For a band that weaves sludgy metal riffs around psychedelic noise melodies, Baroness certainly has a colorful outlook on things. And why not? The Savannah, Ga.-based quartet, led by singer-guitarist John Baizley, recently released Blue Record—its follow-up to 2007’s Red Album—on Relapse Records to high sales and rave reviews. Prior to its two full-lengths on Relapse, Baroness released a trio of EPs on smaller labels, and all five releases feature cover art by Baizley. In addition to creating mystical-themed artwork for his own band, Baizley has created cover and T-shirt art for fellow metal acts Torche, Kylesa, Pig Destroyer, and a plethora of others. Prior to kicking off the band’s tour on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at The Rock And Roll Hotel, Baizley sat down with The A.V. Club to discuss chromatic titling, mystical artwork, and keeping it in the family.
The A.V. Club: How are Red Album and Blue Record related to each other? Some referred to Blue as a sequel to Red.
John Baizley: A sequel? Insofar as it’s the same band and it’s our next record…There was a press release our label put out that said they are companion records. It’s just that this is the new record from the same band.
AVC: So we won’t be seeing Yellow Record?
JB: We’ve been doing this chromatic titling for two records. I’m not sure anyone would be surprised if we did.
AVC: Blue debuted at #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart. How important is that to you and the rest of the band, or is it at all?
JB: It was a shock. I wasn’t even aware of the chart before that. It’s important, it’s just not the most important thing to us. Those things are signal posts that people are listening to the band. All the positive reviews and chart numbers in world, all that stuff doesn’t mean anything if we don’t tour and people aren’t listening to us. That’s where we focus ourselves.
AVC: Why the switch in producers for this record?
JB: With Red and everything else before that, we’d worked with same producer at the same studio and with the same engineers. It was risk free, we know what comes out with that environment. It was great for the last record, but this one we felt like we needed to challenge ourselves, do something unfamiliar and new.
AVC: How do the musical interludes on Blue fit into your writing process? Are they snippets of songs or do you write them when you’re finishing the record to ease the songs into each other?
JB: I consider myself a student of music history and additionally I have considered myself a fan of the album as a piece of artwork. It was a very logical step for us to piece it together like that. Sequencing is super important, not only when writing but when playing. We had ideas to use classical mechanisms like codas and reprisals and stuff like that. Naturally it works itself out when we write. It’s not like those snippets were songs that didn’t make the cut. Those parts are intrinsic parts of those songs since day one. We leave the noisier stuff up to chance, and the interludes are things we play live as part of our set.
AVC: There are a lot of mystical images on the covers of Baroness records. What inspired you to design them this way?
JB: When we first formed the band, something that impressed itself was that a select few bands through history were creating a sonic identity, a visual identity, and an artistic identity that was in parcel with the music. From day one, we considered Baroness to be an art project. It’s a creative outlet for all the members, so it seemed logical that we develop more than just a musical identity for ourselves. Through that type of thinking, we have forged a sort of visual universe with its own visual language that I’ll exercise on our record covers. It’s based in the fantastic, so everything stands for something else; it’s highly symbolic. It’s the same way we write our music and lyrics. There’s no linear explanation, it’s all up to interpretation. Everything is very meaningful, composed and included for a reason.
AVC: How much does your career in doing artwork for other bands inspire your own musical career?
JB: It all comes from the same place. When I put a paintbrush on a canvas or have a pen in my hand—whether it’s music or lyrics—it all has a similar inspiration. It’s all the same thing; it doesn’t matter if it’s [for] this band or [for another] band. I’m able to express myself more freely and succinctly with Baroness because I know the music much better, but when I work for other bands, the direction is largely based on my ideas. I’m not one who takes direction very well.
AVC: Do the other bands try to direct you, or do they know you from your reputation as an artist and just let you work it out on your own?
JB: I try not to let reputation dictate anything. I understand the level of complexity and depth that musicians feel for their music, so of course I always ask [what they want]. In a best-case scenario, the band and I agree on a direction and they trust where I take it. Musicians think it’s easy to give direction but I’m not always capable of working that way. I have my own way of doing things. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’ve gone through a couple of lead guitarists over the years. Do you think you’ve finally found a permanent one?
JB: Yeah, hopefully! [Laughs.] The thing you have to understand is everyone who has been in this band…we all grew up with each other. With Pete [Adams, current Baroness lead guitarist], he is basically one of the oldest friends I’ve had. When we started the band years ago, he and I mutually had the idea [for Baroness], but the way it panned out was that he had other obligations and couldn’t be in the band. He was this shoe we were filling with other people. I totally believe in him as the final 25 percent of the band, and I think it would be a shame if anything happens to this lineup.
AVC: So the band is kind of a “family affair?”
JB: Yeah, actually. The original lead guitarist was a great friend and the second was our drummer’s brother. Everybody lived within a mile or two of each other, we all went to the same schools and have a slight age difference. One of the strengths of our band is we can see through each other’s bullshit because we have been seeing it for years. It’s a level of closeness that works itself out in unique musical ways. It’s like twin brothers finishing each other’s sentences, which is unique and awesome.