Orchid - Mark Thomas Baker

Orchid - Mark Thomas Baker

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The media blitz ORCHID has been receiving since the release of “Heretic”, their first EP for Nuclear Blast since being signed back in July, has been quite chaotic to say the least. Thankfully, guitarist Mark Thomas Baker found some time to chat with METAL KAOZ. Here’s what transpired...


First of all, congrats on signing with Nuclear Blast! I’m assuming there were several offers on the table at one point, so what made Nuclear Blast stand out above the rest?
Yeah, it was actually pretty stressful for us making the decisions. The process lasted close to a year or so with Nuclear Blast only coming in during the last few months of that. I think what they achieved with GRAVEYARD was a factor, maybe not the biggest, but at least we knew they had something similar to us on the label that they’d had some success with. The whole process of negotiating with different labels was quite eye opening and the further we got into it, the more confident we became about where we stood in the eyes of the music industry.

It seemed that “Heretic” came out almost immediately following the Nuclear Blast announcement. Are they in the planning stages of getting you out on the road asap? If so, any idea who your tour mates might be?
Well, that would depend on your definition of asap. There’s a big tour that is in the process of being sorted out. That won’t happen until early next year though. We’re in a bit of an odd place, not big enough to make a living of any sort, but big enough to where the band demands a very large amount of our time. A rock and a hard place as it might be said...

The three new songs featured on “Heretic” definitely show signs of growth/progress in the ORCHID camp, most notably “Falling Away”. What’s the story behind the creation of this particular song?
Theo (Mindell) had this song written for a few years maybe. I remember trying to track the first half of it a long time ago and failing pretty badly. It’s not one that the band ever rehearsed, so there was no blueprint for it anywhere except in his head, which can lead to a bit of frustration trying to get it all done. So one day, to my surprise, I get an email with the layout and artwork for “Heretic” attached. I open it and there’s a song listed on it that I’ve never heard of... hmm, that could be a problem! So of course I talk to Theo and hash it out with him and it’s decided that instead of this mystery song, “Falling Away” would be on the EP. Ok, so out of the frying pan and into the fire I guess. Looks like I’ve got a very, very short time to track a song that has never been finished and that I’ve never been able to play very well. The night I did it was a really long one. I think I finally finished at around 3am. No one in the band had ever heard the song until the mix was finished. It was pretty difficult, but sometimes you really have to push it to get to another place. That session was the first time I’d ever tracked with a nylon string as well as being the first time I’d ever finger-picked on a recording, so in the end, I ended up pretty proud of what we accomplished on it. Obviously, this is not a live song that you’ll see in our set anytime soon.

I’ll go on record here stating I’m bummed “Falling Away” won’t make the live set! Were ideas for the next full length conceived during the writing sessions for “Heretic”? Is there a new album already “in the can” so to speak? A tentative release date?
Theo is one of the most prolific songwriters that you could ever meet. The writing never really starts or stops, it’s a constant. The full length is indeed nearly in the can. I’m actually hoping to be able to wrap up the guitar in 1 or 2 more sessions. Tentative release would be sometime in January 2013.

I also noticed more subtle touches of keys, perhaps a Hammond B3, on “Heretic”. Will this trend continue on future ORCHID releases?
Synth and keys and all kinds of percussion will always be there. It just depends on the song. We have lots of vintage stuff besides amps!

In an earlier conversation, you and I had spoken about the incredible tone you achieved on the new EP, especially during the solos. For the gear heads out there, what kind of set up are you using, and what changes, if any, have you made along the way?
Oh man, there are so many tracks of guitar that I really have no idea which ones are being brought most forward in the final mix. For about the last month or more, I’ve been tracking with a vintage Sound City 100W that we pulled a few tubes out of. Great, classic tone with that thing. I’ve also tracked a lot with an early 70’s Laney Supergroup. Neither of these amps was on “Capricorn” at all, so the EP and next full length should sound different for sure. “Saviours Of the Blind” is, so far, the only song that I didn’t use my SG on. That was cut with a late 70’s BC Rich Bitch, not the leads, just all the rest of the track. I think the “Heretic” EP contains mostly the Laney tones. There may be a bit of an Orange in there as well. I think the actual leads on “Heretic” are through an Orange.

Let’s back up here a bit to a time when you were just a wee young lad. Do you remember a particular time or album that was a turning point for you? Did you grow up in a musical family?
Yeah, totally. Not a family of players, but everyone was very into music and always listening to different stuff through the years. I’m the youngest of 4 kids, so I’ve been listening to DEEP PURPLE and LED ZEPPELIN since I can remember. I guess “Blizzard Of Ozz”. That’s the first one I remember where I heard a guitar part and thought, “I have to learn how to do that!”

*Note to self, I still have to learn how to do that!

Haha! So what were your musical endeavors prior to forming ORCHID?
The first released track that I ever played on was in 1986. My band, RABID, had a track on the New Renaissance release “Thrash Metal Attack”. After that I was in a San Francisco band LIQUID SKY from 87-94. We signed with the UK label Fiction Records, but we never did release our album. From 96-99, Theo and I had a Rock band called BOMBER. That was the beginning of my musical relationship with him, so obviously, we go back quite a few years making noise together. Took a bunch of years off, started a family and then jumped back in with him in late 2006 with ORCHID. Did not expect in any way at all what would happen next. This was just supposed to be a bit of a hobby or a way to get out of the house a few nights a week, but I guess we don’t know how to do anything on any other level than pushing it as far as we can.

