When Gina Gleason joined Baroness as lead guitarist in 2017, she made the transition from being a longtime fan to becoming an essential part of the band’s creative machinery.
She heard the band’s music for the first time in 2012. She laughs at the memory. “My brother showed me Baroness when the Yellow & Green album came out and he was like, ‘I think I’m about to show you your new favourite band. It’s a metal band but it’s got a little more special sauce to it.’”
Five years later, a stroke of luck led to Gina joining the band. While she was working in Las Vegas as live guitarist for Cirque du Soleil, an online pedal purchase from Philly Fuzz prompted an Instagram exchange with Baroness frontman John Baizley, who was at the time involved with the boutique pedal manufacturer.
In turn, this led to a mammoth eight hour session of jamming and geeking out over the Germanium-based fuzz boxes together at Baizley’s home in Philadelphia, not far from where Gina also grew up and would travel to visit her family. A friendship formed, and with none of the formality of an actual audition, Gina was soon drafted into the group.
But, along with her impeccable shreddy chops, she brought with her some light baggage regarding what it meant to suddenly be part of a band she’d so admired.
“It’s funny, when I joined, we toured a little bit and then started working on Gold & Grey, and it was really hard for me to strip away my own self-imposed ideas of what I thought Baroness should sound like,” she reflects. “It took me some time to abandon that way of thinking. I had this realisation that whatever I think Baroness songs sound like, that’s something that they’ve already done, so they were kind of ready to move on.”
Now, as Baroness return with their self-produced sixth LP, Stone, Gina has more than established herself within the dynamic, her stunning lead performances on Last Word and Beneath The Rose and crushing riffage on Anodyne, Shine and Under The Wheel making for some of the album’s standout moments.
“It felt a little more natural this time,” she explains. “I didn’t have to second guess myself as much. I know these guys. We’re friends. We’ve been on the road. So it just felt a little bit more free.”
While devising music for the 10-track collection, the band worked remotely, recording demos in their respective creative spaces, before coming together over a weekly Zoom meeting to exchange “little nugget ideas” that would slowly be elaborated upon to become the twisty, turny masterpiece of modern metal that is Stone.
“I think the less conventional song structures are a result of following these little breadcrumbs of ideas and things that inspire us,” Gina suggests. “We do a lot of searching. It’s not like, ‘Okay, here’s the song – everybody learn it!’”
Rather, if she or anyone else brought a riff or progression to the table, the Baroness method would be to “exhaust every option that could be done” with it. Not forgetting the mega jam sesh that spawned her musical partnership with Baizley in the first place, it’s perhaps unsurprising that endurance is a big part of the creative process. “That’s kind of how we work,” Gina laughs, “for better or for worse!”
Naturally, exploring all sonic avenues also means extensive dabbling with pedals and effects. But, at the core of her sound, Gina has just a couple of essentials that she couldn’t live without.
“My favourite fuzz sound that I’ve found is the Philly Fuzz Infidel and I have a prototype version of it that my friend Steve [Strohm] made,” she enthuses. “I put a little Xotic SP Compressor in front and I just compress the heck out of it. I like the sound of that really, really compressed fuzz, especially through a small amp.”
In fact, if you listen to the absolute face-melter of a solo in Last Word, this is the exact combination you’ll be hearing – that, and a fiery tsunami of hybrid-picking and legato licks that show off Gina’s ability to pair sheer technical ability with seriously gutsy delivery.
“I try to have an idea of what the arrangement is going to be, or, at least, where the peaks and valleys are going to end up,” she says of her well-considered soloing strategy. “But I’ll always leave some space so that, when you have to go from point A to point B, something spontaneous can happen.”
“Something that has helped me a lot with crafting leads is trying to get a really good comprehension on ‘seeing’ all of the chord shapes, so that when you’re doing a lead, you can actually outline the chords in the progression,” she explains, suggesting that if you’re not “wrangled in” by some harmonic guidelines, it can be very easy to get lost in a world of noodling and end up shredding away without much intent or purpose.
“They’ve started making the American Pro IIs and I think they’re trying to phase these out,” she says, pointing to the much-loved guitar in question. “I have both, but this one is really special to me. The newer ones are definitely more ‘pro’. The pickups are really well balanced and there’s a push/pull for a coil tap type of thing. It’s a really nice guitar, but the Pro I is a little scrappier.”
Similarly, Baizley is a Fender fan and usually opts for a Jazzmaster, making for a guitar combo much more commonly seen in jangly indie bands than in a metal context.
In the amp department, small speakers also make for mighty big sounds and many of the album’s most foreboding tones were created by shoving an SM57 microphone right up close in the back of a dinky little Fender Champ.
As to how she and Baizley came to adopt such atypical tools for their genre, Gina explains: “We arrived there because, with the parts we’re playing together, we’re rarely ever doing the same thing at the same time, so there’s a spread of voicings. If John’s playing a powerchord down at the low end, I’ll probably take a harmony of that or just take the fifth and do it as an octave somewhere else on the neck.
“We found that with a more saturated gain stage – with humbuckers and Marshall amps – we were just getting muddy and cancelling each other out. With the single coils, there’s more space for us to each occupy our respective chord voicings or lead harmonies without stepping on each other.”
Having previously rocked a Jackson DK1 during her pre-Baroness stint in Misstallica, an all-female tribute to California’s thrash metal originators, Gina says now: “There are guitars we could play that would be a lot easier, too. I think a more saturated sound is easier in some ways because you have more sustain to cover up some of the bumps in the road. But I like the rawness and the vulnerability you get from a cleaner sound. It makes what we do more present, more audible and I like having to work for it a little bit.”
For those seeking to find muscular metal tones in the pedal shop, Gina has one final pearl of wisdom to consider: more gain or more distortion doesn’t necessarily make something heavier. She says simply: “If you can find a sound that is inspiring to you and make it heavy with your own emotional weight or your own physicality, it’ll stand out even more in a mix or band setting.”
- Stone is out now via Abraxan Hymns.