Battered and Bruised

Baroness draws on old-world fables and romantic poetry to create its own brand of metal/indie rock

Baroness plays music in which keen melodic sensibilities and progressive touches result in what sounds like a cross between a hungry indie-rock act and a classic 1970s metal band.

Based in Savannah, Ga., Baroness last year saw the release of its widely acclaimed second album, Blue Record, and is currently on tour with the mighty headlining act Mastodon. Those two bands, along with Between the Buried and Me, and Valient Thorr, will play Tuesday, May 4, at the Rialto Theatre.

The members of Baroness all grew up in Lexington, Va., and each separately moved to Savannah before forming Baroness in 2003, said singer, lyricist and guitarist John Baizley.

"I guess you could say we were like the musical black sheep in (Lexington), since we were into country music or pop, or jam-based, Grateful Dead-style stuff, or what they call Southern rock. When we were young, we discovered punk and heavy metal. But at the same time, there's always been a strong sense of rock history in the band at all times, so there might be a little lean toward classic rock."

At 31, Baizley is the band's oldest member. His colleagues—drummer Allen Blickle, bassist Summer Welch and guitarist Pete Adams—are all in their late 20s.

As the band's lyricist, Baizley draws on the images of old-world fables and romantic poetry to create a personal new mythology.

"I am a huge William Faulkner fan, and I definitely am interested in the Southern literary mythos. I have tried to present that in a way that is not gimmicky," he said. "We're trying to present very personal songs about intense emotional life changes in a manner that is just general and fantastical enough that audiences can relate to the songs without having to share the specific life experiences."

But Baroness' music is not only about intellectual pursuits and technical prowess.

"For one thing, being technically proficient comes hard to us," Baizley said. "We do our best and are able to keep up. But we also want to infuse our music with just as much heart and energy as we do technical ability. It's not a successful show if I don't end up exhausted and battered and bruised."

Baizley also is a visual artist who creates all of the album cover art for Baroness in ink and watercolor. He also has done album illustrations for other bands, including Pig Destroyer, Torche, Daughters, Darkest Hour, The Red Chord and Kylesa.

He said he paints under the influence of legendary rock-album artists such as Roger Dean, Rick Griffin, Hipgnosis and Pushead, and reveres the old masters as well.

As an artist, Baizley expresses dismay over the size and packaging of music today. "I design a piece of art at LP size and watch in horror as it's reduced to CD size," he said. Which is one of the reasons Baroness releases all of its music on LP as well as in other formats.

Baizley hopes that one day, he and Baroness can make an album that affects listeners as strongly as some of those with which he grew up.

"As a music fan, there were significant and moving albums that affected me and actually helped me get through certain parts of my life—albums by bands such as Led Zeppelin, a band that knocked me on my ass at a very young age, and in which I am still able to find things that are new to me today."

He said he's also been strongly affected by the music of Fugazi, Sonic Youth, the Melvins and Metallica.

"This is all music that has depth and personality and meaning, and it's going to sound great in 50 or 100 years. If we can ever achieve something like that, we'll have reached what we want to do."