The leader and frontman of Baroness, John Baizley, discussed the somewhat lost art of live jamming and how his band makes it work.
Back in the 1970s, big rock bands were jamming quite frequently. But as decades went by, it felt like people had just grown out of it. Nonetheless, Baroness still do it on a regular basis. As Baizley explained in a recent interview with the Ghost Cult Magazine, there’s this unspoken element to their live shows where they just decide to go for it and jam, with him and Gina Gleason complementing each other’s guitar parts.
“I think it’s through those jams that we develop a deeper onstage chemistry,” Baizley said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “That was a hundred percent of what we tried to carry into the studio.”
“I don’t need to tell Gina what I am about to do. It works because when we’re in the next note, when there’s a harmony, it’s not, ‘Stay in this major third or minor third on top of that, and then maybe we’ll have a fifth later.’ It’s, ‘Look, here we go,’ and we just synchronize.”
“That’s a more beautiful way of playing music,” added John. The band, of course, changed a lot over the years, and he remains the sole original member. In his opinion, these lineup changes were also important for the band’s evolution in the jamming department. He continued:
“Maybe it’s because there’s been a bunch of lineup changes over the years that I’ve constantly had to reimagine our older material because we’ve had to workshop it on the stage. But we’ve really been doing it since day one.”
Going into more detail, John also explained that there’s a clear difference between their studio and live approach and that they never consider the live aspect when recording their new material. However, when the show comes, they’re “limited,” which significantly changes how these songs will sound. But, most importantly, they have the audience as their “fifth member” that tells them how and when to jam. John said:
“So the live thing is where we really find out where the song wants to go, and it’s because you have to play the audience. The audience is a fifth band member — way more important than any one of us — so they tell us how the song wants to be played.”
“It’s a momentary decision that we’re making. It’s a real-time decision that we’re making, whether we’ll build up or pull back.”
“If we feel the jam, we’ll take that jam as long as the audience wants it. And then, as soon as they give us those little, subtle signals that it’s time to move on, and we move on. And that’s a cool way of playing music because it doesn’t mean that we have to get bored playing our own songs.”
“It means that we don’t clock in and clock out every day — we show up, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we hope for the best and in different versions of every song and more yet to come.”
Another thing that John addressed is how important it is for bands to evolve. For Baroness, this is a must and they try to get into new territories with every new release.
“With each record, I have to feel like we’ve opened some new doors up, even at the risk of putting some people off,” John said. “But this is something I got to do every day. You can choose not to listen to one song or another, but I want to play it with conviction every night, I want to think that we are not done. Which is a tricky thing.”
In fact, this aspect is so important that, according to John, a wrong approach to it can destroy a band. So it’s not all about evolving all the time but adding new things while you’re still holding on to your roots. He continued:
“I think the death of a lot of good bands is this idea that you’ve got to constantly evolve and adapt and change. And sometimes that means you lose yourself in the process.”
“I’ve been really obsessed with this idea that if you put a record out, people will go, ‘Oh, this is the return-to-roots record!’ I’m like, ‘No, no, you don’t get it!’ If you have to return to your roots, they’re not your roots. The roots are the things that are always there.”
“It’s in the title — the roots are there to ground you so that you can do anything else, so you can bloom and blossom and grow in any other direction. You’ve always got your roots — when you’re returning to them, well, you’ve already lost, you’ve already been disconnected.”
“So yeah, it’s a tricky thing to try to be evolving and changing and getting better and becoming better songwriters. Because it means you’re gonna leave some old styles behind when they’re not relevant.”