There’s something distinctly reactionary about Obsidian, Baths’ second and most recent album for Anticon. Released three-and-a-half years after its predecessor, and written on the heels of Baths’ mastermind Will Wiesenfeld’s lengthy bout with E. coli, the record is an unarguably dark affair. Like Cerulean, Wiesenfeld’s shimmering 2010 electro-pop debut, Obsidian offers a wealth of computer-based beats and swirling keyboard orchestrations. But the similarities don’t go much farther than that.
In place of Cerulean’s barely there and heavily effected vocals, Obsidian keeps Wiesenfeld’s thin, lilting voice front and center. In terms of lyrical content, he doesn’t shy away either; sinister imagery and references to suicide are offered up with disarming honesty, and they’re paired with compositions that are as eerily lush as Cerulean’s were nostalgically buoyant.
This Saturday, Baths returns to Santa Barbara in support of Obsidian, this time with new bandmate and friend Morgan Greenwood in tow. Below, we chat with Wiesenfeld from a Hawai‘i hotel room about collaboration, influences, and the dark derivation of his latest record.
Before you even finished this record you expressed interest in turning Baths into a full band. Now that Morgan’s on board, do you feel like you’ve accomplished that? Yes, I do. I think it was originally in my head that I wanted a live drummer, but I think the way that we made it work is very comfortable. It’s very obviously electronic when we’re playing it live, but it’s also still extremely physical in the way that we’re doing things, and it’s still interesting for both of us. It’s not like he just has to keep static rhythms playing — we’re both doing a bunch and multitasking. There’s also improv in our sets now. That was Morgan’s push, and I think it’s one of the best parts of the show. It ensures we’re doing something different with each set, which is good.
Looking back, how would you compare Obsidian’s writing process to Cerulean’s? Did one pour out faster than the other? Yes. Cerulean was much, much easier. Obsidian was a far more arduous process and a little bizarre. I recorded it in three separate places, none of which were my actual bedroom. I was in my parents’ living room, and then my friend Rob’s garage, and then my friend Mario’s bedroom/studio area. I was never sleeping next to or living next to the music I was making, which was very, very foreign to me. It took a lot longer to get any ideas out. I had to come up with ideas in my car for vocal melodies, or record some musical thing in my phone and just hope that by the time I was ready to record something that inspiration would still be there. But right before I left for tour — actually a day before I left for this tour — I moved into a new place where I’m going to be able to bring all of my recording equipment. I’m super excited about it.
Are you a big fan of working on stuff through the night? I never set out to, but I do and I won’t realize it. Like, I’ll start something at 3 p.m. and think I’m going to work in the afternoon and then all of a sudden it’s three in the morning and I’m like, “Oh, shit. I guess I do need to sleep.” But that’s when I’m overworking the ideas in the recordings, and they’re usually ideas that aren’t working out and I should just try again tomorrow.
In terms of process, do you start building songs with a beat? A lyric? A piano riff? It’s literally all of those things at any given time. It’s always back and forth. I’ve had some songs start specifically from the piano, sometimes with just a word, and I’ll try and expand on the idea of a word being the guideline for a song. It’s literally anywhere, and that’s kind of the fun of it for me. It’s always a little different.
Have you given any thought to letting Morgan into the songwriting process? Yes! We have an EP coming out soon, and the fourth track on it is our first collaboration. It’s mostly his ideas, and I kind of expanded on them and wrote the lyrics and a melody and that sort of stuff. It’s very exciting. And I think for the new record, he’s going to be involved in the process.
Baths has been your vision since its inception. Was it difficult to let someone else in? It was odd at first, but he’s literally the only person I’ve ever wanted to collaborate with, so it’s kind of a dream come true at the same time. I didn’t know if I was ever going to let anybody near my stuff, and he’s one of the only people I’ve ever felt that way about. I think he has a lot of really brilliant ideas and could contribute so much more than I think I could by myself. And I rarely feel that way. He makes me feel that way in terms of his writing, though.
You’ve said that you set out to make a darker record after you finished touring with Cerulean. How conscious were you of that from the get-go, and how is that playing into what you’re writing now? I was very conscious of it. It played into everything I was writing — and that was kind of the point. I threw myself into that on purpose. But I haven’t been writing lately, which is what’s going on now. I worked on the stuff for the EP still kind of in that mind-set; it was all still that kind of vibe. I hadn’t really detached from that because I haven’t been writing, but I do know that going into writing the next record, I am very much not in that mind-set. I’m not intentionally writing darker stuff or depressing stuff. It’s just going to be on a much more normal emotional spectrum.
How far along was Obsidian when you got sick? That was before anything. It delayed the start of the album for like six-and-a-half months, which is why there was such a huge gap between the records. It was completely debilitating, and I couldn’t think straight and I couldn’t be creative. I had no motivation at all. It was really bad. But that happened in July of 2011.
Despite their differences, both of your records have reminded me a lot of Jimmy Tamborello’s stuff. That’s a strong compliment. I’m obsessed with him.
Are there artists that you consider touchstones, for this album in particular or your music at large? Well, Jimmy’s stuff always. I’m super inspired by his music. But specifically for Obsidian, the two that I kind of pointed at directly were Emptyset and Azeda Booth, which was Morgan’s old band. Those were the two main things that I was listening to and inspired by. And outside of that, there was a lot of other media stuff — like Silent Hill 2 — and just a lot of darker, crazier shit.