Baroness: ""Stone" represents our strong foundation, the strength of our bond as a band"
A juicy and lengthy interview with Baroness guitarist Gina Gleason
Baroness are one of the most distinctive names in the sludge genre, precisely because within their colorful (literally and figuratively) discography they have pushed boundaries, experimented with sounds, and not hesitated to make risky decisions to serve their artistic vision. For the past six years they have remained stable in their ranks, with no member turnover, and this new dynamic that has emerged between them has led to the creation of their new album, "Stone". On the occasion of this excellent release, which opens a new chapter after the closing of their color cycle, we spoke with lead guitarist Gina Gleason, about the recording of the new album, her influences, while she also recounted facts from her (many) collaborations, as well as revealed which musician she would like to interview - with a gun to his head or not…
(Pantelis) Hi, Gina! How are you?
Hello! Fine and you?
We're very good. I am Pantelis, and this is Manos. We would like to thank you on behalf of rocking.gr for the opportunity that you are giving us for this conversation. All of us at the site love Baroness.
Thank you, thank you so much for having me! We love Greece. We only got to go one time, but we have to come back.
We surely remember this one time!
(Manos) We had a blast!
(P) You have a new album coming out in a few weeks, and we have some questions for you. Should we hit you?
Yeah, let's do it!
(P) So, is the new album built around a specific concept? We noticed that it is heavily themed around death, it feels like a narrative around death.
Yeah, it wasn't really talked about before we started working on it. We just started work and, as it developed, a lot of the themes, emotionally and musically and lyrically, started revealing themselves to us. But death wasn't a concept that we initially set out to encompass, and I think "Stone" has kind of a dual meaning. It is very death heavy record, but I think it also symbolizes the foundation of the band in its final form - this is the first Baroness record that has the same lineup of people as the album before it. And so, I think it nicely represents our strong foundation as a unit, and the strength of our bond as a band. So yeah, that was just another thing that made itself clear to us, as we were trying to navigate the album and its meaning, while also decide on and the title. Was it going to be a color? We thought we were out of colors. "Gold and Gray" seemed like a good closing chapter to that series and it was time to start something new. So yeah, "Stone" is heavy on the emotional death themes, but also kind of representing a new series and kind of a new era.
It's a big part of us to take musical, melodic motifs and build on them, stretch them out
(M) It sends a message that you're compact now, as a band. But I would also like to ask you about something that I noticed in the lyrics. On "Beneath the Rose", "Choir", and "The Dirge", the last lyric contains the name of the next song. Was that on purpose, or am I overanalyzing things here?
The three songs are kind of one piece. The riff for "Beneath the Rose" was initially made during the making of "Gold and Gray", and it was held over. It didn't really get fully developed and kind of got put on the shelf. When we started working on "Stone", it was one of the first riffs to get taken down and re-examined. Once we were ready to start recording the music of it, we just naturally kept playing that rhythm section. We just decided to keep it as part of "Beneath the Rose", like an extended ending. It's a big part of us to take musical, melodic motifs and build on them, stretch them out.
In a similar way, we developed a lot of the ideas for "Gold and Gray", we'd take these small melodies and exhaust the options of how we can use them. So to just keep going and see where we could take this idea was a very natural thing for us to do on "Stone" too. And I like that it's sort of in the vein of a post rocky world that, in fact, Sebastian comes from, coming Trans AM. It's a style that's really natural and that he's really proficient at, that kind of hypnotic, trance-y kind of style. While the vocal idea for "Beneath the Rose" got developed, the more this sort of Jesus lizard-inspired, vocals naturally fit into the style that would become "The Choir". And then we just needed something to tie these pieces together, to wrap it up. It was initially meant to be a different song, in that vein of folk. Like, really, really sweet. If "The Choir" was that really bitter, dark thing, we needed something sweet to pull it together, meant to be one thing. John just started playing, we were looking for something even simpler. He played three chords, and we recorded it right away. That was something we did set out to make, we wanted this trio of songs that if you listen to it all at once, it's like one big piece.
(P) Exactly, it's like the one song gives birth to the next one.
Yeah, we did that a lot on "Gold and Gray", but differently. You would hear the ending melody of one song six tracks later, and as an interlude piece. We took that idea, but on "Stone" we made the tracks go sequentially, instead of having the listener to find it.
(M) We also have a blistering solo on "Last Word", something not very usual with Baroness. I wonder how this idea came to be incorporated into the song, to play such a skillful and aggressive solo.
