“Oh yeah, they sell tons of vinyl at their shows”, says Andrea from behind a very busy merch table, while dealing with a continuous stream of fans looking to buy a souvenir. Besides t-shirts and screen printed posters, there are no less than six records available for purchase, for those who prefer their Baroness on wax. As the key part of what drives the band creatively, John Dyer Baizley has always been very intimately involved in every aspect of the Baroness experience. Equally known as an accomplished visual artist with an extensive portfolio, his stunning album covers are as essential to the album experience as the music is. In fact, he confirmed this to us, when asked during a recent conversation for our latest installment of VINYL TALK .
Your new album, Purple, is your first self released lp on your own label, Abraxan Hymns. Were there any challenges unique to you operating your own label, as opposed to having Relapse take care of it for you?
JB It’s an entirely different process when you don’t have a dedicated, impartial, and at least slightly removed group of people working on a (vinyl) release. As opposed to a small, internally driven group that ultimately decides the yes or no of every aspect of the release. It makes some things easier, but it makes other things much more laborious and difficult. But the tradeoff is a greater sense of freedom. We don’t have anyone who’s saying that there are things we cannot do. It’s more or less that there’s a group of people who are saying “we can do this, and here’s what it’ll cost.”
At one point, you’d mentioned in an interview that you were terrified of the major (labels)
JB What I’m terrified of is not that the major labels will take everything away from us because I don’t think that’s possible. What tends to happen in this industry is that you slowly chip away at your ethics. You make a concession for this or that reason and the net result is that, after 5 years, you can have all of this beautiful creativity dissolve. It’s not one person that took it; it’s very much a case of death by 1000 cuts. On a long enough timeline and with enough of those concessions, you’re eventually left with fitting into one of several workable models, adopted by the major labels. I didn’t get into music because I wanted to be a part of a workable model. I got into music because I love playing music, it’s the place where I feel free to express myself. Verbally, or in real life, those things don’t come quite so easily.
Did you listen to vinyl, growing up? Was it a part of how you consumed music?
JB I discovered vinyl through a friend’s father who had a collection. The first piece of wax I ever listened to was Zeppelin IV, which probably puts me in the majority of vinyl listeners alive. As somebody who felt at odds with the status quo and required something more challenging, I learned how to collect records because I had no other option. (Baroness) come from a very small town in Virginia. In order to get music we had to order it, there wasn’t a place to buy it. We bought 12 inches and 7 inches and 10 inch records; it was very rare that we bought a cd or a tape. Tapes were for making mixes that you would give to girls and cds were what you stole from BMG or Columbia House.
From the beginning, you’ve done the artwork for all the Baroness records, as well as for many other bands. As a visual artist, did the larger area to work with, that a vinyl lp provides, impact the way you approached your album art?
JB First and foremost, when I think about album covers, there is no format but 12″x 12″, unless it’s for a 10″ or a 7″. Cds are immaterial; I don’t consider itunes at all. By virtue of the fact that it’s a record, it requires something to hold it. It’s absolutely confounding to me that you wouldn’t invest time, effort, concept, theory, composition, design and all of that, into the package, as much as you do in your music… By nature, we’re visual creatures. It’s much more difficult when someone says “Beethoven’s ninth”, to immediately recall the melody, than it is for someone to say “Dark Side Of The Moon” and (snaps fingers) you (think) white triangle, prism. We associate things visually. To find the synchronicity between songs and the visual is a no brainer to me.
Do you remember the first instance when an album sleeve impacted you, made you see it as a canvas for your art?
JB I got an (original six panel) copy of (Hawkwind’s) Space Ritual many years ago. I finally had this thing that you had to figure out how to open. Once you opened it, there was this entire world inside…just the sensibility and the design, the colors and the mystery there…it almost surpassed the music in some ways.
You once referred to Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum” as the one jazz album that was ok for rockers to listen to
JB But it is. If you know rock people, the one jazz record they know is either gonna be (Mahavishnu Orchestra’s) “Birds Of Fire” or “Spectrum”. Those are jazz guys playing rock-ish music. Up until a few years ago, if you would have asked me what my top 5 records were, there wouldn’t have been much variance. Now, one of my top, all time favorite records to listen to is Keith Jarrett’s “Concert In Koln” When I heard that, my entire perception of music changed.
Is vinyl a format you use?
JB Every night, while my family eats dinner, we listen to vinyl. My daughter asks if she could get a record to play. Dinner music tends to be Mogwai because it’s very easy to eat to (laughs). There’s something very sublime to it, you can pay attention to it or you can tune out and there’s still something enjoyable going on. We listen to Van Halen just as frequently, or Keith Jarrett. It’s very hard get my wife to go full-in on Billy Cobham (laughs)
Do you remember the first record you bought?
JB I wanna say Fugazi “13”
In terms of revenue, how much does vinyl figure into your tour merch? Have you seen a shift towards wax, over the years?
JB We’ve consistently sold vinyl on tour, that’s always been our bread and butter. The cds kind of ebb and flow, but we sell vinyl. First things first: shirts and vinyl. The cd is a momento, the vinyl is what people keep. That has always been the case, for us.
Do you ever visit record shops, while on tour?
JB I used to but it’s become so costly that I shy away now. I look but I try not to buy cos it’s really hard to carry around that much vinyl on tour and it’s really, really hard to justify spending that much on records (laughs). But yeah, I do go record shopping and I always make a point to go to local, independent record shops because that’s where music is.
What was the last record you blindly took a chance on?
JB Years ago. Athens, Georgia, doing this (pretends to flip through records). I saw an album cover that I’d never seen before. I learned, in retrospect, that it was quite popular at the time. Something about the image on the cover captivated me so I bought it with no expectations other than I liked the cover. It was interesting and it stuck out, and that was Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea“. Imagine not knowing you’re gonna get that record, and then getting that record. It was stupefying. It was like “oh shit!” (Finding) those types of records doesn’t happen every day. That’s what we’re all looking for, that’s why we all do this. If we do this (flips), that’s what we’re looking for, we’re looking for that one record.
Baroness are currently on tour in support of their latest album, Purple. Vinyl copies of their entire discography are available at their merch stand. Make sure you say hi to Andrea, while she gets your records.