Q. What do Wooden Waves, A Hotel Nourishing, and Lazlo Hollyfield have in common?
That's right, they're all known for generously tossing slices of pizza to the crowd when they play out. Just kidding, though some of us might like that, the real answer to the question is that these Buffalo bands have in common a member: Sonny Baker, a multi-instrumentalist, who recently released a solo EP under Buffalo's own indie-label, Steak and Cake. Baker's solo material is different than the material in the other projects he's involved in. For one thing, because of the complete creative custody a solo project allows for, the product is a collection of songs that exhibits his song-writing preferences in its purest form. The number of layers are toned down, leaving his warm vocals and guitar compositions left to be put on full display. In this interview we talk about his experience as a musician in Buffalo and his new EP, Here are those freaks you've been asking for.
BUFFABLOG: So tell us about how you first got involved with playing music.
Sonny Baker: I actually started playing out when I was 15. I was in a jam and hippy, funk band, "uber-funk" we played at Broadway Joes and Nietzches. That's how I got my foot in the door a little bit I guess. When I graduated from high school, I came to Buff State and started A Hotel Nourishing and ever since then it tripled off.
BUFFABLOG: How did you pick up Wooden Waves and Lazlo Hollyfeld?
SB: I was really good friends with Bill Fulton from Wooden Waves. We all have the same circle of friends, his brother is in the band, and we were hanging out and they needed a drummer and I had a feeling that I could play, so we played a couple times and it worked. With Lazlo, we covered Stop Making Sense, which is the live Talking Heads album. We did that New Years eve at Pearl Street and we did that for a year or so, then their guitar player left and they asked me to join the band.
BUFFABLOG: How would you describe the difference between those bands?
SB: Wooden Waves is more song oriented I guess in terms of verse, chorus, bridge, and singing. Each approach to the song writing is drastically different, different landscapes and how the song is going to work. It's different for me playing guitar and playing drums, different view from behind the drum-kit. I feel more relaxed in Wooden Waves like, "I'm just the drummer, I'm gonna add the beat, and the rhythm section will flesh the song out." With playing guitar in Lazlo, I'm kind of doing the same thing, but I think "How can I add to the melody?"
BUFFABLOG: What about A Hotel Nourishing?
SB: That's a whole monster of it's own. We're a two-piece. I play the guitar and sing. I write the basic format of the song and then we'll try to work in more intricate parts to it, there's no bass, nothing else, so all I have to worry about is what the one melody line I play is and he worries about the drum patterns. It's much simpler.
BUFFABLOG: Why did you feel compelled to do solo stuff?
SB: I listen to so much different stuff that the core of me, loves Neil Young, singer-song writer stuff like that. So what comes out of me naturally, makes up my solo stuff. With writing for other bands, I have to focus more. In terms of being a guitar player, I've been making solo stuff longer than anything, when I first started playing guitar I was 11, that's kind of just what I did for five years until I started a band. Write silly songs, learn Grateful Dead songs, I don't know.
BUFFABLOG: Judging by the amount of time you spend with music projects you're very serious about pursuing music. When did you decide to commit yourself to that?
SB: After the first few time I played live shows, played in front of people and had people listen. I thought, 'Oh I really like this'. The heaver and heavier I got into music, the more I discovered and the more I took in. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
BUFFABLOG: And when did you start releasing solo-material, did being in a couple bands give you more confidence?
SB: Around the same time I was in my first band, I played at coffee houses by myself, solo. I think I've gotten a grasp on it within the past year, it's sort of taken me this long to develop a song-writing style. I feel like I got it down more, like I got somewhat of a grasp on it. People always ask, 'what comes first, the words or the music." I have a ton of journals that I write in, and I used to try to be like, "alright, well I wrote this, I'm going to make this song." But now I've realized that it doesn't work all the time.
BUFFABLOG: So then, how do you piece things together for a song?
SB: I'll sit down for a while and play the guitar, and sometimes I'll find a hidden melody in whatever I'm playing and try to lock into that and develop the song that way. That's the best, to start a day not having anything, and then warping yourself into something that evolves into something and by the end of the day you have something to work with. I'm always afraid I'll jot something down and have no idea what it means, and then I'l sing it into a melody and then think 'oh that kind of works' then a few months later think, 'I think I know what that's about.' When I write I like to turn my brain off.
BUFFABLOG: Who are some of your influences?
SB: Jim James from My Morning Jacket. I've really liked Ani Difranco my whole life, Neil Young.
BUFFABLOG: So you just released an EP, how many things have you released in the past?
SB: This is the first thing I've really finished. So it's kind of a big deal for me. I've worked on four other solo albums with other people, and I've never finished them. Everything online, like on band camp, I've almost finished, and the other two are more like bedroom recordings.
BUFFABLOG: How did the collection of songs for this album come about?
SB: I tend to write songs in groups, like I'll write four or five songs and have really bad writers block for a while. So I had songs from that, and then I bought a jazz-master, and it was a switch, I was playing it more than my acoustic, which I write all my solo stuff on. So I played them on my jazz-master, and thought I would like to record them with drums and stuff. Kevin who works at the Vault, suggested I collaborate with Brandon. We started in April.
BUFFABLOG: How would you describe the music community in Buffalo?
SB: It's great, there's so much talent. Like I'm not the only one in 4 bands, there are a lot of people who share musicians from different bands and are in different projects. It's sort of one big musical orgy. Everyone is really supportive of each other. I'm playing a WBNY radio show soon, and I had to think of local bands to play, and I was at work today trying to think of local bands that I like and I ended up coming up with a list of like, 35.
Next up, Sonny will be playing Tuesday, the 20th, at Mohawk Place alongside Dolfish and Alex Berkley. His long term plans includes assembling together a live band to put his solo content into full live effect. But until then, for those chilly nights at home, it is highly encouraged that you listen to it by checking out his soundcloud or better yet, downloading the entire EP on bandcamp.