose? Or were you trying to achieve something by going that?
 
S: The two ones that I’ve actually played on are “Purple” and “Gold & Grey”, which were both made with the producer Dave Fridmann. So same studio, same producer, same band, we had one different member, but apart from that the same band, but they were slightly different. The way we did it for “Purple”, we had written all the songs. You know, to the point we had the lyrics, we had the drum fills, we had the solo, I mean, that lead parts, everything down. We made minor adjustments in this studio. That was pretty much it. For “Gold & Grey” we had to write a lot in the studio. We had some chord progressions, some beats, and some riffs. So, we wrote a lot in the studio, and that really made it a different experience. Was that intentional? I wouldn’t say it was totally intentional. But when we saw it happening, we didn’t fight it. You know, we saw that the deadline looming. We said, you know, let’s try to write in the studio, or at least complete writing in the studio. And, you know, trust that we can build up to this challenge and trust in each other as bandmates and we can do this, and I think it worked. It was definitely a very different experience. For “Purple” it was for everybody was pretty much a matter of just play the parts you came up with. Just make sure there is good execution and make sure it sounds good. For “Gold & Grey”, we had a lot of aesthetic debates and music theory debates and things like that. So, it was a very, very different experience. And both really fun in their own different way.
 
 
Which method do you prefer?
 
S: Maybe I would say, somewhere in between. I know that sounds like a cop out. But a little more prepared than “Gold & Grey” and a little more flexible than “Purple”, I would say would be best.
 
 
You think that extra flexibility allows the creative juices flow?
 
S: Yeah, it’s cool to treat the studio like what the Beatles did on “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”, they treated it like an instrument. So that is an enjoyable experience. That the whole the whole Steve Albini way of treating the studio as just a way to document your band is cool, but it’s only one way to do it. That can be kind of limiting. There is so many possibilities in the studio, and you can come up with things that you wouldn’t come up with at home. Also, having deadlines is, I think, good for an artist. I think it’s good to be forced to finish. I mean, I can imagine there’s so many great musicians out there that are writing the best album ever that we’re never going to hear, because they don’t have a deadline. They’re in their home studio or in their bedroom, and they’re constantly tinkering and constantly rewriting it. If it doesn’t exist, kind of, you know, what’s the point? Nobody’s gonna hear it. You need to force yourself to finish it.
 
 
So, going forward, do you see yourself trying to, you know, strive for that middle ground when you record your next album, or you’re not even thinking that far ahead?
 
S: At this point, we’re just thinking about like, oh, let’s use this kind of groove the next album. Or I have this idea, or I really like this song. We should do something; you know with this kind of element in it. That’s the stage we are at right now. We haven’t really talked about who we would do it with. Normally John likes to do two albums with the same producer. So, I’m guessing we’re going to use another producer next time. We haven’t really talked about it.
 
 
Is there any track that you really like on this album?
 
S: I think there’s a lot that I really like. I mean, “Front Towards Enemy”, “Already Gone”, “Seasons”, “Tourniquet” I just mentioned all of side one. Pretty much. Yeah, I mean, I’m really proud and happy with the music on the song. I’m pretty stoked on it. Now, the challenge is that because we wrote some of it in the studio, there are some songs that we never really played as a band. Because we would like, you know, edit two drum takes together and then overdub the guitars, so there’s some songs we never actually played in the traditional sense. So, we’re like learning some of the stuff in the studio on the road. But this for only some of the songs.
 
 
So, you’re finding that some of the songs are more studio centric, as opposed to live centric?
 
S: More just that we need to actually practice them.
 
 
When you’re piecing things together, it does make for a different experience that.
 
S: Exactly.

 
As an artist, have you taken away something from all this that you like, and be using going forward?
 
S: Yeah, I mean, I really like to challenge myself on the drumming on these albums. And in a selfish way I like to write parts that I’m not good at. Because with the hope that within a year, when we’re actually on tour or recording it, I’ll be good at it. And so far, it’s worked. I’m constantly thinking in that way. It’s very nice positive reinforcement to listen back to “Purple”, and to “Gold & Grey”. Like you know, what, five years ago, I couldn’t have played this song or that song. So, I am going to do the same thing again for the next album and challenge myself. A lot of times I’ll program drum-beats on the computer that I can’t play, and then slow it down and then teach myself that way. So yeah, the short answer is that it’s been a good experience pushing myself like that and using a new album as an excuse to improve. I know, it’s sounds like a very selfish answer. But it’s true. It is fun to do that.
 
 
As an individual musician, you have to bring what you have to the table. It really isn’t necessarily selfish. It’s a matter of this is who I am, and this is where I’m at.
 
