Baroness vocalist/guitarist John Baizley is a survivor, pure and simple. He just doesn’t want that to define him forever.
Making international news in 2012, his Georgia metal band endured a horrifying bus crash while on tour in England, less than a month after the release of their colossal double-LP Yellow & Green. Baizley himself suffered a broken leg and a broken arm. The injuries were so severe it was uncertain if he’d be able play guitar again, or even be able to keep his arm.
Meanwhile the band’s former drummer Allen Bickle and bassist Matt Maggioni both endured serious vertebrae injuries from the wreck. The physical damages were so traumatic they parted ways with the group, leaving the band’s lineup shattered and its future uncertain.
Yet despite weeks in the hospital, months of painful intensive physical therapy, and that soul-rattling near-death experience, Baizley and longtime guitarist/vocalist Peter Adams soldiered on. Baizley kept writing music, even lyrically addressing the accident, and his recovery, on songs that would later be included on the Purple LP. Released in December on their own Abraxan Hymns label, Purple is Baroness’s first new album since the accident.
“They’re not comfortable topics to engage in,” Baizley said. “I’ve never had songs that were about things that were particularly easy, so this really was nothing new, although [this time] I had these much more imminent, obvious things to write about.
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The Intersection, 133 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
May 7, 7 p.m.
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“It gave me, personally, a platform to address some things that I couldn’t have addressed otherwise,” he added. “With those things all coming to the surface, it made things a little bit easier. It’ll probably be more difficult to make our next record, because hopefully we won’t have some disaster behind us again.”
Purple is not only the first record since the bus crash, it’s also the band’s first with new drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist/keyboardist Nick Jost, who joined the band in 2013.
The revamped group’s onstage dynamic shined instantly, as they dug into the hardest grooves of the band’s sludgy back-catalog, including cuts from Baroness’ first two LPs: 2007’s Red Album and 2009’s Blue Record. The fresh take on the throwback tunes added a powerful presence to the already eerie, prescient elements of the band’s material. For those who want to witness it live, on May 7 that renewed sonic vigor rolls into The Intersection.
“We’re better as a band than we’ve ever been,” Baizley said. “We’re more excited as a band than we’ve ever been. Those two facts alone changed the dynamic of the show into something that is better than it’s ever been.”
Produced by Dave Fridmann, who’s best-known for working with psychedelic-rockers The Flaming Lips, Purple is also a healing record, and a hopeful one, despite lyrical images of burning, visceral carnage. It’s a triumph of the human spirit and a bold, blunt celebration of life in the face of death.
Naturally, the process of creating such a daunting LP wasn’t easy. Especially considering how Thomson’s background in electronic music, and Jost’s experience in jazz composition, forced the band to come up with a whole new way of crafting heavy music together.
“If you write as a four-piece and everyone is a contributing member, [and] you remove one half of your band, then one half of your sound has the potential to change,” Baizley said of working with Thomson and Jost on Purple. “It’s whether that change is supportive or destructive, and in the case of Nick and Sebastian, I feel confident saying that it’s a 100-percent supportive change. It’s helped us.”
Although there is a night and day difference in how he feels physically while playing now due to his injury, Baizley said he can only look towards the future and hope that all his hard work, both as a musician and as a visual artist, will help him continue to truly heal, both inside and out.
“Inspiration is sort of a weird word, because to feel inspired is different from feeling something compulsively, like the need to create. And I feel both,” he said. “The rare moments are the inspired moments, and the rest of it for me is a compulsive need to do it, because I’m less stable without art and music. I rely on them very heavily to keep my sanity intact. I hate to put it that way, but that’s the truth.”