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Interviews

An Interview with Gina Gleason of Baroness

In 2017, Peter Adams departed Baroness as guitarist and vocalist, leaving an indelible imprint on three albums across nearly a decade that saw Baroness progressively reach higher peaks. He was an integral part of the music being made and an even bigger stage presence. Finding his replacement was not something to be taken lightly and filling those shoes would be no easy task.

Enter Gina Gleason. With previous experience jamming alongside Santana and the Smashing Pumpkins along with her own bands Misstallica and Queen Diamond, the jump to Baroness may not be obvious. Ultimately, an eclectic background simply means a greater variety of skills and ability to bring in new ideas, which is exactly what Baroness wanted.

Gleason proved herself to be not only a fantastic guitar player putting her own stamp on every performance but also just as powerful of a voice and presence on stage as Adams. Now she has had the opportunity to be marked as a permanent part of Baroness’ story on wax.

The aptly named Gold & Grey features a somber undercurrent that would appeal to the sad grey part of every person’s soul while the guitars shimmer in, out and over the whole record. There is no denying there is a distinct shift in a more experimental direction, and Gleason is certainly a big part of that shift.

We had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Gleason over the phone to discuss how she connected with John Baizley initially, what the writing process is like as the new person in a well-established band, her favorite songs to play and even the importance of avoiding stinky snacks in the van even if you love them.

Read on and be sure to catch Baroness on tour now! (Indianapolis readers also have a chance to catch an extra acoustic performance from the band the on July 22. More details here)

Indy Metal Vault: In previous interviews, it was mentioned that you and John Baizley (guitarist, vocalist) first connected discussing music gear. Can you tell us a little bit about that first connection?

Gina Gleason: One of the initial reasons we got together was over one of the fuzz pedals that one of John and mine’s friends makes here in Philadelphia. John is kind of involved with their company, which I didn’t know at the time. I just thought they had a cool Germanium Transistor Fuzz Pedal. It’s got a little bit of a different tone than what I had been using, so I purchased one online, and that’s kind of how I got connected with John.

IMV: Was that pedal used in recording Grey & Gold?

GG: We used the shit out of that on the new record. We used it a ton, and we both use different versions of them live. But that was definitely what we first bonded over and a big part of Gold & Grey’s sound.

IMV: While discussing equipment initiated your interactions with John, I know that also turned into you both getting together to just jam and play music. At what point during those hangouts did you start to feel like it might turn into something with Baroness? Or did it sort of come out of nowhere?

GG: It felt really out of the blue for me. We would get together, play music, mess around with pedals and stuff like that. I have a little bit of a recording setup at home, so we were able to work on music as well. At the time, I was living on the West Coast, and John was in Philly, but we were able to email each other files that we were jamming on.

There was no indication to me that it had anything to do with Baroness. Then after a couple months, he sort of mentioned that Pete was planning to move on from the band and they would need someone to fill his place.

IMV: How did you react to that?

GG: I was just stumped and then like “well, YEAAHH!!” I was already a huge Baroness fan and had even just recently seen them live at Psycho Las Vegas. It was such a great show, so I was bummed to hear Pete was leaving.

Then John said, “so, I was thinking maybe you could learn some of the songs?” and I was like “Whaaaat are you talking about?” (laughs). It was definitely really shocking, but what was cool was that it felt like a natural thing. We were already friends, played guitar together, and played oddly similarly while still having go-to tendencies that differed from each other. That way we immediately learned a lot from each other just watching the other play, and it clicked. That was already really special because it’s hard to find people to play music with and that you click with.

IMV: Once you joined, was the offer immediately assumed to be a full-time gig or was it offered more in the way of needing you to jump on tour and then see where things went from there?

GG: John was very forthcoming with the type of commitment that it would be during our very first conversation about it. When he first asked if I’d be interested in joining, he said, “it’s more than a full-time thing, it’s all of our lives.” We all still do other things, but he was very clear about the sheer amount of touring involved and that there were plans to start working on a new record. They hadn’t begun yet, but he was very forthcoming that I would be involved with that as well.

I thought that was really interesting that he would invite a new member into a band that he’s had for 12-15 years and clearly establish that it’s not just John Baizley and a band. The expectation is that everyone has a say, and everyone was going to bring their ideas to the table to make a record together.

That being said, it was never a question for me. I was like “yes, I want to do ALL of that!” (laughs)

IMV: Once you were on tour, was there any particular defining moment where you really felt solidified as a member of the band?

