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Aidan Baker Interview; Butterfly Bones
Saturday, October 16 2004 @ 05:37 PM PDT
Contributed by: Malahki Thorn

Heathen Harvest: Hello Aidan Baker. I would like to begin the interview with some obligatory questions that will help introduce you as a musician and your music to the Heathen Harvest audience. Can you explain how you began your career as a musician and what inspired this choice of artistic expression and by this I mean specifically your interest in music?

Aidan Baker: Way back. First, both my parents are musicians so music was always around when I was a kid. I started taking piano lessons when I was around five or six or something like that. I moved to playing the flute when I was about ten.

Was that here in Canada ?

AB: Yes that was here in Canada . Just outside Toronto . Flute I played for oh about fifteen years or so. And that was the extent of my classical training and I really haven't touched it since. Just because there was not a lot of call for flute, either you play with the Symphony or with an orchestra. And in my opinion most flute parts are pretty dull. So it was in my early teens that I began to play guitar, you know playing with punk rock bands and stuff like that. I had a string of bands I was involved with but they never amount to much. And then around my mid-twenties I began to do solo stuff. I started to experiment with the guitar, mostly acoustic guitars and vocals and gradually that became more and more abstract.

HH: And how old are you now?

AB: Now, I am thirty years old. The sort of folkish material that I was working with began to become less and less song structured and song oriented until it became the stuff I do today.

HH: Can you discuss how you came about using the guitar in such a non conventional way? Specifically during song composition and performance?

AB: Well I have always been into traditional guitar players that have used the guitar unconventionally. Examples would be Jimi Hendrix but also some jazz players like Stanley Jordan . I've been inspired by people who use the guitar in a different way than usual and try to rearrange people's conceptions of what the guitar should sound like. When I was a teenager Dave Navarro from Jane's Addiction was a big guitar influence on me. He was playing rock music, yeah, but he played it in a different way or at least he played rock music in a very, non rock way. And then later on it became people like Justin Broderick of Godflesh who was using the guitar more as a sonic palette. So that I think this is where my influences come from.

HH: You have an extensive discography that includes solo albums and collaborations and you also work as a member of several different bands. Can you give us a description of the various projects that you are currently involved in?

AB: Well there is the solo project that is just under my name Aidan Baker which is just me and guitar but also runs the gamut from just solo guitar to electro acoustic material that I do. I also have a band called Arc; it's a trio, a loose trio sometimes.

HH: Is Arc still currently together?

AB: It is. It's become more of a studio project at present. We have been playing together for about four years now. I guess in the first two years we played live a lot. It's turned into us just pretty much doing stuff on our own and recording in the studio instead of playing live. And it is improvised stuff. It has sort of a tribal feel I guess. It's very tribal because there are two percussionists and one guitarist that is me. I carry all the melodic center on the guitar. So it has a very spacey, melodic, almost Middle Eastern feel to it. I have another solo project called Nadja which I do get help with on bass but mostly it's me. Nadja is actually influenced by metal and ambient music. It's kind of ambient music but I use metal sounds and structures when composing the songs.

HH: With all these projects do you ever feel overwhelmed? And how do you make time for your personal life and other things that you like to do outside your musical interests? Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you are taking on?

AB: Not necessarily. The bands that I am in are fairly informal I guess. We don't really have regular rehearsals or anything. We mostly due improvised music or improvise with a very basic framework. So they are not really all that demanding time wise.

HH: And you do not have relationships with labels to where there is an expectation of you to produce albums within a particular time frame?

AB: Sometimes yeah. When a contract has been signed basically an album will have to be made. For the most part I schedule my time in the studio. Otherwise I suppose it would become consuming. And I am a writer as well, so I do find it often difficult to balance the music and writing because writing tends to seem much more time-consuming than the music is. So I have to make sure to give myself time to do that as well.

HH: Have you found that taking such an unconventional and original path to musical composition has been a challenge in your career as a musician or do you believe it has been more of a benefit to you as an artist? Have you found it to be an obstacle in getting your music signed and finding and audience to listen to it? As opposed to taking a much more mainstream, recognizable, route that people would be more opt to listen to?

AB: I think that I have experienced elements of both. Most of the labels that I have worked with are pretty small so the amount of dispersal or distribution is hardly limited. But at the same time interest in the music I'm doing is also fairly limited. It can be expected that there will be a specific audience that would be catered to through my music. But at the same time I think this audience is a bit more appreciative of what they hear. Most people are mostly receptacle to music as a product.

HH: Much of your music combines digital and acoustic elements. You are actually working within a hybrid of music that I have not found many musicians exploring. How did you come about beginning to blur the lines between the analog and digital worlds?

AB: Largely it's because I don't own a computer. And to a certain extent I think using a computer to make the music I am doing would be a cop out or a bit too easy.

HH: So it is a conscious choice not to own a computer and not take your music in that direction?

AB: Well it originally started in that I did not have one so I thought okay I'm going to try to making music that sounds like it may be made on a computer but it's not. And I think I wanted to keep it that way. Now having made music in this way I have made a conscious decision to continue making music without a computer. I think using a computer at this point would alter how I go about making music. Not necessarily rob it of anything but it would change the sound I think because I have been using only analog instruments and an analog guitar. And again that goes back to the preconceived notion of what people have come to expect from the guitar.

HH: You have covered allot of musical territory during the length of your career as a musician. Do you find it difficult to compose new material that doesn't cover territory you have already explored?

AB: Well I have always been trying to do something different and not something I have already done. On occasion I definitely do find myself treading some of the same ground. And I know I don't need to do that. Often it is just a matter of finding a new way to play the guitar or doing something to the guitar like altering it somehow.

HH: How do you go about writing and composing your music?