S: I think another thing that we’ve learned is that what one of the cool things about Baroness is that is, you know, accessible rock music, but there are a lot of hidden intricacies in it. And I want to keep that moving forward. There are some weird technical things we do that are not obvious. You know, on the first listen. But I know that there’s some like, if you’re a drummer, for example, there’s some songs that you’re like, OK, yeah, whatever is not so hard. Then you start playing along, you’re like, ‘ohh this is actually kind of weird. What’s happening here’? I like that. I like that sort of the hidden layers.
 
 
That’s one of the things about Baroness that they’ve got that progressive element to it.
 
S: It’s not at all like Dream Theater, so…
 
 
Yeah, it’s an element. It’s part of the sound that makes up the band.
 
S: Exactly.
 
 
You came from another band to join Baroness. How did you find that transition?
 
S: I mean, they’re very different bands. The other bands called Trans-Am. And we’re still technically a band, but the other guys are married with kids, day jobs, and whatever. It makes it kind of hard. It’s pretty much part time at this point. Trans-Am was much more of a sort of experimental underground minimalist, post rock & space rock band. And it was, it’s just so many things about are so different, the way we work as a business, it’s very different. The way we toured is very different. The way we wrote was very different. You know, Trans-Am was mainly instrumental; it was very different in many ways. It’s been very good for me as a person and as an as a musician to experience two of the hundred ways you can be in a band, it’s really opened my eyes and it’s made me a better player, and it’s made me a better touring person. And, yeah, it’s been really good. The transition wasn’t difficult. It was just different. You know, when you get down to it, it’s all friends of mine that play cool music. There has to be that kernel there, of people you get along with. Your buddies that you like jamming with and you’d like listening to records with and sending a check out this album or whatever. That has to be in common. Regardless of the band. You know, you have to have that. That like I said, that kernel. But, yeah, like, for example, Trans-Am we didn’t tour on a bus. I had to learn how to tour on a bus; you know what I’m saying?! Things like that. The transition was also a three pieces to a four piece and there’s so many different things about it. Cool transition, little bit, you know, I am opening so it was good. Having said that, there are some things in common. I do think and I think John was a fan of Trans-Am. And when, we talked about me playing it was because he had seen us play live. And on this album, I did try to reintroduce some Trans-Am drumming motifs on “Gold & Grey”. So, there is a crossover, there is a slight musical crossover in there. And for fans of both bands, I’m sure you can pick them out.
 
 
When you’re on the bus, going from gig to gig, what kind of music do you guys listen to?
 
S: So, a lot of times that music that we listen to; we’re all hanging out together a party is just dance music, to be honest with you. We’ll have like parties on the bus when we’re having some drinks and, you know, it’s late night. The good thing with the bands is that we’re all pretty different in what we listen to. I would say Gina is definitely the most metal of us. I would say more sort of old school metal fan, you know, very 80s and 90s. Even 70s. John is very eclectic. The last couple of years have been listening to a lot of underground acid house and Detroit techno and stuff like that, which I know sounds totally weird. Because I’m in Baroness, but I do love that stuff. And I think it comes out at some point in my playing. Nick also comes from like a jazz background. I mean, we’ll have late night listening parties and, take turns on the Spotify on the phone in the lounge a little bit. And be like check this out and check that out. It ends up being really random sometimes. One band that we’re all digging on right now is King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard
 
 
Do you think any of that stuff will find its way into your sound or into your albums?
 
S: I mean, I think it kind of has, but it’s more like we discovered we were doing something in common, rather than like we were influenced by them. I think it’s more like ohh, look this band is also doing this kind of weird thing. That’s cool. It was more like that, you know? I think I think there’s a there are some krautrock moments on “Gold & Gray”, and one or two sort of little hints of black metal in there. I think it’s cool to sort of add that in there. I mean, for example, we just toured with Defheaven. That’s their thing. It’s like blast beats with shoegaze. We’re down with that. We’re down in these weird combinations.
 
 
It makes music a bit more interesting.
 
S: It makes something interesting. I think it’s a positive that people who are in the general sense of heavy metal are not so traditional anymore. It’s one of those genres that can get very specific. You know, where it’s like, a mid-80s, bay-area thrash, okay, whatever. People get so stuck up on these, like these categories, and classifications. I mean, it happens in every genre. It happens in dance music. Like, okay this is second generation early 90s Detroit techno. You know what I’m saying? Like that specifically which is cool if you’re a DJ. But, when you’re trying to write music, I think you gotta let that go a little bit. So, just be a little bit more clueless about that. I think it’s cool that Defheaven is mixing it up and, and also challenging the fan base.
 
 
If you don’t do something like that, how do you grow as an artist?
 
S: Honestly, I think Baroness challenges the fanbase. Because people still will say we’re like a sludge band or stoner band. Articles will say that, but we’re definitely not any of them. I mean, we don’t do it on purpose, like to piss off the old school fans. But I think it’s good for people to you know, open up a little bit.
 
