Bill Baird—Onward! Through the Many Fogs

Bill Baird remains a pivotal figure in the American creative landscapes of aesthetic innovation and invention. The visionary son of the greater southwest territories that span from Austin, Los Angeles to the Bay Area—the prolific solo artist behind such pop canon acts as Sound Team, {{{Sunset}}} and more shares a privy and intimate view of the processes that lead to the creation of the latest full-length Nightly Never Ending.

The result finds Baird making his most extravagant and elaborate solo effort yet. Nightly Never Ending stands as the artist's ultimate LA album that stands tall among the shoulders of giants and titans of Sunset Strip lore. Indulging in the entire studio/producer full experience; Bill takes his self-described 'surreal-textured-raw-American-yeehaw-folky-lyric-idiot-psych' to the most shiny and streamline echelon yet. The artist's signature brand of innovative introspection is showcased in a shining brilliance captured in the highest definition that can be afforded.

Without further ado, the East Bay-based visionary penned the following insightful autobiographical editorial titled:

Onward! Through the Many Fogs

by Bill Baird

bill baird title piece week in pop.jpg

Part 1: Brief Introduction Which Spills into Biography of a Would-Be Oceanographer

Hi, my name is Bill. (1) Maybe you've heard of me, maybe you haven't.  It's a crowded world, so I begrudge you nothing.  In fact, I welcome the chance to introduce myself.

To industry old-timers, I'm a cautionary tale. (2)  To my family, I'm the weird uncle. (3) To booking agents and those doing live sound, I'm a headache. (4) To those who know, I'm a relentless seeker of sounds that move my head, heart, legs. To those that don't, now you do. If I had a choice, I'd probably be a spelunker or boat captain. But I don't have a choice. Music chose me...I tried to run away but it's no damn use. Onward, through the fog of unknowing.

I've released 8 albums in the past three years with many more coming. All told, I've released somewhere around 20 or 30. (5) Some are probably terrible. (6) I don't listen to the old ones. I used to just record a one-off cassette of songs and call it an album, so counting releases is problematic.  This lack of formality has been both a strength and hindrance. I'm pretty much forever banished to the music industry ditch, but the view is more interesting down here anyway. (7) And honestly I think the songs get better every time. I live for the magic, when something appears out of nowhere and you react in the moment. The fog of unknowing that blows between my ears.

I've been working on my own genre for awhile now....  

Surreal-Textured-Raw-American-Yeehaw Folky-Lyric-Idiot-Psych.

Which shortens to an anagram...STRAY FLIP. It's pretty specific. Doesn't make much sense but then again neither does life, or music. You just embrace it.

Part 2: Navigating the LA Fog of Industry Illusion vs. the SF Fog of Techno-Utopian Progress

 Lord of the gear—Bill Baird; photographed by Ginger Fierstein.

Lord of the gear—Bill Baird; photographed by Ginger Fierstein.

Last year, I recorded an album for Super Deluxe. They make cool shit across all platforms.  And they gave me an opportunity to make a true LA songwriter album. Opportunity of a lifetime.

Negotiating the deal proved a circuitous process. RZA heard my songs but we never worked out a collaboration. I had sushi with Anthony Kiedis. It all felt very absurdly LA, in the best way. In LA, you become an actor playing yourself. The industry illusion pervades every interaction, like an unseen fog. If you remain cognizant and have fun with it, you can manipulate the fog. If you take the game (or yourself) too seriously, you forget the fog is even there. You disappear inside of it.

LA’s fog is not to be confused with its smog, whose frozen-freeway-parking-lots breathe black-lung to those slumping through their daily slog. The working stiffs, the hopeless drunks, the wide-eyed zealots, the plastic bubble beach bimbos, the yoga-pant-botox-bleach-mid-life-crisis in slow motion. This is LA’s noise and pollution….let it blow by you. There are harbors of real emotion and feeling amidst the smog, puddles of honest-to-god humanity amidst the concrete. In the tension between LA’s fantasy and its crowded reality lies the essential beauty of the place.

LA has its fog of industry illusion—here in San Francisco we have the fog of techno-utopianism. (9) The world’s greatest minds find new ways to freeze folks to their phones, feeding that data into a grand virtual computer consciousness, which will one day replace the military in our overseas fight for the 99¢ cheeseburger. (10) This illusion of progress, crammed into our vehicles of convenience while the world’s wild beauty shrinks exponentially by the hour, this is the SF fog of 2018, and it has engulfed the world. SF was quite recently the capital of the west coast weirdo underground, believe it or not. Nowadays, SF folks getting weird means donning non-matching socks onboard a Tiki-Bar-Taco-Tuesday-Shuttle-Bus to the office in Mountain View.

The tension between SF’s tech-utopian fog, and LA’s magic illusion fog, this was the basis for my new record. A lonely guy caught in the middle of all this, stranded in a new city. (11)

I long ago gave up the idea of wealth and fame, or even cursory respect. Fool's errands! Empty goals. All I want out of music (and life) is the joy of discovery. An adventure. Something new. A horizon this wide leaves ample room for bizarre circumstance. You end up crashing on Flea's couch, selling your sunglasses to James Murphy, and stealing Primal Scream's floral arrangement. Stories for another time. (12)

Part 3:  Funneling the Fog into Song

 Self-portrait of a cosmic visionary; courtesy of Bill Baird.

