10 Questions With Powerhouse Pop Punker – Kurt Baker

kurt

The Kurt Baker Band live at Le Bikowski in Donostia, Spain. Photo by Thierry Loustauneau.

Musician and all-around exceptional guy, Kurt Baker, is truly a man of mystery. As the founder and vocalist for Portland, Maine’s pop-punk sensation The Leftovers, Baker was seen as one of the few leading lights in an aging and dying pop-punk community. When the Leftovers disbanded in 2010, Baker went solo and a Hell of a lot of people were really confused by the move. Apparent with the shift in musical style, pop-punk was now merely a footnote in the artist’s repertoire of songs; he had in fact grown up.

Baker has successfully written and performed some the greatest power pop the world has heard since dare I say Cheap Trick.  His knack (pun totally intended) for production value and branding are quickly becoming things of legend (exhibit A: World’s First Digital 8-track). He further surprised fans this year by moving to Madrid, Spain.

I decided to catch up with the elusive Kurt Baker and have him answer some questions. Including of course the disparaging Why’d you leave us Kurt?

Kurt you have an amazing ability to write some really, really poppy and catchy songs. There’s a distinct difference between what you were doing with The Leftovers and what you’re doing now. What led you to embrace more pop sensibilities in your music?  

Thank you! Well, as any artist or creative person knows you have to allow yourself to grow. Embracing pop sensibilities in music was just a gradual progression in my writing. While in the Leftovers, I wasn’t yet completely capable of writing the stuff I’m doing now, though I think the influences were there and I aspired to add more pop stuff to our punk framework. Working with my good buddy and collaborator Wyatt Funderburk has really helped me grow as a writer. You always have to try new things and expand your horizons or else things get stale and boring.

You recently moved from Portsmouth, NH  to Madrid, Spain. Why the change of scenery?

Things were getting boring in the States and inspiration was greatly needed. Plus, I was living in a non-heated wooden shanty down by the docks and working a crap graveyard shift cleaning bookshelves at a library. Then one day I was having a beer with my best buddies Geoff and Jackie and they said “You should move to Spain!” and I said “Good Idea!” and  did. Why not?

The production value of all your stuff is truly stellar! From your recent video for the single “Everybody Knows” to your debut EP of covers Got it Covered, production for your releases across all media has been uncanny.  How directly involved are you with the making of videos, graphic design, recording and tour schedules? 

With the new video for “Everybody Knows” I really don’t deserve any credit at all. That video, which is probably one of the best ones I’ve been a part of was all the work of Diego Jimenez and his crew at Disco Rosa. However, with most of the other aspects of my music I try to be 100% involved in some way, shape or form. It’s essential if you’re going to be a “solo” artist [that] you really really take charge of your music and aesthetic, it’s your identity. Writing, recording and touring is the part I feel the most comfortable doing. I don’t know crap about graphic design or editing videos so I make sure to work with like-minded and talented folks who share the same vision that I do. We always have a great time collaborating and for this reason I’ve been really happy with the stuff I’ve released.

Musician/DJ/ Actor Steve Van Zandt has really hyped your music on Little Steven’s Underground Garage for Sirius XM.  How helpful has the honor of “The Coolest Song in the World” been to you?

It’s been a true honor to have the support the the Underground Garage and Little Steven. He’s gotten The Connection and my music out to a much larger audience and we’ve seen our fan base grow. Everybody who works at the station is super cool and dedicated to keeping rock n’ roll alive. I’m really thankful for everything they’ve done!

How receptive has Europe been to your music?

Europe is much more receptive than the U.S. and I’m not exactly sure why. I guess people here love to party and are serious fans of rock n’ roll. It’s a perfect combo. I can say that at least in Spain, they lived in dictatorship until the end of the ’70s and their whole society was completely censored and shut off from the rest of the world. Once everything changed in the ’80s, people here have had a thirst and want for rock n’ roll, pop culture and all the good things in life. They enjoy it here. Also, Power Pop is “kinda” cool and not as much of a “joke” as it kinda can be in the U.S., so it’s a nice place to be.

If 20 year old versions of Johnny Ramone, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney all got in a knife fight, who’d win?

I’m going to go with Costello because he’s a tricky bastard. Paul would be out first. Johnny would be old fashioned, fisticuffs. Costello would probably get em’ with a knife or something. I don’t know. Fighting is pretty pointless. 20 year old versions of those guys should sit down and write a record instead.

What’s the best thing about the ladies of Spain?

Oh man. Where do I begin. They are all beautiful. Sometimes they yell at you and they seem pissed off but they’re actually just wondering if you prefer regular Coca Cola or Coke Zero.

What do you miss most from the States?

Friends and Family. I miss playing with the guys in the band. Besides that, not too much. I really love it here. The differences in life are what make it all the more interesting. On the music end of things, I’ve been really fortunate to have the opportunity to play with a many different and super talented Spanish musicians. Right now I’ve got a new group called BULLET PROOF LOVERS. The sound is a little bit more rock n’ roll and the guys in the group are top notch. Members include guys from legendary Spanish groups like Nuevo Catecismo Catolico and Discipulos de Dionisos, so it’s quite a pleasure to rock with ’em. I also just recorded 2 songs with the singer Patricia from Los Romeos who were [like] the Spanish version of Blondie in the late 80’s. She now plays in Lula and Los Amantes who are also great.

You’re known to be somewhat of a Haribo candy connoisseur in some circles. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for those fine delicious German gummies?

I’ve got a Haribo tattoo inked on my body for life. It’s of the iconic bear but instead of a bow tie he’s got a skinny tie, holding a vinyl and smoking a spliff! Love Haribo but they still haven’t returned my calls I’ve been trying to get hired by them for months!!

Before we close, name one thing you think people would be surprised to know about you. 

Ha! How about three! I’m terrified of most amusement park rides (mostly roller coasters), love the Milwaukee Bucks and thinking about Egg Salad Sandwiches for too long makes me puke a little bit.

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Chuck Livid

Chuck Livid hails from Miami, Florida. He did a zine in the '90s called Muddy Chaos and is best known for his work with independent music label Livid Records. Chuck lives in Boca Raton, Fl with his wife illustrator Helena Garcia and their son Nico. He founded TuffGnarl.com and hosts TuffGnarl.com's official music podcast - Another Music Podcast which is available on iTunes & Google Play

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