I first saw Baroness in late 2003, at a show at the old Talking Head Club on Davis Street. From seeing that early show, as well as listening to their demo, it was clear that this Savannah-based band were destined to be a big deal. Over the years, I’ve followed their rise to the heights of the metal scene (and, in the interest of full disclosure, also met them and booked a show or two for them along the way). Like everyone else, I was horrified to hear that their tour bus had crashed in the UK, leaving 3/4ths of the band severely injured. While guitarist Pete Adams received only minor injuries, John Baizley, vocalist and guitarist suffered extreme damage to his left arm and left leg, requiring complex surgeries and months of physical therapy. Drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni both fractured vertebrae, and have since left the band. That was on August 15, 2012, at the beginning of the tour for their then-new album Yellow & Green. After a nine-month hiatus, the band is going back out on the road, with some changes, and is playing Baltimore on Saturday. I spent a few minutes catching up with John Baizley on the phone:
CP: It’s cool that you are coming back to Baltimore right at the beginning of the tour, it’s been awhile off the road – how are you feeling about touring again?
JB: The Baltimore show will be our second show back. We’re really excited about doing it again, because we haven’t been on tour in almost a year now. It’s not been fun.
CP: What’s preparing for this return to the road like?
JB: It’s good, it’s work. We’re finally working again, and that’s a super good thing. After we got in our wreck last year, it’s like ‘okay, now you can’t do -anything- for awhile’. At this point we’re all healthy enough to be rehearsing as much as we can, we have a new rhythm section basically, so we have to learn everything, kind of start from square one again, figure out exactly where we are physically and musically, get back on the road and start doing it again.
CP: Sebastian Thomson (of Trans Am) is the new drummer, how is that working out?
JB: It’s awesome, he’s a kickass drummer, I’ve been a huge Trans Am fan for years, so it’s awesome to have the opportunity to play with somebody that’s made music that has influenced you and of which you’re a fan. It’s totally kick-ass. Part of what we do in Baroness is spend a lot of time considering the chemistry of the members. He gets it and we all get along, it’s great. It literally couldn’t be a better situation.
CP: He doesn’t live in Philly (where the band is based), though, does he?
JB: He and our bass player live in brooklyn, but we can have practices and do all the things we need to do, like learn and get better at music.
CP: This is going to be the first time the Yellow & Green material is going to be played by the band in the states, right?
JB: Yeah, ever. I’ve done some solo tracks, but quite literally, these will be the first live performances of the full band playing them in the states… and, really, we did a couple of shows in Europe with them, but not even enough that we got comfortable with it and I think at the time we were playing them, most people didn’t know the songs yet either. It’ll be cool to play them to an audience that knows the songs.
CP: Now that everyone has had a year for the album to soak in.
JB: Yeah, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. I’m hoping it’s a good thing. It’s good when there is some comprehension happening, and people can anticipate the songs or get excited about our setlist, have a good time singing along, hopefully. That remains to be seen – this will be as big a surprise for me as it will be for everyone else at the show.
CP: Are the setlists going to mostly focus on the newer material, or…?
JB: We always play a good cross section of our back catalogue and I intend on keeping it that way. We won’t eschewing the old songs in favor of purely new songs. We’ll always dip back and play the good songs off the old records. It’s fun to do.
CP: I saw you play a solo set in Austin for SXSW, you played some new material – are you already working on a new Baroness record?
JB: Honestly, I don’t know. It’s been a lot of energy to get this first tour together. So much so, in fact, to consider anything else has been a distraction. So we put all our energy into this, in developing a rapport with the new guys, teaching them the songs, getting comfortable with it and hopefully working towards not just being comfortable with the material, but being better than we were.
CP: How long has the new group been practicing? How long are you going out?
JB: About a month and a half- not terribly long. It’s a 3 week tour, couple weeks off, then another month on, then we’ll take another weeks off, then a couple things after that.
CP: How are Allen (Blickle, the band’s founding drummer) and the other guys?
JB: Everybody’s doing well, we’re all pretty much past the intense physical therapy side of things, kinda moving forward and getting on with our lives.
CP: It was pleasantly surprising to see how fit you seemed in Austin, and how well you played.
JB: That was actually a very difficult set to play, I was in quite a lot of pain, but you’ve got to deal with it.
CP: I’m sure everyone has asked you this, but what’s your reaction to the recent news that Norman Markus (the bus driver during the 2012 crash) has refused to return to the UK to face criminal charges?
JB: I don’t even know what to say about that, you know? That is what it is. We weren’t anticipating it, we were totally fucking surprised by it, I don’t think anyone of us knows what’s going to go on with that. Sufficive to say, I am not pleased by that fact whatsoever. It’s making a complicated situation infinitely more complicated.
CP: Does the band have to go back to the UK for the trial?
JB: No, because we didn’t file charges. This is a criminal case that the UK has filed against him, and it’s not a big enough case to do extradition or anything like that, so he said ‘I’m not gonna come to the UK’ and we’re waiting to hear back what’s going to happen.
CP: One positive thing that came from this terrible situation is the large amount of support that’s come from the music community.
JB: It’s super powerful, there’s a lot of people out there I have to thank as nicely as I can because collectively this was a very big shot to us, physically, mentally, financially- in every way. We’re still, nine months later, trying to make heads and tails of it, and everybodys got their own experience with it, medical bills, psychological effects, medications and doctors visits, and continued chronic pain. It’s not pleasant, but we’re gonna get through it, and everybody’s gonna be fine at the end.
CP: One last thing- your show is during Maryland Death Fest, I know I’ve seen you there before, are you stopping in this year?
JB: if we can figure a way to get in, we’re definitely coming. Look, INFEST is playing – I’m not gonna miss that.
Baroness performs this Saturday, May 25th with Inter Arma at Rams Head Live in Baltimore.