This week, Baroness returns with Yellow & Green, the long awaited follow-up to 2009’s Blue Record. Though the album’s already received its share of positive feedback, there’s also a slight backlash amongst some longtime fans who fear that the band’s sound is evolving away from the brutal heaviness of their early material. Consequence of Sound’s Len Comaratta caught up with drummer Allen Blickle as the band sat at the airport, ready to board their flight to Amsterdam, where Baroness began their European tour.
We also recently spoke to Baroness guitarist Peter Adams at Orion Music + More Festival. You can watch the video interview here.
Before we really get going, out of curiosity, where did the whole color theme come from?
I remember when we first met with Relapse [Records], we had this idea where we were going to do three albums with them. We had this timeline where we were going to do three records with Relapse when we signed, and, for some reason, I remember having a dream, and I remember talking to John [Baizley, guitar/vocals] about this. I had a dream, for some reason it was three records and this concept of the RGB, the three primary colors, to be for every record. And we kind of expanded on that, and it’s sort of just fit as well going through the times, having a color create a simple emotion to become subject matter, and it wouldn’t be too intense. You know how like a lot of albums [have] so much wording you just don’t imagine that, but a color is very simple to grasp at the beginning, and I think it grew into something a little cooler as the peak of three albums.
The Blue Record has been described as the sister to Red Album. So, where will Yellow & Green fit in family tree?
That’s a funny thing. I think it’s a “sister album” because it was two colors. So, this is kind of like the same thing, the ending piece of a trilogy of sorts, the three colors. Having that many songs, we decided to actually do two albums, and just adding green, which is a secondary color, sort of adds to the trilogy, which is not a trilogy anymore because it’s four albums. As releases, I think that’s the idea, do you know what I mean? [laughs] We’re not trying to confuse you that hard.
John Baizley recently said, “The record’s going to be really reactive—whether it’s positive or negative, [anybody who hears it is] definitely going to have a reaction to it.” Well, he was right, people are reacting. What are you finding?
Yeah. It’s cool, we have been interested in seeing [that], as the reactions come out and the reviews come out. Most of the reviews we’ve had are pretty positive and pretty exciting. But yeah, a lot of fans are a little weirded out. There is a lot of differences that we’ve done to this album. But I find that exciting, because we always change. If you listen to First EP and Second EP, that’s nowhere near the same as Blue album. And the same for Yellow & Green. It changes, and as we grow as musicians and realize that we want to keep on growing, it’s a natural progression. It’s what we have to do with ourselves. Yeah, there’s going to be some backlash, but as anyone doing any art, there’s always going to be a critic that’s going to backlash you.
I can understand the evolution to a more rock versus hard metal sound, but I was not expecting a track like “Cocainium”. If you want a diverse audience, I think you’re going to get it with this album.
You think with this album we’ll get a diverse audience? Is that what you said?
Yeah. Part of your mission statement is that you’re seeking to take music to diverse audiences. I was listening to this album earlier, and I purposely put it on in the background while I did other things to allow it to settle in. When “Cocainium” came on, I had to double check to make sure I was listening to a Baroness track. I was totally surprised by that song.
[laughs] That’s cool. That’s actually one of my favorite tracks on the album, too. It was really cool recording that. It actually came out a lot different than we thought it would. I think, with a lot of songs, when you work with a producer, things change from the first initial idea that you’re going to have going in, and then coming out, you’re like, “That’s a different sound than you’d even think about sonically, texturally.” That’s one of the songs that definitely came out a little different than we thought, but at the same time, it’s another vision, but I think it’s a really great vision.
John Congleton, the producer, created a life to it. It sounds different, but I think it’s the same song. It still gives me an emotion that I could feel playing it live now. We’re going to play “Cocainium” on this tour that we’re about to leave on right now. It sounds different live, as any of our music has ever done. It always has a different life to it. It gets a little heavier, a little louder, a little nastier, sweatier. Which is cool because fans dig that too, because they could see a little granular aspect of some songs.
From what I can tell, it appears that the band works on the music and John works alone on the lyrics. Is this correct?
It depends. A lot of times we’ll have riffs that we’ll bring together, or different ideas, and supply a song. Or John will have a couple riffs, or I’ll have a drumbeat, and we’ll match the two things and compound a song from there. A lot of the songs from this album John had actually written a couple parts, where I came in and said we should mesh these two together instead of these two, or maybe bring these three things in and send them out in this way. In the past, we’ve all had a lot of say — I definitely put my hand a lot more in this album than I think any album prior, which I was pretty excited about, working a lot more. Basically, more because of the geographical sense of where we’re living now.
Before, I was in New York and the rest of the guys were in Savannah. Specifically on the Blue album, I really didn’t have as much influence on it. But [since] I was in New York and John moved to Philadelphia, I was there every weekend, every other weekend. We worked a lot, so I was pretty happy being a part of the writing process in a different way. We just kind of looked at it a different way, and we wrote a little differently, and it’s the outcome of changes where we are, and what we’re feeling, and that’s how we went about the process of making it.
