Baroness’s John Baizley on their crash, comeback & Baltimore show

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.

Maryland Death Fest 2013 Preview

Now in it’s eleventh year, Maryland Death Fest has a long history of bringing a wide assortment of heavy bands to the city, from mainstream acts to obscure cult favorites, and everything in between. On May 23-26th, MDF returns to the former home of Sonar (407 E Saratoga Street) and expands to take over even more of the street and parking area as well as a satellite stage devoted to hardcore and punk, located at Soundstage (124 Market Place). There will be dozens of bands performing, let’s take a look at some things you shouldn’t miss:veroxybd.com

Pentagram & the Obsessed on the same bill
Both bands formed in the 70s (Pentagram in Alexandria, VA, the Obsessed in Potomac, MD), both are extremely influential, and both have iconic frontmen – Pentagram’s troubled Bobby Liebling and Scott “Wino” Weinrich of the Obsessed, as well as St Vitus and many other projects. There probably aren’t two metal bands from the DMV that have as enduring of a legacy as these two acts, and while they have reunited before, each tour has a “this could be the last time” vibe. (Disclosure: this author released two records by one of Weinrich’s later bands, the Hidden Hand)

INFEST reunion
One of the early and defining bands of the 90s powerviolence scene, Infest were a SoCal hardcore band with a reputation for great live performances, strong political stances and a small handful of influential releases on labels like Slap-a-Ham and Deep Six. They disbanded in 1996, before the peak of their scene’s popularity, so this MDF appearance will be many fans’ first chance to see them play.

Exclusive US Venom performance
Formed in the late 70s, Venom are an extremely influential band (they coined the term Black Metal, now a dominant genre), though arguably more for their use of dark, satanic imagery and over-the-top stage costumes and personas than their music. This is their only US show in 2013, and probably for the foreseeable future, and should be a fun experience, if only for frontman Chronos’ stage banter and showmanship.

Rare U.S. Bolt Thrower appearance
This is a rare US show for this long-running UK band who are apparently reluctant to come to this side of the pond. Their two appearances at 2009’s MDF (one announced, one by surprise) were the highlights of that year’s fest – full of energy and fun. This will be your only chance to see them on the east coast, so don’t miss it.

Sleep
California stoner metal band Sleep specializes in droning, meditative, weed-soaked Sabbath worship. Their hour-long set on Sunday is just shy of long enough to play their epic 63-minute song, Dopesmoker. Here’s hoping that the organizers will let them squeeze the whole thing in. Either way, this will be a set that stands out from most of the other acts at the festival.

For more information on tickets, a full running order, and more go to: http://www.marylanddeathfest.com/

Bangers & Thrash : April 2013 Edition

Spring brings changes, and this year that starts with the news that local record store Celebrated Summer is expanding. Currently residing in the back of Atomic Books in Hampden, they will be moving next door when Atomic Books itself expands to take over the adjacent storefront. The additional floor space will allow for a larger selection of new and used records, as well as what owner Tony Pence describes as a “living museum” of Baltimore punk show fliers, posters and other items on display.??????? ????????? ??????

There’s been quite a lot of buzz about the upcoming Baltimore metal band Noisem. Local label A389 Records recently sent out word that they have signed the band, who at the same time changed their name (they might be more familiar to readers by their old name, Necropsy). Lead guitarist Sebastian Phillips says the name change is due to “the thousands of other Necropsys out there.” He adds, “our new name Noisem is inspired by the term Noisome which means unsettling or discomforting, disagreeable… we all really liked it, as it isn’t so generic.” The newly branded group have an album, titled “Agony Defined”, on the way in June.

Noisem will also be playing the 11th annual Maryland Death Fest, along with other local acts Pig Destroyer, Ilsa, Old Lines, Eddie Brock, Full of Hell and Asthma Castle. In a first for the fest, it will occupy not only the former Sonar nightclub (now known as Paparazzi), but also the parking area beneath the JFX underpass. There will also be a punk and hardcore stage at the nearby Baltimore Soundstage nightclub (124 Market Place). Year after year, the Death Fest organizers manage to pull off an impressive line-up, and they’ve continued that tradition with marquee acts like Bolt Thrower (in a rare US appearance), Carcass, Down (featuring Phil Anselmo of Pantera) and Venom as well as a reunion performance by powerviolence pioneers Infest. Bobby Liebling’s Pentagram will be playing as well, their first area appearance since the release of the Liebling-focused documentary Last Days Here, and it’s a chance for them to share the stage with fellow 80’s Doom Metal luminaries The Obsessed, who are reuniting for a set at the fest. Between these appearances and sets by Sleep and the Melvins, this year’s MDF appears to be the Doom event of 2013. Of course, there are also plenty of young acts to see, including Pallbearer (who’s 2012 album Sorrow and Extinction topped many year’s best lists), Rotten Sound, DC’s Magrudergrind and Weekend Nachos. It all unfolds May 23-26 in downtown Baltimore. While many ticket options are sold out, others remain for sale at marylanddeathfest.com.

