After 12 years and five studio albums, Baroness have reached the end of the rainbow. Just as the prophecy foretold, there's gold at the end – Gold & Grey, that is. Considered the final album in a cycle, Baroness' forthcoming fifth LP is one that serves as a reflection on everything the band has been through, from its Grammy-winning highs to its bus-crash lows. The band wants it on record, however, that this was never part of some grand plan or greater scheme.
“Realistically, I never thought it'd happen,” says John Dyer Baizley – the band's founder, lead singer and primary songwriter. “Making this series of albums was a task that Baroness set out to do at a point in our lives when we just assumed it was something we wouldn't finish. To have worked on this loose concept idea for 12 years is a pretty big commitment, so it's pretty wild to be at the end of it. It started as this half-serious, half-joke kind of thing. Now I'm living in it.”
Gold & Grey follows on from Purple, which was released in the final weeks of 2015 and subsequently shook up a lot of year-end lists in the process. It marks the return of producer Dave Fridmann, who worked on Purple but had next to no experience with metal bands prior to that. Instead, Fridmann is best known for his work with more psychedelic bands, such as The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. Having that outsider perspective, however, is what made Baizley think he was perfect for the job in the first place. “In terms of production, he's always been my favourite guy,” says Baizley.
“Right from when the band was starting out, whenever the label people would ask about producers for the record, I would always swing big. I would always put Dave Fridmann's name out there first. We've been really lucky to develop this relationship with him. I think you really get the best of somebody when you're doing your second record with them. You're talking through things, feeling things out – and Purple was already an intense record to begin with. I think he knew we wanted to change, and really make this record a different beast. He works and creates and such a higher level than everybody else, and we can communicate really quickly and spontaneously.”
Nearly everyone who worked on Purple is a part of Gold & Grey – Baizley, Fridmann, bassist/keyboardist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson. Making her debut on a Baroness album, however, was lead guitarist Gina Gleason. The virtuoso shredder came on board in 2017, replacing long-serving guitarist Peter Adams after nine years. It was a considerable change for a band that had undergone plenty since its formation in 2003, but one that was handled incredibly well by all parties involved.
“From a fundamental standpoint, nothing felt different,” says Baizley. “It was maybe one of the most surprising things about the transition from Pete to Gina. I think what it is comes back to throwing a new member into some heavy touring. That's what happened with Nick and Sebastian when they joined before we made Purple, and it's definitely happened here too. When Gina joined, she was able to get into the flow of how we do things. She didn't just repeat what Pete would've done – she brought her own personality, her own skill-set and everything that makes her unique. She is a phenomenal guitar player, and a great vocalist too.”
As aforementioned, all of the key aspects of Baroness go through Baizley. We're talking songwriting, lyrics, guitars, vocals, harmonies... down to even the artwork itself. A painter and visual artist of considerable note, Baizley has painted all five of Baroness' album covers. Much like the albums, the paintings themselves have always told their own story – which leads one to question the chicken/egg nature of them. Does Baizley paint without any idea of what the album will sound like, or can he only paint the artwork once the album is finished?
“I don't think it's ever been done the same way twice,” says Baizley. “With Purple, for instance, I had done the prep-work for the art on the day before we went into the studio to record it. I finished most of it during the second half of the sessions. With Gold & Grey, I don't think I so much as even picked up a pencil until the week that the album was getting mastered. That wasn't by design, but circumstantially I think that lead to the artwork being inspired by the album itself.
“By that point, I'd been writing down a lot of notes. The album had its own life to it. The artwork was generated in response to the music that we'd been making, and the whole thing seemed to tie into this creative idea that I'd started to generate some three years ago. As far as origins go, I lost sight of it a long time ago – to me, Baroness is now just one giant project. It's a wonderful thing.”
With the release of Gold & Grey looming, Baizley is thinking a lot about the progressions the band has made over the years. As its sole constant, he's watched each evolution and progression the band has taken to get to where they are right now. It's with this that he confidently says that Gold & Grey is Baroness' best album.
“I worry a lot,” he says. “Everytime we write a record, I worry about not being able to confidently say to people that this is the best thing I've ever worked on. I can honestly say it about Gold & Grey. There's no doubt in my mind about it. I've been able to say that with every record. From my standpoint, each record has been a better experience than the one before – and they've all been great experiences.” Baizley stops, nervously laughing to himself. “That's gotta slow down at some point, right?”
Baroness will release Gold & Grey on Friday June 14 via Abraxan Hymns.