With a new single out, an EP on the way and a national tour looming, Aotearoa neo-soul star Louis Baker has had a busy New Zealand Music Month, but not too busy to answer a few questions:
How have the events of the past 12-14 months affected you and your music?
In all honesty, the lockdown gave me an opportunity to catch up with myself. I spent a lot of time playing music, and ended up falling in love with playing the guitar all over again. It also gave me time to write and record this new EP. I was supposed to be heading back to Europe last year for a run of shows but that all came to a halt. The upside of lockdown was that it really helped me to refocus, and I'm thankful for that breath.
How does your new music reflect your growth or progression as an artist?
The music I write is an extension of me. It's a reflection of my experiences, so what I'm writing about now is not what I was writing about on my first record. On that first EP I'd never travelled before, I didn't know about heartbreak, and it was mostly about love.
I believe we are the sum of our life experiences, and this informs our world view, and our beliefs. How can we know life if we have never really suffered? I don't know much, but I do know that this new record feels good, and it feels right, and it's driven by the same reasons why I started writing music in the first place.
I started because I wanted to give something positive to people, and make them feel less alone. I put my heart on my sleeve, that's just the way I've always been.
What's the story behind your new song Brighter Day?
The song was inspired by a letter I read, that my grandfather wrote to his cousin back in 1941. My grandfather was a commanding officer in the 28th Maori Battalion, Lt Col Fred Baker (Ngapuhi), and the letter spoke of harrowing things he and the men had been through. His stories were detailed and through it he seemed to be searching for a silver lining. Fred was shot through the mouth and returned home to do extensive rehabilitation, he had to learn to speak again, and the story goes that he would repeat the words, "today is a beautiful day".
After recovering, my Koro was made head of the newly formed Rehabilitation Department. The department set out to help ex-servicemen and women back into civilian life, by providing them with finance and housing. Fred advocated for equal treatment of Maori and Pakeha soldiers returning from World War ll, setting up a dedicated committee for Maori.
Who is your favourite New Zealand musician/band and why?
Fat Freddy's Drop, no doubt. I fell in love with their BOATS album when it came out, I was 16 or 17 at the time. It was a soundtrack to my life then, and still is today. Music takes you to another place, and I associate certain feelings and moments with that record. Such a beautiful album.
You're about to head out on tour. What's your favourite song to perform live and why?
I always enjoy performing Rainbow. It's a very personal song to me and it's one that the crowd always sings along to. I can not wait to play these new songs out too, I'm excited!
You recently appeared on TV's Popstars. What advice did you have for those wanting to make their mark as musicians?
We mainly talked about lyrics. I said that I often craft my work from an honest, heartfelt place, and that if you really want to get a message through to the listener, you have to be prepared to give your all, and to show a little vulnerability. Joni Mitchell said it best: "How can you expect another to lay down their defences, if you can't lay down your own." I think that's very true.
Which of your songs would you recommend someone new to Louis Baker begin with?
Rainbow, Addict, Overdrive and Brighter Day.
You can only listen to one album for the rest of your life — what is it?
Voodoo by D'Angelo.
You're curating a post-Covid music festival — who's on the bill, alive or dead?
J Hendrix, Sly and The Family Stone, Liana Le Havas, Sault, Nina Simone, Sade, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, D'Angelo, Anderson Paak, J Dilla, Jeff Buckley, Prince, Bill Withers, Electric Wire Hustle, James Blake, Jamie Lidell.
• Louis Baker's new EP Love Levitates is out June 18. He calls it his five-track concept of life; heritage, love, friendship, observation, and beyond.
• Louis Baker's Love Levitates Tour:
Saturday July 3 - Auckland's Hollywood Theatre
Friday July 9 - Nelson's Theatre Royal
Saturday July 10 - Christchurch's James Hay Theatre
Saturday July 17 - Wellington's Opera House