“A big vision for the record was to write pop music about apathy.”
So explains Will Wiesenfeld, or Baths, referring to his new album, Obsidian. “I was reading a lot about the Dark Ages. They seemed to not even be about sadness of despair, but about an absence of feeling. People shovelling hundreds of bodies into wheelbarrows and carting them off into holes and then going about their daily business like that’s not what was happening.”
Baths’ new record, released on the experimental Anticon imprint, is a more laboured-over effort than his “stream-of consciousness” 2010 debut, Cerulean. It’s also an album that Wiesenfeld had never imagined making. A protracted infection landed Wiesenfeld in bed for several months and, one way or another, much of this malaise has found its way onto the record.
“I had an original grand idea to make an album about death,” he explains with faux theatricality. “But death wasn’t very real for me as I don’t know a lot of sadness in my life. Getting sick changed a things a lot. I wasn’t thinking about my family, my friends, even about making music. I had so much nausea that my life was literally just about thinking, “Can I sit on the couch right now or do I need to take a shit?”. Slowly, this notion occurred to me that I could make my album on death but skewed through a lens of apathy.”
And somewhere between the bed and the toilet, the kernel of what would later become Obsidian emerged. The hip-hop beats and fidgety instrumentation of his debut album have been replaced with catchy dance grooves, big percussion, and more prevalent vocals. Lyrically, Wiesenfeld hovers on the edge of presence and absence, only occasionally falling into candid, but slightly absurdist, geek-hop confessionals, reminiscent of Anticon’s early years. For example, ‘No Eyes’ explores his homosexuality, again through his apathy lens: “And it is not a matter of ‘If you mean it’/ But it is only a matter of ‘come and fuck me’.”
At several points in the album, Wiesenfeld directly takes on subject matter related to his homosexuality and describes himself as “an extremely out person”. “I tweet photos of dudes, it’s just part of my life to be open and honest about who I am, so I think it would be disingenuous to who I am as a person and a songwriter to not have some material that was directly about my sexuality,” says Wiesenfeld. “It would feel like I’m hiding something in my life. I’m not hiding anything. I was forever but the moment I came out, I was done hiding.”
His Saturday night slot at The Hague’s Rewire Festival certainly isn’t taciturn. Before the oppressively trendy, well-dressed, healthy, tall, friendly, Dutch crowd, Wiesenfeld careers between mike and sound table wearing a tiny pair of sports shorts, violently head-banging. The chorus of ‘Earth Death’ – “Come kill me, I seem so brittle/Come kill me, I seem so little” – is screamed to a rasp, with more than a tinge of nu-metal.
“I’m not offended by that observation at all!”, Wiesenfeld exclaims when this is put to him. “I grew up on lots of nu-metal, Barenaked Ladies and really, really shit stuff, but I still have a heart for some of it. It was super educational. My exact age group are the people who know the pockets of good things about that music. The Deftones are obviously incredible and there were certain things like Korn’s ‘Make Me Bad’ I think is a severely original song – super-catchy and super-smart.”
Wiesenfeld grew up in Los Angeles, a fountainhead of musical experimentation typified by “beat scene” producers like Flying Lotus and Daedelus. Though Wiesenfeld seems in many ways like he may have evolved from this stable, he does not consider himself “a product of L.A.”, particularly as he draws most of his inspiration from fantasy as an avid consumer of graphic novels and animation.
“Although I am not necessarily a product of L.A., I love the place. I’ve never felt stifled there,” he explains. “A lot of people express this need, in New York especially, the need to leave. People try and get out of their city. But I’ve never felt that feeling really. I may have felt it for a moment but returning home from a month tour I was like, “Oh my god, I love Los Angeles.”
After finishing up his European tour this month here in the UK, that’s exactly where he’s headed again. Look out for a possible Baths EP next year, as well as material from his ambient side-project, Geotic.