Baroness’s John Baizley on their crash, comeback, and 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 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.

Dave Tedder Has A Posse.

I was asked to write some words in memory of notable Baltimore metal and punk figure Dave Tedder for the City Paper’s annual “People Who Died” issue. I chose the title “Dave Tedder Has A Posse”, which is both a reference to the stickers around town with his face on them (themselves a reference to the famous Andre the Giant stickers) as well as to the fact that Tedder left behind an incalculable number of friends whose life he affected. They chose “The Scene Maker”, which is true as well.

You can read the piece here.