The Weekly interview: Baroness frontman John Baizley

Powering through: Baizley (second from left) and Baroness are on the road again.
Doug Seymour
Chris Bitonti

One year after a bus accident nearly claimed their lives, the musicians of Georgia-based metal band Baroness are back on tour and headed for Las Vegas.

How did the first leg of your tour go? The first month was awesome. Totally a breath of fresh air for us. We’d been out of the game for a minute, and it was very good to get back out and prove to ourselves that we still had the ability and drive and motivation to do everything. It feels to me that we’re better, better than we were prior to the accident. We have more solidarity of direction, and our new rhythm section is totally badass.

You broke your arm and leg in the crash and spent two weeks in the hospital. How long was it before you could physically perform again? Seven or eight months. I was in a wheelchair for four months, and when I got out of the wheelchair I couldn’t really do anything for another couple months. So it took the better part of the last year. A lot of intense physical therapy, a lot of new realities to get used to and adjustments to be made, but it’s all happened. It’s just really been a matter of self-motivation, will power and support from my bandmates, my friends, my family and everybody else out there.

Did you ever consider not going back out? I didn’t. I made a conscious thought early on to say that if my arms are not cut off, if I’m still alive, then why wouldn’t I? This is something that I’ve been doing for quite a few years at this point, and I really enjoy doing it ... Touring is a very positive force in my life, [and] the alternative would be a concession as far I’m concerned. And I’m not about making concessions for other people or myself.

How did your accident affect your artwork? I don’t know that it affected it too much, honestly.

Are you right handed? I am right-handed, so fortunately, the right hand suffered much less and has very few long-lasting results. So from an artistic standpoint and from a performance standpoint, not too much is different. When I draw and when I play, my injured arm is more or less in one position. I don’t have to do a whole lot of heavy lifting or extreme motion, which would be difficult for me.

Practically speaking, there are some things I don’t do anymore, not limited to but including lifting gear and moving heavy stuff. I can’t really complain too loud, but it does kind of suck. Having come up the way we have where so much of the sense of fulfillment and enjoyment that we get is at the end of a long day of hard work, to have some of that stuff pulled from my plate—whether or not it’s nice not to have to pick up stuff any more—it’s also for me a reminder of what has been taken away from me sometimes.

I try more often than not to look at it and view the things I’ve been left with. Because not much has changed, but there’s ongoing pain and there’s certain parts that aren’t going to grow back correctly. I try not to focus on the negative stuff. I don’t have enough time to focus on it. Under these circumstances, it’s better and healthier to see the silver linings and try to keep your head up. And it’s been working—so far so good.

You’ve said that drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni left Baroness as a result of the crash. Do you think that’s permanent? It’s a complicated thing involving close personal friends, so it’s difficult to use extreme, definitive terms like never. But the fact is, they had very justified reasons to leave. We spoke about it very openly and plainly, and that was fine.

Everyone, still in the band has sympathy and empathy for everybody who’s not in the band and vice versa. There is a connective tissue that we all share as a result of the accident, and we respect that. So it’s tough to answer that question at this point. I will answer a different question, though: I will just say again that I think, musically speaking, motivationally speaking, we’re in the best shape we’ve been in ever, right now, as a result of this last tour.

You guys are typically categorized as a metal band, but there’s clearly much more happening in your music. I’m guessing you have pretty eclectic tastes. Who are some of your biggest influences? We’ve always had the same kind of influences that everybody from our generation has had, reaching back into classic rock. There are the big names, that people tend to list, the Zeppelins the Sabbaths, the Queen, all that sort of stuff that is influential to everybody for good reason. Then there’s more obscure, left-of-center stuff that can be pretty inspirational, like Brian Eno and Neurosis or Scott Walker, Gram Parsons. We cast a pretty wide net, everything from the more extreme-sounding stuff, which is really where our heart lies, the punk rock, hardcore, metal epicenter, and then the further left-field stuff like electronica, old country, hip-hop, R&B. If it’s good music, it’s good music, and we’ll listen to it.

I listen to a ton of records. I’m listening for artistic license. I’m listening for music with context. I’m listening for lyrics, technical proficiency, creative problem solving, composition. Each style, each genre, each era of music has had its own set of parameters and cornerstone bands and everything like that and I listen to the obvious and the unobvious.

Music is a pretty odd thing, because on the surface it’s a mathematical thing, but fundamentally it’s different forms of expression. And often times the easiest way to express yourself in a creative or artistic way is to do so within a well-known context. If it’s, let’s say, rock ’n’ roll, then it’s how you use the two guitars, one bass, two singers, drummer thing. What we try to do is find our own unique personal livelihood, and in doing so, the key is to remain invested in your art, your craft, your music—to be able to adapt and change as you get older, as your context changes, as music changes around you. You have to be susceptible and open-minded towards change, while at the same time keeping your identity intact. It’s a funny and fun line to walk, but that’s what we strive to do.

Baroness With Royal Thunder. August 28, 9 p.m., $18-$21. Backstage Bar & Billiards, 382-2227.

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