Brian Baker emerges from pandemic with 'Yesterday's Slime'
When the pandemic shut things down last March, Brian Baker was playing in a handful of bands (Brat Curse, DANA) and working at Cup O’ Joe in Clintonville. And while he was able to keep the day job, serving coffee to mostly considerate regulars and the occasional screaming customer ranting about face masks and personal freedom, the music collaborations came to an abrupt, jarring halt.
To stay sane, Baker began making music on his own at home, singing and playing all the parts (drums, bass, guitar, keys) himself.
“The passage of time is a lot slower these days, so it was a really good way to focus on something else rather than the strange reality that we're all living in,” said Baker, who first recorded his drum parts with DANA bandmate Chris Lute. “I sit at the drums, and I have this loose idea of how the song should go, and then I just start playing and fill in those drum parts, like a coloring book almost. They come out weird and sometimes a lot cooler than I expected. … It’s this feeling of creating something out of nothing at all. Instead of working with other people to flesh out parts and ideas, you're just kind of going for it.”
Baker recorded nearly all of the rest of the instrument tracks in his living room. “I recorded my last album in my bedroom, and the album before that in my kitchen, so now I've recorded a full-length album in every room of my house,” he said. “I guess I have to do one in the bathroom, and then I have to move out.”
Baker emerged from these living room sessions with a 12-track album, Yesterday’s Slime, released today (Friday, March 5) on Clean Demon Records under the name Brian Damage. Fans of Brat Curse will recognize the sound of these succinct, superbly catchy garage-rock and power-pop songs, but because Baker did just about everything on his own, Yesterday’s Slime provides direct, unfiltered access to the bizarre worlds and constant stream of jokes inside Baker’s brain.
“I think the lyrics are funnier than what I would normally do with Brat Curse. There's a lighthearted playfulness to them. It's completely full of my personality, more so than other things I've done,” he said. “It just sounds like me as a song.”
On “Juicy Secret,” a song you’ll be hearing in your head for days after one listen, Baker spends the majority of the track teasing a “shocking and majorly disturbing truth.” Finally, in the song’s outro, he reveals the mystery: “You're the sh*ttiest, oh-so-very pickiest, always throwing hissy fits, pretend you're friendliest, busiest, really sick....”
“The secret is just, 'I hate you,’” Baker said, laughing. “It didn't originally have that ending. I thought, ‘What is the secret going to be?’ And then I was like, 'It has to be about hating someone, even if it's just myself.' … I think I'm probably talking to myself on that song.”
Sometimes, even when Baker set out to be lighthearted, the wreckage of 2020 would makes its way into the music, in particular on acoustic psych-pop ballad “Thoughts of a Dying Police Chief,” which Baker presents as the internal deathbed dialogue of a 58-year-old cop. “I just can't believe/I spent my whole life with the police/The only thing that needs policing is me,” Baker sings in a resigned tone.
“It’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek look at the police force and how I feel about it,” Baker said. “I played that song at Ace of Cups on one of their patio nights. I had just written it, and it went over very well with the crowd. As I was singing it, I got super emotional and was just like, ‘I think this song is heavier than I intended it to be.’ That's honestly probably my favorite track on the album.”
“Police Chief” is also the one song on the album Baker recorded late at night with Adam Hardy of Cliffs at Old North venue Spacebar, where the two musicians normally work. “I took almost every toy keyboard that I have, and we taped down the right notes on each one and just created this big wall of ambient keyboard sounds,” he said.
Baker has enough material from the Spacebar sessions with Hardy that he hopes to release a follow-up album in the next few months. During the pandemic, Baker also joined another band, Hydrone. In fact, in many ways, the past year has served as a creative refresh for Baker. “I've written 20 songs in the last seven months, and I'm used to writing 20 songs every two years,” he said.
No word yet on the future bathroom album, tentatively titled Full of Sh*t.