In 2017, Baroness announced the departure of longtime guitarist Pete Adams – another significant transition for a band that had already, by that point, weathered more than their fair share of life-altering change.
The Philadelphia-based group, known for their heavy music that sprawls from hard rock to sludge to progressive metal, had been touring the album Purple, a document of rebirth after a traumatic tour bus accident in 2012. Personnel changes ensued the year after the crash: drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni left and were replaced by Sebastian Thomson and Nick Jost, respectively. That left frontman John Dyer Baizley the sole remaining original member of Baroness.
And so the group, ever open and ready to embrace evolution, welcomed Gina Gleason into the fold. The Philly guitarist came to Baroness with a varied resume, having logged time on a Guitar Center shop floor, shredded in Metallica and King Diamond tribute bands, and shared stages with Santana and Cirque du Soleil acrobats (more on that later). Most Baroness fans received Gleason with open arms, and rehearsal videos of the new line-up put paid to any naysaying.
Fast-forward two years and Baroness are back with Gold & Grey, a record that marks both an end of an era and a brand-new chapter. The double LP is the last of Baroness’ chromatic-themed records, a series that began with 2007’s Red Album. It is also Gleason’s first album with the band, not to mention a work that opens up exciting new sonic horizons for them. Gold & Grey yokes together disparate stylistic influences, with genres like shoegaze and psychedelia leaving imprints on what is still a Baroness record: dramatic and emotional in equal measure.
Guitar.com caught up with Gleason after a show to discuss how fuzz pedals ignited her friendship with Baizley, the making of Gold & Grey and why Baroness is a “listener’s band”.
We read that you met John because you bought a pedal from him. When was that, and how did you end up becoming friends?
I think that was in 2016. At the time, I was living in Las Vegas. I played guitar in this Cirque du Soleil show and we did 484 shows a year, which was cool at first but, after a while, extremely gruelling. It leaves any musician or artist feeling really stagnant. So I had kind of been going through this period of time in my life where I was tone-seeking and trying to find weird pedals and weird effects and stuff like that. I was recording music on my own.
I found this pedal from Philly Fuzz that was based not only in my hometown but the neighbourhood I grew up in. So I didn’t care what it sounded like, I was like, “I gotta have that.” They’re really cool. They’re germanium transistor fuzz pedals, usual fuzz pedals are silicon transistors and these sound a bit different. So I really wanted to check it out.
John sent me a message: “Hey did you buy these pedals from me?” And I was a huge Baroness fan, so I was surprised the singer from Baroness was sending me a message on Instagram. I was like, oh my god, you know? I told him, “You don’t have to ship it, I’m going to come to Philly to see my family and I can just pick it up.” And he said, “If you come through, you can test out the pedal and I have a whole bunch of amps and gear and we can jam.”
So John and I met up and the first time I was at his house I was there for, like, eight hours. I remember we played some Danzig songs, Metallica… we were just having a ball. Just geeking out on pedals. He’s got so much gear at his house. So many different amps, so many different guitars. We were just checking stuff out. John’s a really genuine dude and I thought it was really cool that he was so welcoming to someone he didn’t know. I was a stranger at the time.
We stayed in touch and anytime I came to Philly we’d try to link up and play music together. We talked about him maybe wanting to do a side project aside from Baroness. I was like, man, I’d love to play music with this guy. I love his work. We clicked so well and everything. We have a lot of musical similarities.
What are some of those musical similarities that stood out to you?
We just finished a set and we played Cold-Blooded Angels, a new song from Gold & Grey. There’s a lot of ‘10th chord’ progressions, as opposed to just playing a full chord or a power chord or an octave. It’s kind of like a country thing. And that was one of the first things I noticed about our playing, that was a go-to for both of us. It’s kind of weird in a metal setting to have that be a comfort zone.
We’re [also] interested in similar tones and artists, aside from the thrash and punk and metal influences that we share. We’re geeking out about Gillian Welch, more singer-songwriter stuff.