(P) You're shredding, actually!
The basic outline for "Last Word" was the riff. We reworked the verse and chorus, but kept the bridge section, that was just this chord progression that I really liked. I thought it's going to be so fun to play a Randy Rhodes-inspired solo over it. I'm a really big Ozzy and Black Sabbath fan, I love Randy Rhodes, I love Ozzy - we all actually are big Ozzy fans. Originally, the first part of the solo was true to the first demo of the song, and John was on the fence at first, because it didn't sound as typical Baroness. So we worked out an idea for a little, where it was a more traditional Baroness solo, and it didn't have the same burst of energy. So yeah, I wanted to try to get it in there, and I think it worked out.
Some songs have this extra thing to it, this extra energy have no control over
(P) Which song are you prouder of on the new album? My favorite ones are "Shine" and "Magnolia".
Cool, thank you so much! I love them all. I really love "Magnolia", I think it has an emotional weight. We were talking about this last night, when we had practice. Some songs feel like you write them and you craft them, and you can capture it, and be what you imagined. And then, some songs have this extra thing to it, this extra energy that you feel like you didn't have any control over. It just happened, and it baked its way into the songs. I feel like that happened a lot on this record. I feel grateful that we have a good chemistry with each other, and that adds a little extra element to it. "Magnolia" for me has this extra emotional weight, it really feels beyond what we did as musicians. Somehow, it carries this intangible thing - I don't know if that makes any sense, but I feel the most proud of how that one was able to be captured.
As a guitar player, I have a really wide scope of things that inspire me, and I try to take pieces of all of them and melt them together into my guitar playing
(P) So, now that you have been a member of the band for some years, how do you feel that your musical style has been incorporated into Baroness in the in the last two albums?
I don't know. That's not for me to say, because I just come to the table with things and we adapt, we work together as a group. These influences that I have as a musician, that I've carried with me my whole life - things like Randy Rhodes and Dimebag Darrell, country guitar playing, and bluegrass, and singer-songwriter music - I feel like it all makes its way in this album, especially. There's acoustic songs that are kind of folky… That's the shit that I love! And there's shreddy bits and riffs. As a guitar player, I have a really wide scope of things that inspire me, and I try to take pieces of all of them and melt them together into my guitar playing. I hope that that comes through when you put it in a band context.
(M) It does, and I wonder: I think it's the first album that you produce yourselves. How is it working with your bandmates, and knowing that John can be very demanding and wanting to try all different kinds of things before concluding to some specific idea. So how was it producing the album yourselves, now, especially with all this experimentation going on?
I mean, it's a totally different experience than having a producer. A producer's role is so valuable even just on an interpersonal level. It's great to have an outside perspective come in the room and say "This is good! We're done, you did it!" So to not have that, you could drive yourself crazy. But we spend so much time together, touring, practicing, writing, and then we just hang out too. Like we'll have band practice, then we'll hang out and eat a meal, and watch Led Zeppelin videos on YouTube, and then we'll talk about it. We're so used to having that kind of dialogue together as bandmates that it was kind of natural to step into a studio setting and be able to accept removing the really personal bits without the drama of "Oh but this is my thing that I brought to the table". We were able be like, "What's the best thing for the song, and how can we be that producer's role for each other on an individual basis?", just as we were developing things. Because the weight of that role switched every time. Ιt would be me that needs the outside perspective. Sometimes it would be Seb or John or Nick. So yeah, we were able to have that dialogue between us, without taking things personally and, you know, want to cry and kill each other! (n. laughs)
(M) One thing I want to ask is about the sound mixing. It's quite different from your last two albums (n. made by Joe Baresi). It's very clean, but it remains raw and organic. So we wanted to know more about your decision to mix the sound on "Gold & Gray" in this way. It sounds kind of intriguing.
"Gold & Gray" is an extreme album in many ways, one being its production choices. I think that's what that album wanted, it's what the songs allowed for that type of expression. This time around, we were just in a different physical space. We rented a house, and brought all our equipment and lived there for a month. The sound of the living room of the house is really baked into the album, and it just sounded great. There was this big stone fireplace that we put the drums in front of, so you have the reflections of the stone. The drums were facing a sheetrock wall that went up not quite to the ceilings. We were able to put mics on there, facing the drums, and then there was a brick wall on the other side, that we were able to get mic reflections off of. So we just wanted to use the organic sound of the space that we were in, and we just thought it sounded cool on its own. We didn't want to color that in any way.
