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Interview: Gina Gleason Of Baroness

Interview: Gina Gleason Of Baroness

C.C. / Interview by Kiki Van Newtown / Tuesday 11th February, 2020 11:37AM

US prog-metal heavy hitters Baroness return to Aotearoa this March to play at Tāmaki Makaurau's The Tuning Fork, armed with brand new album Gold & Grey for their first local headline event since 2016. In anticipation of the Georgia group's arrival, Kiki Van Newtown of Pōneke's Giantess (fka Hex) generously spared time to get on the blower with recent recruit, lead guitarist / backing vocalist Gina Gleason – formerly of all-female Metallica tribute Misstallica and King Diamond tribute group Queen Diamond – for a wide ranging chat delving into the new record, the pair's shared love of rock operas and more...

Thursday 26th March - The Tuning Fork, Auckland [cancelled]

Tickets available via Ticketmaster

Kiki Van Newtown: I’m really stoked to be able to talk to you today and just ask you a bunch of nerdy questions about guitars and stuff. I just wanted to start off by asking you some questions about Gold & Grey, which is the album that you’re touring at the moment. I wanted to ask you about the recording process which sounds like it was a total dream. Were you recording that at Tarbox Road?

Gina Gleason: Yeah, we recorded at Tarbox which is awesome. I’m a big fan of Dave Fridmann’s work. I love The Flaming Lips, and Weezer. I love Pinkerton, that was like my favourite Weezer record. He’s worked with some of the most creative and coolest artists. Obviously I was a big fan of the Purple record which he also did, so I like hearing his take on heavier music, because he has different inclinations and little bit of a different sensibility so brings something really unique to a heavy band setup.

Yeah he does. He has this really melodic sensibility to heaviness and I think it works really really well on Purple and Gold & Grey. It seems like a fantastic production pairing. I’m just wondering if there was a particular point in the recording process where you were like “wow, we’re making something really special here.”

I think from the first mix that I remember hearing. ‘Cause we went up for the first session and we spent two weeks there. It was really cool because we kind of just lived there for two weeks. We’d go and get groceries and play Nintendo and stuff when we weren’t working. It was like just having a big sleepover, like a recording and writing party. But yeah, when I heard the first mix of what’s now ‘Tourniquet’ I was like "holy cow!" It’s really heavy, it’s like emotionally heavy and the mix brings that out. That was kind of the first time I had that thought "this is going to be really special and different."

In terms of production, he’s done a really great job at not losing any of the intensity or heaviness on the really folky songs on the album. The whole album is just a very cohesive intense journey.

I’m so happy that that’s coming through. ‘Cause it's hard to listen to it from an outside listening perspective. I can’t unhear the other versions of other parts y’know, all of that. We’re too involved, we’re too invested in the process.

I’m wondering about how you come to composing, individually or as a group. Do you come at it from an emotional point of view, or are you coming at it from a theoretical point of view, or is it both, and how does that work in a collaborative environment?

It’s kind of both. With us everyone’s really good about giving each other creative space when something feels like it’s taking off. Nick and Seb are really good at grooves and patterns and creating a basis for John and I to work on top of. A lot of it was like, okay Seb has a really specific idea for a groove, like there’s a part in ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ that’s like in 15, so from that point of view it’s like alright, well this is a theoretical thing that we’re putting together. Then I think when it comes to lyrics and guitar layering for John and I, that feels really emotional and more personal. ‘Seasons’ was definitely more like having kind of a prog freakout, that was definitely what that was. Then there’s songs like ‘Emmett-Radiating Light’ or ‘I’d Do Anything’ where the theoretical stuff – the music process – is almost secondary to the emotion. Because with something like ‘I’d Do Anything’ it’s a really simple song but it’s all about the words and all that.

I just wanna note now how epically great the vocal harmonies are. How do you write them? Do you and John write them together or is that something that just happens when you’re jamming a song? How do you get them so good?

John and I both really like a lot of singer-songwriter music. We’re both obsessed with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and the way that they put harmonies together. Usually we’ll just be jamming and singing along together and I’ll try to come up with a harmony and we’ll build from there. Like in ‘Tourniquet’ we had layered SO many harmonies. There was a part where there were all these little descending lines and we ended up cutting it at the end before the final mix, which is totally fine ‘cause the process – it’s fun and informative among other things.

You’ve got a background in studio engineering yourself, so how was the experience of recording with Dave Fridmann? Were there any specific lessons or insights that you took from your sessions that have influenced your own practice?

