In a world oversaturated with fads and gimmicks, it’s really nice to come across a performer like Wellington based singer/songwriter Louis Baker, who puts his heart and soul into his music, ignoring trends and doing it for all the right reasons. Paul Berrington spoke to him about music, life, and his plans for 2013.
Possessing a voice that New Zealand music legend Warren Maxwell describes as a “conduit for pure emotion”, it’s a little surprising that Louis Baker took up guitar before singing: “I started playing guitar when I was about 13. I haven’t been singing that long, though – I started singing when I was 17 or so.”
So, given the experience he has gained over a decade of gigging, does it feel comfortable to be under the spotlight while performing?
“Oh man, I’m still not ready. I still struggle a lot with this type of thing. I think it took me a few years, and I’m not really sure when I became comfortable”, and in many ways, he says, “I’m still getting used to it.”
Louis’ music is a real melting pot, identifiable as the work of a songwriter, but filled with elements of many different styles of music., For that reason his influences are particularly varied. “They are very broad. My music taste stems a lot from blues, soul, and funk, but I also listen to a lot of world, jazz, and classical music. I mostly listen to people like Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, D’Angelo, Sly Stone, J Dilla, and a lot of blues music, too. I love Albert King, Otis Rush, Freddie King and Hendrix. Doyle Bramhall is a huge influence of mine as well.”
So what about a local mentor? Is there someone who has provided a helping hand? “No one person in particular. I think I’ve learnt quite a bit along the way, from all sorts of people, really. I think you should be open minded to that, and trying to learn from everyone.”
His song-writing process is also hard to pin down, and he favours an open-ended method that is sometimes influenced by the world around him. “For me there is no formulaic approach. It’s all about feeling, and following what feels good to you. I might read something that inspires me to write some words. I often read poetry and that’s what does it for me. Or I might be listening to something and hear a particular chord progression, then I learn it and adapt it to my own playing style. Songwriting for me never occurs in a set way, it is always different.”
Spend a few moments with Louis Baker and you can feel the positivity and energy that this gifted young performer possesses. This is one man you can’t help but wish the best for, because that’s what he wants for you.[/pullquote]If you’ve seen Louis perform live then you know how well he connects to an audience. So how does he describe the vibe of his shows, and what can you expect from his performance this coming Friday? “I think quite a spiritual, positive togetherness. I play mostly original music, and maybe a couple of covers, but there will be some new material in there as well.”
Louis released his debut single – Even in the Darkness – late last year to widespread critical acclaim, and has more music due for release in 2013. “I released my first single on December 3rd last year, and did the tour for that, which was really amazing. I have won the Audience recording prize for February, so I will be doing some recording at Roundhead Studios and will have a new single out soon. There are also some collabs we’ll be releasing before I go away in May for the Red Bull Music Academy. I was supposed to go in October of last year but it didn’t happen because they weren’t on schedule with the building. I still can’t believe I’m going. It is an honour and a privilege, and I am getting more and more excited with every day that goes by.”
Listening to Louis’ lyrics you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a man with a few more years under his belt, given that the maturity belies his age. “I read a lot of philosophy and poetry. Being open minded and soaking up as much knowledge as possible. I think my mum is a wise lady. She’s had a real influence on my life, and is always there for me. She is a very spiritual lady, likewise with my whole family.”
The past year has seen Louis busier than ever, performing all over the country, and playing with some of his own musical heroes, so what stands out for him? “I really enjoyed the gig I played on the 21st of December last year for my single release at Bodega – that was definitely one of my favourites! In terms of other gigs that I’ve done, though, I opened for Fat Freddy’s in July 2012, and that was a massive gig for me, a real pleasure. Quite a lot of tour is just a blur, to be honest, but I haven’t forgotten the people I’ve met and the beautiful places I’ve been to play, like up in Raglan and Kerikeri.”
Louis was also busy during the festival season over summer. “I did Rhythm & Alps, Rhythm & Vines, and La De Da. At La De Da I played solo and with Brockaflowersaurus-Rex. Playing music with those guys is always a fun time. We love playing together, and our collective consciousness is becoming more and more clear with each performance. The people dig it because the nine of us are having such a good time vibing on stage.”
Gaining musical knowledge from Jazz School and experience performing from many talent shows, Louis has a philosophy for success that provides him with all the motivation he needs. “You have to believe in yourself. You have to get yourself motivated. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a family that’s really dedicated to what they do, and driven to being good, altruistic people. That love has helped me a lot. I love making people happy through music, and I choose to express a positive message with it. The key is to be you. One has to be courageous in that sense, to be yourself is to be courageous. There are a whole lot of things that we can conform to in this life, a lot of it is bullshit. I think people need to turn off the radio, turn off the TV, and put down the phone for a while. These are tools that can create value, but how about taking your shoes off and walking in the grass or something. Join with the Earth a bit more maybe?”
So what does the future hold for this musician with his heart in the right place, and such a considered head on his shoulders? “I’m living at home at the moment with my mum, and now is the time before I go to New York and London that I am consolidating and being most mindful. Bringing strength, clarity, and understanding to my visions and goals. It’s always grounding living at home. Full of good vibes, quietness, trees, and a good environment to write in, which is great. The near future holds travel, more recording, releasing some collaborations, some of which are coming out really soon. I’m really excited about them – they’ve been a lot of work and now it is coming to fruition. I’ve been working with Benny Tones and Paddy Fred Bleakley. They are both beautiful humans, and classic Kiwi lads. Wait until Paddy’s EP drops. If you like Flying Lotus or are a beat junky, have a listen. He’s off the chain!”
If one thing stands out about Louis, it’s his connection to his audience and his ability to build rapport with his fans on stage, and he admits this is definitely something he works towards creating. “It’s something I definitely strive for, although I don’t think I’m very good at it. I think the most amazing performers of our modern era are people like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jimi Hendrix. These humans have never tried to be someone else, or fit the mold. There are all sorts of preparation that goes into a show, rehearsals, and the set list, how does each song merge with another so the flow and energy is smooth? What emotion does the song bring out in you? What are the lights doing? But again, it’s of most importance to be yourself on stage. You really have to be open and vulnerable, talk with your audience in a human way. I don’t like going to a gig and feeling like I’m just an outsider, like ‘Us and Them’ or something. I want everyone to feel connected, that’s why people go to a concert, to feel that community or unity, that interconnectedness, and that’s what I strive for or practice, the genuine message and the connection.”
Spend a few moments with Louis Baker and you can feel the positivity and energy that this gifted young performer possesses. Enriched with an outlook on life that makes his music an inspiration, this is one man you can’t help but wish the best for, because that’s what he wants for you. He lets his music do the talking, and at the moment it is singing out loudly, sensing his message to us all.