Self-portrait of a cosmic visionary; courtesy of Bill Baird.

I left for LA with a few dozen demos, a backpack, a blanket, no signed contract and nowhere to sleep. Everything felt vivid and desperate but very alive. Started pre-production, which I didn't even know was a thing. I learned what it means: you sit in a room and play the songs and somebody tells you if they're too long, too short, or just right. In this case, that somebody was Joel Shearer, my producer. Joel makes mega-awesome-healing-drone music with his guitar and at least sixty pedals.  Probably more. He was house-sitting a home literally overflowing with gongs.

Typical pre-production day:  I'd walk through the gong-filled house and gently tap each one and out to the back studio and strum through my tunes and then find a couch elsewhere to crash for the night. The backyard was filled with parrots who squawked as I day-drank bottles of beer and wine.  The fog of LA illusion had surrounded me, and I wafted its sandalwood-concrete scent.

A week later, the session started. First person I met at the session was the the drummer, Don Heffington, total LA legend and Van Dyke Parks' partner in crime. I knew he'd played with Butch Morris, famed avante-garde composer and originator of conduction, an improv technique also used by Zappa. Don Heffington had been Bob Dylan's drummer—I was kind of floored. I mean, Bob Dylan isn't exactly complex rhythmically, but, well, ya know.  He's Bob Dylan. And here was his drummer, playing on my record.

We tracked a couple tunes and everybody got a feel. The producer and the engineer, Chris, were feeling me out. Could I deliver the goods? I sang my guts out and laid my heart on the line. I delivered the goods. You listen and be the judge. It's splayed all across the internet.

Next morning, woke with an ominous feeling. The fog had turned to smoke....our studio had burned down. Top story on local news. Nobody died, thank god, but it's a hell of a way to start a record.  Ended up in a different studio on the Sunset strip. A giant framed smiling portrait of Alanis Morrissette hung above the toilet, smiling down on every urination. The fog of industry illusion had taken Alanis' smiling form and bestowed her mid-90's blessings on us all.

The actual process of recording was new to me (13), and a complete joy. I worried about nothing except singing my songs and showing up on time. (14) There was Paul, Aimee Mann's producer, on bass. And Jeben, keyboardist from Public Image, LTD, dialing in keyboard sounds. And, of course, Zac Rae, LA sound magician and keyboard master, playing everything from Celeste to Mellotron.

I’d spent years doing everything myself. I had in my mind some ideal of vertical integration—I wrote the songs, played all the instruments, hand printed the covers, stitched the fucking t-shirts. But you know what? That shit is TIRING. Even more tiring is repeating yourself. Sometimes the most experimental thing you can do is be normal. Be straight. (15)

And you know what? When you share the load, when you delegate, when you work with people who are really good at their jobs, it’s a revelation. They make different choices. And even better? Everybody gets to take the credit. Bearing the load all on your shoulders….gets tiresome. Yes, I gave up control, but in the moment I let go, the world opened up to me.

Six weeks later, I'd couch surfed my way to my most polished album. Will it earn my my long-overdue fame and fortune? (16) Fuck, who cares. The world owes me nothing. I am just happy and grateful to be here. I will never make another record like this one, and that's just the way it should be. Setting sail for unknown shores, sail billowing with the windy fog of unknowing. The unknown propels me forward.

Part 4: Notes from Inside the Fog

 Synth excursions in Death Valley with Bill Baird; photographed by Laura Baird.

Synth excursions in Death Valley with Bill Baird; photographed by Laura Baird.

If your music is truly alive, it's a dialectic—always in reaction to what came before. (17) You get closer and closer to an idea and you finally cream it...time to let it die. To those interested in pegging me down (in-laws, career counselors, prosecuting attorneys), my path might seem aimless, futile, feckless. To those interested in process, however, they understand what I'm doing. I'm staying alive and vital. Only through vigilant effort can you maintain your way through the fog of illusion. It just so happens…my way is basically crawling on the floor. Which is helpful. I can claim failure as a win. You only lose by not playing at all.

All I really want with my songwriting is baseball percentages. If I can bat a .400, which is just 4 out of 10 songs being great, then I'm Ted freaking Williams. (18) Even if each album feels incomplete, a look back later reveals great songs strewn along the path. But looking back makes me feel queasy and I try not to do it. (19)

All these bullshit words and theories change, depending on what you ate for breakfast. (20) How you're treating your body. 'Cause your brain is part of your body as much as your arms and legs. Just 'cause your thoughts float doesn't mean they don't originate in the physical. So you gotta take care of the vehicle. Or abuse it wisely. Sometimes the clarity found at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey is not found any other way. I don't do much of that anymore, but a good blow-out every now and then….clears the pipes. (21)

I go on long hikes here in the bay area. Stare into space and listen to the silence. Sound is just ruptured air, and music is organized sound. Sometimes you feel so right with the world that everything you hear sounds like music. Sometimes it's all a grating noise. When the sounds grate, you need solace within your people. It's hard to find your tribe in SF these days. I'm still searching. Yuppie-frat-rat-dirtbags litter the SF streets like human-sized vanilla Frappucinos. I've had at least twenty bandmates since moving here and some are still with me. Jasper and Tom both play in the excellent SF band Brasil, Burner Herzog too. Marissa has her own group, Sucker Crush. Kristin Klein inspires me with her humor and positive purpose. Mark David Ashworth spins otherworldly beauty with his words and melodies. Indianna Hale has a heavenly voice. Sandy’s = guitar haze bliss.

