"It can be hard to understand what's going on initially but once you get it, it's magical": An interview with Sebastian Thomson of Baroness

"It can be hard to understand what's going on initially but once you get it, it's magical": An interview with Sebastian Thomson of Baroness

Last month, Baroness released Gold & Grey, its final entry in its acclaimed chromatic-themed discography. With the release, the band solidified its sound that it had begun painstakingly creating many moons ago, dating back to 2007's Red. Over the years, the band has gone through multiple line-up changes; some out of tragedy, some due to happier reasons. Despite these changes, Baroness has managed to hold onto its unwavering identity, making it one of the most exciting bands in music today. 

One of those changes, was the inclusion of drummer Sebastian Thomson, who made his debut with the band in 2013. Bandwagon had the opportunity to talk to Thomson, about how the band's line-up change has affected its sound, tapping into previously unseen creativity, a potential Asia tour and more. Check out the complete interview below. 

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Congratulations on the release of Gold & Grey! How does it feel to finally have it out in the world, and how has the reception been so far?

"Thank you! It's honestly kind of a relief. We realised when we were making it, that it's kind of a strange album. It doesn't really fit very neatly into any category or genre. It's not sludge metal, or anything specific, really. We knew it was going to be weird, but the fact that people are enjoying it is a huge relief and a really big deal for us. It definitely was a bit of a risk for us, making this album.

It has different movements, different kinds of sounds. Even within one song, we mix up different genres, so it can be hard to understand what's going on initially but once you get it, it's magical. People seem to be getting it, so we couldn't be more thrilled."

This is your second record with the band. How did it feel going into the studio again, compared to the first time, for Purple?

"It was very different in a couple of ways. First of all, when we did Purple, we had everything pretty much already written when we went into the studio including the lead guitar parts, the drum fills, everything. This time, we were not ready, and it wasn't 100% intentional, but we did embrace that as a cool opportunity to see if we could write in the studio and come up with something incredible in the moment. 

On Purple, I made the conscious effort to continue the drumming tradition that Baroness had in the past, with Alan's playing style, and trying to respect what he did. Of course I tried to sound like myself as well, but I had to balance that and still keep some form of continuity and consistency with the past records. Now that I've been in the band for six years, I feel like I can sort of add my own influences into the mix. 

And of course, we have a new member this time around. We've got Gina [Gleeson], instead of Pete [Adams], so that was very different as well. She's different as a player and also the interpersonal dynamics of the band. John [Dyer Baizley] and Pete are almost like brothers, they grew up together. We all grew very close, so when Pete left and Gina stepped in, it forced us to be open-minded and accept the new playing style that she brought into the band, and it worked out really well. 

All in all, it was a very exciting, and interesting, four weeks that we spent in the studio."

This is also the band’s first record with Gina. Having spent so much time with Pete (Adams) previously, how smooth was Gina’s transition into the band, and how did that affect the writing for the album?

"I think it kind of allowed us to turn a new page, as you say. Now with only one original member, that being John, we were able to sound more free and more different, because we now have different influences. Gina definitely plays a big part in that. She comes from a different background than Pete. I think with this record, we were more open. With Purple, we wanted to keep things concise."

There’s a lot going on with the album, there are a lot of different sounds and textures at play here, but it still feels very organic and flows very well. How much of a role do you think sequencing and pacing played in this?

"Yeah, I definitely think sequencing is an extremely important part of this record. When we were working on the album in its early stages, and we didn't have a sequence yet, we would sit in the control room and wonder if anything made sense, thematically. Things were all over the place. Once we put it together with the interludes and the ambient sections, things fell into place and all of a sudden, the album began to flow as one coherent piece of work.

It has become a project that you can definitely sit down and listen to, all the way through. Of course, some songs are able to stand out as singles, and sound great as a standalone track, but it fits right back in with the theme of the record as a whole very seamlessly. It's an experience, running through the whole album from start to finish. The cheesy term they use in the DJ world for record like this is: "It's a journey."

It seems that the band has pushed the previous albums experimentation to another level. You finally open some new, unexpected paths, and it brings an unseen sensitivity, and it works. Tell us about how the band tapped into this unseen creativity for the record. 

"First of all, having Gina come in with a whole new world of influences and sounds played a part, but I think beyond that, it had a lot to do with Nick [Jost]. Nick is an extremely accomplished musician. His main roots are in Jazz and he knows how to compose, and play with synths. He definitely wrote a bunch of stuff on Purple, which was his first album too.

This time however, we sort of let him loose. This is pretty much the first time we let him run wild with the synths and the interludes, and he really helped us piece everything together. Baroness in the past, was a bunch of great musicians who grew up listening to and playing punk and metal. Gina and John are still like that, but Nick and I, we're not punk dudes, or metal guys.

We have different backgrounds but we were always interested in those genres. We're coming at things from the opposite direction, we're bringing our influences with us. With Nick, you sort of have the whole modern composer thing going on, everything's more jazzy. With me, it's a post rock influence. That combination just makes something cool, I think."

Gold & Grey is supposedly the final album in the band’s chromatic theme discography, and it seems to be the perfect ending for this era of Baroness. It’s still early, but do you have an inkling as to which direction the band will be going in next?

"That is correct, this will be the final chapter in the chromatic saga. With Gold & Grey, I think we opened a lot of doors for ourselves. I think John tried that on Yellow & Green, and it was successful, but we really nailed it this time. We're still a rock and metal band. We're still about distorted guitars and drums. Now, however, I feel like we're free to do whatever we want.

We can further explore a lot of the stuff that we experimented with on this record, or, we could go the Red or Blue route. No one really knows just yet. Recently, we've been hanging out on the tour bus and we're just listening to music, and someone would catch something really interesting and we show it to the rest of the band, and we make a note of how we can use those influences for our sound. We're just really open now, which is great. 

Is there an Asia tour in the works?

"As far as I know, we don't have any plans for this year, but we're definitely working on something for 2020 and beyond. This current line-up of the band is the most willing to travel, so it's a real possibility. I've been to Asia before, with other bands, and I've been itching to get back out there. We just got back from South America, it's the first time Baroness has ever played there, so I think we're going to experience a lot of firsts with the Gold & Grey tour. 

Stream Baroness' Gold & Grey below.