I think he’s the most patient person I’ve ever met, and that was really inspiring. He wasn’t really concerned with, "oh this has to be mic’d like this" or "I’m using this technique." He was just like well, whatever works, or whatever we’re feeling. If you wanna put an amp at one end of the hallway and have it face an amp at the other end of the hallway and just put a mic in the middle, he was just really down for experimentation. He was very very extremely patient with us. From an engineering perspective there were definitely times where I was able to peer over his shoulder and be like alright, what compressors are we using on this, what outboard gear are we using and how is he patching it in? Stuff like that was really informative. But from a producing perspective, I think the biggest takeaway for me was just how patient and down with the tedious process of songwriting and arranging he was. We definitely went way over the allotted time that we had to make the record, but he just didn’t care about that. He just wanted to create the most creative environment that he could for us. I just really appreciated that about Dave. There would be times where I would be like "we have the be the most annoying people in the world right now" [laughs] just taking up more of his time, but he’s just so patient and so calm. His son Mike co-engineers with him which I thought was really cool.

That really comes across in the album. You’ve got ‘Tourniquet’ which is like three or four epic songs made into one super-epic song, and you’ve got all the interludes and you’ve got ‘Emmett’ which is built around bell sounds. The whole album just comes across as if you’ve recorded it with a lot of care and a lot of love, and wide open horizons. You’ve been playing acoustically a bunch too. How does this all translate to your live shows?

I think now more than ever we’ve given ourselves some space onstage to create interludes in between songs. It’s not even something that we want to have written out, because I think the four of us communicate a lot better just in the moment and kind of communicating telepathically through noise [laughing]. We’re really taking our time with long intros, interludes, stuff to really set the scene of whatever song is coming next. That feels really special to us and we hope that it translates to our audience, that when you’re coming to see a Baroness show it’s a sound immersive experience. The acoustic stuff – I think in 2018 we were meant to play at Hellfest and we ended up just playing acoustic. Sebastian had to go home for a family emergency and we didn’t wanna cancel our set so we said... let’s just try to play acoustic and see what happens! We’d never really done that before. Doing it onstage in front of like, I dunno, five or six thousand people was really, really intimidating [laughing].

Were you terrified?

Yeah! Like actually terrified! Right before we went on there was another band backstage, I won’t say who, but it was a really funny experience ‘cause they were like "so you’re really gonna go do it acoustic" and we were like "yeeeeeeeeah" and they were like "...yeah! Good luck with that!" [laughing]. We were like cool, definitely not comforting but yeah, let’s see how this goes! I think that put it in our heads that this is a part of our sound now. Maybe we can add this to the album. We weren’t finished writing the album by any means, and I think it put it in our heads that this should be integrated into our sound. The acoustic shows have just been really fun. It’s fun to go to the different record stores and meet people and hang out with people and play songs.

Baroness was in New Zealand back in 2010 supporting Metallica and in 2016. Have you personally been to New Zealand before?

I’ve never been to New Zealand. I’m super excited! I used to work at Cirque du Soleil and I worked with this dance troupe who were from Auckland and I’ve seen pictures and was friends with these awesome rad people from New Zealand, so I’m really glad to be there soon with Baroness.

I do just need to let you know that New Zealanders often do weird awkward heckling, so just be forewarned.

That sounds awesome!

What’s the best heckle you’ve ever received onstage?

Oh man, Baroness or in general? Oooh I’m trying to think. Well actually, we just did a tour with Volbeat and they’re very nice guys and their music is very kind of kick-butt rock 'n' roll music. So their fans...Baroness had to grow on them [laughing]. It’s not an automatic perfect musical fit, I can see from an audience perspective. But ah, we had this awesome moment where people in the front row were kind of miming the action of throwing up on us [laughing].

That’s beautiful! [laughing]

I think that’s my favourite heckle. Yeah. Cuz it was so ah… wow! You wanna throw up at us!

That’s like heckling commitment eh!

Yeah, it was good!

Also, do you like rock operas?

I always really liked Rocky Horror and Hedwig and the Angry Inch and that kind of stuff when I was growing up, but I don’t think I know enough. Do you recommend one?

Oh I recommend Jesus Christ Superstar for the riffs.

Oh! I LOVE Jesus Christ Superstar! Hell yeah!


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Baroness - Cancelled
Thu 26th Mar 7:00pm
The Tuning Fork, Auckland