Baroness: Presence of Mind

As trucks, passersby, and the hum of summer shake and rattle outside the window of Baroness drummer Sebastian Thomson’s Brooklyn apartment, he reflects on where he’s been and where he’s going. The red-hot prog-metal Baroness just returned from South America days ago, and Thomson notes that he has just one day to spend with his family, two days to take care of errands—and then maybe a day or two to hang at the beach—before it’s time for he and his band mates to return to the road. After 15 years of activity—which saw the band release 5 LPs as well as a series of EPs—Baroness’s star finally seems to be on the rise, and the energy around the band is palpable.

Recently, we spoke to Thomson about the band’s latest release, Gold & Grey, and also touched on a wide array of topics including working with new guitarist Gina Gleeson for the first time in the studio, how he and Baroness main man John Dyer Baizley approach songwriting, and a particularly interesting sidebar regarding the mighty Led Zeppelin.

Congratulations on Gold & Grey, it’s an excellent album.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

What can you tell me about the recording sessions for the album?

What I can tell you is that when we did Purple, we were totally prepared. We had everything pretty much written out, including the guitar leads and drum fills… pretty much everything. This time, we went in slightly less prepared, and it wasn’t planned. But when we saw the deadline looming, it’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘Ok, the schedule didn’t turn out exactly like we wanted, but maybe that’s a blessing in disguise.’

Were you nervous at all?

I think we were all a little apprehensive. But we all trust each other, and we were trying to capture a special moment, which I think we did. The environment of being locked up in the studio with your band mates… you actually end up producing a lot, which is great. It’s a little different than meeting at the rehearsal space, and then you go out at night, or whatever. So, it’s like—remember when you were a kid and you would read about Led Zeppelin, and how they would quote unquote ‘get it together’ in the country? They would go to that studio in Wales and get the album done with no distraction? It was kind of like that.

It’s funny that you mention Zeppelin, because when I listen to Baroness, I hear a big Zeppelin influence—but a very specific one: your music reminds me of their album Presence.

That’s amazing that you mention that album because it’s my dark horse Zeppelin album. Like, everyone hates it, but I love the vibe because it’s kind of the darkest Zeppelin album.

It is! I think that’s why I make the connection when listening to your records. There’s a lot of complexity to the tracks, and it’s very dark, but it’s also mixed in with lighter moments and tender interludes, kind of similar to Gold & Grey.

You know what’s weird? When Baroness does our acoustic numbers, I always think, ‘I prefer the acoustic numbers on Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin)… I like that way better than the nineties unplugged thing they did. So, that’s how we sort of keep things on the Baroness records. I think it’s way cooler. But, oddly enough, there’s no acoustic guitars on Presence.

That’s true. And it’s short—at least in terms of Zeppelin records. But, going back to Gold & Grey, you must have had at least some of it worked out before heading into the studio, right?

So, during the first session, we had about five tracks that were probably three-quarters of the way finished. We had the main framework, but just needed some details and arrangements to work out. But the second session, we literally were like ‘Here are some cool drum beats that we like, and here are some cool riffs,’ and that was pretty much it. But it was fun! I mean, not to show too much of how the sausage gets made, but we do live in 2019, so you can splice one-half of one take to the second-half of another to make a complete take.

Oh, for sure.

And we can overdub as much as we like, so it’s not like we have to nail it as a band the first time. So, that is the luxury of modern recording.

I also imagine when you guys are jamming, there’s always a tape rolling, right? This way, you can go back and say ‘Well, this was cool here, and that was cool what we did over there, let’s try to work that together.’

We do that, but not as much as I have in other bands. The way Baroness works is usually I’ll send 10 audio files of me playing drums to John. I’ll just come up with different grooves that I think are hooky or interesting, and he’ll choose half of them, and then start writing the guitar parts over the drums, because he likes to have the framework that the drums can give you.

Obviously, John is the main songwriter within Baroness, but it still sounds like a very collaborative effort.


Was this your first official recording with (guitarist) Gina Gleeson?

That is correct.

She has a pretty impressive resume—what about her playing made her a good fit in Baroness?

Well, I met her through John. They met because John and his friend Steve make a line of fuzz and distortion pedals, and Gina was reviewing one. So, they got in touch, and Gina is originally from the Philly area. So, she and John started jamming, and he was like, ‘You now, I think I might have found the right person for us.’ So, we met her, and we all got along well and started playing, and she’s such an amazing player. So, we were like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be awesome.’ I’m glad it worked out like that instead of a kind of weird audition.

Definitely… it sounds very organic the way it all came together. So, the debut Baroness record came out in 2007, and you’ve been recording and touring steadily since. But, I get the sense that right now, there’s a lot of momentum behind the band. Seems like the buzz is really growing. Do you get the same feeling?

I do! Not to be weirdly business-like about it, but we do get updates from our management, and things seem to be going really well. The reviews are all really positive, and it’s great. People are definitely talking about us. We’re just really, really dedicated, and we really want this to work, and for people to hear our music. There’s so many great musicians that make great albums, but we’re probably not going to hear a lot of them. So, you really have to push your art for it to exist. Nothing happens from staying at home—you have to get out there.

Be sure to catch Baroness when they rock The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY on July 12, and The Paramount in Huntington, NY on July 13!!