There are plenty of other notable shows coming up besides MDF: The Wayward, Big Christ and Headwounds play with Dangerous Ponies at Club K on Wednesday April 24th. Or, the same night, experience an 80s hardcore revival with Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I. and Sick of It All at Baltimore Soundstage. Grind lifers Triac play with Inter Arma and Earthling Sunday, April 28th at the Golden West. Also at the Golden West, May 2nd one of DC’s best punk bands, The Shirks (who have a new album out on Grave Mistake Records), play with Baltimore bands Hard Dads and Gutterhooks. On May 3rd at the Ottobar, the Gray March plays a show with John Stabb of Goverment Issue’s band History Repeated. During Death Fest weekend, May 24th, Kentucky hardcore band Coliseum plays right around the corner at the Sidebar with DC’s Give and Red Hare (featuring members of classic hardcore band Swiz).

In upcoming record news, Drugs of Faith is in the studio recording a new as-yet-unnamed EP to be released later this year by Malokul Records, a label started by the DC band Disciples of Christ (who also are recording for an upcoming release on the label). Strong Intention and Coke Bust also are working on new records, and Baltimore punks Double Dagger have a new posthumous ep out now on Thrill Jockey.

Top 12 Moments of SXSW 2013

1. Nick Cave stepping on my hand & offending a thousand NPR listenershttp://focuz.ru

Right off the plane, I got an email informing me that I had won a ticket lottery to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, which meant the first thing I did was one of the big moments of the week for me… I was a little surprised he was playing the NPR showcase, and was afraid he might be toned down… however, I shouldn’t have worried. He did not disappoint, performing bawdy, offensive tunes like Stagger Lee (featuring frequent discussion of various types of sodomy), which seemed to surprise most of the crowd at Stubbs. He performed the “hits” as well though, including his well-known track Red Right Hand, which caused even the most random of crowd members to raise a fist, and he did a rousing performance of the somber track Mercy Seat.

Oh, and he stepped on my hand. How about that?

2. John Baizley from Baroness solo

After the horrific tour bus accident that critically injured most of Baroness – Baizley, the singer & guitarist received serious arm damage, drummer Allen broke several vertebrae – the future of the band seemed uncertain. But on stage at the North Door during SXSW, Baizely confirmed both that their future is sound and that he is committed to moving himself in a new, more personal direction. He brought out a set of stripped down, yet spaced-out songs with introspective, personal lyrics, including at least one interesting choice of a cover tune (Townes Van Zandt? Wow!) More than anything, though, it was good to see the man on stage, in one piece, playing guitar again.

3. Mutilation Rites at the Invisible Oranges showcase

After a long, brutally hot day of walking, this was the perfect release – the Grim four-piece, without any pomp or circumstance, simply walked on stage and cut loose – delivering an hour of blackened thrash metal. While they have none of the pretensions of some other modern NYC black metal bands, their set was legitimately transcendental.

4. Roomrunner at the Palm Door

Baltimore’s own Roomrunner briefly sparked life in what was otherwise a sleepy stage area as they delivered a great set of their grunge-tinged rock. Singer/guitarist Denny cracked wise about the increasingly corporate nature of SXSW from the stage, but this crowd was all music fans, excited to simply see a great band cut loose.

5. Thee Oh Sees outside of Beerland

The very last set I caught, but one of the best. Beerland is among the best places to see a SXSW show in Austin – partially because they are no frills, and don’t care if you have a wristband or a badge, a fact spelled out on the sign at the door. Thee Oh Sees didn’t even bother with the stage, instead setting up on the sidewalk patio outside and played for the street, various onlookers crowding around to get a peek, and when 2am rolled around, they just kept going! A great high point to end the long week on.

6. Diarrhea Planet at the Palm Door

The largest band in terms of number of members that I saw at SXSW, also the one that played the most shows, probably. This six piece band from Nashville seemed to have six people on guitar alone, all constantly soloing in triumphant rock god poses and generally exhorting the crowd to cut loose and have a great time… which they did.

7. Merchandise at the bridge party

Every year at SXSW, there is a punk show hosted illegally on a pedestrian bridge that spans Colorado River, and it’s always been one of the highlights of the trip. This year was no different, with Tampa’s Merchandise playing along with one of the heavily buzzed bands of SXSW, Parquet Courts. Merchandise really impressed me at this show, though like most good live shows, the crowd was as much an important part of the moment- exploding around them, dancing, making out, moshing, throwing fireworks. This year, the cops didn’t even come.

8. The Sparring at the Jackalope

Simple, pure, SoCal punk with a metal tinge – this band ripped into a set of short, brutal anthems, including a sloppy cover of Ace of Spades. The singer dominated the space – doing laps on top of the bar, scattering people (but hopefully not their drinks), shoving the mic into surprised onloookers faces, and general creating a time that was surprisingly fun and raucous for 2pm. We stumbled into this place simply to get out of the heat, but it ended up being one of the more fun moments of the week.