Was Gold & Grey your first time being so involved in the recording of an album?
Definitely on this calibre. I’ve recorded demos and stuff with friends. Before I joined Baroness, I played in a whole bunch of different bands around Philly and made demos and stuff like that. But nothing to the calibre of working with these three guys and someone like [producer] Dave Fridmann. It was really, really intimidating at first. I’ve never done anything like that.
Was there anything about the studio setting or the recording process that was intimidating, or was it just the stakes of the whole thing?
I think it was just the entire thing. The studio itself is definitely intimidating, initially. Dave has so much equipment, so much outboard gear, and at the time I knew very little. You have 10 million different types of compressors. [laughs] Trying to wrap my head around all this outboard gear and all that. But as we moved along and everybody started working together, I started to get more and more comfortable.
But I love the setting of Dave’s studio. It’s literally just in the woods, kind of in the middle of nowhere. There’s no distractions anytime we went up there. We would usually spend about two weeks at a time per session, and we’d wake up in the morning, have breakfast together and start working and recording and playing.
Then at two, three, four in the morning, when everyone’s done for the day, we all go to bed. We sleep there at the studio, there’s rooms to sleep and we play Nintendo together or watch Seinfeld or something, then crash and wake up in the morning and do it all over again. To me, that was just really special.
What stands out on the new album is the variety of guitar sounds, even sometimes within the context of a single song. How did you get that sonic range?
Something I learned from John really early on, even from the first day we started jamming, is that after he does one thing, if he doubles it or does another thing, it has to be completely different [laughs].
Baroness to me is a listener’s band. It’s really about layers and beautiful, rich guitar harmonies. Working with John is kind of overwhelming because we’d do a take and it’d sound fine, then he’d be like, “Okay, let’s double it with a completely different amp, completely different pedals, completely different everything.” And we’d do that and he’d be like, “Okay, let’s do it one more time, and mic the amp differently”… There were just so many different components that went into each layer of every track of every song.
I really like that because even if you can’t hear all these details as a listener, the intention that goes behind this feels really, really powerful. Just putting that much effort and good thoughts and good energy into every layer and every take, just having those good intentions – I just hope that shines through in some way, even if you can’t hear, “Ooh, that’s a Fender Champ! Ooh, that’s a Princeton!”
So what pedals and guitars were you using on the album?
I play a Fender American Professional Telecaster. I also have a 1992 G&L ASAT Classic Tele that I found used. I use that a lot. We used a couple of Jazzmasters to get that big, wiry sound. And Dave had this really cool Gibson Melody Maker at his studio – it’s super old, I’m not exactly sure what year it was. But he said somebody left it there from a previous session. I’m pretty sure I tracked all the Borderlines solos with that, or the majority of them.
And pedal-wise, I pretty much just run a pretty basic pedal chain, an Xotic SP Compressor into a Wampler Tumnus, which is like a Klon mock. And then I have an MXR Super Badass Distortion, I used that on the whole record and I use it live. Then we both use a bunch of Philly Fuzz pedals that John and our friend Steve in Philly make. We used those all over the record.
How have your own gear preferences changed over the years playing with different musicians and setups?
I’ve mostly played in thrash metal bands, or black and death kinda bands. I pretty much used either a Kramer SM-1, like a solid mahogany neck-through, kinda Strat-looking guitar with a Floyd Rose and Duncan Distortion pickups. For years, I played a Jackson DK-1, I believe was the model. Same thing, Duncan Distortion humbuckers, real hot humbuckers. Floyd Rose, maple neck. Really fat neck radius. Just total shredder guitars.
But when I joined Baroness, it was like, I think this is not gonna be the appropriate tool for this band. [laughs] It’s gonna be ridiculous having these super shreddy 80s-inspired guitars. I still love playing them, but at the time I was like, man, I’ve always wanted a Tele. And John had just got into playing Teles.