GG: Actually, that really didn’t happen until more recently. Once the record was done, and we did a tour with Deafheaven and Zeal & Ardor a couple months ago. I think that was the first tour where I felt like I could be more me. I could be a little less nervous or a little less uptight.

The first couple years of the tour I just didn’t want to fuck up. I just wanted to do justice to the work and show the integrity of Pete’s parts. I was learning this full back catalog, and I didn’t want people to come to shows and be like “ugghh this person sucks!”

I was nervous about that, but I feel like we really found our groove as a band once we were in the studio recording Gold & Grey.

IMV: Did those nerves shake off pretty quickly once you got into the writing process?

GG: All throughout that process I was constantly second-guessing everything because this album is completely out of mine – and I think everyone else’s – comfort zone. That’s really great, but I’m still kind of freaking out because I don’t want to join the band and then put out the record that everyone looks back at negatively.

But I think we all found our groove really quickly once we got in the studio. We were able to let each other go be themselves and explore. There were no parameters of “this is what Baroness sounds like,” it was “this is what the four of us sound like.”

IMV: You have a fairly eclectic background having worked with Santana, Smashing Pumpkins and Cirque De Soleil to name a few. What from your background do you feel prepared you best for this album, especially when considering the shift in style for the band?

GG: Overall, I’m just dedicated to music. In my youth, I came up watching punk bands and thrash bands, but I really love all sorts of different music. I’ve never wanted to have a closed mind to what I was getting involved in. I was playing in theater things or touring in bands, I never really cared what I was doing as long as I had a guitar in my hand.

I think the four of us having that same open mind going into this record really helped. The big take away was keeping an open mentality and not feeling like we had to force shit into a box of this genre or that.

IMV: Random question, but since you do have a history with Cirque De Soleil, is there any Baroness song or record that you think would work as part of one of their shows?

GG: (laughs) Man, I don’t know. I could see all of them working, and I’d watch that show.

I got that job when I was really young, and I was just thinking I would get to play guitar and make a living for a while. You don’t realize until you really get into the routine, that it was 484 shows a year. For musicians in that world, you really have to be in it. For me, it just started to feel stagnant. They were cool people and a good company to work for though.

IMV: Baroness has been John’s project for a long time. Based on what you’ve said, it sounds like writing for Gold & Grey was fairly collaborative. Can you walk us through a bit of the process? Does each person bring original parts and build? Is it primarily John bringing in the skeleton and you add your own nuance?

GG: It was actually kind of all over the place. Often it was Sebastian Thomson saying, “I have this cool groove that I’m in love with and want to develop.” A lot of the songs started from these great groove ideas that he had or Nick Jost coming in with bass grooves or different melodies. The two of them would get together and create songs that were based on drum and bass concepts. Then John and I could sit and run with those ideas to build guitar and vocal parts on top of it.

IMV: That certainly explains the shift away from being as guitar-forward as past albums.

GG: I think so. And as we were running with a lot of those ideas, John and I thought it was kind of cool that people would expect “oh new guitar player, so this is going to be a straightforward, guitar-driven rock album.” We liked the idea that as things developed, it was going to be quite the opposite, which was kind of neat.

John or I would also come in with acoustic songs that started as just simple country chords and singing then we would develop it out from there and make it all weird. For example, “Pale Sun” was just something we would form up as we were getting levels in practice. Then we would play it in the studio initially thinking it would work as one of the interlude pieces that are throughout the record, but then Dave Fridmann (producer) suggested we sing over it. Each song really had a unique way of how it started and developed.

It never felt like one person was coming in saying “here’s all the songs” and everyone else take it from there. It really was just four people going for it and making something together.

IMV: You touched on something there that I wanted to ask. The interlude tracks are not the norm for Baroness, so what inspired the decision to add those to the album?

GG: It was definitely just something that naturally occurred. The first one from my memory of all those sessions is “Can Oscura.” That was Nick and Sebastian coming in with a sick bass and drum groove idea. They just wanted to create a vibe and underworld sort of feeling. John and I would drive around constantly listening to this drum and bass groove, scratching our heads thinking “this is awesome. We both love it. How does something else fit into this?”

Then we got into the studio and thought we could put the “Borderline” guitar solo melody over top of it, so we could elongate the melody and mess around with stuff like that.

IMV: So, do all of the interludes reflect other full songs like that?

