By John Showalter
To say that John Dyer Baizley is a creative individual would be an understatement. Not only is he the vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the critically acclaimed and hard-to-pigeonhole band Baroness, he is the painter of their equally striking album art (and on occasion, the album art of other bands). November 14th marks their first performance in Fargo since 2009. Over that time they have undergone creative and musical evolution but still remain true to their roots.
The circumstances leading up to the tour were somewhat unusual, leading Baizley to refer to it as, “Kind of a clean-up tour.” Their newest album, “Gold and Grey”, was released in 2019. Unfortunately, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the newly released album had never gotten a promotional tour as such. This also influenced how the band decided to approach this tour. “We’ve chosen a really specific type of venue,” said Baizley, clarifying that they were treating this more as an “evening with Baroness” instead of the “more typical” concerts they’ve done with supporting bands and such.
Nonetheless, he said, “This is also an excellent opportunity to support Gold and Grey. It never had a show.” Regardless of the unique circumstances that led to the tour being done now (or perhaps not so unique, considering how many artists it affected), Baizley said, “I feel the pre-tour excitement,” as if this were a promotional tour and that he is very excited about being able to return to Fargo for the first time in over a decade.
Baroness’ newest album, “Gold and Grey”, shares the naming convention of the rest of their albums that they have released since 2007, namely titling the albums after colors. So far there has been Red Album, Blue Record, Yellow & Green, Purple, and the aforementioned Gold & Grey. When asked about this, Baizley explained, “One thing that I’ve always loved about certain bands primarily from the classic rock era they were able to to put out three or four genre-defining albums,” bringing up Led Zeppelin as an example, whose first four albums were titled I, II, III, and IV.
He clarified that he had nothing against bands utilizing clever wordplay in their album titles, but personally he finds it limiting. “In the absence of anything too specific, as a listener you could begin the listening experience with a blank slate,” said Baizley, instead of “Give away a bit of the plot.” “If you can maintain anything mysterious nowadays, I think the experience of digesting the album can be more rewarding.” In addition to that explanation, Baizley said that in addition to the artwork he does for the albums it offers an “easy numeric-chromatic” convention for titling the albums. And, Baizley jokes, “I’m just awful at naming things.” In any case, he thought it’s “a good start for a band with a distinct visual and musical aesthetic.
However, Baizley also hinted that “Gold & Grey” would also be the last album to adhere to that naming convention. “It very definitely feels the close of that record was also the close of an era.” He has no intention of Baroness calling it quits, but said, “Some things will change,” including the way that they title their albums. He said he already had some definite ideas but was not going to elaborate. The man did say he likes to maintain an air of mystery.
As mentioned throughout, the album art that Baizley paints for each release from Baroness is just as striking as their music. Though he attended three years at Rhode Island School of Design, he largely considers himself self-taught, saying that while he learned about utilizing various materials he “very much tried to avoid learning technique” so as to avoid boxing himself in. These paintings are largely watercolor, with only the occasional use of inks for line work and no digital techniques. “It’s a weird medium that I struggle with to this day,” said Baizley, though one would have a hard time realizing this with how beautiful his paintings are. Baizley described his creative process as “a neurotic outpouring of images and sounds.” “Some are highly controlled, some have no control, I lean into both.”
The art that adorns the albums often shares several similar visual motifs: primarily utilizing the color the album is named after, women, flowers and vegetation, and animals, especially fish and birds. “I find that as a visual artist I find it most easy to express myself using a language or lexicon of imagery that is relatively small or a few key elements,” said Baizley. “The images themselves are evocative and malleable.” He further explained that while each album’s art must have a personal element, they also needed to use very recognizable archetypes, that way they are “very detailed, unique, sharp, but not too restrictive to my experience.” He considers each album’s art as telling “the story of the time in between the recording coming and its predecessor.”
Both the visual and audio elements of Baroness are equally important to Baizley. “I’ve always treated the band as if it was a big art project,” said Baizley. He continued, “I’ve always considered myself an artist. I don’t think that denotes visual, audio, anything.” He has been passionate about both the visual and the musical arts ever since he was a child. “I always thought there would be a place where they would dovetail.” If there was a common theme that ran through the visual and auditory of Baizley’s art, he said, “It’s about my lived experience, things I’ve gone through, things I’ve seen,” and that he wanted to use the darker aspects of his experience to make something beautiful. “I’ve always had a difficult time outside of my creativity connecting to people. Art has saved my life, it’s how I communicate.”
The newest addition to the band is Gina Gleason, who has performed with groups as diverse as Cirque du Soleil and The Smashing Pumpkins. “Gold & Grey” is the first album she has recorded as lead guitarist for Baroness. “She is a totally incredible musician and a super sweet human being,” said Baizley. “She’s most definitely younger than the rest of the band and able to bring a youthful excitement to the band that made us psyched, helped keep things moving forward, and forced me to become a better musician.” Baroness has had several different lineups over the course of their history, but Baizley said that the departure of previous members has never been acrimonious, and each brought their own special touch to the band. “If you care about the people you’re involved with there can always be goodwill.”
IF YOU GO
Sunday, November 14, 8pm
Fargo Brewing Company, 610 University Drive, Fargo
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