AB: A lot of it is just spontaneously composed or improvised. I just sit down and play it actually and whatever comes out comes out.

HH: Do you actually record at the time of playing?

AB: Sometimes. Sometimes it's a bit more structured. But not completely structured obviously. I sometimes go in with that pattern worked out to act as a sort of head from which I then improvise and then return back to the head. And sometimes I just record and if there is something I like after I have recorded I will pick that out to focus on that. Sometimes I'll just return to playing that part on the guitar and other times I will isolate it for sampling.

HH: Some of your music tends to have a heavy conceptual element such as your title “metamorphosis” and “loop studies.” What kind of role do conceptual ideas play in the music? Do ever approach a musical project from a completely conceptual approach?

AB: Yes I do. "Loop Studies" is an example of such an approach. That is one of the more composed albums that I've made because I was working with a Loop pedal that has a twelve second Loop on it.

HH: And that corresponds with your guitar?

AB: Yes, so all those pieces on that album were composed with the Loop pedal. I believe I gave you Loop Studies 3 or 1. There is no Loop Studies 2. There was originally but it kind of disappeared and I didn't feel like returning to it to finish it. The songs on Loop Studies are component songs essentially with set patterns. But because it is a twelve second Loop each pattern has to be twelve seconds and then later I have to create what I actually come up with. So that is a fairly specific compositional approach. And sometimes I'll have specific ideas in mind from reading or some type of research or whatever. I'll try to capture these ideas either sonically or lyrically.

Can you give an example of some of your work that you have approached thematically?

AB: Yes, there is the album “I Fall Into You” on Public Eyesore Records. It's sort of a combination of music and spoken word. I initially wrote the lyrics first. And the lyrics are written around the idea that love is a virus and the whole biological replication thing.

HH: Your music as a solo artist ranges between two extremes. From intensely experimental too deeply emotional. What brings these two elements together in the music?

AB: I think those are just aspects of my interests, I like a good song as much as the next person. But I also like crazy, loud shit to. So I think people are too readily willing to pigeonhole themselves into a specific musical genre either in their listening habits or in their creative habits.

HH: Your music tends to exceed the customary song length that so many music listeners are accustomed to. Your music tends to take its time exploring musical ideas and soundscapes. What do you think has liberated your music from the three to five minutes song structure so many of us have been trained to enjoy?

AB: Largely that is a structural thing, the Loop technology that I am using requires a certain build up in order to support itself. I have done a few shorter tracks that are...it's difficult I find to do it, just because the technology is the way that it is. It's easier to create a longer development and it's much more effective if you create a longer development than if you quickly create it all at once.

Much of your musical material is recorded in live sessions in the studio and then later edited into individual songs. Can you explain how you came about developing your recording and editing techniques?

AB: Most of that live stuff is with either of the bands that I work with. And largely that came about because we found it really difficult to capture the emotion and intensity of a live performance while recording in the studio. That may be just us not trying hard enough. I don't know.

HH: Now correct me if I am wrong but is metamorphosis recorded as one continues live recording secession in the studio?

AB: Well actually it was two takes. The main section of it was recorded in a single take and then there is a subsequent over dub of just one more layer.

HH: The album states that the music was created with minimal recording techniques and editing once you had finished your live recording. Was there a pressure to get it right on the very first take?

AB: No not really. I mean that one recording was pretty much spontaneous I guess. I sort of had a vague idea of what I wanted to communicate and I just sat down and did it. And a lot of times I think that is the best way to do something because… what's that phrase from Elliott? "Between the conception and the act falls the shadow.” It is the idea that you never really capture what is in your head. Or get it out there represented properly. Doing it that way there is not too much in the way of preplanning. I find that to be one of the more effective ways to get it out.

HH: When you create your music do you intend to offer the listener a narrative experience? Or is your music meant more for personal interpretation by the listener?

AB: A bit of both I guess. Some of the albums are a bit obvious in their statement. I mentioned that earlier. That I often write lyrical content that is very specific in nature. Some of the more abstract works I guess the listener could go from the title or just go with the music.

HH: My next question concerns your extensive discography. Looking at your discography one struck with how extensive and how varied your professional relationship with different labels and has been. You're literally spread all over the place. How have you generated so much interest from all of these labels in your music?

AB: Well a lot of those people I have approached myself. I approached them and asked if they would be interested and they said sure. To a certain extent it's kind of an interesting idea to me to have people from all over the place, like people in Japan and in Australia , hear and buy my music and my ideas, it's really intriguing.

Did you have any expectations when you began in your musical career that it would reach these heights?

AB: I don't know. I don't know what kind of expectations I had.

HH: Are you able to make an independent living off your recordings and music at this point?

AB: No not necessarily, I still have a day job.

HH: Tonight you will be playing at the Saturation Bombing Festival here in Toronto Canada . What should we expect from your live performance in comparison to you recorded music?

AB: Well tonight will be different from what I normally do, I am going to go up with just guitar and that's it. When recording I obviously use otherr instruments including acoustic guitar and violin, bass guitar sometimes, and I usually don't use those instruments live though occasionally I will. But generally I just go up on stage with guitar and that's it. But I am actually going to be playing backing tracks which I normally don't do. Because this is an industrial rhythm music Festival I do have some backing tracks to play. And then I will be playing guitar over the prerecorded material.

HH: How much do you rely on live improvisation in your live performances and how much do you rely on prerecorded and planed material? I guess you explained in this instance you just use a little prerecorded backing material?

AB: Yes that's the case tonight I've never done this live before this.

HH: Are you nervous?

AB: Yeah, a little. Yeah usually the live performances I do give are completely improvised.

HH: Lastly, is there anything you would like to share with the Heathen Harvest audience in parting?

AB: Well I guess I just keep listening!


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