You guys toured for almost eight years. You took all of 2011 off to focus on the new record. During that time, when did you lose Summer Welch on bass, and how did you get Matt Maggioni?
So Summer, he was one of the original members along with John and I, back in 2003. And Summer left last year. He decided to not really do this anymore. We had been doing it for a while already, and it seemed like a pretty good time to separate himself from this lifestyle, which I totally respect, and do his thing. He’s doing well. And Matt Maggioni came in. Actually, Matt and I were on a trip to Vietnam in October, on vacation together, at which we came up with the idea of him joining the band. He came in and we did a full US tour, [it] went fantastically.
I think he really adds something to our group’s personality. He’s a pretty good positive influence, and we’re about to do this first European tour with him. He’s going to travel the world with us a bunch and we’re stoked to have him.
Was Matt in the band before you started Yellow & Green?
He wasn’t in it. He’s not on the record. He came in after the record was finished, and learned all the bass parts, and added his little sprinkle of flair on top — magical sprinkles of flair.
Phillip Cope of Kylesa produced First, Second, A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk, and Red Album. When you made Blue Record, you switched producers to John Congleton. What were you hoping for working with Congleton that was different from Cope?
I think at the time we were looking for a change. We had done so many projects with Phillip Cope at the time, we looked at getting someone else that had a different sound sonically, or just came from a different cut of cloth. When we looked for producers, we were not [looking for] someone that we knew personally, but we looked at records that we liked in the past. And John Congleton was someone we were really interested in, because he had done records with Black Mountain, and St. Vincent, and Explosions in the Sky, and we were looking for something a little different. I think that’s what happened. We met him, and he was into the idea of doing it.
As for moving on, it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, whenever you’re moving from something that you’ve done so many times before. But it worked out, and it was a great experience initially, and then we were like, “Let’s do it again.” He wanted to do the next album which was a double album, a lot more of an undertaking. It was just as fun, and just as experimental, and I think even more of a great recording process this time around.
How did you arrive at a double album?
How did we arrive at that? I think the idea coming in, we had to do something. If we were going to step up from the last two, we needed to do something that’s even crazier. I think that was the idea. Let’s just blow it out as quick as we can, and that’s what we came up with.
I was watching the Relapse website for when pre-sales went on. [Some versions] are already sold out. That’s got to be a good sign for you, though, that you’re already selling out of pre-sales.
Yeah, man. It’s cool. It’s actually been pretty impressive that everybody is so excited about it. We’re just hoping that everybody’s happy when they get it.
Well, I’ve got the double-green coming my way, and I’ve been listening to the digital copy they provided me with today, so I’m going to be very happy with it. I’m not one of those haters who needs it to always be hard. I’m over 40 years old. I understand maturity.
Yeah, yeah, totally man, I’m there with you. That’s cool, I’m glad you appreciate it, and can see where we’re going.
Baizley recently described your band as “adrift in an ocean of heavy bands, and the thing any band is looking for is something to set them apart, so you’ve got your own voice.” With both the Red and Blue albums, Baroness has topped everyone’s best of lists, you headline top festivals all over the world, and, most importantly, you have a unique sound and delivery. How can you guys say you don’t already stand out?
I think it’s that you keep on growing. Even if you figure out something that’s different, or separate from other people. If you stick with that, it might be the easy way to keep on pleasing the people you initially gained as fans. But as people, you gotta keep growing and creating something new, which then, I think, expands on this creative idea, this project, and it grows bigger. Not only that different people are interested, but it contributes to the palette that you’ve created artistically. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
Your brother Brian left after Red Album and he’s since formed a new band Auroboros. Do you think your bands would ever tour together?
Hey man, you never know. I would love to be on the road with that guy again. I love my brother, and I love hanging out with him. I don’t get to hang out with him that much, so that would be a good reason to do it. [laughs] You never know.
I read that you played on both releases by A Place to Bury Strangers this year [Onwards the Wall EP and Worship], but I only have the promo copies here. I couldn’t find anything that told me what tracks you worked on.
The EP that was released later last year, I had a few tracks that were on there. I recorded about ten songs with them last summer, [a few of] which ended up on the EP, and a few ended up on the album as well. The new album that’s about to come out, there’s a few tracks that I play drums with them on. It was awesome. They were good dudes, good friends of mine. They were right in my neighborhood. It was really cool to just come into their studio, and try something new, and different kinds of sounds.
So, if you were drumming, what was Jay Space [drummer for A Place to Bury Strangers] doing?
He actually played on some as well, but I think, at the time, they were switching drummers, because they actually have a new one now. And they wanted to try out some different sounds, and that’s what I went in there for. They asked me to do some tours with them, but I never ended up doing it.
The only other question I had was about the eleven minutes of silence before “Untitled”? [laughs]