GG: Right. Another example is we took the “Cold Blooded Angels” b-section guitar part, stretched that out, made a finger-picking arrangement of it and that turned into “Crooked Mile.” We started doing that throughout the album to create interludes that were mirror images of melodic guitars, vocal motifs or lyrical ideas from other parts of the record.

“Anchor’s Lament” has the “Tourniquet” guitar melody played on violin, so we just kept trying to find different ways to use those motifs and place them throughout the record to create this mosaic of key elements that make up Gold & Grey.

IMV: You also touched on doing more acoustic work earlier. There’s an acoustic version of the album being sold on this tour, and you’ll be doing some extra acoustic performances along the way, including here in Indianapolis. What drove you all to want to pursue both of these efforts?

GG: Not last summer, but the summer before, we were supposed to play Hellfest. Sebastian ended up having to go home for a couple days for a family emergency, and we didn’t want to cancel our set. We were just trying to figure out what to do when John and I thought we could play acoustic, which was extremely intimidating and terrifying because Hellfest is a GIGANTIC metal fest and we were on the main stage at a great time of day. In fact, I think Megadeth was playing at the same time as us.

We just practiced on the bus trying to get our setlist together, but in a stripped-down version.

IMV: So, this was a fairly last-minute decision to switch it up?

GG: Dude, we were driving into the parking lot of Hellfest on the bus like, “alright what songs are we going to do?”

It was a day-of kind of thing, and we just rolled with it. For me, it ended up being a really beautiful experience. I really loved it, and it turned into a very special day. The response was good, and I think that sort of put it in our heads as something we could do.

IMV: Despite stereotypes, the metalheads like their acoustic too.

GG: (laughs) We all get sad, right?

IMV: Baroness has always been known to have fairly personal lyrics. You are credited with contributing your own lyrics to three different tracks on this album. Were these lyrics you had pre-written or was this more like much of the music writing where ideas and collaborations just occurred as the writing progressed?

GG: It was also a pretty natural process. There were a couple times where I had these acoustic songs that we could build out into something, and there were lyrics I had that worked, or John really liked, so we would work on them together.

We spent so much time on the lyrical aspects. If he was writing something, he was really cool about discussing changes to a word or phrase that would benefit the song, so we would build stuff out together.

There were also times where we’d go home at night then come back in the morning, and he would say, “I stayed up all night and wrote these!”

For “Broken Halo,” we were working on music all night. I went home super late around 3 or 4 am, went back to John’s house in the morning and you could hear tracking and vocals in the basement. He wrote all night, and practically the whole song was finished with these gorgeous lyrics.

Like I said before, John is NOT the guy going “no, this is mine, and we can’t do that.” He was very open to new lyrics, ideas, and working collaboratively, which is not always what you can expect for a band that has existed this long.

IMV: Let’s switch gears to the quick-hitter questions. Before you joined the band, what was your go-to Baroness album?

GG: I LOVE Yellow & Green so much. Every word, every song is just so great. That was my introduction to them, and I was just thinking, “This band is blowing my mind.”

IMV: What has been your favorite song to play live before Gold & Grey? And which song from Gold & Grey are you most excited to play?

GG: I love playing “The Sweetest Curse” (from Blue) because it’s a song I really enjoy, plus I always get excited to test out backing vocals. As far as the new ones, I really like playing “Borderlines.” It’s a really fun guitar song with the fingerpicking parts and the harmonized solo. John and I have fun with that one, and we’re always doing stupid shit onstage like playing back to back, laughing and just having a lot of fun.

IMV: What is your favorite road snack and drink of choice?

GG: Ooo you know I really love beef jerky, but we have a handful of vegans in our core group of people, and I feel like that’s such an offensive smelling food to bust out when we’re traveling. Sooo I’m going to go with…nah, fuck it, I’m going to say beef jerky.

Drink of choice, I honestly feel like I pretty much just drink water all the time.

IMV: As you drive around the country, what do you consider an essential road trip album?

GG: I always go to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.

IMV: Last question, what are two or three albums from this year that you would encourage other people to check out?

GG: Eternal Return the new Windhand record is sick. Really dig those dudes. Also, it’s not the newest one that’s coming out, but I’ve been playing Tomb Mold’s Manor of Infinite Forms a lot. That’s such a great record.

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Thank you to Gina for chatting with us and be sure you check out both the new record and tour!

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