(P) So you didn't record in the studio? You recorded in a house?
Yeah, we rented a house from Airbnb, and that's what we did. Where we set up the drums, on the other side of the wall was the kitchen, so somebody be making lunch, and the other tracking the drums (laughs). The house had two bedrooms upstairs and two downstairs, and we made our Control Room in the bedroom of the person who owned the house. As soon as we got in there, we had to move all her shit out of the way, cause we don't need a bed or a couch where we have to put all our equipment!
(P) So it was the four of you, and you did everything in that house. You wrote the songs, you played them, and you recorded them there. Was it the first time you did this or have you done it before, but with a producer?
This was extreme. We recorded our last record with Dave Friedman at his studio, and then we did quite a bit more of vocal recording in John's basement at his house, which is where we practiced. So, we're accustomed to the process of recording things ourselves, and having that be the cut that makes the album, so that wasn't weird to us. The weird thing was that we did it with the entire band this time. We got a truck, and loaded all of our equipment, drove it up to the house, etc. It was sort of a remote house, in the woods, so there wasn't a lot of neighbors that we would be bothering.
(P) Never mind, it's only a month!
I can't believe it that we didn't break any stuff. We were really lucky because we didn't have a tech. It's also during the pandemic, so it's hard to go to a store and buy things, clothes, and we're really lucky that nothing exploded, no amps broke!
(P) Some time ago you did the "Your Baroness" tour, where the fans decided the setlist. How challenging was it? Were there any odd choices that you did not expect?
I think it was really fun. I was a Baroness fan before I joined the band, so I was excited to learn all the really old material, like that EP's and the first two, three albums. "Purple" I was really familiar with, but a lot of the "Blue" stuff we don't do a ton of that, so we learned that whole album. The voting was set up so that we play the top ten choices, so the top ten were pretty similar every night. Then we would do an acoustic set, and then another hour and a half of things that didn't make the top ten. So, if it was really a "Red"-heavy voting night, we would do a lot of that to satisfy the people that wanted to hear that.
It was great, because we recorded all the music for "Stone" as instrumentals, we did the vocals at John's house, in his basement, but we had to be on tour in between that time. We toured all summer with Lamb of God, and then we came back and finished the vocals. So I think learning all the old material, and touring so much informed what the vocals should be for the new album, so it was kind of cool to step back in the catalog of music before we went back to finishing the album.
(P) I remember when Metallica did the same about ten years ago, Lars said in an interview that these were the easiest setlists for him because the fans were picking the most popular songs, and he did not have to do what you did. He didn't have to learn a very strange song.
Well, they're Metallica, they could do whatever they want!
(M) We agree! I think the banner behind is also a Metallica banner? (n. a figure from "One")
(P) I saw it, that's why I asked it! Even half of it we can recognize it.
(M) I wonder if there are any backstage talks about coming to Greece again, if you're visiting again, or if you're doing a tour for the new album.
We would love to. We start our US and Canadian tour October 13th, and we're taking out over a dozen regional bands with us. So it would be like three or four different support bands per region of the US. Some amazing bands: Portrayal of Guilt, Zorn, Sheer Mag, Jesus Piece, Vile Creature, Agriculture, Chat Pile, Esquella Grind, Uniform… Some massive list of bands that we love, so we're really looking forward to that. Then we hope to come to Europe, and South America, Australia, we want to come to Japan, we want to come back to Greece. We're hoping to do Europe early in 2024, but we're still working out the logistics of that.
Where should we go? Should we go back to Athens? Where else would be cool to play?
(P) In Greece you mean in? Maybe you can combine Thessaloniki and Athens with a tour of the Balkans. The show that you gave here in 2019 ranks very highly among us. Everyone who was there had a great time and remembers it. And of course we remember that you also stage dived!
Awesome! (n. laughs) Yeah we had such a beautiful time, it's such a beautiful place. It was during a three-month long tour, but had a break in the middle, and the other bands went home for their break. But we went to Greece, because we're not going to go home!
(M) Now, I want to ask you something about your side project, Darling (n. with Dorthia Cotrell of Windhand, and Leanne Martz). You released a song about two years ago, but then we had no news about it. So, are we going to have an album or was it a one-off project?
