Louis Baker — Very happy with it

Louis Baker must have an old soul. You hear it in his singing voice, richer and fuller than his youth should warrant; you see it in the way he strums his guitar on stage; you feel it in his presence, broad shouldered, steady, and thoughtful. Asked when he expects to finish his first solo EP, he tells Amanda Witherell he’s letting it happen. “If you swim with the river you have the power of it behind you.”

Baker is either a slacker with a good excuse or one well-adjusted 23-year-old. All signs point to the latter, yet when he found out he’d been selected to attend the Red Bull Music Academy – a roaming international workshop that pairs some of the greatest hits in the business with some of the greatest potential, he says, “I leapt around the room. It was about 8:30 in the morning and some of my flat mates were sleeping, but not for too much longer. I’m going to New York, motherfuckers! Elation, in a nutshell.”

He confesses that days later, he’s still re-reading the email that says he’s one of 60 international musicians plucked from a pool of over 4,000, to spend two weeks living, breathing, and eating all things music in the historic epicentre of creativity – New York City. He’s the sole selection from over 100 New Zealand applications.

“Happy with it,” he says. “That’s my catch phrase. I’ve been saying a lot of ‘happy with it’ lately. It’s been constant.”

“Lately, my life has been moving in such an amazing direction and I’m just riding the wave.” He’s quick to credit a support system that includes other musicians like Warren Maxwell and Thomas Oliver, as well as his mother, an artist and practicing Buddhist, and his father, a firefighter for 37 years, who always encourages him to “have a crack at it.”

Baker grew up in Newtown with his parents spinning a ‘60s soundtrack. “I have real fond memories of listening to Electric Ladyland in the lounge on record,” he says, adding that their tastes ranged from rock to jazz to blues. “That gave me a real colour palette to choose from.”

His own sound is mostly soul, which he defines broadly. “I see soul music as not what has been but what will always be. It’s the human soul. We think of soul as American, but I think it exists in all cultures. It’s what you’re doing, the way you’re doing it, the intention behind it.”

He puts his shoulder to playing with peace of mind, his performances featuring both acoustic and electric guitar and a lot of raw, straight from the heart singing. “I quite like to meditate,” he says, but has no specific practice or religion. “I visualise giving something positive to people. If I can’t create that internally before I’ve sung it’s often a real battle for me onstage.”

He learned guitar from the internet and watching his mother and older sister, and never had any formal voice training aside from two lessons with Sacha Vee.

“I’ve always been able to listen to a recording and try and sing it back, then record it and listen,” he says. After three and a half years in Massey’s jazz school, he dropped out at the end of 2011 because it felt like time to go.

He hasn’t gone yet. Completely at home in his hometown, he’s all hellos and handshakes in Fidel’s café for a hot lemon honey ginger. A short walk down Cuba accumulates a little entourage of fellow musicians. Recent weeks he’s been recording original songs for his EP and tunes with Brockaflowersaurus Rex, the 9-piece hip hop band. He gigs with Warren Maxwell and Mark Vanilau, too, and teaches under-12s guitar at an Island Bay school on Saturdays. Recently, he opened for Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Fat Freddy’s Drop – “a dream come true.”

And now another dream: New York. “I’ve never been overseas before. I’ve been to Bluff. I’ve been to Kaikoura,” he says. “I can’t even fathom it.”

A moment later the silly grin falls from his face and he straightens in his seat, “I try not to get too ahead of myself. Expectation is the root of all heartbreak. Shakespeare said that. I’m just going to go over there and enjoy it.”

Originally published July 25, 2012 in Capital Times
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