So far it seems you’ve pushed it to great heights! Since 2009, ORCHID has had some serious road success in Europe, with stops at the legendary ‘Roadburn’ and ‘Hammer Of Doom’ festivals. Now I know that having LORD VICAR as tour mates must have lead to some serious hi-jinks, so fill us in on some of the more memorable stories… as long as they don’t lead to you being incriminated!
(laughs) Probably not as crazy as you would think. Jussi likes to party, the Welsh crew known as SIGIRIYA like to have a drink as well. All in all, it was great fun, but maybe not quite mountains of cocaine and gallons of booze or anything like that. We can’t match SABBATH or ZEPP at that game.

Not so sure you would want to try and match ol’ SABBATH or ZEPP at their own game! I might not be talking to you right now! So why no proper US tour as of yet? I know more than a few people waiting for ORCHID to roll through their town.
It’s never been financially doable. January 2013 should see a full, 6-week US tour. Finally we will have the backing to do that kind of thing.

And a well deserved backing I might add. You seem to have some freedom when it comes to hitting the road or studio for extended period of times. Might I ask what you do for a living outside of ORCHID? Are your employers supportive of your situation? Do you schmooze them with autographed copies of ORCHID albums?
I don’t really, the January tour is a huge gamble in my life. I have to take unpaid leave for part of it with no guarantee of making any income, which is really, really scary when I have a family counting on me. We’ll be hoping to sell enough merch to equal what we are losing by going out. But you know, life is a gamble itself. I’m hoping for the best. The two previous tours, I’ve had enough personal time saved to not worry about it. I’m very low key about it at work. I’d prefer not to have it known. The people that I work with that know about it are pretty excited though. Everybody roots for me to live my dream. It’s pretty cool. Studio recording is done around our lives, so for the last 2 months or so, I go in at around 8pm and work until around 2am. Then I go home and get up at 6 the next morning and go to work all day. This happens a few nights a week. It’s a total fucking burn out, but it’s a labor of love. There’s no other way to do it at this time.

Burn out, or fade away, right? Speaking of support, what does your family think of your success with ORCHID? Is there any interest from your two boys to follow in their father’s footsteps?
My wife is really supportive of the band. It was kind of tough getting used to it the first few years but once we started releasing stuff and touring and getting reviews and things like that, she saw that it really was worthwhile. They know it’s my life’s dream to do this and they respect that. Not that much interest from my kids yet. They haven’t reached that age yet where the Rock n Roll bug bites. When they hit the teen years, they might finally think I’m cool. We’ll see...

Haha! They’ll be trading ORCHID vinyl in a few years with their friends! ORCHID’s vocalist Theo Mindell is quite the well known tattoo artist. Any plans on having him do a “band of brothers” tattoo on the four of you?
(laughs) No plans for any shit like that. Carter and I both have a bit of Theo work on us, but Nickel is a blank canvas, which is pretty rare these days actually. He might be the only guy I know who doesn’t have a tattoo!

There have been times in the past where ORCHID was accused, sometimes unjustly, of merely being BLACK SABBATH clones. Obviously ALL bands that fly the Stoner/Doom flag draw influence from BLACK SABBATH, so those accusations seem a bit unwarranted and unfair. What’s your response to the nay sayers?
It’s supposed to sound like SABBATH, so congrats on getting it! I mean, I’m not sure it’s totally unjustified, just probably misunderstood by people who don’t know us or something. We were never acting like we invented a sound or were an original band. The difference is the four souls putting their hearts into it. No two people play the same in the end. The STONES and ZEPPELIN took other peoples songs and rewrote them at the start of their careers. Judge it at the end, it might be different then.

Right on. How about a little word association? Fire off the first thing that comes to mind as fast as you can! Ready… GO!

Judas Priest
GODZ

Doom
Thulsa

Margarita
want

Snow
informer

Kimi Karki
a scholar and a gentleman

And we might as well do a few “fill in the blanks”! Feel free to give us an explanation if need be! Go!

First album I bought with my own money was…
KISS - “Alive!”.

First concert I ever attended was…
Waylon Jennings.

Worst thing I was ever grounded for as a kid was…
I don’t think I ever got grounded in my life. My older siblings caused so much shit that my parents gave up before I was a teenager.

One band I would love to tour with is…
IRON MAIDEN.

My biggest guilty pleasure is…
Jack White, not really guilty though; that dude is awesome.

“Capricorn” was really given the deluxe treatment when it was released. Can we expect the next album to have the same lavish packaging once again? Vinyl?
Yes, absolutely. We sacrificed nothing in our deal. We made sure we still get to do all the cool shit.

That’s awesome for fans and collectors alike. For whatever reason, ORCHID has always struck me as a band that could pull off a magnificent concept album if given the chance. Has an idea such as this ever crossed your collective minds? Theo seems like he could be a natural story teller given the opportunity.
Oh man, I doubt it, but you never know.

I guess I’ll just leave that up to King Diamond! Well, I think this just about wraps it up! Any final words from the ORCHID gospel you would like to unleash on our readers?
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Hope to play near you next year.

Many thanks to you, Mark! Hope to see you in Milwaukee or Chicago! Hint, hint… All the best to you and ORCHID in 2013 and beyond! “Heretic” is available now through Nuclear Blast Records.

EARTHEN GRAVE - RELENTLESS re-edit w/ Studio track