9. Spider Bags at a random bar

These North Carolina country & garage tinged psych rockers impressed me at Hopscotch Festival last year when I walked into a random bar and they were playing, and I was stoked to completely randomly catch them again under similar circumstances – this band deserves to be more well known than they are.

10. Boy (on a boat)

A bit of a departure from the other bands on this list, Boy delivered a quiet, earnest set of Americana-tinged indie pop… even though they are Swiss-German! Bonus entertainment was found when the singer Valeska Steiner spoke between songs, not in the Southern twang of her songs, but in her native Swiss accent. This was a fun break… watching Austin’s skyline roll by and enjoying the cool Colorado River breeze.

11. Destruction Unit at Beerland

This band was a fresh discovery for me, even though the late Jay Reatard was once a member., They played several shows at SXSW but their set closing down the last night of the Beerland stage, was their best I saw – great onstage antics, fast, catchy (yet dark) songs, and they managed to whip a crowd exhausted from days of partying into a frenzy, including yours truly.

12. Mac DeMarco hanging out

I watched from my vantage point on the side stage as Mac DeMarco, full of energy, bounced around above the crowd, eventually performing most of one of his songs hanging upside down from the lighting above the stage, people’s hands and cameras outstretched all around him.

Bangers and Thrash : March 2013 Edition

Starting off a strong month of heavy shows is Baltimore d-beat band Old Lines, who have been playing out a lot in support of their self-titled first LP. See them Wednesday, March 6 with straight edgers WarXGames and Big Christ at Club K. Also coming up at Club K is Holly Hunt, a new band featuring members of Cavity and Floor (two of my favorite dark, sludgy groups of the 90s). They’re playing with D.O.C., Radical Discharge and Eddie Brock on March 18th.http://dekor-okno.ru

Last year, Baltimore musician Jason Donnells (The New Flesh) split for greener pastures but thankfully he’ll be back long enough for his most recent band, Friend Collector, to play a show in town. See them at the Bell Foundry on March 25th with Curse and Multicult. Later in the week, a new metal party kicks off on March 30th at the Borinquen Night Club on Eastern Ave, featuring performances from Lich King, Possessor, and a host of other bands. The promoters say this will be the first of a weekly metal night at the club.

Moving into April, on the 6th Tim “Ripper” Owens is performing at Cafe 611 in Frederick. I can’t say I’m a huge fan, but the guy went from being in a Judas Priest cover band, to being in Judas Priest, to having a movie made out of his life starring Mark Wahlberg as him. Pretty wild ride. The next night, Baltimore’s Passage Between opens for Kowloon Walled City and Zozobra at the Ottobar, and Cemetery Piss opens for Evil Army at the Sidebar.

Joining the ranks of other local fests like A389 Bash and the upcoming Maryland Death Fest, Chris Moore (Magrudergrind, Coke Bust) has organized a strong line-up for the first Damaged City Fest, a two day event at Saint Stephens in D.C. There are too many bands playing to list here, but some of the area acts include: Mindset, Sick Fix, Ilsa, Necropsy, Coke Bust and Give, along with out of towners like Negative Approach, Double Negative, and Dropdead. It goes down April 12-13th and passes are on sale now.

Necropsy, a Baltimore metal band new enough that several members are reportedly still in high school, have just recorded an album with Kevin Bernsten of Developing Nations for their debut release on A389 records. The album should be out in the next few months. Baltimore punk band Paper Dragons have just released an LP, Die To Please, on Wallride Records. They are also playing on April 14th at the Ottobar, with Diarrhea Planet & Tenement. Everlasting grind band Triac just released a split 12” record with D.C.’s D.O.C. on German label RSR.

Finally, on a sad note, longtime Relapse Records sales manager Pat Egan recently passed away from pneumonia complications. Egan was a beloved fixture in the metal community at large for years and Relapse‘s Pig Destroyer is releasing a benefit EP named “Mass and Volume”, which will consist of several doom metal-inspired tracks that were previously available only in Japan. Relapse has also released a 20 band compilation entitled “Patlapse”. Proceeds from both will go towards his daughter’s college fund. You can find out more at patlapse.bandcamp.com.

‘Street Soldier’ City Paper cover story.

City Paper Cover "Street Soldier" feature story

This was a challenging assignment, as we didn’t have access to the subject and instead had to take a last minute photo illustration approach. I think it came out pretty well, all things considered. Read the story here, or read on for outtakes from the session that didn’t make it to the paper… Continue reading

Dan Deacon for City Paper.

Dan Deacon City Paper cover

I shot Dan Deacon for last week’s City Paper cover story, which highlighted his new album, America. We shot on his roof, and in his studio, with one of his flags behind him (the flags are the cover of the record and he is having them made to be included with the album!). I’m scared of heights, so the roof shoot was harrowing, but I think it came out pretty well.

Here are all the shots from this shoot, including many which didn’t make the story: Continue reading