Caiti Baker is one of of Australia's leading ladies of soul, but her journey has been marked with overcoming big struggles. She gets up close and personal in this must read interview.
When Caiti Baker opens up her mouth to sing, you are assaulted with soul, heart and brutal honesty. While she is a typical blues and soul artist influenced by Aretha, Etta and such, her music is not just a nod or tribute to the great sisters of roots and blues, rather Caiti herself has battled and overcome many struggles. Couple powerful stories of living with and through chronic fatigue, bipolar disorder and a time of separation from her dad - a formidable blues musician himself - with a musical sensibility and sophistication to be envied, and Caiti Baker has je ne sais quoi to match the greats.
Her music is legitimately rootsy. Filled with references to New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville, complex background vocal arrangements, brilliant beats, lead vocal runs, warm and inviting guitar hooks and sonics, and iced with attitude, mark 6 October in your diary for when her album Zinc comes out. In the meantime, check out her singles Wolf, I Won't Sleep, Make No Mistakes (love this song!) and Heavy On My Heart which are guaranteed to move you on the inside as well as the outside.
Caiti hails from Darwin, and recently made waves at Brisbane's BIGSOUND music conference but make no mistake, she soon will become a household name and an artist Australia will be proud to call their own.
She spoke candidly with Music Love about her powerful personal and musical journey so far, her very long list of favourite women in music, and her latest single I Won't Sleep.
What does music mean to you?
Without running the risk of sounding completely cheeseball – music is an extension of my existence. I wouldn’t be me if music didn’t dictate the biggest decisions in my life. It’s my passion, it’s my job, and it’s my therapy. If I need a break from it, I indulge in comedy, TV, movies and books. It also means community to me. It’s informed a lot of my relationships, it’s informed a lot of my world views.
Tell us about your love of rootsy, raw, soul filled music.
Blues music was the music I grew up listening to by default. My father is a passionate blues musician and somewhat of a musicologist on the subject. I didn’t really have a choice in what I could listen to until my early teens rolled around. But in saying that, I didn’t really know any better and absolutely loved listening to artists like Big Mama Thornton, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Little Walter, Etta James, Bobby Blue Bland, Aretha Franklin, Sweet Honey In The Rock etc etc etc… I had a great induction to the greats from birth and I’m grateful for that.
Tell us about your musical journey so far.
So far? Wowzers! Are you ready for a novel? Cos it’s not a short story! Although it seems like such a shame to have grown up with an exceptionally gifted blues guitarist for a father and not play any instruments, I feel like my ability to create musicality with my voice beyond a lyric and a melody is somewhat of a catalyst to the beginning of my musical journey. Dad bought a digital eight track recorder and never learnt to use it. So I did. I was twelve at the time. I wrote to hip hop instrumentals that I downloaded off of Limewire! I would build harmonies, up to seven layers before I worked out how to extend the amount of tracks through some extension line. I would come home after school, lock myself in my room and record with an old 58 [microphone]. No computer, no sample machine, just straight into the mini disc digital eight track.
Throughout my high school days, I had friends that liked to rap so I would record them too. We would do little collaborations. So funny. After high school, I met a guy with a guitar and we started writing and singing songs together. We built a catalogue of songs, had a little band and played two gigs. During this time, I had met James Mangohig – a bass player in a hip hop group from Darwin who had just started making beats. I loved what he was doing so I started to write to his production. After a couple of years of life, we found ourselves both living in Melbourne with a bunch of songs that needed to be recorded professionally under the moniker ‘Sietta’. James had scored a gig as bass player for Melbourne indie hip hop group TZU (my first foray into the world of Aussie hip hop) and met one of the rappers and producers Pip Norman aka Count Bounce. He liked what he heard and recorded and co-produced our first EP The Come Back Easy Play. Through those recordings and playing live gigs in Melbourne, we signed to Indie hip hop record label Elefant Traks (ET). We wrote two albums and an EP in the time we spent with ET, and toured with a bunch of amazing acts around the country and found ourselves overseas a couple of times too. Unfortunately, during my time with Sietta, I had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), following on from a bout of glandular fever, and I had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The fact is, a lot of my time with Sietta – in the studio, on the road and at my day job – was spent in a state I liked to refer to as a “bubble of numb”. That’s if I was actually awake. I spent a lot of time sleeping. Sometime during our first album release The Seventh Passenger, I had a falling out with my dad and I wouldn’t know it then, but we wouldn’t speak again for another four years. Before releasing our last Sietta record The Invisible River’ James and I became mates with [hip hop artist] Briggs and we started working on collaborations together.
