Last August, on a highway near Bath, England, a tour bus carrying the artful Savannah hard rock band Baroness drove off a cliff. In a letter singer-guitarist John Dyer Baizley posted to the band’s website this year, he recounted the experience:
“I remember the sound of the air-brakes failing, and the panicked cursing of our driver as we slowly realized how desperate the situation was. I tried as hard as I could to yell and wake everyone up to prepare for impact. I remember the sounds of confusion from behind me as our collective terror rose. I remember seeing the guardrail split, then a cluster of trees smacking against the front windshield. While we were airborne my eyes met with our driver’s. I knew then that we each shared the same look on our face; and I won’t soon forget it. We had spent enough time in the air to appreciate, make peace with and accept a fate we thought inevitable, and we looked at one another with a horribly silent ‘goodbye’ in our eyes.”
But Baizley didn’t die, and neither did Baroness. After a grueling, months-long period of rehabilitation and the departure of bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle (replaced by Nick Jost and Sebastian Thomson, respectively) the band is back on tour, including a stop Monday at A&R Music Bar with openers Royal Thunder.
The concert — almost a year to date since the accident — will continue a long relationship between Baroness and Columbus, one that dates back to basement shows at DIY hub the Legion of Doom a decade ago. In a phone call last week, Baizley said the slow, steady growth indicates hard work paying off rather than the fleeting instant success that comes from being suddenly in fashion — though with music critics gravitating toward metal lately, Baizley knows what an overnight spike in popularity feels like too.
“Those little scenes are sort of like matchsticks. They burn very hot very frequently and get snuffed out quickly in favor of some other flavor of the day,” Baizley said. Whereas in markets like this one, “show Z is predicated in part on shows A through YWe’ve gained an audience in Columbus and we’ve maintained a lot of that audience and we’ve grown in places like that without being ‘on-trend.’”
That audience will be treated to a career-spanning set Monday heavy on fan favorites. Baroness barely got to tour behind last year’s double album Yellow & Green before the bus crash, but because Baizley and guitarist Peter Adams had a short window of time to get the new members acclimated, they opted for the “all killer, no filler” approach rather than focus on newer stuff.
“Because we’ve had to take on a new bass player and drummer, we’re going with the songs that feel the best, which happen to be the songs that people like the best,” Baizley said.
Plowing through his body of work every night has been empowering for Baizley, whose body is still recovering from a broken arm, a broken leg and other injuries. Revisiting his former struggles via song helps him cope with the current ones, and the rigor of performance strengthens his mind and body.
“You could make a case that it was arguably the music that took me to that accident,” he said,but in a very surprising turn of events, it’s actually the music that has helped me trecover from that more than anything else.”
Although Baizley’s recovery has forced him to slow down on his creative output, he’s still been productive lately in terms of written words (where that writing will be published, he doesn’t know) and visual arts (Baizley creates the art for all Baroness releases and has done work for other prominent bands including Kylesa, Kvelertak and Pig Destroyer).
As for new music: It’s coming too, though not on this tour. The momentum that was snuffed out by the bus crash has been reignited by processing it.
“If there’s such a thing as a creative muscle or a source of creativity, falling 40 feet off a cliff in a bus will knock some of that out of you,” Baizley said. “The discovery of what happened there has reignited that creative combustion engine.”
Doug Seymour photo