I first discovered Kurt Baker’s existence and talent via the pop-punk world through a little band called The Leftovers. I had heard some tracks from “On the Move” and “Eager to Please,” from an interview with Kurt on Ben Weasel’s Weasel Radio podcast a few years back and finally, learning more about the band from drummer Adam Woronoff who came to town filling in on drums for The Queers during their 2009 tour.
I was instantly hooked on The Leftovers’ Elvis Costello pop vibe that made me wonder why this was not the biggest thing at the time. Something this catchy deserves some attention! It was toe-tapping, real, honest music—about girls and having a good time. Isn’t that the basis to every good song mixed in with three chords?
Due to differences, The Leftovers dissolved and Kurt continued to make rocking his living. Starting the Kurt Baker Band, fans of The Leftovers and new discoverers could be turned on to that 1970’s power-pop, mod garage mash-up that make Baker’s songs excellent hooks.
Kurt was wonderful enough to answer some questions for me to celebrate the release of Flour City Blues! The interview we did was actually sometime last year when I didn’t think there was going to be such a delay on the book, so release dates have already passed. Enjoy!
Being on tour, both national and international, what place do you find gets the most positive vibe and biggest draws?
I’ve always LOVED touring in the Midwest. Maybe it’s because I have some roots in Wisconsin, but I always end up having a blast whenever we’re doing shows in Chicago, Milwaukee…well, anywhere in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio! I don’t know, maybe it’s because they have really great beers and fine cheeses out that way. The bands are always so good too, and people are down to earth. We played this little club in Milwaukee last May called Circle A. The owners lived upstairs and ran this place that was covered in vinyl and it just was the best time ever. Good vibes for sure. I also love playing Spain! The fans there are so into the music and they really appreciate life on a different level over there. Great times are always had in Spain.
“Got it Covered” was a fun release you did of covers. Was there a particular track you enjoyed recording? How was it to have Kay Hanley lend her vocals to this release? (She’s amazing, by the way!)
It was definitely a blast recording the whole thing! Linus Dotson recorded and produced the record and the drummer on it, Adam Marcello, is actually Katy Perry’s touring drummer. He’s really good. I loved the whole experience of recording that record because I stayed in this hotel in the center of Hollywood, right behind the Chinese theater. It just so happened that the Oscars were taking place while we were recording, so Hollywood was nuts! Linus and I wou
ld walk down to the studio everyday dodging in and out of all the looneys in Hollywood… some good inspiration there. I really liked recording the vocals “Let Me Out.” I remember taking a break and walking around some alleyways behind the studio with my iPod listening to the original Knack version before I went to record my own vocals. They were all from LA too, so it was kinda cool to be in the same city that they recorded their track over 30 years ago. After the track was recorded, I met up with my friends in the band Regal Beagle. They took me to this bar where they filmed some scenes in the movie “That Thing You Do!”which is one of my all time favorites. Then we ate amazing tacos in the middle of the ghetto. Kay Hanley was so awesome. She is really nice and mentioned that I could live in her garage. I don’t know if she was serious or not!
Between the Leftovers and your current music, I’ve noticed huge Costello and bubblegum influences. Who can you cite for getting you into this type of music?
I remember when I was a freshman in high school, I saw this band cover Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio”, and I knew that I had heard that song before but never really connected the dots until then. I picked up a bunch of his early records and became an instant fan. I never really thought too much of him as an influence in the early days though it may have totally been subconscious. One of the very first Leftovers shows we did with a group called Avoid One Thing, which featured Joe Gittleman of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. After our set he said to me that my vocals reminded him of Elvis Costello and that made me even more interested in listening to so much more Costello. It’s funny because I couldn’t sing like shit back then and am still working on it! Haha. Bubblegum Music is the holy grail of pop. I love that stuff ever since I was young.
Can you tell me your biggest “rock star” moment?
Back when the Leftovers were on tour with Bowling For Soup in England during the fall of 2009, we ended the town in London at this historic venue called the Roundhouse. The Ramones, Blondie, Clash—all those bands have played at the Roundhouse. It’s literally a round venue with seating wrapped around the stage. We walked out on stage and saw that the place was completely sold out. To play for 2,000 people at a legendary club was tops! We were treated really well on that tour, it was such an experience. In Scotland we went to this super fancy night club but there was this huge line to get in.. So I went to the door guy and jokingly flashed my “all access” tour pass at him and we literally got escorted to the top floor of this night club.. the 400 people in line were pissed! We felt super cool! I think the club thought we were Bowling For Soup. Haha!
Are you reading anything at the moment?
I’m currently reading a couple books. “King Dork” by Frank Portman, MTX’s singer/songwriter/genius speller of words, Lester Bangs’ short book on Blondie, and a really great book on Jim Henson called “The Works,” which covers all of his work. I’m a huge Muppets fan. I also work at a library in Portland, so I’m always seeing cool books come in and out.
So my book, Flour City Blues is about a 17-year old who start his senior year of high school in a new town. He starts a band, crushes on the French girl and basically loads of teenage hi-jinks occur. What were you like at 17-18?
That sounds almost exactly like me! Haha. I remember there was this French exchange student that came to our High School. He was kinda a weirdo but all the girls LOVED him. I didn’t get it. Not that I have anything with France or French people, but this guys was getting all the ladies! So I think I wrote a song about it that the Leftovers recorded on a record we never ended up releasing, which is OK with me because the song wasn’t to good. Senior year was a pretty wild year for me…I definitely fondly remember switching from drinking soda to beer.
Do you have a hilarious tale from your teenage years?
We used to do all kinds of crazy shit back in the day. All my friends and I would skateboard around town, listening to punk rock and trying to find stupid shit to do. We came from the Jackass generation, so we always had a camera with us. We jumped into bushes, snorted weird things up our nose, set a lot of shit on fire. Any kind of fireworks we could get our hands on were usually lit in no time. M80’s are really loud, I found out. For awhile my family had an abundance of frozen hotdogs in my freezer, so we would often chuck frozen hotdogs at people from my second story window. People didn’t care for it much but seagulls loved it! Besides from a little recreational drug use in the woods behind school and what not, we never really got into so much trouble with the law. Somehow I was also elected Student President two years in a row. Still have no idea how that happened.
What’s next for Kurt Baker?
I’ve got a brand new record coming out on Oct. 25th on Oglio Records called “Rockin’ For A Living.”
(NOTE: “Rocking For A Living” is already out! The interview was conducted last year prior to the release).
Stardumb Records will be putting out the vinyl edition of the record which will coincide with our European tour which will start at the end of October and into November. I’d love to do some more shows in the Northeast and Midwest after that.. and hopefully we’ll have yet another new record out in 2012 of songs I’ve been working on down in Nashville. Lots of fun stuff going on!
So far for Kurt 2012 has shown to be another productive year with the release of the 4-track EP “Want You Around” and the soon-to-be “Brand New Beat”, out October 30th.