 
You have to grow and change, right?
 
S: Yeah, as a listener and as a musician.
 
 
Would you want to stagnate? Would you want to keep saying at the same point?
 
S: That’s a good point. I think now that I’m in my 40s, it’s like, I think a lot of people, once you reach this age, you just listen to what you thought was cool when you’re 18. That’s like a pretty normal thing for most people. You have you have to be conscious of that, you know, to keep on listening. You gotta hang out with the younger friends, please. You gotta read the blogs and whatever and keep up. We have to make an effort. Because if not, you’re just listening to. I mean, it makes sense. That’s a very formative time of your life. You know, when you’re 18. I get it. But it’s good to move pass that.
 
 
Now that you’re finished with your colored themes, do you know what direction you guys are going to go next?
 
S: The joke I made before is that we’re going to do the periodic table of the elements. We’ll get something like 120 albums out of that. I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean that would be cool. What is it hydrogen, helium, lithium, something? I don’t remember. We haven’t thought that far ahead.
 
 
I’ve read that in the making of this album, you put that whole concept of the mixtapes of the 90 and how listeners can go out and map a journey with other artists, and you want this album to be that way. Do you feel you accomplished that? How do you think you went about that?
 
S: I think an important part of that is the idea of segues. They don’t have to be a 30 second throw away. That’s part how snf why the album flows the way it does. There are some bits that we have in there, which I think other bands would have made 30 seconds, like some of the synth pieces. We make them an actual song length. I think that that’s one of the reasons that it sounds like a journey. I mean, honestly, it’s not just a mixtape thing, but it’s also something that, you know, Pink Floyd would do. You don’t have to follow these rules. And okay, something can only be three minutes long and it has a verse and a chorus and vocals and a bridge. That’s just a rule. You don’t have to follow that. You can break that rule. You can you can have a three minute long arpeggiated synth piece. Why not? You know, I mean, Steve Riech the modern composer has entire albums of that, you know, and it’s awesome. So, it was just about being open minded, I think this time around.
 
 
Where do you see as music? Do you see it? Do you see something new, different and exciting?
 
S: I don’t know. Because the way music is sold, presented and packaged has changed so much that it’s like, it’s really kind of, I don’t think anybody has any idea. You know? And even though it’s complaining about music nowadays, I’m not talking about all the great underground bands that are on tour, I’m talking about what people hear on the radio. I kind of feel like I don’t even understand how the music business works anymore. I kind of feel like people in the music business don’t really understand how it works anymore. I think everybody’s figuring it out day by day. I don’t really know where it’s gonna go. Whenever I get an Uber or a cab and they’re playing what’s on the radio, it’s a little depressing. You know, it sounds like the same song being rewritten. You know, it’s all the same BPM, it’s all programmed and autotuned. It’s like that, it’s just awful. I know, there’s great music out there. But it’s just not mainstream unfortunately. So, we’ll see what happens. You know, I mean, I think the fact that bands have to tour a lot to make money now. You know, post Napster even though it has negatives, obviously, which is that people buy less music. There is a positive, which is that people go out and see bands. I remember going on tour with Tool, we were playing I mean, this tour was like 15 years ago, at least. We were playing arenas that like Britney Spears played the night before or whatever. And I remember thinking how cool that is, that the same room that the night before was sold out for some completely pop whatever bullshit. The next night is sold out for some completely, insanely weird, psychedelic progressive band, like Tool. That is a positive very cool thing. So, I guess what we’re saying is that regardless of whatever profile an artist has in the pop media, what actually puts asses in the seats is a different thing.
 
 
Just because it’s not on the radio doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for it.
 
S: Exactly. You know, hopefully we’re part of that. I don’t think we’re on the radio. We’re not as weird as Tool, but people come to see us and I’m pretty stoked about that.
 
 
If you could collaborate with anybody outside of your genre, who would it be and why?
 
S: That’s a good question. First of all, I don’t really know what our genre is. There’s a band I’m buddies with called Zombie. It’s a duo of drums and synth. It sounds sort of like John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream. So, a bit of a bit of the Baroness layered guitars with arpeggiated synth madness would be super cool and weird.
 
 
You like that idea? Just like do something different.
 
S: Yeah, I mean, it’s not gonna happen. I’m just saying that I can imagine it would sound pretty cool.
 
 
That’s what you as a as a fan of music like? Just take different things and bring it together?
 
S: I’m not a fan of that just for the sake of it. Because I definitely do think there’s some style mashups that are horrible. Things like constant genre switching bother me, I don’t like that. But if you can find particular two or three things that have one particular magic together, I think that’s cool.