We did the one song and then we donated all of the revenue from the streams to charity (n. it is the FortheGworls fund, financially supporting black trans people). Then we started working on "Stone", and I know Windhand is busy, Dorthia put out her own album, where I was also able to play some guitar on it… So yeah, we just did this one song and try to put it towards a good cause. They're great friends of ours, and I love seeing them. I love hearing everything that they do, and I think she's such a talented songwriter, so I hope we could do something in the future. Probably, though, we just did this one track during the pandemic.
(P) Do we have time for a couple more of questions?
I think we still have, so let's do it.
(P) You also took part in the "Two Minutes to Late Night" YouTube series. How was this experience, how did it affect you?
It was so great! They're such a great crew. Jordan Olds and Drew Kaufman are the main brains behind the operation. Jordan is Gwarsenio, of course. They're the most motivated people, they're really positive, and they get these crazy ideas, and then they somehow execute them, and get all these people on board. They're really inspiring to just be around. When Jordan explains to me about the way the scheduling is, like they're trying to get five different people from five different bands, and they're all on tour, and he's trying to coordinate them… I don't know how he does this! So it's always great to work with them. They're so fun, and they're just really positive dudes.
(P) Each month we publish a list with five records that each one of us has been listening to during the past month, regardless of age or genre. Could you give us five records?
Yeah, absolutely! I'm trying to open my Spotify account. Let's see. Let me see. Five albums, let me see… Well, I listened a lot to "Cold Fact", which is an album by Rodriguez (n. it's Sugar Man), because he passed away not too long ago. I don't know if you're familiar with him, or his story, but definitely look it up. "Cold Fact" by Rodriguez. He's got an amazing origin story, and there's a documentary about him, and it'll make you cry. I cried so much watching it! (n. laughs) That came out in 1970. "Untopia" is a record by the band Kruelty, an amazing Japanese hardcore record. What else did I listen to? I listen to "Gish" by The Smashing Pumpkins…
(P) You also played with them…
I did play once with the Smashing Pumpkins, I'm a big fan. "SOS" by SZA, she's a great vocalist, hip hop artist. And "Starting Over", which is an album by Chris Stapleton, who is a country artist. Yep!
(M) It's a very diverse top five!
(P) Your collaborations are also very diverse, because you have collaborated with The Smashing Pumpkins, with Santana, Jon Anderson. And even Jello Biafra! So which one was the most interesting collaboration, and which one would you like to repeat?
It's always really interesting to collaborate with artists that have just been around and doing their craft and their art for so long, it's so inspiring. I'm lucky because I've had a lot of opportunities to be around folks like this and just kind of pick their brains by jamming with them. I worked at Cirque du Soleil, which was in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Carlos Santana also had a concert residency in the same area, so we just crossed paths. He came to see the theater show that I worked at and I just said "Do you wanna to jam?", and he was like, "Yeah, what are you doing on Thursday?" and I was like "We're jamming!" (n. laughs). So it's just funny how life is just silly. Stuff like that can happen. I just think that that's a really funny part of life. I mean, especially with Pumpkins, which are one of my favorite bands. Billy Corgan was very kind and explained his whole pedal setup, he had all his pedals out showing them to me, that was so cool. Like he doesn't have to give a fuck about me or what I'm doing, but he took time out of his day to be like, "Do you wanna see this old, vintage Big Muff pedal-whatever?" And so that was super inspiring.
I'm such a big Metallica fan, I'd love to talk to James Hetfield about his lyrics, and what types of things he reads
(P) So if you had the chance to interrogate a musician, which one would you choose?
To interrogate?! (n. laughs)
(P) Not with a gun to their head, but ok, which one would you like to have an interview with?
Yeah, it's such a great question! I have like so many… And I must choose one? Oh my gosh, one… I mean, I'm such a big Metallica fan, I'd love to talk to James Hetfield about his lyrics, what types of things he reads, or where he gets his phrasing inspiration from, and what are some of his favorite authors. So yeah, I'd love to chat with James Hetfield.
(P) Would you like to maybe close this conversation with a message to your fans here?
Just thank you so much, and to anyone that came to the show where we played, we're so, so grateful, and we can't wait to come back! "Stone" comes out September 15th, so that's just in a few days. Check it out and we hope everybody really loves it, and that it connects with people the way it connected with us as we were creating it. Thank you guys!
(P) You know, everyone who came to that show will come to the next one, and we'll convince friends to come along. We will be happy to see you again!
Thank you so much, we so appreciate it and we look forward to seeing you guys! Goodbye!