Kiwi singer-songwriter Louis Baker's new album Open is named almost in irony.
A few years ago, Baker was in a creative rut; writing became an uphill battle. But somehow, he channelled that energy into a song - Open, which became the title track for his debut album. "I wrote a song about not being able to write a song," he laughs.
"Not in a literal sense, but it was inspired by that, so the whole record is about being more open to opportunity and change, opening up your life to things that are positive, and moving forward," he says.
Holding up a microscope to his own writer's block was a confronting process for Baker. "It's quite daunting when your craft, your thing that you love, your passion is just on full stop," he says. "Through the whole process of writing the album, it has definitely opened me, and I've realised how closed I have been, and how self-critical I can be of things and my ideas."
Open is an expertly-produced, infectiously groovy neo-soul album inspired by the likes of D'Angelo, Anderson, Paak and Nick Hakim. Baker co-produced it with LA-based producer Steve Rusch (Kendrick Lamar, Solange), who he hit it off with after meeting him at a songwriting camp in Sydney.
"We wrote a song called Black Crow, which is on the record, and we wrote that in a day," he says. "I'm a huge fan of Raphael Saadiq and Solange who he's worked a lot, and I just wanted to follow that up, so I got back in touch with Steve after the camp and said, 'Hey man, I would love to write more with you'."
Baker describes Rusch's style as "flow-oriented."
"There's definitely strategy and plan in there, but he's really good at calmly following whatever's working in a nice way. He's pretty intuitive when it comes to what we should track first."
Black Crow's funky beat almost acts as a Trojan Horse for its dark, emotional lyrics, which reflect on the way depression can feel like a relentless presence overshadowing one's day-to-day life. "It was a weight I was feeling at that time," says Baker.
"The first lyric is 'Bathe my hands in indigo,' and there's an old Japanese proverb which says that the more times you bathe a garment or cloth in indigo, the richer the colour becomes. And that's a metaphor for life; the more things you go through, the deeper you have a look on life.
"It definitely comes from turning the shit into something good," he says. "It's definitely around the "D" word, in terms of its conceptual nature, and I wanted to write something to start that dialogue a bit more, and to inspire people hopefully a bit more."
Baring himself emotionally in that song has proven to be an intensely rewarding experience, he says.
"The amount of people that have come back to me in a really genuine way and said how positively or how good it's affected them, and how it made them cry; it's been real special to know that writing a song, having ideas in your brain, and then all of a sudden it's a song, and all of a sudden people are listening to it and getting something good from it - it's pretty profound to think that people do that," he says.
"That artists create that kind of thing which stems from their own hearts, to creating a better connection or a stronger unity or whatever it is, it all makes a difference."
Who: Louis Baker
What: New album Open
When: Out now
Also: Baker is taking the Open tour to Christchurch's Blue Smoke on August 8; Auckland's Tuning Fork on August 9; Wellington's San Fran on August 10.