After the release and a national tour of that record, I had wound myself dangerously into the ground of ill health and nearly threw it all away. This was the point where James and I decided to readdress our focus. James, by this time had reconnected with his musical mentor from uni, a double bass playing producer called Michael Hohnen who is one half of the acclaimed Darwin-based record label Skinnyfish and the man next to the late Dr G Yunupingu. We started writing songs together – Michael, James and myself. Around this time, I was lucky enough to be introduced to an amazing woman (Steph from Merge Health) who helped me address all my CFS and mental health issues, safely bringing me off all the medication I was jacked up on and correctly diagnosed the underlying problems. I no longer have CFS or display any bipolar traits. I reconnected with my dad shortly after this and he bestowed upon James and I a USB key filled with shitty phone recordings of guitar licks and ideas, harmonica lines, singing, jokes and conversations with the cat! To a hip hop producer like James, this was production heaven! He sampled the recordings and built his signature production style around the samples. I began to write to these demos, then we would send them to Michael Hohnen for him to put his amazingly bent double bass lines on them. Michaelstarted to build horn arrangements with the iconic Eugene Ball as well. Over this time, the three of us cycled through the songs and produced a body of work that I would develop over a year of touring. In parallel to this, I was also writing with, featuring on and touring with Briggs and A.B. Original. This is my musical journey so far and has ultimately lead me to the release of ZINC, my debut album out October 6th, 2017. Caiti Baker, This Is Your Life. :/
Your latest single I Won't Sleep sounds like it could be on that hit TV show Nashville. How did that song come about? It's rad.
Thank you! I love that TV show!! Especially the early seasons! Well, if you were captivated enough to read my life story, you would know that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I had it for roughly seven years and was told by many doctors there was no cure. After meeting [Steph from Merge Health)], the aforementioned amazing woman, we found the root cause, treated it appropriately and it cleared up in four days. After living in that ‘bubble of numb’ for all those years, waking up is confronting. So many more hours in the day. I slowly learned that I was having identity issues. I didn’t actually know who I was because I was asleep and unwell for so long. I Won’t Sleep is about going through that process. About becoming aware, present and having the clarity that had been absent all those years.
How was BIGSOUND?
BIGSOUND was maaaaad. I had the best time with my killa band (sixfour aka brothers John and Paul Bartlett and Zoe Hauptmann) performing two showcases to rooms full of people who we had dancing up a sweat! Meeting with industry game changers was dope and I loved watching all the great acts I could squeeze in between meetings and rest! Shout out to Okenyo, Jesswar, Miss Blanks (and the Fempress Cypher squad), K&D and soooo many more.
Who are your favourite women in music?
Yikes. I admire and have affection for so many women in the scene – on stage and off it. I’ll keep it limited to women in Australia but I warn you, it’s a long list! On stage – Ali and June Mills, Renee Geyer, Jen Cloher, Courtney Barnett, Thelma Plum, the Camp Cope ladies (Georgia, Kelly and Sarah), Naomi Wenatong, Layla (SBX), DJ Josie Styles, Aroly Tariq (Audego), Dallas Frasca, Eleanor Dixon, Beatrice, Dawn Laird, Okenyo, Kayla Truth, Jesswar, Miss Blanks, Emily Wurramurra, Mama Kin, Alice Skye, Kylie Auldist, Tia Gostelow… I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone… Off stage – Bad Apples Label manager Coco Eke, my makeup artist/stylist/FFL Emily Onikul (Little Fox Make Up), creative producer and film maker Ella Millard, DOPs Elle Wickens and Bouzi, Stylist Chrissy Validakis, Soundladies Charlotte Kirby and Jessie Davis, Industry bosses Kat Dale, Phaedra Watts, Annette Trapodi, Angela O’Donnell, RenWon, Laurel May… Again, I feel like I’m missing a few people.
How do you look after your voice?
I look after it by looking after myself! I can’t afford to get sick so I stay healthy and rested when I’m not on the road. I talk or hum a lot when I’m not singing and I do warm ups before gigs.
What's your favourite place in Australia?
Touring! Gigs, festivals and releasing my debut album ZINC on October 6th! Then back into the studio to finish songs and create some more!