Baroness: A Second Chance
Years on from the 2012 bus accident that almost destroyed them, Baroness are back with their first album since the tragedy. BLUNT catches up with drummer Sebastian Thomson to talk about rebirth, writer’s block and his favourite Aussie breakfast.
Baroness stickman Sebastian Thompson will be pretty excited to make it back to Australia, and for all the right reasons, too. “I love Vegemite. You know what I love eating for breakfast when I’m down there? Toast with vegemite, avocado and peanut butter.” A daring and lively combo, very apt for the fast-talking man who has provided the backbone to one of the most robustly flavoured metal records of 2015.
With all the expectation surrounding Purple, Thomson likely won’t have to wait too long before punters down here are clamouring to see the Georgian four-piece again. Their first record since the infamous and traumatic tourbus accident in 2012 finds Baroness roaring back into life with a rich blend of metal, indie, pop and prog-rock. It should be all over the map, but the songwriting is actually tighter than it’s ever been.
So while a relentless forward momentum propels Purple forward, there’s still time to duck into interesting stylistic alleyways, like the melancholy ’80s synths that open “Shock Me” or the RnB rhythm shuffle in “If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain)”. “That’s actually a tribute to ‘Fool In The Rain’ by Zeppelin,” notes Thomson. “John [Dyer-Baizley, guitar and vocals] always wanted to do something like that, and so did I.”
Thomson, who cut his teeth in the genre-bending art-rock band Trans Am, would be used to the dense and unique music his new band has been writing and brings the energy to match it. “I think I’m a bit more hectic than Allen [Blickle, former drummer],” he notes. “And Nick [Jost, bass] is jazz-trained and excellent with chords, so we’re definitely bringing something new. We’re not trying to make a metal record so much, we’re just trying to make a really great record.”
It didn’t always come easy, though. Aside from the looming specter of the bus accident, touring and personal lives got in the way of the band’s writing process, which is typically obsessive and intense. Drawn out well over a year, Thomson said at one point they lost sight of themselves.
“We’re not trying to make a metal record so much, we’re just trying to make a really great record.”
“We were asking, ‘Is this good? Is it as good as the old Baroness?’ It took a while to get the ball rolling.” Thankfully, a happier realisation clicked into place a bit later. “One night, after a long day of tracking and demoing, we headed out to see friend’s show in Philly. Coming back, we put on the demos for what would become ‘Kerosene’ and ‘If I Have To Wake Up’. For the first time, we were all like, ‘This is fucking awesome!’ And we played the demos back about five times that night. That was a really pivotal night. After that, it all fell into place.”
The band has moved on, but references to the bus accident are peppered in Thomson’s account of his time in the band. As both a journeyman musician and one coming into the Baroness fold after such massive events, he has a unique perspective.
“The funny thing is that people talk about this album as a triumphant rebirth for Baroness, which it is,” he muses. “But it’s a rebirth for me too.” He tells a familiar tale of a hardworking band gradually losing sight of the dream. “Trans Am was very busy in the past. We did an album a year, toured constantly. We went to Australia something like 13 times, y’know? But then there were babies and day jobs for the other guys, and I was kinda like, ‘What the hell?”
Thomson is well aware that he’s in a lucky place – an enviable gig as part of a fiery, hungry band. “Here, I get a second chance to play in a cool band, make awesome records and go on the road playing in front of great people.” And anyone who’s seen a Baroness show would know the quartet have earned the right to be considered one of the best live acts on the scene. Punters respond in kind.
“When we’re on stage, it’s just awesome,” enthuses Thomson. “I’m playing with three guys who are shredders. Everyone around us is sweating, and stage diving and singing along. Just so much energy.” Spurred on by the fans and grateful for the second chance, there’s plenty of life left in Baroness. “We play long sets, around 90 minutes long. But I’m never looking at the setlist and thinking, ‘Fuck. Four more songs.’ It’s more like ‘Only four more songs… really?’”
Purple is out now through Cooking Vinyl Australia.