Gat’s the way to do itHow a Newtown boy forged by metal became a soul sensation
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“Honestly, so much has been happening to me, man, it’s hard to recap in my own brain. I forget so much.” Louis Baker sounds a little weary as he retrieves the blurry details of his latest tour, which showcased his rich, resonant acoustic soul to audiences in Byron Bay, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Budapest. You can’t blame the young Wellington troubadour for taking a moment to reassemble the pieces of his year; 2014 has undoubtedly been his biggest yet, with a debut EP release, a 7-inch vinyl offering and a continent-leaping schedule.
Born and raised in Newtown, Baker’s formative listening experiences are etched in the grooves of his parents’ record collection, a challenging catalogue of bebop jazz, Indian raga and Japanese koto music. Those sounds would all inform Baker’s education, along with a curriculum of influences that converged in soul, but it would be the darker musical arts that pushed the budding guitar student towards six-string mastery.
On Friday, April 19, 2002, a 12-year-old Baker underwent a conversion when he saw Los Angeles art metal outfit Tool bring their high-concept riffery to Wellington’s Queens Wharf Centre. The concert served as his gateway drug to metal, and a full-time commitment to the guitar. “After that night, it was graft time,” recalls Baker, now 25. “I wanted to be [Metallica lead guitarist] Kirk Hammett. I just wanted to be the best guitar player in the world. I learnt Eruption by Eddie Van Halen and spent the whole holidays trying to master it.
While the grip of hard rock and metal eventually loosened a little, freeing the teenage axe-slinger to embrace bluesmen like Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Memphis Slim, Baker’s dedication to the gat did not diminish. He migrated from bedroom shred sessions to 12-bar blues, to 1960s r&b, to soul and jazz, accenting each new direction in sound with a voice that can register as an intimate croon or soar to dizzying heights. By the time he graduated from Wellington Jazz School, his evolution was complete.
After nearly a decade-and-a-half consolidating his influences and honing his songwriting skills, in March this year Baker released his debut EP, a self-titled effort recorded with Breaks Co-op frontman Andy Lovegrove at Snap Studios in London. An additional track, The Way, was recorded with engineer Erik Breuer at the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy held in New York.
Baker’s Academy connection wasn’t to end in NYC. In June this year, he returned to the UK, where he won over new fans on the Red Bull Music Academy stage at Field Day, the music festival that takes over London’s Victoria Park. The line-up was stacked with names like Blood Orange, Future Islands and Danny Brown, but Baker was there for business, not pleasure. “There was so much music I wanted to hear, but I was off meeting bookers and promoters and other artists,” he says. “I was basically maximising the time that I had there so I can put down roots.”
Five days of peddling his soul wares in London was followed by a stint in Barcelona, where he showcased cuts from his EP on another Red Bull Music Academy stage, at Sonar, the progressive electronic music festival that has embraced fellow Kiwis Fat Freddy’s Drop and Electric Wire Hustle.
“The stage was in this massive bright blue tent, with high ceilings and really good sound on stage,” says Baker. “Most people were doing house or very electronic vibes, so seeing an acoustic guitar and voice dude on stage was a bit out of the ordinary. But the response was really positive and I think I made a really nice connection. Everyone I talked to really dug it.” Further shows in Scotland and Hungary led to more new supporters, label contacts and potential tour managers.
Baker is keeping quiet on the specifics of his gameplan, but his recollection of that late afternoon Sonar set is a good pointer to his export strategy – make an intimate connection with music lovers around the world, one soul-baring performance at a time. “I got into music because I wanted people to feel more connected,” he says. “I’m always searching for that beautiful moment when time stands still, because you’re so transfixed by what’s happening on stage. Even if it’s just for the briefest moment, that’s where I’m going to keep trying to get to with my music.”
Louis Baker - the facts
The line-up: Louis Baker – singer, songwriter, guitarist
Discography: Louis Baker – EP, 2014
Bat to the Gat: At school, Baker was a keen cricketer who was marked out for big things. Music took the lead, but he remains a CrossFit enthusiast and dedicated armchair sportsman.