I think we kind of evolved our rigs at the same time as I was joining Baroness. He was like, “I wanna start playing smaller amps and just started testing stuff and A/B-ing gear”. We came up with: “What if you, John, started playing Silverface Princeton and a Blackface Deluxe and I’ll play Blackface Princeton and Silverface Deluxe?” And we’ll have them in stereo through a pedalboard – we both use G2 GigRigs, you can run your amps stereo through that and have your whole pedal chain go through the speaker system. And we were like, yeah, it’d be really fucking cool.
It’s funny, before this tour, we had this Fender Deluxe Tele that had two ShawBucker humbuckers in it (example pictured above). But through the types of fuzz and stuff that we run through them, they had this microphonic squeal to them, so we swapped them out for DiMarzio humbuckers. And it sounds fucking awesome by itself. But matched with John’s rig, with this thing that we kind of created together based on a single-coil pickup sound and the Princetons and the Deluxes, I was like, oh my god, it’s so muddy once John chimed in with his harmonies and stuff like that. So we ended up switching back to the normal Tele.
When you’re refreshing your rig, how do you usually search for new gear? Do you go to smaller boutique makers like Philly Fuzz, or do you cast a wider net?
I kinda just… go to YouTube first. Does that sound weird? [laughs] I’ll check stuff out on YouTube, check out demos. I used to work at Guitar Center and I still have buddies that work there. I’ll go in and find them on a Saturday afternoon, try out a bunch of stuff… And then if we’re in a cool city, I always try to find a music store to check stuff out.
But yeah, YouTube is such a great tool. Like demos and just seeing what’s out there. It’s dangerous, because then I end up buying a bunch of shit I don’t need [laughs], ’cause I saw a cool video about it.
When did you work at Guitar Center and what was that like?
I worked there when I was 17 or 18. I worked there a couple of years and met my best friend there. We still play music together. She was the only other female that worked at the Guitar Center. It was fine – well, it was a sales job, so it could be a bummer. People would come in and as a younger female, you’d be like, “Hey, can I help you?” And they’d be like, “Yeaaaah, no.”
And they’d go up to the nearest dude employee and ask them for help. Early on I was like, “Aw, shit, is this gonna be a thing throughout my life?” [laughs] But fortunately, it’s all good. That was 10 years ago, and I think there’s been a big change, a big shift now.
As a woman in music, how’ve you seen the tide turn firsthand?
Ten years ago when I was touring in bands, you’d show up to the venue and figure out where to load in, and people would be like, “Uh, are you someone’s girlfriend or what?” Just, no, dude, fuck! But I just see so much more female presence in specifically heavy music, that I think that’s going away – or maybe there still is and I’m blind to it. This weird oversexualised thing with women shredding, I think that’s going away, thank fucking god. [laughs]
I see a lot more women and people just being themselves, and being comfortable with who they are, just doing their thing and fucking killing it. Metal embraces such a wide variety of sounds and inspirations that are under the umbrella of heavy or dark music, it’s a really great community for that. People like Chelsea Wolfe or this band called Brutus, whose singer drums, she’s fucking rad. There’s so many artists in this world that I see and am so inspired by.
Guitars: Fender American Professional Telecaster, Fender American Professional Jazzmaster (for low tunings)
Amps: Fender Princeton Reverb Silverface, Fender Deluxe Reverb Blackface w/ Fender Super Sonic 212 Extension Cab
Effects: Xotic SP Compressor, Wampler Tumnus, Champion Leccy Fettle Boost, MXR Super Badass, Philly Fuzz Infidel Fuzz, MXR EVH Phase 90, EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport SR, EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter, Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Neo Reverb, DigiTech Whammy, Strymon Timeline, GigRig G2 pedal switch system, MXR Tap (bank selector)
Strings/Accessories: D’Addario 10-46, D’Addario 10-52 for lower tuning, Gator Grip 0.96 pics