Everybody seems to be moving away from SF but that just makes space for a fresh batch of freaks. (22)

Everything here is being nailed down and compartmentalized—the mystery gets stripped. Makes culture easier to feed into the machine and converted into clicks and digits. It's important to defy the logic of the machine. Not everything has to be commodified and digitized. You can play an open-air concert to angels, aliens, and ghosts, with not a soul in sight. It is living theatre. And the world needs more of it, in real time. Not as an online petition.

I think moving forward, we will see the internet come to life.  No more likes, shares and other tin badges. Real life, with all its messiness and complications, awaits us all. (23)

I still carry a bit of the LA fog in a bottle in my pocket and take it out for a whiff every now and then.   Reminds me that life’s a game of blind man’s bluff. Everybody is scared. Some people just use their fear.   Can’t let it control you, but you don’t wanna get rid of it either. If you do, you’ll get eaten alive. Keep your fear, but use it.   Let it burn inside your gut. (24)

Bill Baird's new album Nightly Never Ending is available via Super Deluxe, Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon, Google Play and everywhere.

Bill Baird

Bill Baird rambling about the rocks; photographed by Matthew Rome

ANNOTATIONS:

1. My name is actually Morton Williams Baird III.  Bill as a nickname derives from the middle name, Williams, so really it should be plural. As in, Bills. Which perhaps explains various identity issues.

2.  http://www.imposemagazine.com/features/bill-bairds-brief-history-of-major-label-blah

3. My old nickname was Buck. As in, Uncle Buck. The plot thickens.

4. http://www.billbillbillbillbill.com/mundus-novus

5. I've never embarked on an official count, as I feel every time I attribute a number to my world of music, it changes that world. Almost like the Observer Effect in quantum physics. From our dear wiki-world; In physics, the observer effect is the theory that simply observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner.

6. My high school love song cassettes are horrible.

7. Borrowed tune, à la Neil Young.

8. Embracing senselessness has a funny way of making sense of a situation.

9. An illuminating and disturbing look into techno-utopianism can be found in Hypernormalisation, a recent BBC documentary by Adam Curtis.

10. I don't eat meat, but, ya know, garden burger doesn't quite sound the same. 

11. I'm a native Texan. California is a foreign land to me. Being a foreigner is good for writing songs.

12. Don't ask.

13. My first full album working with a producer that wasn't kind of a disaster.

14. I wasn't worried, though.

15. Defying expectations is the name of the game.

16. Probably not.

17. Sometimes repeating yourself is in reaction to what came before.  Well, duh. By definition. And repetition can feel just as vibrant as change. Repetition is a form of change, as they say.

18. Ted Williams had a .344 lifetime batting average but his on-base percentage was .482... perhaps a more fitting metaphor, but getting half your songs right sounds way more daunting.

19. Also quease-inducing: close-mic'd mouth sounds; my turn at karaoke; reading Samuel Beckett while making hairpin turns on a death-defying coastal highway.

20. Caramelized onions, potatoes, an egg, and a flour tortilla.

21. Clogs other pipes, though.  Some pipes gotta be cleaned, some gotta get clogged.

22. A lot of SF is actually just moving to Oakland.

23. Nevermind the fact that I'm writing this to my email account.

24. Or inside your dreams, as it did mine three nights ago. The refrain of disappointment I've carried like a pale, bong bird on my shoulder for years (you’ll never make it, you’re a fraud) burst into my dreams two nights ago (night of July 4th). In my dream, I walked around telling everybody I’d quit music. This gesture is partly desperation and partly just plain attention seeking. We want people to protest, to demand we continue, to reaffirm our life choices. This dream had none of that. My announcements were universally met with shrugs from all I met inside my dream. And why not? All these characters inside my dream are projections of my own thoughts, and, having carried this threat of withdrawal for so so many years now, why would my own self be surprised at my own thoughts? There were no dramatic goodbyes, no eulogies for my unrecognized greatness...just a shrug. I was woken from this dream by archer, my young son. He told me he was having a nightmare—wild animals are eating babies. He got in my sleeping bag and we went back to sleep. He reminded me that my dream was pure egotism and silliness, and this world presents frightening images to a child’s unfiltered imagination that get sublimated through adulthood but never disappear. They’re still hurting kids out there, and it still wakes me from dreams where I threaten images of myself with disappearance. Disappear from what? From whom? This life is all there is, and we do our best, and that’s all we can do.